Tough Love: What You Really Need to Do to Lose Weight

If you’re serious about shedding unwanted pounds in time for summer, listen up and listen good — it’s not exactly what you’ve been hearing. The sooner we admit that we’re in for some hard work, the less likely we are to quit the moment things get difficult. Here’s some tough love on how to really get slimmer by summer.

You’ll notice the tips have two main themes: tips for being mentally prepared for success, and tips for being physically satisfied and nourished. The idea is to help you have the right attitude to  reach your goals, and to provide the practical tips on what to eat (or not eat) to get you there.

1. Track everything you eat or drink, as well as your physical activity. There are many free mobile apps on the market today. What I love about the mobile aspect is that it makes it that much easier to accurately track calories in vs. calories out. Knowing how your eating and exercise habits balance (or don’t) is essential to finding where you can — and are willing to — make changes. Be honest in your tracking, even when your intake far exceeds your needs for the day.

Two popular free mobile apps include Lose It! and My Fitness Pal.

2. Fill your day with non-starchy vegetables. These foods are naturally low in calories and high in water content, which means they’ll take up plenty of space on your plate and in your stomach. Their volume and fiber will keep the body satisfied, and their vitamins and minerals will keep the body nourished.

Some examples include cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, celery, lettuce, leafy greens, squash, asparagus, onions, artichokes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, coleslaw, bok choy, jicama, radishes, water chestnuts and more.

3. Stop drinking alcohol. This may seem harsh, but it's the truth. If you’re looking to cut extra calories, one of the first places you should look is your pre-dinner cocktail, brunch mimosa, dinner table wine, etc. Alcohol has 75 percent more calories than carbs or protein (7 calories per gram of alcohol compared to 4 calories per gram for carbs or protein).

Plus, the body considers alcohol a poison, so it gets metabolized by the liver first, leaving the rest of our meal to sit around and wait to get processed. Alcohol also lowers inhibitions and causes dehydration, making us more likely to overeat.

4. Stop drinking liquid calories in general. This is a huge area for cutting calories. Liquid calories usually come from added sugars that we simply do not need in our diets. Researchers have found that people who drink more sugary drinks actually have a higher risk of belly fat, weight gain, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and gout.

Instead of soda or even fruit juice, sick still or sparkling water. Unsweetened black, green, white or oolong teas are also great choices.

5. Make time for exercise every day. If you have trouble finding the motivation to work out, remind yourself that you don’t have to whole-heartedly want to do something to start doing it. As the saying goes, "just do it."

6. Stand up for yourself. Stand up tall — literally. This tip is a bit of a cheat, but if you want that statuesque look, part of it can be accomplished through good posture supported by a strong core. Tightening your core and pulling your shoulder blades down and back goes a long way to present a longer, slimmer picture.

Pilates is a great way to strengthen your core and become more body-aware. Don't have time for Pilates sessions? Learn and practice good form from the plank position.

7. Don’t be afraid of the big fat truth. Good fats are part of a healthy diet and can even help with weight loss. Fat is metabolized more slowly than carbs or protein, so including it in balanced snacks and meals will keep the body satisfied longer.

Examples of good snacks are apple slices with a stick of string cheese, dried tart apricots with unsalted almonds, avocado-grapefruit salad, or cucumber slices in Italian dressing. It’s still important to keep overall calories low, so keep snacks in the 100 to 200 calorie range.

8. Portion it, then put it away. Hunger and appetite are not the same thing. Hunger is a cue to replenish a physiological requirement for food — appetite is the reason we eat everything else. Our appetites often outpace our hunger.

The easiest way to put a check on appetite is to portion food appropriately. That means serving yourself as much as fits into your eating plan, then putting the rest of the food away. If you finish a meal or snack and still feel very hungry, try doing something else for 20 minutes — go for a walk, read a magazine, organize your closet — whatever. If you’re still hungry after that, maybe you do need a little snack.

9. Use smaller plates, bowls and glasses. When your flatware is smaller, it takes less food to fill them up. This helps those of us whose appetites are governed by our eyes first and our biological hunger cues second. You still get to fill your plate, but it should naturally contain less food and therefore fewer calories.

10. Expect a challenge and rise to it.

Maggie Moon, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and corporate nutritionist for FreshDirect, a leading online grocery retailer in the greater New York City area. Ms. Moon shares healthy eating tips and savings on healthy foods in her Healthy Living for Less section of the What’s Good page at