And maybe a new mattress, because it’s not just the amount of time you spend sleeping that keeps you lean, it’s also the quality of your sleep. Fat cells in your body produce a hormone called leptin that helps the body keep track of how much potential energy (i.e. fat) it has stored. But leptin is only produced during certain stages of sleep. Miss out on those stages because you’re not resting soundly enough, and you’ll disturb levels of the hormone, leaving your body with no real idea of its energy reserves. Consequently, you’ll end up storing calories rather than burning them.
1. Get clear on what motivates you. “Try to connect with the real reason you want to lose weight,” says Jonny Bowden, PhD, a Los Angeles-based board-certified nutritionist. “Beyond a slimmer waist, what do you really want? Is it more energy? Better sleep? More mental clarity? The ability to run a block without getting winded?” Once you've identified your goals, write them down. Seeing the bigger picture might help you make better day-to-day decisions, Bowden says.
If you're eating fewer than 1,200 calories per day, your workouts will suffer and the constant stress on your body can lead to muscle loss and slow your metabolism, as we reported in 10 Things You Don't Know About Calories. If you're trying to eat super healthy, you might be surprised at how few calories you're actually eating—try tracking your daily intake with a food tracking app and make sure you're fueling your body, not depriving it of nutrients.
If you want to lose weight, you’d better avoid special “low-carb” products that are full of carbs. This should be obvious, but creative marketers are doing all they can to fool you (and get your money). They will tell you that you can eat cookies, pasta, ice cream, bread and plenty of chocolate on a low-carb diet, as long as you buy their brand. They’re full of carbohydrates. Don’t be fooled.
Carbohydrates are a touchy subject: while some blame them for all fat gain, it’s the type of carbs you eat that’s key. A 2011 study out of the University of Alabama found that a diet that slightly cut back on carbs, and which comprised mostly low-GI carbohydrates, lost more deep abdominal fat than those who ate a lower-fat diet. GI stands for glycemic index, a measure of how fast carbohydrates supply your body with energy: high-GI foods make you spike then crash, while low-GI foods provide a slow burn.
Sure, high-intensity cardio can help you torch calories, but ideally, you’ll also need to pump some iron to build metabolism-boosting muscle. That’s because strength training is one of the few activities you can do to spike the amount of calories you burn, even after you’re done with your workout. Case in point: one 2012 review of research found that while completing a 20-minute resistance training circuit may help you burn 200 calories, your body’s resting metabolic rate stays elevated for the next hour, helping you burn an additional 50 calories. Plus, when you lose weight, you lose some muscle with it, so building and maintaining that lean mass will help you achieve a more toned look.
Don’t let extra hours lounging in bed stand between you and a flatter belly. While getting enough sleep can help boost your metabolic rate, sleeping in may undo any benefit you’d enjoy from catching a few extra winks. One study reveals that late sleepers who snoozed past 10:45 in the morning ate nearly 250 more calories over the course of the day, despite eating half as many fruits and vegetables as their early bird counterparts. Even worse, they chowed down on more salty, sugary, and trans fat-laden fast food than those who woke up earlier. If you happen to head out of the house early, you’re in for an additional metabolic boost; researchers at Northwestern University have found that people exposed to just a short period of early morning sunlight had lower BMIs than their late-waking counterparts.