Trying to trim down to look great in your swimsuit? Experts agree that going on fad diets, depriving yourself of all your favorite foods, and spending hours a day at the gym are unrealistic solutions. Instead, they recommend taking sensible steps that you can stick with -- without suffering.
Two diet and nutrition experts who spoke with WebMD gave us seven simple ways to sneak off the pounds:
1. Snack Smart.
Don't let between-meal hunger undermine your weight loss efforts.
"In-between snacks can make or break your diet," advises Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, LDN, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "You need snacks if there is a more than a four-hour gap between meals, to keep blood sugar under control and prevent overeating."
Her advice: plan ahead, and take energy-boosting mini meals with you when you're on the go. Think of your snacks as opportunities to fill in the nutritional gaps in your diet (for example, with fruit and low-fat dairy products).
Good choices will include lean protein, fiber, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
One cup of grapes and 1 ounce of low-fat string cheese provide 120 calories and plenty of healthy nutrients. Compare that to a snack of three sandwich cookies, which contain 160 calories and virtually no nutrients.
2. Savor Every Bite
Eating slowly maximizes the pleasure you get from food, and helps you get you in touch with feelings of fullness, says Sass.
She advises taking a little time out of your busy day and getting away from your desk at mealtime, so you can sit back and really enjoy the taste of your food.
"Get rid of the distractions such as the television or checking your email while eating -- activities that prevent you from realizing just how fast you eat," advises Sass.
Put your sandwich or fork down between bites, and pay attention to the taste and texture of your food while consciously trying to eat more slowly. It will feel like an entirely different experience, and you may find you feel full with a much smaller portion, she says.
3. Eat Your Calories, Don't Drink Them
Some beverages are worth every calorie they contain. But others -- such as sweetened juices, teas, and sodas -- satisfy thirst, not hunger, even though they can add plenty of calories throughout the day.
"Research studies show that swallowing calories does not give the same level of satisfaction as slowly chewing food," says Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, LD, FADA, president-elect of the American Dietetic Association
For example, a 20-ounce sweetened soft drink has the same number of calories and carbohydrates as a large bagel. But while the bagel will fill you up, the soda won't, says Sass.
You could lose a pound in three weeks by simply cutting out one 12-ounce can of sweetened soda each day. Substitute a diet soda or, better yet, water (plain or sparkling) with a splash of citrus, for hydration without extra calories.
4. Eat More to Lose More
Who wouldn't like to eat more and still lose weight? It's simple, says Diekman. Just choose "high volume" foods that are low in calories but contain plenty of health-promoting phytochemicals.
High-volume foods are those that contain plenty of water and fiber to help fill you up -- vegetables, fruits, legumes, soups, and whole grains. Studies have shown that high-volume foods satisfy the appetite sooner and can help prevent overeating.
"My favorite high-volume, low-calorie healthy treat is light microwave popcorn," says Sass. "It is a whole grain, and an entire bag has only 200 calories,"
And while you're filling up on high-volume foods, you may find it easier to eat smaller portions of rich, calorie-dense foods, like sweets, snacks, full-fat dairy products and fatty meats.
5. Don't Eat from the Bag
Economy-sized packages can encourage you to eat more. So can eating directly from the package.
Controlling portions is the most important factor in weight control, says Diekman: "If you want to lose weight, you need to make healthy food choices and monitor portions."
Take your food out of the package and portion it into a bowl or dish to discourage overeating, she recommends.
Teach yourself what a normal portion looks like by using measuring cups or scales. You can also get an idea of portion size by using your own body: one cup is about the size of your fist, and half a cup is roughly equal to the palm of your hand.
6. Enjoy Variety – But Not Too Much
Food extravaganzas like buffets can trigger overeating. "Too much variety on your plate at one meal can often mean too much food overall," says Diekman.
That's not to say that you should eat the same thing all the time. Eating a variety of foods is great -- as long as the foods are low in calories and rich in nutrients, such as fruits, beans, vegetables, broth-based soups, oatmeal, and low-fat dairy products.
So concentrate on a variety of nutritious foods that add interesting flavors and textures without excess calories.
7. Have Three Square a Day
Don't skip meals. If you do, chances are you will end up eating more throughout the day.
"Starting the day without breakfast is like starting your car without fuel; you won't get very far," says Diekman.
Ideally, you should sit down and enjoy a quick meal before leaving the house. If that's not possible, whip up a smoothie made from fresh fruit, low-fat yogurt, and a splash of juice and take it with you. Or simply throw a packet of instant oatmeal into your briefcase to make when you get to work.