If you're eating right, sweating more and engaging in healthy habits in an effort to slim down, you likely want to see weight-loss results now. Your desire to experience change pronto is normal, but your expectations might not be so realistic, which can sometimes get in the way of your weight-loss progress.
"Oftentimes, when we're thinking about making a change — especially when it has something to do with our weight and health — it's a very emotional experience," clinical nutritionist Tara Coleman tells LIVESTRONG.com. This can lead to opting for fad diets, and while these diets may sometimes deliver quick results, they aren't sustainable long term.
So what to do instead? Move slow and start small. "Starting small actually gets you to your results faster than starting big," Coleman says.
We know this to be true in virtually every other area of our lives: After all, you wouldn't try to master a chemistry course by tackling the questions from the end of the textbook first. Going too hard on any new skill is bound to make you feel overwhelmed and may ultimately lead to failure.
During the long hours of the afternoon — when snacks beckon, and keeping that workout appointment can seem daunting — try turning to a roster of readily achievable yet highly effective habits that'll help you stay on track with your weight-loss goals. Here, six smart strategies to put into practice.
1. Drink Way More Water
"Dehydration is rampant and water is the foundation of every process in our body — including a lot of our brain," Coleman says. The afternoon slump can make it easy to mistake the dehydration signal for hunger. But instead of reaching for a snack, drink some water to check in with how your body is really feeling, which can help you avoid consuming excess calories, Coleman adds.
Drinking more water also means you're likely to drink fewer liquids that contain calories, which may help reduce your overall calorie intake. Adults who drank sugar-sweetened beverages before a meal consumed 7.8 percent more calories compared to those who drank water, per a September 2010 review published in Nutrition Reviews.
Research shows that drinking more water may help to increase a person's resting energy expenditure, which helps up the amount of calories a person burns. Women who were overweight and increased their water intake to over 1 liter per day lost an extra 4.4 pounds over a 12-month period, compared to women who didn't drink more H20, per a September 2008 study in Obesity.
2. Eat Some Fat at Lunch
Contrary to popular belief, you've got to eat some fat to lose some fat.
"Fat is extremely satiating," Coleman says. "When people are afraid of fat, they usually fear the amount of calories it contains." Yes, fat is generally more caloric, but that energy helps stave off future hunger pangs.
Just make sure to incorporate unsaturated fats, aka the good kind of fat (found in olive oil, nuts and avocado) to reap the benefits. These monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help you absorb important nutrients and are linked to lowering harmful LDL-cholesterol and protecting the heart, according to the American Heart Association.
3. Make Time for Your Lunch — and Nothing Else
If you're eating lunch while responding to an email while scrolling on Twitter while tidying up your desk, well, you might just be sabotaging your weight-loss efforts. Prioritizing mealtime as its own activity can make a big difference, Coleman says.
Mindful eating "connects you to your food," and can help you pay more attention to the cues your body is sending you. Participants who practiced a mindful eating program lost more weight than those who did not, per a small June 2018 study in the Journal of Family Medicine and Community Health.
An added benefit of mindful eating is that eating without distraction can help you learn about how certain foods make you feel, Coleman says. Then, you can steer your eating decisions accordingly. For instance, if a certain food leaves you feeling sleepy, you'll want to avoid it if you have an important meeting post-lunch.
4. Add in Some Spice
There's research that suggests spicy foods containing a compound called capsaicin can boost your metabolism and increase your body's fat-burning abilities, so if you can handle the heat, fire it up. Capsaicin can increase calorie burn, at least temporarily, especially when you eat a lot of it, according to a February 2012 critical review and meta-analyses published in Chemical Senses, although some chili pepper alone isn't likely to get you to your weight-loss goals.
If you're spice sensitive, you may avoid foods like hot peppers, but you can benefit from a related substance called capsiate, which is found in sweet peppers, per a June 2015 review in Open Heart.
5. Swap Your Afternoon Coffee Break for a 10-Minute Walk
You can still have your coffee, if you want, but walking an extra 10 minutes a day (or even more, if you can find the time) can be surprisingly powerful. The more steps you take, the more calories you burn, of course — but walking also ups your mood and energy levels, according to the Cleveland Clinic, which just might keep you out of your snack cabinet.
6. Do Some Strength Training
We often associate sweaty cardio sessions with weight loss, but strength training is equally important. An added bonus? You can incorporate a few strength-training movements into your afternoon without needing a shower, meaning it's pretty feasible to accomplish a set every day.
And it's the repetition that counts here: So long as your goal isn't to become a bodybuilder, "consistency is more important than the weight you're lifting," says Coleman.
One reason lifting weights and strength training propels weight-loss goals is because having more muscle mass helps you burn more calories throughout the day. One pound of muscle burns roughly 6 calories per day, whereas one pound of fat burns only 2 calories, according to an October 2010 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This can really add up over time.
While cardio activities like running burn more calories in the moment, strength-training workouts burn more calories throughout the day. After nine months of resistance training, one study found that participants' resting metabolic rate increased by an average of 5 percent, per a small July 2015 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
So go ahead and add some lunges during your 10-minute walk or aim to plank for a minute after every meeting. Or, set a goal for 10 squats after every afternoon bathroom break. Weaving these moves into your afternoon routine will deliver meaningful results.
- Obesity: "Drinking water is associated with weight loss in overweight dieting women independent of diet and activity"
- Nutrition Reviews: "Impact of water intake on energy intake and weight status: a systematic review"
- American Heart Association: "The Facts on Fats Infographic"
- Nutrition: "Hunger and satiety responses to high-fat meals after a high-polyunsaturated fat diet: A randomized trial"
- Diabetes Care: "Metabolic Effects of Monounsaturated Fatty Acid-Enriched Diets Compared With Carbohydrate or Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid-Enriched Diets in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes"
- Journal of Family Medicine & Community Health: "Mindful Eating and Weight Loss, Results from a Randomized Trial"
- Chemical Senses: "The effects of capsaicin and capsiate on energy balance: critical review and meta-analyses of studies in humans"
- Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases: "The Role of Exercise and Physical Activity in Weight Loss and Maintenance"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Specific metabolic rates of major organs and tissues across adulthood: evaluation by mechanistic model of resting energy expenditure"
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Effect of resistance training on resting metabolic rate and its estimation by a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry metabolic map"
- Obesity: "Weight training, aerobic physical activities, and long-term waist circumference change in men"
- Obesity: "Exercise training prevents regain of visceral fat for 1-year following weight loss"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Walking: Your steps to health"
- Open Heart: "McCarty MF, DiNicolantonio JJ, O'Keefe JH. Capsaicin may have important potential for promoting vascular and metabolic health. Open Heart. 2015;2(1):e000262. Published 2015 Jun 17. doi:10.1136/openhrt-2015-000262"
- Cleveland Clinic: "5 Great Reasons You Should Take a Walk Today"