Smart Moves 1-3
1: Avoid Temptation
"My husband and I keep very little food in the house. We cook just enough for the two of us, so there are few leftovers in the fridge, and we don't keep fattening snacks around. If either of us has a craving for something — my favorite is pizza — we're forced to go out for it."
—Erin O'Reilly, 20, Atlanta
Why It Works: Erin and her husband have joined forces to make their home a temptation-free zone — a way to ensure that they both win at weight loss. But eliminating snacks completely can backfire (even Erin admits to cravings). The trick is to stock up on healthy snacks, like fruits, vegetables, popcorn and rice cakes.
2: Fill Up On Fiber
"To boost my fiber intake, I mix a high-fiber cereal with my Cheerios and eat a lot more fruits and vegetables."
—Amy Rayko, 27, Chicago
Why It Works: The American Heart Association advises getting at least 25 grams of fiber daily to help ward off disease. A USDA study found that increasing fiber intake from 12 to 24 grams blocks the absorption of up to 90 calories a day. But beware: If you adopt Amy's tips all at once, you may be plagued by cramping and bloating. Zelman suggests adding a few sprinkles of high-fiber cereal (with at least five grams per serving) to your regular brand, working toward a 50-50 ratio over the course of a few weeks. And, most important, drink plenty of fluids.
3: Plan Your Meals
"As a vegetarian, I need to be extra careful about getting enough protein and B vitamins. To help me keep track, I plan out daily menus for each week, so I know I'm meeting my body's needs."
—Holly Snyder, 42, State College, Pennsylvania
Why It Works: Eating healthfully does require some advance though, and taking the time to evaluate your body's nutritional needs is an integral part of the process. But Holly's meticulous attention to meal planning may not be realistic for everyone. The solution: Take baby steps. First, keep a food diary for at least a week, so you can identify what nutrients you're lacking, how many calories you're taking in, etc., suggests Joan Knoll, R.D., a dietitian at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center's Weight Management Center. Then make small corrections: an extra serving of vegetables one day, two extra servings of fruit the next.
Smart Moves 4-7
4: Add a Protein Punch
"Instead of eating just oatmeal or cereal, I scramble an egg every morning as well. Since I started adding protein to my breakfasts, I have a lot more energy to get through my morning workout."
—Laura Katz, 26, Chelmsford, Massachusetts
Why It Works: Typical breakfast fare — a bagel and cream cheese, a muffin, fruit — doesn't always offer enough protein to keep you going all morning (especially if you exercise). A morning meal should supply at least a quarter of your daily needs for calories, protein, fiber and fat, according to Liz Applegate, Ph.D., a sports nutritionist and author of Eat Smart, Play Hard (Rodale Press, 2001).
5: Don't Drink Calories
"I stay away from caloric beverages like soda. I even skip juice and eat whole fruit instead."
— Laura Gatland, 24, Chicago
Why It Works: Few of us remember to count the calories we drink — and some drinks can be surprisingly caloric. Even worse, Purdue University researchers found that people who consumed 450 calories' worth of jellybeans instinctively reduced their caloric intake the rest of the day, while those who drank 450 calories' worth of soft drinks didn't. But not all drinks are unhealthy. "Citrus juices, in particular, are a great way to get vitamin C, especially if you're on the go," says Zelman. Just stick to a four-ounce glass (roughly 50 calories).
6: Graze All Day
"I carry around healthy snacks — pretzels, carrots, fruit, nuts and low-fat granola — to nibble on all day."
—Nichole Marioni, 29, Boston
Why It Works: Eating several small meals a day keeps your blood-sugar levels stable, so you suffer fewer energy highs and lows. If you're not careful, though, you could end up eating more than you think. Measure out individual half-cup servings before you start the day.
7: Cut Caffeine
"I no longer rely on coffee to keep me going in the morning, and I actually feel more energized now. I hardly ever get that slump I used to feel by lunchtime."
—Stephanie Mohr, 27, Findlay, Ohio
Why It Works: Stephanie's right — caffeine may give you a temporary lift, but it won't sustain you. Too much can also disrupt your sleeping patterns, making you feel groggy in the morning. But it's important not to quit cold turkey, or you'll suffer withdrawal symptoms (headaches, irritability and jitteriness). Gradually dilute your morning cup with decaf, or eliminate one diet soda a day. Keep track of hidden caffeine sources, like coffee-flavored ice cream and yogurt, and some pain relievers.
Smart Moves 8-11
8: Get at Least Five a Day
"I keep a dish of fruit and a container of celery and carrot sticks on my desk. Now, instead of going to the vending machine for a snack, I just reach into my bowl."
—Tracy Weaver, 31, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania
Why It Works: Anyone who meets the five-a-day goal deserves an A for effort; the phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables can slow aging and protect you from disease. But researchers agree that give servings in a minimum. You should be getting almost double that. For extra protection, be sure that the fruit bowl's filled with lots of different-colored fruits and vegetables, to ensure that you get a broad spectrum of disease-fighting compounds.
9: Downsize Portions
"I bought a food scale and started measuring out my portions. I was shocked to see that I'd been eating four or five servings of pasta without knowing it."
—Jessica Matyascik, 29, New York City
Why It Works: Measuring pasta and cereal, as well as weighing meats and cheeses, can save hundreds of calories a day. A half cup of cooked grains or pasta, three ounces of meat or poultry, four ounces of fish, a cup of yogurt and an ounce of hard cheeses all count as a single serving. Even if you feel confident eyeballing portions, use a scale or measuring cup every few weeks to remind yourself; without a refresher course, people get less and less accurate, according to research.
10: Remember: Fat Can Be Your Friend
"I try to include a small amount of fat — whether it's a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of cheese or a smear of peanut butter — in every snack or meal."
—Emily Lapkin, 27, New York City
Why It Works: Without fat, your body can't absorb some antioxidants, such as lycopene, beta-carotene and vitamins D, K and E. New research also suggests that very low-fat diets may not be effective in the long run. People who follow a moderate-fat, reduced-calorie eating plan feel more satisfied and are better able to stick with a diet than people who restrict their fat intake to less than 20 percent of calories.
11: Don't Forget Water
"I always feel more refreshed in the morning after drinking a tall glass of water. It also keeps me from overeating at breakfast."
—Jill Shockey, 28, State College, Pennsylvania
Why It Works: Water is essential to preventing fatigue and bloating and keeps your whole body functioning optimally. You need at least 64 ounces daily — even more when you work out regularly. Keeping hydrated should be an ongoing process; drink an eight-ounce glass every two hours. That way, drinking water becomes a regular habit instead of a once-a-day chore.