Everyone has their go-to indulgence—rich chocolate cake, gooey grilled cheese, buttery popcorn—but this is not the place to start a diet. “I’m sure there are plenty of foods you don’t want to cut out of your diet, but start thinking about the things you eat out of habit that you don’t care that much about,” Batayneh says. For instance, if you love cheese on your burger, go for it, but if you could be easily satisfied with roasted red peppers instead, make the easy, calorie-saving swap.
Batayneh says this strategy is especially helpful for innocent-looking carbs that you might not even notice. “Maybe you’re crazy for croutons, and if you are, fine. But if you don’t really care about croutons, you might want to leave them off your salad and save your carb choice for something more interesting—because croutons count!” Other sneaky carbs include soup crackers, chips and salsa, and the infamous breadbasket.
Start-Now Strategy #2: Get adventurous with veggies
Vegetables and diets go together like turkey and gravy… only healthier. The problem is that most dieters get bored with their veggies (and would really prefer the gravy). “Most people are too narrow in their vegetable choices, sticking to only the three or four types they’ve had before,” Batayneh says. “Why limit yourself? Vegetables are your best opportunity for nutrient-dense eating.” The really are nature’s perfect diet food: low in calories, high in nutrients, and delicious.
Batayneh recommends trying veggies you’ve never tried before, or never even thought of trying. A great way to start is to branch out into different cultures for exciting flavors with new veggies. Try Mediterranean, South American, African, or Asian cuisines for a different perspective on dinner. You can also apply this strategy to other healthy foods like whole grains by experimenting with lesser-known varieties like millet, quinoa, and buckwheat.
Start-Now Strategy #3: Self-diagnose your worst habit
Most people are really good at diagnosing their own dietary issues, but don’t always realize it. “People always ask me the same question: ‘What’s the one thing I can do to start losing weight?’ I usually ask, ‘What’s the one thing you know you shouldn’t be doing?’” It’s a simple question, but most dieters already know the answer. Whether it’s too much cheese, too many dial-in dinners, or too few dessert-less nights, clients are usually quick to answer Batayneh’s question.
Once you identify your nutritional nemesis, an all-or-nothing approach may seem like a smart move, but it usually backfires (think more “all,” less “nothing”). Instead, Batayneh suggests you negotiate: “When clients tell me what they shouldn’t be doing, I tell them a way to cut it down to one: one sweet per day, one serving of fries per week. Whatever they believe is their dietary Achilles heel, that’s where I focus my 'one' therapy.” It’s a simple, yet effective way to address your biggest food issue without eliminating it entirely.
Start-Now Strategy #4: Stamp out stress
Research shows that stress can lead to junk-food binges and excess belly fat—not to mention sleepless nights and moody moods. Batayneh recommends these simple ways to de-stress and stay slim:
- Go for a 15 minute walk
- Listen to a song you love
- Get a massage
- Disconnect from your phone and email for one hour
- Play with your pet for 15 minutes
And if the idea of meditating intimidates you, try a mini-meditation. Set a timer and sit down for just one minute, breathing slowly. “Only one minute,” Batayneh says. “I know you have one minute.” She recommends taking these brief breathers several times throughout the day, and building from there.