Sometimes a tiny tweak is all you need to finish off a weight-loss goal.
Hey, we think you look gorgeous just as you are. But we totally understand feeling a little blah when you’re carrying a little bit more weight than you'd like. Just ask these five women: They’ve been there—lost that. These are the subtle tweaks (getting honest about portions, actually eating dessert) that helped them achieve their happy weight even when a few extra pounds were hanging tough. As for you? Experts agree that these changes can get your body burning again too.
Move more outside of the gym
When Sarah Grant hit a plateau before reaching her goal weight, the working mom of two zeroed in on the long periods she spent parked at her desk. “Even though I was working out outside of the office and eating healthy, it didn’t make up for the hours a day I spent sedentary,” says Grant, 41, the chief financial officer for a South Florida restaurant group.
She made a simple vow to walk more, all day, every day. “It’s an easy, free activity that you can do anywhere,” Grant points out. In addition to weight training in the morning, she added in a walk on her lunch hour and an after-dinner stroll with her son and daughter. “There is a point at which eating less isn’t the best option,” Grant says. “This gave me the ability to avoid having to continually slash calories to lose weight.”
She’s on to something: The more energy you have moving through your system, the better your metabolism functions, says Holly Wyatt, MD, head of the metabolism and obesity clinic at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. “Adding mini movement blocks to your day sporadically will help you burn more energy than you’re consuming,” Dr. Wyatt says.
Try picking a coffee joint that's about a 15-minute walk away from your home or office and take a walking break any days that you can; walking for 30 minutes (15 in each direction) at a quick pace burns around 150 calories.
Don’t make any foods off limits
Long days of meal sampling at events and restaurants made it all too easy for food blogger Dara Pollak to hold on to an extra five to 10 pounds. “I could be tasting four to five different decadent dishes at a single restaurant,” explains Pollak, 33, the creator of The Skinny Pig blog. To balance the “bad” meals, she would skip breakfast. “I went to events starving and would end up overeating, and then feeling food guilt.”
Pollak has changed her mind-set so that she doesn’t consider any foods restricted, and instead taste-tests just a few bites of everything. “I eat slowly and mindfully and savor a few bites I take of, say, the french fries I’m sampling,” she says. And she eats a hearty breakfast of overnight oats daily. “It curbs my hunger, and even though I might still crave the yummy foods in front of me, I can eat them with more control and joy.”
Chris Mohr, RD, an exercise physiologist, nutritionist, and co-owner of Mohr Results, agrees that telling yourself you can’t have a certain treat sets you up to binge later on. “Then all you can think about is that forbidden fruit,” he says. So next time your friend suggests splitting dessert, go for it. When you give yourself permission to indulge in moderation, you may realize you crave only a bite or two, or none at all.
Clean up your weekends
Heather Muir Maffei, Health’s beauty director, wanted to lose a bit of weight and get toned up before her wedding two years ago. One key lifestyle adjustment that helped her knock off the last 10—and keep it off? Not loosening up too much when the weekend hits.
On Saturdays, Muir Maffei and her husband, Dave Maffei, have an “eat whatever we want” meal for dinner—“even if that means Five Guys followed by doughnuts,” says Muir Maffei, 33. “It gives us something to look forward to, yet when we’re done, we feel like eating well again.”
They also hike, run, or walk their dogs, plus do a Saturday morning weigh-in together. “It keeps me accountable,” Muir Maffei says. And this weekend ritual assists in setting the tone for the workweek: “We love eating whole-wheat protein pancakes for breakfast, so Dave preps the batter on Sunday, and we use it for the week ahead.”
All of this is to say, the weekends really count. Data shows that most people do have a weight cycle that involves losing a bit on weekdays only to gain it back over the weekend. One study found that adults ages 19 to 50 consume an extra 115 calories on each weekend day, as well as more fat and alcohol, than on Monday through Thursday. With this in mind, take a move from Heather’s playbook and limit your all-out eating to one meal—instead of two full days of going off your plan.
Be meticulous about portion sizes
Allison Constantino, 69, eats healthy and is super active, but she notices her weight creep up if she gets lax about the sizes of her meals and snacks (even when they’re healthy). “I can run circles around many people my age, but I can’t deny the fact that I’m older and I don’t burn calories the way I used to,” she says. “If I overeat even a little bit the calories seem to hang onto me.”
Constantino now reads nutrition labels more than ever; she also uses a food scale and measuring cups. “I will look at a label for a healthy bag of nuts, and I will see that 10 pieces is a serving and put them in a bowl or baggy,” she explains. “Without measuring it out, I can easily do damage and gain weight, even those it’s a healthy snack.”
Misjudging portions is a common weight-loss speedbump, says Mohr. But if cups and scales sound too tedious, he recommends pre-portioned dishes (think summer and those BBQ divided plates!) from time to time to reorient yourself with accurate meal portions.
Or, use your hands: One handful of carbohydrate, two handfuls of veggies and/or fruit, and one palm-sized piece of protein is a no-fuss way to balance your meal. As for snacks? Shop for single-serving packs or think “golf-ball size” when pouring from a family-size bag.
RELATED: 8 Tips for Controlling Portion Sizes
Start lifting weights
When Anna Laura Sommer began grad school, she found it tough to maintain a healthy lifestyle. “I carried an extra layer of ‘fluff’ around my midsection,” says the 27-year-old, who is now a fitness and health coach in Philadelphia. “I was never overweight, per se, but I knew I didn’t feel my best.”
She started lifting weights as a form of stress relief (“I called it my beast-mode time and took it all out on the weights”), but in about a month she noticed the fluff melt away and muscle begin to show. “I was seeing so much more change in my body from shorter strength sessions compared with long cardio workouts,” she says.
There’s science behind her results: “In general, the more lean muscle mass you carry, the faster your resting metabolism is—and you don’t build muscle by only focusing on cardio,” explains Michelle Lovitt, an exercise physiologist based in Los Angeles. So head for those dumbbells at the gym, or add body-weight exercises to your routine.
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How much does 10 lbs. really matter?
Carrying a few extra pounds actually isn’t the biggest deal (as long as 10 doesn’t turn into 20, and so on!). “If a woman is a normal weight and puts on a few pounds, and her BMI is still in a healthy zone, those 10 pounds probably don’t have a huge impact on her risk factors for things like diabetes and metabolic syndrome,” Dr. Wyatt notes.
So ask why you want to slim down: Do you just feel better and more confident when your jeans are less snug? Do you feel stronger and more energized during workouts? “If losing a little weight achieves that for you, that’s great,” she says.