Set yourself up for body-trimming success with these five lifestyle tweaks.
Call in a support crew
Obesity loves company : Your odds of packing on pounds rise when your friends, family, and even neighbors chunk up. The good news: The reverse also seems to be true. A study in the International Journal of Obesity found that the spouses of dieters enrolled in weight-loss programs also lost flab—without trying. The average loss by matrimony was five pounds in a year, higher in some cases (one woman lost 14 pounds to her husband's 35). If no one you know is cutting calories, it's easy to find a diet BFF using a free service like bluepont.com. Download the free software to your cell, enter your preferences and location, and you'll be alerted when a match is found.
A 2008 USDA report found that consumers read labels less often today than they did 10 years ago. Other studies have shown that shoppers who do often end up confused—who wouldn't be, when a tiny bottle of OJ turns out to be 2.5 servings? "Labels can lie," says Tanya Zuckerbrot, M.S., R.D., author ofThe F-Factor Diet. Sign up at eBrandAid.com, which lists red-flag ingredients like artificial sweeteners and MSG (recently linked to an increased risk of being overweight). Easier: Swear off any packaged food whose first four ingredients you don't recognize.
Tweak your sleep schedule
Too many of us treat weight loss like a 9-to-5 job and let loose once we're off the clock. Last year, an article in the journal Obesity reported that dieters consume more calories from Saturday morning through Sunday night than they do during the week—enough, the study authors estimated, to add up to a nine-pound gain in a year. So what's the cure for weekend splurges? In a word, routine. "One reason people eat more on the weekends is that they sleep late, miss breakfast, and compensate with a big lunch," Zuckerbrot says. Set your alarm so you can stick to your weekday routine.
Dust off your stove
To keep the lead out, be a little more like the Iron Chef. A 2008 study in theReview of Agricultural Economics found that going out for a sit-down lunch rings up an average of 184 more calories than brown-bagging it. That number climbs to 227 if you chow on fast food. What's worse, you probably have no clue how fatty your entree really is: According to recent data from the University of Arkansas, the average diner underestimates each meal by up to 600 calories. Cook at home just three days a week and you could lose a pound a week.
There's motivation, and then there's motivation. A recent study (one we wish we'd taken part in) found that people whose employers paid them for every pound they lost dropped as much as 12 percent more weight than those who received no dough. Boss not ready to fork over cash? Make your own reward. "Put aside cash for every pound you lose," says licensed psychotherapist Stacy Kaiser of VH1's Celebrity Fit Club. Use it to treat yourself to a manicure or earmark it for a favorite charity. If moolah doesn't move you, buy a teeny bikini and hang it on your refrigerator, or print out a photo of a downsized version of yourself.