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Making drastic changes to your diet in one go can be overwhelming and very difficult to stick to long enough to experience the desired benefits. Suddenly trying to change too many habits can be frustrating and could backfire because we can easily revert to old ways during times of stress.  The key to building a healthy lifestyle and incorporating a more healthful diet is to make changes that you can stick with over the long term.  People are much more likely to be successful at changing bad habits and if taken in small, manageable steps, rather than all at once.

Instead, here are some small habits that you can integrate into your daily life that could make a huge difference in a new, healthier lifestyle.

Eat slowly
Our appetite is controlled in part by hormones that send signals to the brain signaling if we’re hungry or full. To feel satiated after a meal requires not just eating and filling your stomach, but also the brain has to receive signals that it is, indeed, full.  These “full” signals are released as partially digested food enters the small intestine.  Since food does not enter the small intestine immediately, the brain can receive the “full” signal quite a while after your hunger – and stomach – are satisfied.  In fact, it often takes around 20 minutes for the brain to receive and process these signals, meaning that we frequently keep eating long after we are actually full.

Eating slower can give the brain the time to realize that we’re not hungry anymore.  Hence, by making a small change and eating a bit slower, we can actually feel full after eating less food than by eating quickly.  It follows, of course, that eating less food to feel full reduces the caloric intake and can help lose weight.

Switch out Refined Grains for Whole Grains
A diet rich in whole grains – as opposed to refined grains, may help you lose more fat while also lowering the risk of heart disease.  Grains are associated with a reduced risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart diseases. Besides being a great source of vitamin B, Zinc, Magnesium, and Manganese, whole grains are a great source of fiber. However, not all grains are created equal.  Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel – the bran, endosperm, and germ of the grain (i.e. the whole – or entire grain). Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ (the parts of the grain which are the densest in vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats).  Grains are refined to give a finer texture and improve shelf life, but the process also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many vitamins.

Replacing refined grains such as white bread and rice with whole grains such as brown rice, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, popcorn, whole wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, and wild rice can help with weight loss.  In addition to making you feel more full than refined grains, whole grains also have healthy heart benefits!

Pack Protein into Breakfasts and Snacks
Breakfast food and snacks are often full of refined grains and fat – bagels, pancakes, muffins, and candy bars can be very high in calories while low in nutritional benefits and fiber.  By simply replacing your current breakfast and snacks with whole grains and high protein items such as eggs or unsweetened yogurt, you could be amazed at the benefits. For example, eggs are rich in high-quality protein, and they increase the feeling of fullness, meaning that you may consume smaller portions and fewer calories throughout the day than you would after eating a muffin for breakfast

Following the same reasons, replacing your usual snacks with an option like Greek yogurt will provide more protein, fewer carbs and help manage hunger better than a bar or chips. Add fruit and granola for even more nutrients and hunger-fighting power. Be careful, however, to get plain Greek yogurt to avoid the sugar-packed flavored varieties.

Drink More Water
Drinking more water has many benefits for your health and can have a direct impact on weight loss because water can increase satiety (make you feel fuller) and could boost your metabolic rate.  Some evidence has shown that increasing water intake can aid in weight loss by slightly increasing the metabolism, which means that you burn more calories each day!  Additionally, substituting water for a soda or juice helps you reduce your sugar intake from other drinks, which also will promote weight loss.

Cook for yourself and try new recipes
Try to make it a habit to cook for yourself – even cooking one additional night per week can help. It can be amazing how many calories are packed into entrees at restaurants and ready-made food.  Get recipes from healthy websites and cook a few nights every week: it’s lighter on your budget and it allows you to know and control what goes in your food. You can make your recipes all-natural, whole grain, low fat, and spiced up to your taste! And you can make large quantities and enjoy the leftovers another day, which will help you avoid the high-calorie, high-sugar snacks that you might otherwise reach for when hungry.  (You can follow our Instagram page for recipe ideas)

Take the stairs
Any little habit change that helps you get moving will be beneficial in the long run.  We know that regular exercise can improve your mood and anxiety level, strengthen your muscles and bones, increase your energy levels, and reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. But, little changes can have a big impact over time as well.  If you always take the elevator at work to go up a flight or two of stairs, try taking the stairs instead to get your heart rate up and blood flowing during the day.  If you always drive to the corner store, try walking instead.  Maybe get up and walk around or do sit-ups during commercial breaks or try a couple of lunges while brushing your teeth.  A great way to monitor your daily activity and then see if you are adding additional steps or challenges during the day is to wear a pedometer or fitness tracking watch – or use a fitness tracker app on your phone.  Have a goal and walk towards it.

Yes to Popcorn!
If you are craving a snack, popcorn works as a great substitute for potato chips.  Popcorn is a whole grain and if not covered in butter and artificial flavors, popcorn is a healthy snack that contributes to your whole grain and fiber goals.   Depending on the brand and how it is prepared, a 3.5-ounce serving of air-popped popcorn contains 387 calories and 15 grams of fiber. However, the same amount of potato chips contains around 500 calories and only 3 grams of fiber. So, try making your own popcorn at home or buy the air-popped type. Make sure to look at the labels so that you can avoid any extra added fat and sugar.

Smaller plates
According to many studies, eating from smaller plates makes the portion look bigger and can increase the feeling of satiety. As we learned above, feeling full has two parts – actually filling the stomach and the signals that the brain receives.  By eating from plates smaller than what you may be used to, you can trick your brain into processing it as a full-sized portion.  Think about your dinnerware and not only what goes in them.

Switch to black coffee
While research has shown that coffee can have many health benefits, it can also be sabotaging your diet if it is packed with sugar, cream, and syrups.  Based on how it is made, a single café mocha can have upward of 400 calories and 10 grams of fat!  By comparison, a cup of black coffee has less than 5 calories and no fat. Being aware of how excess calories sneak into your diet can allow you to make small changes and see lasting benefits.

Try to integrate little changes, like the ones discussed above, or others that you are aware of, one at a time. Start with the easiest one for you and then slowly get to the most difficult one. That way, you won’t feel the frustration of having too many changes to your habits!

You can also try our nutrition counseling offers where you will receive a customized package to assist you in your journey towards achieving your weight loss goal!

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