Best Shape

Stay-Slim Moves That Will Make You Smile

Deprivation? Restriction? Cravings? Not here. Say so long to the typical diet drudgery: These RD-approved tricks let you eat what you love—and what loves you back.

5 min

Dieting sucks. There, we said it. That's because so many of the slim-down principles you hear over and over are rooted in negativity and deprivation. (Reduce calories! Don't eat after 6 p.m.! Make sandwiches with no bread!) Oh yeah, and diets don't work: A growing body of research is revealing that traditional dieting is rarely effective in the long run and can even do harm, such as cause metabolic damage. The new perspective: It's wiser to identify which food habits make your body (and mind) feel good. "Take the miserable dieting stuff off the table and set a completely new foundation that's focused on positive intentions and mindfulness," says Katie Cavuto, RD, author of Whole Cooking and Nutrition. The healthy eating tactics you'll discover here are your launchpad; put them to use starting today and you'll shake off food guilt and enter the new year slimmer—and happier.

Hooray!: It's ok to be lazy about food

The famous ladies of Friends reportedly ate the same Cobb-style salad for lunch on set nearly every day for 10 years—and they may have been onto something. "You actually have more success keeping to a healthy routine through what I call delicious monotony," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, author of the new book The Superfood Swap. Science backs up the strategy: When researchers at the University of Buffalo asked a group of women to either eat the same dish for five consecutive days or have it only once a week for five weeks, the "eat and repeat" group consumed fewer calories overall than those who had more food options. Variety can complicate the decision-making process around meals, points out Blatner. "When you're a creature of habit with food, it streamlines your diet and keeps you from making snap decisions about what you're going to eat and whether it's healthy," she explains. "It makes grocery shopping faster and meal planning and prepping easier." So if you're on dinner number five of that farro energy bowl you're currently obsessed with, bon appétit. Once you're bored, adds Blatner, "start a new cycle with another healthy favorite of yours."

Hooray!: You can put salsa on everything

The universally loved condiment is lighter than you might think. "It's usually just tomato, onions, cilantro and some lime juice," says Ashvini Mashru, RD, owner of Wellness Nutrition Concepts in Malvern, Penn. "I use it to top grilled chicken to displace fattening marinades, and I put it in omelets and on turkey burgers to add flavor without cheese." Toss together two 1-pint containers of cherry tomatoes (diced), half a small white onion (peeled and finely chopped), ¼ teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, a small chopped and seeded jalapeño pepper, 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro and 1 teaspoon lime juice. Scoop it with veggies or a handful of whole-grain pita chips.

Hooray!: Carbs are back (and they help fight cravings)

An anti-carb attitude is outdated, says Blatner. Research has shown that carbohydrates with resistant starch help curb hunger and promote satiety; it takes time and energy for resistant starch to break down in the body, so it causes less of an insulin spike than other types of carbs. "Clients come to me and say, 'I'm not eating carbs, because I want to be serious about weight loss,' and I'm like, 'Carbs are essential for weight loss,'" says Blatner. "Regularly eating healthy carbs helps you crave less of the junky, processed kinds because you're giving your body the energy source it needs, and you're giving yourself the mental satisfaction." Instead of a dinner of just fish and vegetables, add potato wedges. Or throw a scoop of rice or quinoa into a vegetable stir-fry.

Hooray!: Gratitude is good for weight loss

You're at home, famished and tempted to grab a bag of the mini muffins you bought for the kids rather than open your fridge full of fruit. Before choosing a snack, pause for a moment of appreciation: Think about how hard someone worked to grow that produce, how much you love the natural juiciness of an orange, how walking to the farmers' market allows you to get some fresh air. Can you say the same about packaged cookies? "You'll probably notice how much gratitude you can find for foods that nourish you, and how it's harder to come up with meaningful moments of gratitude for the foods that don't," notes Cavuto. "That's often enough to help you make thoughtful choices." Even better? Do it daily; research suggests that people with a habit of giving thanks tend to eat healthier than those who don't regularly express gratefulness.

Hooray!: You don't need to measure out perfect portions

"I don't prescribe portion sizes," says Cavuto. Why? If you allot yourself a specific quantity of food, you end up noshing on autopilot without paying attention to your hunger, she explains: "When you tell someone, 'You can have 3 ounces of chicken, this much of a whole grain,' you're giving them permission to check out and not eat mindfully." (Plus, a recent analysis of several studies on the role of portion control in weight management, published in International Journal of Obesity, determined that urging people to simply "eat less" of everything probably isn't the best way to help them reduce calorie intake.) To build a healthy meal, trust your gut, urges Cavuto. "We are smart, capable adults, and we understand what a balanced plate looks like," she says. "It has a lot of vegetables, some good carbs, a reasonably sized piece of meat—don't complicate it."

Hooray!: Salads don't have to be boring

Turn a home salad from sad to restaurant-level: Mix and match your base greens to create more flavor. (Star pairings: arugula and spinach, Boston Bibb and endive, curly kale and dinosaur kale.) Or combine grains and shredded zucchini for a texture-filled alternative to greens, says Alissa Rumsey, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Then add not-so-traditional veggies, such as snap peas and pickled beets. An ideal formula: 2 to 3 cups of your base, 1 to 1½ cups of other veggies, 3 ounces of lean protein (chicken, edamame, grilled shrimp) and a thumb-size amount of fat (like avocado). Chop it all up to make each bite flavor-dense, then dress it the chef way, with olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice and fresh herbs.

Hooray!: You can choose your own superfood adventure

Not hopping on the latest health-food bandwagon doesn't mean you're on the wrong track. "I've had clients call me and say, 'I just have to tell you—and I've tried it a million different ways—I will never like quinoa,'" says Cavuto. (Hey, 27 percent of Americans said they're "over" quinoa anyway, per Zagat's 2016 National Dining Trends Survey.) You're doing yourself a disservice by trying to force-eat a food or meal you don't find delicious just because it's trendy, she cautions: "It won't leave you satisfied, and you'll still eat the less nourishing thing you wanted in the first place." Go against the grain (wink) and find ingredients you can truly get on board with. Superfood stand-ins Cavuto loves: millet in place of quinoa, wild blueberries over acai and spinach instead of kale.