Americans spend upwards of $72 billion a year trying to lose weight, but for all of the money we’ve shelled out for 100-calorie snack packs, meal delivery services, and weight loss plans, many of us have little to show for it. To the rescue: study-backed tips sure to lower the number on the scale — without the hefty price tag!
While it’s true that the best weight loss programs and meal delivery services can be highly effective when you’re trying to shed pounds, it’s also true that you don’t need to shell out a lot of cash — or any at all! — to get healthy and reach your target weight. Here are six completely free things you can do (and may already be doing) to help you meet your goal.
To lose weight faster without going to a gym, just add small movements (tap your toes, bounce your leg or drum your fingers) throughout the day, say researchers. These “micro-moves” keep your metabolism humming all day, so you burn about 100 calories per hour — 30 percent more than if you didn’t fidget.
Have dessert with breakfast.
A recent study found that when women ate a large, 600-calorie breakfast with protein and carbs (like eggs and toast) plus a small dessert (like a cookie), followed by a smaller lunch and dinner, they lost four times more weight than those who followed a low-carb diet with no sweets. Why? A hearty meal with some sugar reins in appetite-stimulating hormones, so you’ll naturally eat less.
Catch those zzzs.
“Sleep is so essential to healing the metabolic control center in the brain that it’s almost impossible for women to lose weight if they’re not getting at least seven hours a night,” says Sara Gottfried, M.D., author of Brain Body Diet (Buy on Amazon, $12.99). One study found that dieters lost 230 percent more fat during weeks that they got ample sleep compared to weeks when they were sleep-deprived. To get the sleep that fires up fat-burn, Dr. Gottfried recommends taking 1 mg. of melatonin about 30 minutes before bed. If you don’t notice improved sleep, increase your dose by 1-2 mg. per night until you reach 3 mg. Adds Dr. Gottfried, “In addition to improving sleep, melatonin also has an antioxidant action that thwarts inflammation to further heal the metabolic control center.”
Log your intake.
Just jotting down what you eat can help dramatically curb calorie intake — an effect so powerful that studies show it doubles the amount of weight the average woman loses. And you don’t have to take notes! Instead, free calorie-counting apps like MyFitnessPal make it easy to record foods in the moment and review your weight loss progress over time. Researchers found that as long as you track at least 20 days per month, results soar. No wonder folks using food logs report losing up to 25 pounds in 30 days without following a specific diet!
Watch the clock.
Time-restricted eating has emerged as one of the strongest weight-loss tools. In a study at the University of California, San Diego, subjects who had unlimited access to food for just nine hours each day lost 73 percent more weight than those who had unlimited access all day. In a similar study, researchers reporting in the journal Obesity found that when volunteers ate three meals over a six-hour period, they had 23 percent lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and increased their fat burn throughout the day, compared to those who ate the same amount of food during a 12-hour period. To reap the benefits, aim to consume all of your meals within about 10 hours each day.
Load up on plants.
A recent study found that those on a high-plant, low-meat diet lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t load their plate with plants (like beans, leafy greens and mushrooms) — plus, they burned twice as much belly fat. Even better? Eating this way will actually save you money. One study found that a plant-based diet costs 27 percent less than a meat-based diet —savings that add up to $746.46 per person over the course of an entire year!
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Save on Healthcare (Buy on Amazon, $12.99).