Effortless Weight Loss: 5 Diet Hacks
The Diet Hacks
What's a Diet Hack?
I’ve labeled the strategies listed below “Diet Hacks” because a “Hack” is small but strategic change to how you do something that delivers big results.
You don't need to do anything crazy to lose weight. The small changes make a big difference.
The Power of Small Strategic Changes
These Hacks are designed to expose you to the inner workings of your “feeding hardware” while diminishing the discomfort associated with cutting calories – they’re consistency boosters. They aren’t quick fixes, but they’re simple, easy to implement, and effective in the long term.
The best part about these tools is that they push you to learn about yourself and your own unique relationship with food. When it comes to losing weight, what you've got on your plate isn't nearly as important as what you've got going on between your ears.
#1 Pair Protein With Carbs (Especially Snacks!)
Do not confuse this recommendation for a recommendation to avoid carbohydrates. Pairing protein with carbohydrates slows down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, which makes you feel fuller for longer. Protein needs to be digested in the acidic environment of the stomach but carbohydrates are digested primarily in the small intestine (the next stop after the stomach). When you add protein to a meal or snack you slow down the rate at which your stomach empties its contents into the small intestine. More food in the stomach for more time equals feeling fuller for longer. Additionally, pairing protein with carbohydrates will smooth out the blood sugar spike that comes as a consequence of a carbohydrate rich meal.
#2 The Multiple Plate and Timer Method
We’ve all heard the recommendation to use a smaller plate so that your food looks bigger in comparison. This hack is a spin on that old tip with a massively powerful addition. Instead of putting all of your food on a smaller plate, divide your meal into two or three matching plates. It’s important to note that each plate should have roughly the same portions of each component of the meal. Once you have your plates made, take one of them to the table (or wherever you eat) and cover the remaining plates with cling-wrap or put them in the fridge. Then, enjoy your first plate of food.
Now the timer comes into play. Upon finishing your first plate, set a timer for 15 minutes. Only when that timer goes off can you get your second plate. You’ve probably heard it said many times that “it takes X minutes to feel full after you start eating”. That saying is valid. But more importantly, taking a break from your food prevents the pleasure driven feed forward response that we’re susceptible to while we’re in the act of eating.
The brain stem (the lizard brain, if you will) is responsible for coordinating chewing, swallowing, and breathing when we eat. The brainstem controls subconscious processes like breathing, startle response, and of course, eating. Like other unconscious processes, you don’t usually think about the mechanics of eating because they happen automatically and without your conscious effort. Just think back to the last meal you had. Where you thinking about chewing? Swallowing? How did you decide when to stop eating? Did you choose the amount of time between bites or did that just happen automatically? Pretty crazy how automatic these things are, right? But how does this relate to The Timer Method?
When you deliberately interrupt your automatic functioning, you give yourself a chance to have a say in the matter. You’ll definitely be surprised by how full you feel 10-15 minutes after that first plate but, this isn’t just a way to help you eat smaller meals. This strategy is powerful because you get to take the steering wheel out of your lizard brain's hands.
Experimenting with the Multiple Plates Method will dramatically improve your intake control because it exposes the automaticity of our meal-time behavior.
#3 Zero Calorie Snack Hacks
Use Coffee/Caffeine Strategically: Caffeine is well known for it’s appetite suppressing and stimulant qualities. Drinking caffeine will blunt your hunger, give you an energy boost and, if you’re skipping breakfast, will mimic the comforting routine of having breakfast. I find that I look forward to my first cup of coffee in a very similar way to how I used to look forward to breakfast when I’d have breakfast every morning.
Drink Sparkling Water: The carbonation of the sparkling water will soothe the stomach grumbles and trick your nervous system into thinking you just ate something. The fizziness will activate stretch receptors on your stomach to send a signal to your brain that you’re full. This sensation of fullness won’t last very long, but sometimes getting out of that hungry state of mind, even for a moment, is all that matters.
Chew Gum: The simple act of chewing actually stimulates the secretion of stomach soothing fluids. By chewing gum, you temporarily trick your body into thinking that you’re eating so it preps the stomach for the food it thinks you’re about to swallow. Chewing gum is another way to sooth the stomach grumbles and to keep food cravings at bay.
#4 Commit to a Consistent “Eating Window”
An eating window is just a fancy way to say “time of day that I allow myself to eat”. I’ve discussed the eating window in the context of intermittent fasting elsewhere so our discussion today will be limited to other uses of the eating window. The two most popular eating window approaches are to either 1.) skip breakfast, or 2.) stop eating 2-3 hours before bed. Both of these strategies work to reduce calorie intake by limiting the number of extra calories consumed during both of these time windows.
Meal timing is far and away the most overlooked variable when it comes to dieting. I’ll spare you the discussion of circadian rhythms, hepatic circadian repressors, and the pentose phosphate cycle, but the take home message is that our biology is built to work on a 24 hour schedule. A plethora of studies have demonstrated the benefits of regular meal timing and consistent active/rest behavior patterning.
In fact, the digestive system syncs up with our 24 hour schedule and actually starts to anticipate when we’ll eat based on our past feeding schedules. This food anticipatory effect will make you feel hungry at the times that you usually eat. The more often you eat, the more often you’ll feel hungry. Most people are surprised to hear that the simply seeing the number on the clock can be a powerful food-cue.
Being consistent with the timing of your food intake will make it easier for you to continue to be consistent. Likewise, eating at the same time every day strengthens your metabolic rhythmicity. This rhythmicity is critical for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, sleep depth, hormonal profiles and so much more.
#5 Count Calories For a Week
One week of calorie counting provides a lifetime of benefits. Yes, counting calories is tedious and tiresome. It's not a perfectly accurate account of your needs either. I could go on, but I won’t. I’m not suggesting that you should count your calories everyday for the rest of your life, but I am suggesting that you should do it for a week or two. You'll benefit in the long run because you'll have a better idea of your own diet’s calorie breakdown.
A week of counting calories is important for three reasons.
First, you’ll get a ballpark estimate of your daily calorie intake. In other words, you can match a feeling with a number.
Second, you’ll see how many calories are in the foods you usually eat.
And third, you’ll be able to take what you’ve learned in that week and apply the principles for the rest of your life. Having a general understanding of calorie content in the context of your own diet and food preferences is well worth the week of number crunching.
There are some great apps out there to make counting calories easy. I recommend MyFitnessPal because it has a user created database of food products. Instead of having to type in each individual ingredient of your Chipotle burrito bowl, you simply search the user database for what you have. Odds are, someone has had that exact burrito bowl before and has done the tedious work for you.
Take Home Points
It’s not what’s on your plate that matters, it’s what’s between your ears.
Losing weight is hard because we tend to think that we have far more control over our eating habits than we actually do. The neural circuits and hormonal feedback loops that regulate our feeding behavior have a tremendously powerful influence over our behavior, but knowledge of this fact is the first step towards a healthier relationship with food. The strategies listed above are designed to show you first hand how your feeding hardware influences your behavior. I hope that experimenting with these Diet Hacks empowers you to get creative with your approach to weight loss and health in general. An effective diet is one that you can stick to - make enjoying every day of weight loss your priority and watch the willpower battle fade to the background.