Weight loss takes work--but the time you dedicate to eating right and exercising doesn't need to feel like a second job. Even if you don't have the time, money, or motivation to hit the gym and prepare a home-cooked meal each night (or if you're simply a self-proclaimed couch potato), there are still plenty of low-effort (but highly effective) strategies for getting rid of pesky pounds. Some of your favorite "lazy" habits, such as playing video games, buying prepared foods, and using cooking shortcuts, may help you slim down. Read on for 14 strategies that can help make losing weight a piece of cake.
Save time (and money) by skipping the gym and working out at home instead, suggests Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Keep some free weights by the TV or simply do crunches or lunges during your favorite show," she says. "I have both my treadmill and my elliptical parked in front of a TV. I can watch my favorite shows only if I'm on them," says Becky Clark, author of How to Lose Weight and Get Healthy Even If You're Lazy, who incorporates calorie-torching speed intervals into her living room cardio workouts so she can keep them shorter.
Video: Try this awesome at-home workout during commercial breaks!
Cook once on Sunday and eat what you've prepared during the week. For example, roast a turkey breast and prepare enough brown rice and veggies to last through the week. This way you have to think about food only once a week rather than 21 times, says Clark. "I tend to eat the same stuff over and over," she says. Researchers at the University of Buffalo suggest that limiting the variety of foods in your diet and eating them at standard intervals, like once a day or once per week, can help you eat less, as you'll be less tempted to overindulge in a food if you're consuming it regularly. (Search: What nutrients should I include at each meal?)
Instead of wandering up and down the aisles on an empty stomach, eat before you go to the grocery store and once you're there, purchase only the items on your list, suggests Joy Dubost, RD, PhD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That way the only step left is deciding which brand or type of product to purchase. Dubost makes these suggestions: Reach for 1% or skim milk instead of 2% or whole milk; grab whole grain pasta, rice, and bread instead of white varieties; load sparkling water instead of soda into your cart; choose whole fruits or 100% juice over fruit-flavored drinks; and if you have a tendency to overeat straight from the package, pick preportioned sizes instead.
If you're not the type to tote almonds and apple slices in your laptop bag, you're likely on the lookout for a satisfying snack at the coffee shop, corner store, or vending machine come late afternoon. "Convenience food doesn't have to mean junk food," says Dobbins, who suggests keeping your eye out for prepackaged foods that are sold in their original form. Examples include whole or precut fruits and veggies, hard-boiled eggs, and cups of yogurt. If you're trying to save money and don't mind planning in advance, make your own snack packs at the start of the week. "As soon as I get home from the grocery store, I wash and cut up cauliflower, broccoli, and celery, making it handy to grab," says Clark. "If I didn't, I'd never eat it."
Tasty 20-Second Snacks
If you're going to a party, carry a clutch instead of a hobo or shoulder bag, says Marisa Moore, RD, an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson. It keeps your hands full, making it more difficult to hold both a drink and a plate.
Video: Avoid these secretly salty foods when you're out with friends
By using nonstick cookware, you'll cut down on calories and prep time, says Clark. If you leave out oil or butter when cooking lean meats and veggies you'll save fat and calories--extra-virgin olive oil contains 120 calories and 14 g of fat per tablespoon, and unsalted butter has 102 calories and 12 g of fat per tablespoon. Skipping oil or butter means you don't have to spend time digging out one more ingredient from the cabinet or fridge. Plus, it can be time-consuming to wash greasy pans once they hit the sink.
Free Guide: Cut 500 Calories
It might take a little while to get acquainted with this new habit, but setting down your fork or spoon in between each bite slows the eating process and may help you eat fewer calories, says Marisa Moore, RD, LD, MBA, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She also suggests taking time to thoroughly chew your food. In a study from Harbin Medical University in China, people who chewed their food 40 times per bite ate fewer calories than those who chewed just 15 times. Another way to fill up faster: Drink water before a meal, says Moore. "This simple action is not only hydrating, but also may help you take in fewer calories during the meal."
12 Ways to Make Water Less Boring
If cooking isn't your thing, consider a healthy meal delivery service. This is a top health and fitness trend for 2012. Calorie-restricted and portion-controlled eating plans like Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig help dieters lose more weight than those in control groups, according to studies. Just like restaurant and take-out items, prices for meal delivery vary widely. For example, 28 days of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks on the new Meal Movement plan sets you back $14.79 a day, while pricing for Chef's Diet, which delivers three gourmet meals plus two snacks to your door each day, starts at $43 per day for a 31-day program.
Your favorite at-home movie snack has some surprising slim-down benefits. Those who snack on popcorn get 250% more whole grains and about 22% more fiber than those who don't eat the low-cal snack, according to research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. What this means for weight loss: Fiber and whole grains keep your blood sugar from spiking (and then crashing), so you feel full longer than if you snacked on chips or cookies. Keep your kernels from taking an unhealthy turn by popping them in an air popper and skipping the butter and oil.
If part of what holds you back from hitting the gym is packing your gear ahead of time, layer on pieces of your workout wardrobe in the AM. "Clothes today are more exercise-friendly than ever before," says Dobbins, who suggests selecting gym clothes that make you want to work out--and maybe even show off at the office. "Look for stretchy, flattering clothes that can double for work and workout. Or if your exercise of choice is walking, you don't need any special clothes--just really good shoes!"
Gaming used to conjure up teen boys sitting on the sofa for hours on end. But today's "exergames" are helping males and females of all ages torch serious calories. Researchers from Brigham Young University found that middle school students who played active video games that required the most movement, like Wii boxing or Playstation's Dance Dance Revolution, got enough exercise to meet physical activity requirements (60 minutes per day for children and 150 minutes per week for adults). Their study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, examined the energy expenditure of 39 children with various body types and found that kids burn 4 to 6.7 calories per minute playing active video games, compared with the 4.4 calories per minute they would burn by walking on the treadmill at 3 mph.
Take the tedium out of counting calories and recording your workouts by letting your smartphone do the work. The Thin-Cam app helps you create the ultimate food diary by storing photos you snap of everything that passes your lips. Based on your pics, the company's health experts generate an analysis of your eating habits and offer advice on how to lose weight by picking smarter meal options. At the gym, pull up the Men's Health Personal Trainer app and you'll have an easy way to plan your workouts, log sets and reps, and view videos on how to perform specific exercises.
If your schedule allows no time for structured workouts, find ways to sneak in more movement throughout the day. "If you can't exercise all in one sitting at least try to break it up into intervals, such as three 10-minute segments," says Dubost. Or wear a pedometer to track your steps, challenging yourself to take at least 100 more steps than the day before, she adds. Easy ways to add more steps: "Get up from your desk and go for a short walk at least every 2 hours if not every hour and use the stairs instead of the elevator," says Dubost.
Sleeping may possibly be the laziest way to lose weight ever. During a 6-year study, Canadian researchers observed the connection between sleep patterns and obesity and found that people who slept 5 to 6 hours a night gained 4.5 pounds more than those who dozed for 7 to 8 hours nightly. While many studies suggest that sleep deprivation increases levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition determined that lack of sleep can also slow the rate at which calories are burned. Swedish researchers found that even a single night of skimping on sleep slows metabolism the next morning and reduces the number of calories burned while performing automatic tasks, like breathing and digesting food, by 5 to 20%, compared with the morning after a good night's rest.
Make your lips pop with zesty coral, red, or fuchsia hue. Not only is bright lipstick very on trend right now, it can keep you from eating sugary or messy foods since you won't want to wipe and constantly reapply, says Sari Greaves, RD, nutrition director at Step Ahead Weight Loss Center in Bedminster, NJ. Plus, you'll be more inclined to eat daintier or slower to keep your makeup from smudging.
Search: Why should you eat slower?
Rather than mindlessly munch in front of the tube, give yourself a DIY mani-pedi. Polishing plus dry time can get you through an entire (nail-biting) Game of Thrones episode without reaching into the chip bag.
Print out this tongue-in-cheek poster for extra motivation to stick to your diet.
If you're quick to whip out the plastic to pay for food, consider cash. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that people are more likely to buy unhealthy items on impulse when they pay using credit or debit cards. Why does coughing up the cash inspire healthy purchases? The authors of the study concluded that it's actually psychologically more "painful" to pay with paper where the loss of money is tangible (as opposed to credit and debit cards where the loss is abstract). This pain can downplay the impulsive urge to fork over extra dough for unhealthy items that you know won't benefit your diet. Next time you're at the supermarket, shop smarter and skip the swipe.
Tap into years of Pavlovian training and brush your teeth soon after you've finished supper. Traditionally, brushing your teeth is a signal to stop eating, so you're primed to resist after-hours snacking, explains Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD and author of The Flexitarian Diet. The strong minty taste may help distract your taste buds from craving another flavor and doesn't mix well with other foods, either.
To remind yourself to stop eating before you're uncomfortably full, tie something around your waist--not your finger. Your belly will hit your belt before you've over-indulged (what can happen if your belt is too tight), cuing you that it's time to lay down the fork. Just don't undo the notches as the night wears on!
Ditch the suit and take advantage of casual Friday. A University of Wisconsin-La Crosse study found that people who wear jeans to work take 491 more steps a day than those in business wear.
Lose weight and save on utility bills by keeping your house or apartment a little chilly. British researchers who discovered a direct link between rising indoor temperatures and increased obesity rates in the United States and the United Kingdom noted that cooler temps force the body to expend more energy to maintain core body temperature. Their study, published in Obesity Reviews, explains that when the body is cold, it produces brown fat, which burns energy to create heat and differs from white fat, which is essentially a stockpile of calories. Spending more time in warmer indoor environments forces the body to let go of brown fat--it's a use it or lose it type of situation. The researchers note that when people wearing light clothing are placed in a 60°F room, their energy expenditure increases by 100 to 200 calories per day. Over a year, those calories could add up to a weight loss of 10 to 20 pounds. Just don't bundle up too much--it will negate the effect.