We’re with you: Dieting feels like no picnic. But here’s a little secret—It’s not nearly as hard as most of us think. A fairly easy diet does actually exist. “A lot of women believe they need to change everything, but in reality small tweaks to your diet can make a huge difference,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and the author of The Flexitarian Diet.
We’ve got 20 absolutely painless and easy diet fixes, culled from the latest research and the country’s leading weight-loss experts, to make dropping those pounds as simple as 1, 2, 3, and beyond. Study up, then stock up on our easy diet shopping list to make this new meal plan strategy a cinch.
1. Give Up Soda
Every diet soft drink consumed each day could increase your risk of being overweight by 65 percent, according to a study presented at the American Dietetic Association. Other research suggests that artificial sweeteners may actually stimulate appetite, causing you to overeat. Instead, sip plain or sparkling water with lemon added for flavor.
2. Eat Every Few Hours
Women who eat erratically consume more calories and burn them less quickly than those who have six regular small meals each day, research has found. The easy diet solution: Don’t go more than three or four hours without eating something.
3. Drink More Tea
Green tea not only has about half the caffeine of coffee but also contains catechins, which may boost your metabolism. An Iranian study found that people who drank four cups daily for two months lost significantly more weight and inches across their midsections (and scored a lower blood pressure and BMI) than those who drank two cups daily—or no green tea. If you find green tea too bitter, consider one of the new green teas flavored with fruit essences. Most have no calories and just the right amount of sweetness, Blatner says.
4. Pack in the Protein
A University of Washington study found that doubling up on protein could help you eat less without feeling hungry. “Protein may make your brain more sensitive to leptin, a hormone that helps you feel full,” says study author Scott Weigle, M.D., a professor of endocrinology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. As you focus on these easy diet adjustments, make sure at least a third of each meal and snack is a source of lean protein (and check out what eating the *right* amount of protein each day looks like).
5. Prioritize Produce
This easy diet tip might even save you time when you’re grocery shopping: Stick to the perimeter of the store. The center aisles of your local supermarket are loaded with highly processed, sugary, and fatty foods. “The first couple of outer aisles is where you’ll find all the fresh produce, dairy, and seafood,” explains Oz Garcia, Ph.D., a nutritionist in New York City and the author of Look and Feel Fabulous Forever.
6. Buy To-Go Veggies
“Most of the vegetables in your fridge should be as easy to pop into your mouth as a potato chip, which means they should be precut and prewashed,” says Bethany Thayer, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Same goes for fruit. “And keep them at eye level in your fridge, so they’ll be staring you right in the face when you open the door.”
7. Get Enough Sleep
People who sleep seven to eight hours per night are leaner than those who get only five or six hours, according to research from Laval University in Quebec. “When you’re sleep-deprived, your body produces more stress hormones, which may increase your appetite,” explains Michael Breus, Ph.D., co-founder of Sound Sleep Solutions in Atlanta. Having trouble nodding off during this easy diet? Consider hitting the treadmill before, not after, work: One study done at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that women who exercised in the a.m. fell asleep faster at night than those who did a p.m. workout. (Discover how to wake up early for a morning workout, straight from women who do it at 4 a.m.)
8. Shop from a List
“Never go to the grocery store without a master list, which provides insurance against impulse buys,” suggests Donald Hensrud, M.D., an obesity specialist at the Mayo Clinic. And never, ever shop when you’re hungry. (Related: 10 Healthy, Easy Diet Foods to Always Include on Your Grocery List, then see below for your complete easy diet shopping list.)
9. Stock Up on Frozen Shrimp
“I always have a bag or two in my freezer,” says Ellie Krieger, R.D., a dietitian in New York City and the author of Small Changes, Big Results. “I add them to stir-fries and pasta or sometimes just serve them with cocktail sauce as a snack.” Bonus: At 84 calories per three-ounce serving, shrimp has about a third the calories of chicken and about half that of sirloin. Food snobs, take note: Frozen shrimp is often fresher than “fresh” because it’s frozen just after it’s caught.
10. Count to 100
These days, everything from potato chips to yogurt to ice cream is being rolled out in 100-calorie snack sizes for an easy diet fix. “You may have to pay more than if you bought an economy size bag, but the smaller portions mean you’ll end up eating less,” says Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., a professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University and the author of The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan.
11. Choose Whole Grains
“Instead of refined and processed white foods, aim to have whole-grain starches such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat breads and bran cereals,” Blatner says. For the most part, the browner the food, the higher the fiber, and getting enough fiber is key for weight loss. The nutrient helps you feel fuller and decreases absorption of calories from other food sources. Some easy diet adds: Sprinkle two tablespoons of a high-fiber cereal such as Kellogg’s All-Bran Bran Buds into your yogurt (5 grams); substitute whole-grain bread for white in your turkey sandwich (2 grams), and throw a half cup of white beans on top of your salad (6 grams). (DYK 95 percent of Americans don’t get enough fiber?!)
12. Stock Your Freezer
Successful dieters eat out fewer than two and a half meals per week on average, according to the National Weight Control Registry. A helpful easy diet tip: Cook and freeze meals so that you’ll have an option when you’re too hungry to cook. That way, you won’t automatically resort to takeout.
13. Have a V8 While You Cook
“I’ve had clients come in complaining that they can’t lose weight, but then I find out that they’re taking in hundreds of calories while preparing dinner,” Blatner says. “Every little ‘taste’ counts!” Her easy diet tip for during dinner prep? Sip a Low-Sodium V8 juice. “It’s only 50 calories per serving, but it will keep you feeling satisfied and stave off hunger pains so you’re less inclined to snack,” she explains. Hate V8? Chew gum to keep your mouth occupied.
14. Switch to Salsa
“I have clients spoon it on everything—baked potatoes, veggies, even chicken or salmon,” Thayer says. “It’s a serving of veggies that gives otherwise bland diet staples a little flavor and zest.” The calorie savings from this spicy, easy diet swap are worth it: Two tablespoons of salsa instead of sour cream on a baked potato, for example, saves 42 calories and five fat grams.
15. Eat Spicy Foods
“When food is warm, its molecules move around faster, which means it will have a stronger smell,” explains Alan Hirsch, M.D., director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. The result: The aroma affects the satiety center in your brain, leading you to think that you’ve eaten more than you have, so you feel full faster. In addition, if your food is hot, you’ll be forced to eat it more slowly, which will give your stomach time to signal to your brain that it’s full. Try this strategy with these Indian recipes that are cheaper and healthier than ordering in.
16. Brush Your Teeth After Eating
Brush your teeth or rinse your mouth right after you have a meal or a snack to quell the urge to keep nibbling. “It’s both a physical and a psychological signal to your body that you’re done eating,” Blatner says.
17. Identify Your Cravings
“One reason women overeat is that they don’t hit their food craving right on the head—they keep bingeing until they’re finally satisfied,” Blatner explains. Ask yourself what you really want: Salty? Sweet? Smooth? Crunchy? “Food cravings can be broken down into four categories,” Blatner says . “If you are craving sweet and crunchy, try a mini bag of popcorn mixed with a little bit of artificial sweetener or even sugar. If you want sweet and creamy, opt for a light vanilla yogurt. If you’re thinking about something salty and smooth, try a couple of pieces of low-fat string cheese; if you really want salty and crunchy, try a handful of dry-roasted nuts or soy nuts.” (Related: How to Get Over Cravings, According to a Weight-Loss Expert)
18. Stay Positive
Optimists are more likely to eat more nutritionally-sound meal plans, reports a study in the Nutrition Journal. “Eating right and exercising seems to be second nature for them,” explains Bruce Rabin, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Healthy Lifestyle Program. Happily, it is possible to shake away your pessimism. “The next time a negative thought pops into your head, force yourself to come up with something positive to replace it,” Rabin days. If you practice this often enough, it will eventually become an automatic response—during this easy diet and beyond.
19. Distract Yourself
Visions of Godiva flooding your head? Before you rush out to buy a box, try deflecting your attention. Research from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, has found that the more vivid your mental image of a particular food, the more likely you are to crave it. But there’s plenty you can do to tone down those visual cues. Researchers found that randomly flicking through images on a computer screen or, to a lesser extent, listening to a speech in a foreign language, was enough to distract students from their food cravings during this easy diet experiment. Anything that engages both your eyes and your mind—like playing Sudoku—should help, say researchers.
20. Utilize an Easy Diet Shopping List
- Colorful vegetables, especially dark green, red and orange
- Fresh fruit, especially vitamin-C-rich choices
- Skinless poultry breast
- Nut butters (almond, cashew, soy, peanut)
- Soy milk
- Rolled oats
- Beans and peas (canned, dried)
- Brown and wild rice
- Lentils, bulgur, whole-wheat couscous
- Whole-grain breads and crackers
Snacks and Toppings
- Unsalted nuts (walnut, almond, cashew, soy, pecan)
- Unsalted seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, poppy, pine nuts)
- Dried fruits (raisins, apricots, prunes, dates, figs, berries, currants)
- Maple syrup