10 Weight Loss Success Strategies to Lose the Last 15 Pounds

Science has shown us that people enjoy greater success by tackling their weight-loss problems in small increments. These strategies will get you started.

eating healthy breakfast

Weight-loss success is much more likely if you follow some important behavioral strategies in addition to the choices you make for every meal. Based on my many years of experience working with hospital patients and the clients in my private practice, I've identified 10 success strategies that go a long way toward helping people stick to a weight-loss plan.

More: Your 5-Step Plan to Stop Emotional Eating

These strategies are simple—no need to reorganize your life to fit them in. Just start working them into your daily routines, and before you know it, you'll be much better positioned for weight loss success.

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Success Strategy #1: Eat within the first hour of awakening

When you are at rest, your body wants to conserve energy, so your metabolism slows down. Just as you shut off the lights when you sleep, your body turns down many of the processes involved in metabolism. When you wake up, you want to turn everything up and start burning calories and fat as soon as possible. That's why I recommend eating breakfast within one hour of waking up.

By eating a nutritious, energy-revving breakfast (try these 20 flat-belly breakfasts), you are jump-starting your metabolism. When you add healthy food to your tank, so to speak, you prime your engines and get them ready to go, go, go for the day, so you can do everything that you have to do as well as those things you want to do, while feeling energetic.

More: 3 'Healthy' Breakfasts You Should Avoid

Despite what you may have heard or read, it still stands that if you skip breakfast, you're telling your body to stay in conservation mode. You're setting yourself up to feel tired, lethargic, and irritable. When no fuel comes into your tank, your body starts thinking about holding on to calories and fat rather than burning them because it doesn't know when more food will come. This is absolutely not the way you want to start your day. Even if you don't feel like having breakfast, push yourself to have something—an apple, an orange, some yogurt, maybe a glass of vegetable juice. Something is better than nothing.

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Success Strategy #2: Eat early and often

Many people follow this kind of daily eating plan: They either skip breakfast or have a small bite in the morning. They go light on lunch. Then their hunger roars like a starved lion in the middle of the afternoon, at which point they start eating sweet/salty junk food. Then at dinner, thinking they didn't really eat much during the day, they help themselves to giant portions of their evening meal, followed by dessert and bowls of ice cream and chips while sitting around watching TV for a few hours before bed.

This is not the way to eat.

It's much better for your body to eat early and often. That means having a healthy, lean, green breakfast; a morning snack to keep your metabolism humming; a healthy lunch; an afternoon snack; and a dinner that's smaller than you're probably used to, with a small snack in the evening. Ideally you should eat the bulk of your calories at breakfast and lunch.

More: 15 Foods That Help You Lose Weight

Researchers have found that people who consume most of their calories before 3 p.m. are more likely to be successful at weight loss than those who pile on the calories later in the day. And get this: It takes 24 hours for your blood sugar to stabilize after a late-night meal. Eating earlier gives your body plenty of time to burn up calories and stabilize your blood sugar before you get into bed.

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Success Strategy #3: Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night

We Americans are an exhausted bunch of people. Although sleep researchers recommend 7 to 8 hours per night, studies show that 30 percent of us get fewer than 6 hours of sleep a night. Being chronically tired truly interferes with your health. Lack of sleep is associated with higher rates of hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity, and cancer. In fact, studies show that getting fewer than 5 hours of sleep per night is associated with a higher body-mass index. The more sleep-deprived you are, the higher your risk of obesity. Insomnia causes hormonal changes and cravings for carbohydrates. And when you deprive yourself of adequate sleep, fatigue lowers your ability to resist trigger foods. Instead of eating, try taking a power nap for a bigger, more effective payoff.

More: 50 Ways to Sleep Better Tonight

Nighttime sleep even has an effect on daytime hunger, influencing the production of the hormones that regulate appetite. When we're over-tired, we tend to eat more than we do when we are well rested. Overall, people who sleep less appear to weigh more. Be sure to get your 7 to 8 hours a night. If you're having trouble sleeping, see your doctor; you may have a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea. If you have trouble getting the sleep you need, try these fabulous sleep boosters.

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Success Strategy #4: Eat snacks that are no larger than your closed fist

Incorporating snacks into your daily meal plan is a helpful way to prevent hunger. But in order to stay on track, you have to make sure your snacks are a reasonable size. One of the eas- iest ways to do this is to eat snacks that are no larger than your closed fist.

More: 20 Mindless Portion Control Tips

The exception to this is free foods (leafy green vegetables, which contribute few calories) and calorie-free beverages, such as coffee and tea. For example, a closed fist holds about half an ounce (1 tablespoon) of nuts. But remember, I'm talking about a closed fist, not an open palm.

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Success Strategy #5: Drink half your body weight in water

Drinking water helps fill your stomach and boosts your body's metabolism, so fool yourself into drinking more water. It also keeps you hydrated, which is important because often we mistake thirst for hunger, leading us to eat high-calorie snacks when all our bodies really want is a glass of water. To figure out how much water to drink, divide your weight in half. If you're 160 pounds, aim for about 80 ounces (10 8-ounce glasses) per day. Liquids such as unsweetened coffee, tea, and seltzer can also count in your daily tally.

But keep in mind that caffeinated beverages, though acceptable, are also diuretics, meaning the caffeine dehydrates your body and makes you pee. A good way to offset this effect is to drink a glass of water for each cup of coffee or tea you consume. Make the water ice cold, because drinking cold water revs up the metabolism even more. Your body has to work harder to stabilize its temperature and, in so doing, burns more calories for you. Winner!

To add pizazz to water and seltzer, make grape-cubes. Place a grape or two in each section of an ice cube tray, and then fill with water. Once they're frozen, pop these grape-cubes into water for a refreshing, tasty drink. This works for cut pieces of almost any of your favorite fruits. Think pineapple, mango, berries, peaches, nectarines, and melon.

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Success Strategy #6: Cut out soda and sugary drinks

It is no secret that Americans consume more sugary soda, sweetened iced tea, and other high-sugar beverages than water, daily. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sugary drink consumption is associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems. Here's why this is important to you. Your weight loss is at stake, and nixing sugary beverages from your diet can be a huge boon to your success. By eliminating sugary beverages, the average American could lose about 15 pounds in a year without making any other changes. 

More: 19 Ways to Give Up Sugar

Do yourself a favor and stop drinking liquid sugar. And remember, this includes sweet tea (whadup, Alabama and Georgia!), which is loaded with sugar and calories. Try making your iced tea without sugar, flavor- ing it with fresh mint, ginger, or a splash of lemon, lime, orange, peach, mango, even cucumber, instead (the citrus and cucumber are alkaline in nature and reduce inflammation in the body). It may take some getting used to, but before you know it, you'll love it--and when you take a sip of sweet tea, you'll wonder how you could stand that overly sweet taste!

More: 7 Surprising Reasons to Give Up Sugar

Switching to diet sodas may not be the solution, even though they contain many fewer calories than sugar-sweetened drinks. The same study, as well as others, found that people who drink diet sodas have a higher risk of diabetes than those who don't. This is referred to as the diet-soda paradox. 

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Success Strategy #7: Avoid eating within 3 hours of going to bed

At the end of the day, your digestive system needs to slow down and rest, so I recommend that you avoid eating anything within 3 hours of bedtime. Eating before bed can interfere with sleep quality and throw off your circadian rhythms. It can also contribute to heartburn and acid reflux. If you must eat before bed, choose a small protein-rich snack, such as a cup of yogurt.

More: 5 Cures for Your Late-Night Cravings

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Success Strategy #8: Use a daily food diary

Keeping track of everything you eat and drink can truly help with weight loss. Tracking your food makes you think more about the foods that you choose to eat. Mindless eating is one of the biggest contributors to weight gain, and keeping a food diary helps to get your mind back into the correct process of eating. Reflecting on what you eat, when you eat it, and the emotions you feel before, during, and after eating can help you to understand the habits and emotions that impact your eating choices.

More: Your 5-Step Plan to Stop Emotional Eating

Looking back at your food diary (check out this food diary from a fitness guru) gives you an opportunity to identify trends and unconscious habits—for example, you may realize that you overeat on days that you work late or that you do a fantastic job of sticking to your eating goals on days that you exercise vigorously. These kinds of patterns are different for each one of us, and one of the best ways to understand your own individual patterns is to put everything in writing.

More: 9 Mindful Eating Tips for Weight Loss

Using a food diary also helps to up your accountability—to yourself. By writing down everything you eat, including the "cheat foods," you give yourself space to be honest with yourself, which is one of the first steps toward true mindfulness. With accountability and honesty comes true acknowledgment of what you're doing, how it's helping or harming you, and what you can do to improve your habits and your health.

Download The Final 15 Food Diary to get started.

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Success Strategy #9: Shop with a list

Always use a shopping list when you go to the grocery store; it is a surefire way to cut back on junk food. Not only will this save you from eating food you hadn't planned on eating, but it will help you to lose weight and save you money, too. By sticking to the foods on your list and refusing to buy other, unplanned foods, you spend the money that you previously planned to spend, which supports your calorie and weekly or monthly food budget, as well.

More: 5 Grocery Shopping Tricks to Maximize Your Health

Using a grocery list is an example of what's referred to as a precommitment strategy. These kinds of strategies help build momentum for success because they allow your present and future selves to work together. When you write a grocery list, your present self is promising your future self that you will make smart choices in the grocery store. This commitment can spread out to other choices, as well.

More: 5 Misleading Grocery Store Labels (and What They Mean)

In a study published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, Australian researchers found that women who used shopping lists lost an average of 27 pounds (9 more pounds than those who did not use lists). Ultimately, these researchers found that planning your meals ahead of time by creating shopping lists helps you to gauge food intake better and stick to the meal plan while avoiding the pitfalls of strategically placed, unplanned treats that you might otherwise buy on impulse at the grocery store. Their results support the reasons that I have used shopping lists for my entire career to help clients stick not only to their food budget but to their calorie budget, as well!

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Success Strategy #10: Take special care if you work nights

Shift work disrupts your circadian rhythms, which are the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle (think of it as a clock) within your body. Circadian rhythms are directed by environmental cues such as sunlight, darkness, and temperature. People who work night shifts often experience disruption of their circadian rhythms, which affects their sleeping and eating patterns. Because of circadian rhythm disorders, people who do shift work can have higher rates of heart disease and mental health conditions such as depression. Shift workers are also more likely than 9-5 workers to be overweight or obese.

More: 3 Workday Break Myths, Busted

Shift working requires you to sleep during the day and work during the night, forcing you to go against your body's natural rhythm. As a result, your metabolism can slow down, which reduces your body's calorie and fat burning potential. Shift workers may also eat more because their mealtimes get mixed up. And if they don't get enough sleep, exhaustion may negatively impact the action of their hunger and satiety hormones. It can also be more difficult for shift workers to get the exercise they need, and it may be harder for them to schedule stress-relief techniques into their daily life, so follow these 6 weight-loss tips for shift workers to maximize your potential around your schedule. 

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