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15 Non-Diet Tricks to Trim Down

author image Katherine Brooking
Katherine Brooking is a registered dietitian with a Master’s degree in nutrition education. She co-founded Smart Cookie Productions, Inc., which publishes AppforHealth.com and produces a weekly nutrition series, Appetite for Health. She a frequent nutrition contributor to the TODAY show, The Early Show on CBS and Good Morning America Health. She is the co-author of "The Real Skinny: Appetite for Health's 101 Fat Habits & Slim Solutions."

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15 Non-Diet Tricks to Trim Down
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According to a 2014 survey conducted by Allianz Life Insurance Company, 49 percent of Americans placed health and wellness as their most important focus for the year, up from 43 percent in 2013. So that you can make good on your healthy intentions, here are 15 science-backed strategies to help you shed pounds -- and keep them off!

1. High-Intensity Interval Training
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High-intensity interval training (HIIT) combines intense periods of work (ranging from 30 seconds to several minutes) with short recovery intervals (one to five minutes) for an increased calorie burn. It has also been shown to amplify weight loss and boost cardio fitness and metabolism. According to a 2011 study, just two weeks of HIIT improved aerobic capacity as much as six to eight weeks of endurance training. You don’t need any special equipment for a HIIT workout -- jumping jacks, jumping rope, plyometric jumps, push-ups, mountain climbers and burpees all fit the bill.

Related: 5 Common Myths About High-Intensity Interval Training

2. Ditch the Distractions
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Love to watch TV, surf the internet or check your phone while you're eating? Distracted eating could leave you with extra padding. A small study found that that people ate significantly more cookies after they had eaten their lunch while watching television compared with those who ate their lunch while not watching television. People who eat while distracted are also less likely to recall their meals. To help your brain register fullness, focusing on your meal is essential. Strive to digitally detox during mealtimes: Turn off the TV, put the phone away (texting under the table still counts!) and move the tablet to another room. Instead, focus on sharing the tales of your day with your friends and family, light some candles and enjoy -- and be thankful for -- the delicious food in front of you.

Related: A New Type of Detox: Digital Detox

3. Pump Up the Protein
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Protein intake is key to getting toned and trim. What’s more, studies show that it’s the pattern of protein intake, not just the total daily protein amount, which can impact protein metabolism. Strive for 20 grams of protein at regular intervals throughout the day for the greatest effect to maintain or increase lean muscle mass (which can help you slim down). Avoid eating large amounts of protein at one sitting, as studies show that eating excess protein, specifically at night, can negatively affect insulin levels and thus slow our metabolism. Consider incorporating modest amounts of lean protein into meals and snacks -- think chicken, turkey, fish, beans, tofu and low-fat dairy. One way is to start your day with a protein-rich breakfast like a veggie frittata or almond butter on a whole-grain English muffin.

Related: The 7 Best Protein Bars and 3 to Avoid

4. Overcome “Scale-itis”
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Afraid to step on that scale? Don’t be. Studies show that people who weigh themselves on a regular basis (at least once per week) are more likely to keep their weight under control. Knowledge is power -- and what you don’t know may hurt your health. If you’re keeping track of your weight, you’re more likely to stop weight gain before it becomes a problem. And if you’ve lost weight, the scale is an invaluable tool for keeping the pounds from piling back on. Invest in a simple scale and weigh yourself at least once each week -- ideally in the morning before you’ve eaten. If you start to see upward changes (more than a couple of pounds), that’s your cue to boost your activity and examine your dietary patterns.

5. Find Fit Friends
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Your friends could be making you fat! Obesity may be “socially contagious” because studies find that food choices, fitness habits and weight tend to be similar among friends. It may be a case of “birds of a feather feel better together” (even when they’re overweight or obese). In a study that spanned 32 years and included more than 12,000 people, researchers found that participants were 57 percent more likely to be obese if a close friend was obese. In fact, weight was more closely linked to social networks than family -- meaning that friends trump genetics when it comes to obesity. The good news is that healthy habits (and weight) are as socially contagious as poor habits. Make sure your social network isn’t keeping you from your health goals.

6. Get Your Rest
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The term “hangry” was coined for a reason. Lack of sleep makes us tired, causes those dreaded mood swings and increases our appetite by disrupting hunger and fullness hormones. In one study that looked at the link between nighttime sleep duration and Type 2 diabetes over an 11-year period, obesity rates increased in people who had fewer hours of sleep. Another study found that sleep-deprived individuals eat, on average, 300 calories more each day. While this might sound like a trivial amount, those 300 extra calories can add up quickly. Keep your hunger hormones in check by aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

Related: 12 Foods That Help You Fall (and Stay) Asleep!

7. Eat Your Calories, Don’t Drink Them
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Drinking sugary beverages like soda and juice is closely linked to obesity and other adverse health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. What’s more, sugary beverages are a double diet disaster: They are loaded with empty calories that don’t even help us feel full. Studies indicate calories that are eaten help you feel full and satisfied, while those that you drink don’t signal the same level of fullness to your stomach and brain. Research shows that American adults drank an estimated average of 150 calories per day of sugar-sweetened beverages during 2009 and 2010, with regular soda and fruit drinks being the most popular. Replace sugary drinks with plain water, seltzer with a splash of lemon or fresh-brewed herbal tea. If you must have a little sweetness, add a quarter cup of 100-percent fruit juice to plain seltzer.

Related: Will Drinking Diet Soda Make Me Fat and Sick?

8. Turn Up the Volume
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When it comes to weight loss, getting the most nutritional bang for your buck is key. Eat foods with low energy density -- that’s a fancy way of saying foods that are high in water and fiber and lower in calories. These include broth-based soups as well as most fruits and vegetables. It is the energy-density theory that is behind the well-known “grapefruit diet” and “volumetrics.” Enjoying foods like grapefruit, broth-based soups and veggies prior to a meal is a highly effective weight-loss strategy and has a favorable effect on body composition and cardio-metabolic risk.

Related: The 18 Most Nutritious Vegetables

9. Let Go of Magical Thinking
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Americans plunk down an estimated $60 billion each year on diet products. The weight-loss industry is teeming with lose-weight-fast pills, potions and cleanses. Countless products claim that you’ll drop pounds without any effort or change in your dietary habits. Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet. If there were, everybody would be fit and trim, right? Except for bariatric surgery, there are no drugs or products that are proven for long-term weight loss without modifying your diet (and usually exercise as well). Don’t be fooled by false promises. Losing weight and keeping it off doesn’t require a lot of money or special pills, but it does demand dedication and consistency. A healthy, balanced diet combined with daily exercise is currently the best (and safest) solution science has to offer.

Related: The Most Dangerous Diets Ever

10. Enjoy a “Little” Sweet Treat
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You can have your dessert and eat it too. When it comes to sweet treats, portion control is key. Avoid scooping from a pint of ice cream or opening a big box of cookies. When it comes to a sweet indulgences, make your mantra “one and done.” Single-serving pudding cups, individually wrapped fudge, frozen yogurt pops and small wrapped squares of dark chocolate are all great options for “keepin’ it small.” The next time you’re craving something sweet, keep this strategy in mind and opt for single servings. If you don’t want to risk wolfing down those pints of ice cream you just bought, consider scooping them out into individual-serving containers and putting them back in the freezer.

Related: 8 Delicious No-Bake Desserts

11. Keep a Well-Stocked Kitchen
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Routinely dining out is a diet disaster because meals prepared away from home have, on average, an additional 134 calories. So it comes as no surprise that eating out is associated with obesity. The best way to limit the number of times you eat out is to keep a well-stocked kitchen. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate kitchen makeover, simply make sure you have nutritious staples on hand, such as fruits and veggies, beans, legumes and lean poultry, low-fat dairy, eggs, hummus, broths and lots of seasonings -- items that will make whipping up a healthy meal a cinch.

12. Shop High and Low -- With a List
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Here’s something you probably didn’t know about your local grocery store that could help you shed pounds and save money: Less healthful and more expensive items are often placed at eye level. Look high and low on store shelves for the least expensive items in their category -- and often the most nutritious. Brands pay higher slotting fees to be placed at eye level, and those costs are generally passed on to consumers. You’ll also want to bring along a shopping list. Shoppers who use lists spend less on groceries and make fewer impulse (read: junk-food) purchases. Think of your grocery list as a way to reaffirm your desire to improve your diet and lose weight every time you sit down and write it.

Related: 10 Tips for Healthy Grocery Shopping

13. Customize Your Weight-Loss Plan
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Looking for the “perfect” weight-loss plan? Guess what -- there isn’t one! In fact, studies show that you can lose weight on just about any type of diet -- high-carb, low-carb, Paleo, Weight Watchers, Atkin’s or many other popular programs. To lose weight successfully you must burn more calories than you eat. If you find a plan that will enable you to do this, you’ll lose weight. However, the research also tells us that it’s important to choose a plan that fits with your food preferences and lifestyle. Personalize your weight-loss plan by choosing what works for you and rejecting what does not. This may require taking parts of different programs and mixing them to suit your tastes and needs.

14. Put the Brakes on Booze
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Limiting alcohol or eliminating it entirely is one of the most effective ways to shed pounds. Just one shot of hard liquor costs about 100 calories, and research shows that we don’t adjust our eating to account for these additional calories, making moderate alcohol consumption a risk factor for obesity. If the thought of giving up beer, wine or cocktails entirely isn’t realistic, try some simple, calorie-slashing swaps the next time you’re out on the town. Dilute your drink with naturally flavored seltzer and skip high-calorie mixers like sugary juice and soda. Also alternate alcoholic drinks with club soda: Your waistline -- and wallet -- will thank you.

Related: 13 Worst Alcoholic Drinks Sure to Derail Your Diet

15. Go for Whole Grains
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By now you’ve probably heard that at least half your grains should be whole. Why? Unlike refined “white” carbs, whole grains are packed with important nutrients and offer a substantial amount of hunger-squashing protein and fiber. Further, studies indicate that higher intakes of whole grains are associated with a lower risk of obesity. To amp up the whole grains in your diet, start simple. Choose whole-wheat pasta over refined alternatives, use whole-grain breadcrumbs and try an unsweetened, whole-grain cereal like oatmeal. When shopping, ensure that you’re really getting the whole grain by looking at the ingredient list. It should say “whole-wheat flour,” “whole rolled oats,” “whole rye” or something of a similar nature as one of the first ingredients.

Related: 16 Diet-Friendly Carbs

What Do YOU Think?
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Do you currently use any of these “hacks” to help manage your weight? Were any of them a surprise to you? Which ones are you most likely to try out? Share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comments below.

Related: 14 Foods to Help You Get Lean

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