Losing weight can mean something different for everyone. It could be a step toward achieving your fitness goals, or the boost your self-esteem needed. It could be redefining your body post-baby, or reclaiming that pair of skinny jeans on the top shelf of your closet. But no matter who you are or what your specific aim, getting to a healthy weight is first and foremost about just that: health.
Losing excess weight can be a huge boon to your health, improving cardiovascular fitness, for example, and lowering your risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes
But it works both ways. There are simple lifestyle changes you can make to be healthier and happier that have the added benefit of contributing to your weight-loss goals. Some of them may surprise you.
1. Get more sleep.
Getting a solid night of sleep (there’s no magic number, but most people need between 7.5 and 9 hours) is a key to making sure you’re firing on all cognitive cylinders, and gives your body the time it needs to repair itself from the wear and tear of the day. It’ll also keep you from snacking on the pounds during your waking hours. Research shows that people who only get five or six hours of sleep a night tend to gain more weight than people who regularly get seven or eight hours of shuteye, and are more likely to become obese. They consume more calories during the day, probably because sleep deprivation throws the hormones that control appetite out of whack. Lack of sleep leads to elevated levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you feel hungry, and lower levels of leptin, which helps you feel full, as shown in a 2004 study in PLOS One.
2. Take control of your stress and mental health.
Higher levels of stress, and the stress hormone cortisol, are linked with more visceral fat around the midsection. And visceral fat is associated with a number of health risks, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and breast cancer in women. What’s more, the American Psychological Society explains that there’s a complex relationship between stress, depression and obesity. Stress and depression can exacerbate one another, leading to emotional eating and sometime binge eating. Naturally, that can make maintaining your weight feel impossible (which can start a destructive feedback loop of its own). Exercise, meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and good, quality sleep (see above) can all help you deal with the stressors life throws your way. And if you struggle with anxiety or depression, consult with a mental health professional to learn what treatment options might be right for you.
3. Cut out soda—even diet soda—and drink more water instead.
Soda is full of empty calories and is just flat out bad for you. But its so-called guilt-free cousin isn’t much better. Research shows that even diet soda, despite its lack of calories, is trouble for weight loss (among other things). People who habitually drink diet soda have larger waistlines than those who don’t. And they eat more than regular soda drinkers, more than making up for the calories they saved on their beverages. It may be that the sweet low- and no-cal drinks activate the brain’s reward centers without providing an actual reward (sugar), so you end up seeking it elsewhere. Replace damaging drinks with what your body really needs: water. It might be tough at first to resist the cravings, but you can do it. Here are some really easy ways to drink more water every day.
4. Find small ways to add more physical activity into your day.
We’re all well aware by now that exercise is a cornerstone of good health, and that sitting is the scourge of the 21st century. Regular physical activity reduces your risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases (including type 2 diabetes), as well as some cancers. It makes your bones and muscles stronger, helps alleviate stress and anxiety, and improves mood. It’s associated with a longer lifespan and—no surprise—achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. The basic guideline for adults is 150 minutes per week of moderate to intense activity, which can mean pretty much anything from a brisk walk to a bootcamp-style HIIT workout. But you don’t have to get all your movement in one shot. Bouts of as little as 10 minutes at a time count toward your weekly total, so add little bits into your day to get you on your way. For instance, try walking at least part of the way to work. If you take a bus or train, get off a stop or two early. Drive? Park at the far end of the lot. If your job keeps you at a desk all day, make some of your phone calls while pacing around the office. When you’re coming in and out, skip the elevator and take the stairs. Stairs: the original StairMaster.
5. Cook at home more and eat breakfast every day.
When you order at a restaurant, there’s no telling how much butter, sugar, and oil is in your food. And portions are often huge. Put those together and you’ve got a good chance of eating way more calories (including way more calories from fat and carbs) than you need or want. When you cook for yourself you know exactly what you’re getting, and exactly how much of it. That means you can make healthier choices, which is good for your waistline as well as everything above and below it. This goes for breakfast, too. Besides giving your body the fuel it needs to start your day, the famously important meal has been shown to be very helpful for sustained weight loss. In fact, in one big study of people who were able to lose weight and keep it off, nearly 80 percent said they ate breakfast every day. Need some recipe help? Here are some healthy, tasty breakfast ideas to try at home.
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