One Small Change: 3 Ways to Lose 5 Pounds in a Month
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One Small Change: 3 Ways to Lose 5 Pounds in a Month

Eat right all the time? Not gonna happen. Make small daily changes? Sure, you could do that. To prove it, we put three women to the test. Read on to see how making tiny tweaks to their eating habits helped them lose 5 pounds in a month.

No Alcohol

My one small change: "I ditched alcohol for one month"

Kellie Fagan, 25

Height: 5'0"

Current weight: 128.5

Pounds lost: 6.5

The Challenge

"My diet downfall is drinking," says Fagan. "Social events with my friends and colleagues always involve alcohol. I can end up having a dozen or more light beers, margaritas, or glasses of wine during any given week. And when I get a buzz, it's hard to resist junk food, which makes losing weight close to impossible."

The Expert Says

"Having one or two drinks a day or four-plus on the weekend -- even if it's light beer or wine -- adds hundreds, even thousands of calories to your diet," says Molly Morgan, RD, a dietitian in Vestal, New York. Also upping the calorie ante: "Alcohol lowers your inhibitions, so an order of French fries or a burger doesn't seem as bad as it normally would."

The Plan

Go for the flavorful fake-out. At your next party, have an appetizing drink that looks like a cocktail, such as sparkling water with lime. This way you won't feel bored or deprived.

Skip fruit juice. It averages at least 110 calories a glass.

Don't sip while stressed. If you're drinking to unwind after a tough day, better to target that stress in a healthy way. Head to the gym! Go for a walk!

Difficulty Factor: Moderate

"Early on, I went out for a friend's birthday and struggled not to drink," Fagan admits. "I didn't think I could do it, but I just had diet soda the entire evening. There were plenty of times over the month when I wanted a drink, but once I started waking up feeling refreshed on Mondays, instead of exhausted from a weekend of partying, it got easier. It also helped that my friends and family were 100 percent supportive."

How to Stick with It

"I created a cravings swap," says Fagan. "After a stressful day, all I wanted was a beer (okay, several). Instead, I relaxed on the couch with a bit of ice cream. The calories can't even compare to a bunch of beers."

The Unexpected Perk

"I stopped smoking, too," says Fagan. "I crave cigarettes more when I drink, so it made sense to kick the habit while I wasn't touching booze. And I'm not turning back!"

Will She Stay with It?

Not entirely. "I plan on having an occasional cocktail, but it's going to be in moderation."

No Fries, No Junk

My one small change: "I stopped pigging out and learned to eat in moderation"

Maya Vasquez, 34

Height: 5'2"

Current weight: 200

Pounds lost: 6

The Challenge

"I love all things fried, and I have a major sweet tooth," says Vasquez. "About twice a day, I have some sort of baked good, like a muffin, cookies, or my favorite, cake. I don't know if I can give this stuff up."

The Expert Says

"Having these foods occasionally isn't going to make a huge impact on your weight," says Bonnie Gluck, RD, a clinical dietitian at New York Methodist Hospital. "But if you overeat regularly, that's thousands of extra calories over the course of a month. Even if you're not gaining weight, you won't be able to slim down."

The Plan

Get cooking. Aim to prepare your own meals at least five days a week. It's easier to make healthy choices when you're in charge. (Although you shouldn't be shy about making requests in restaurants!) Stock up on lean proteins, filling cereals, like Kashi GoLean, frozen and fresh produce, and healthy starches such as whole-grain bread and brown rice.

Eat all day. Never let yourself get to the point where your stomach is rumbling -- that makes it too easy for you to overindulge. Have 100- to 200-calorie snacks, such as air-popped popcorn or graham crackers, between meals.

Enjoy chocolate. To get your fix, opt for low-fat or fat-free chocolate yogurt, such as Stonyfield Farm Chocolate Underground, which will set you back only 170 calories. For an occasional treat, try SnackWell's Cookie Cakes Devil's Food Fat Free (50 calories a serving).

Difficulty Factor: Not Bad

"I can't say I was a complete angel the entire month; during my period I fell off the wagon," says Vasquez. "Before I knew it, a muffin led to dim sum, which led to French fries. I felt so guilty. But as the weeks went on, it got easier -- even the cooking. Instead of frying chicken and fish, I'd bake and steam it. It tasted so good. I had a lot more raw vegetables, too. By the end of the month, I barely craved junk food at all."

How to Stick with It

"I tracked what I ate with an online journal," says Vasquez. "When I had to admit what I was eating, even to a computer, having a slice of cake didn't seem nearly as much fun as it used to. The more aware I was of what I was putting in my mouth, the easier it was to make smart decisions."

The Unexpected Perk

"I have GERD, a painful condition that causes chronic heartburn," Vasquez says. "But because I wasn't eating as many trigger foods, like fries, I didn't have an attack all month."

Will She Stay with It?

Yes! "I'm not even tempted to go back to my old ways. Losing six pounds is a major victory! It seemed impossible before, but now I know that I can hit, and maintain, a healthy weight."

Add Fiber

My one small change: "I ate more fiber at every meal"

Shon Gables, 37

Height: 5'7"

Current weight: 150

Pounds lost: 5

The Challenge

"Even though I run six miles several times a week, I just can't seem to lose the weight I put on after having my son last year," says Gables. "I've tried cutting out sweets and carbs a million times, but I never feel full, so I end up ravenous and devour everything in sight."

The Expert Says

"I've had clients drop five to seven pounds in a month just by consuming at least 30 grams of fiber a day," says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, author of The F-Factor Diet. "The reason: Fiber-packed foods tend to be low in calories, yet they're dense, so you can eat until you're full and still barely make a dent in your daily calorie count. Fiber will also keep your blood-sugar levels even, staving off hunger and energy lulls."

The Plan

Choose whole grains. Start your day with a high-fiber cereal, like All-Bran. At lunch, opt for whole-grain bread, like Nature's Own Double Fiber Wheat Specialty Bread or GG Bran Scandinavian Crispbread.

Eat your apples. Snack on no less than two high-fiber fruits a day, such as apples, pears, or raspberries. When produce is nowhere to be found, try a high-fiber energy bar, like Chocolite's Protein Bar.

Go green. Eat at least one and a half cups of high-fiber veggies a day, such as raw spinach, broccoli, and peppers.

Drink up. Sip water throughout the day. When combined with fiber, water helps you feel full and aids digestion.

Difficulty Factor: Hard to Easy

"It took me a good week and a half to get the hang of this plan," says Gables. "I had to get used to counting fiber grams, but before long, choosing veggies and high-fiber snacks (especially the Scandinavian Crispbread -- I refer to it as my 'secret weapon') at every meal was like second nature."

How to Stick with It

"I tried to focus on how I felt and looked rather than the number on the scale," says Gables. "After the first week, I started to notice that my pants were looser. That was enough to keep me motivated."

The Unexpected Perk

"My energy level is higher, so I'm exercising more often," says Gables. "And, to be blunt, I've never been so regular in my life! I don't feel bloated the way I used to."

Will She Stay with It?

Yes! "I was so surprised! I can't imagine going back to my old eating habits now."


Originally published in FITNESS magazine, April 2008.