Mindless eating occurs most frequently after dinner, when you finally sit down and relax. Snacking in front of the TV is one of the easiest ways to throw your diet off course. Either close down the kitchen after a certain hour, or allow yourself a low-calorie snack, like a 100-calorie pack of cookies or a half-cup scoop of low-fat ice cream.
Instead of cutting out your favorite foods altogether, be a slim shopper. Buy one fresh bakery cookie instead of a box, or a small portion of candy from the bulk bins instead of a whole bag. You can still enjoy your favorite foods — the key is moderation.
If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you'll lose weight. But when you're hungry all the time, eating fewer calories can be a challenge. "Studies show people who eat 4-5 meals or snacks per day are better able to control their appetite and weight," says obesity researcher Rebecca Reeves, DrPH, RD. She recommends dividing your daily calories into smaller meals or snacks and enjoying most of them earlier in the day — dinner should be the last time you eat.
Protein is the ultimate fill-me-up food — it's more satisfying than carbs or fats and keeps you feeling full for longer. It also helps preserve muscle mass and encourages fat burning. So be sure to incorporate healthy proteins like lean meat, yogurt, cheese, nuts, or beans into your meals and snacks.
Add spices or chiles to your food for a flavor boost that can help you feel satisfied. "Food that is loaded with flavor will stimulate your taste buds and be more satisfying, so you won't eat as much," says American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Malena Perdomo, RD. When you need something sweet, suck on a red-hot fireball candy. It's sweet, spicy, and low in calories.
Having ready-to-eat snacks and meals-in-minutes on hand sets you up for success. You'll be less likely to hit the drive-through or call in a pizza order if you can throw together a healthy meal in five or 10 minutes. Here are some essentials to keep on hand: frozen vegetables, whole-grain pasta, reduced-fat cheese, canned tomatoes, canned beans, pre-cooked grilled chicken breast, whole grain tortillas or pitas, and bags of salad greens.
Ordering a child-size entree is a great way to cut calories and keep your portions reasonable. This has become such a popular trend that most servers won't bat an eye when you order off the kids' menu. Another trick is to use smaller plates. This helps the portions look like more, and if your mind is satisfied, your stomach likely will be, too.
Simply by eating less pasta or bread and more veggies, you could lose a dress or pants size in a year. "You can save from 100-200 calories if you reduce the portion of starch on your plate and increase the amount of vegetables," says Cynthia Sass, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.