You've downed two mimosas and find your hand reaching for another croissant as you recount last Thanksgiving's traumatic episode with your in-laws from hell to your girlfriends during Sunday brunch. Oh well, you think, I may as well indulge before I start my new cleanse on New Year's Day.
The massive food orgy that begins around Thanksgiving and abruptly halts on New Year's Day provides endless opportunities to abandon all logic and devour a second piece of your favorite dessert. Your justification sounds perfectly rational: You'll make Jan. 1 that magic day where you'll never again touch another pecan pumpkin torte and finally attain fast and lasting fat loss.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly even when it doesn't work. We consistently buy into that familiar logic of debauchery followed by austerity, even though we know it's a surefire strategy for failure.
For 2014, I'm appealing a different approach. Rather than make a seismic shift, let's take small but powerfully effective steps to get lean and healthy. Here are nine effective strategies to take control now. That way, if you have New Year's Day regrets, getting on the scales won't be one of them.
- Start every morning with a protein shake. I've had clients do nothing else and still get amazing results by ditching their carb-bomb breakfast for a fast, easy protein shake. A meta-analysis found a nutrient-fortified meal replacement shake could improve weight loss maintenance. I blend plant-based (but not soy) protein powder with freshly ground flax seed, frozen raspberries, raw kale, and unsweetened coconut milk for a fast, filling meal that keeps me focused all morning.
- Meet your sleep quota. Party down early to meet your sleep quota. One study found quantity and quality count, so aim for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Prepare for sleep an hour before you hit the sack by turning off electronics and taking a hot bath with chamomile tea and maybe a trashy novel.
- Drink up. Dr. Susanne Bennett recommends drinking half your body weight in water ounces to stay lean and healthy. If you weigh 150 pounds, that's a minimum of 75 ounces per day. Start with a big class upon waking and carry a canteen to sip throughout your day. The only time I don't want you drinking liquid is during meals, when excess amounts can dilute stomach enzymes that break down protein. Otherwise, drink up!
- Step up your fiber. One study found even with no other dietary modifications, people who added 14 grams of fiber lost an average of four pounds over as many months. I recommend gradually working up to 50 grams daily. Easy fiber sources include raw nuts and seeds, raspberries, non-starchy veggies, and avocado. Fiber supplements can fill in the gaps on those days when getting sufficient amounts from food becomes difficult.
- Fifteen minutes and you're done. Gyms are teeming with new members in January, but by early March it's crickets as the dedicated few remain. If a gym isn't your thing or you know you're not going to make the time or commitment, you can get excellent fat-burning results with burst training. One study found HIIT's benefits include improved insulin sensitivity and abdominal fat loss. With burst training, you can knock out a killer workout in about the time it takes to find a parking space at your gym.
- Branch out. Studies show restaurants make a great environment to introduce more vegetables. Brussels sprouts and kale just taste so much better at your favorite bistro, right? Resolve to introduce a new veggie into your repertoire every week in 2014. Broccoli's great, but venture out with something a little more exotic like endive or kimchi.
- Put the brakes on eating 2-3 hours before bed. Take a hot bath and read a trashy novel rather than take a late-hour kitchen detour. If you're hungry before bed, make sure you did dinner right: Increase your protein if you struggle with late-night cravings. A glass of water can also help. One study at The University of Washington showed eight ounces curbed hunger pangs in everyone who hydrated before bed. 
- Banish your enemy. Anything lurking in your cabinets or fridge is fair game to devour during a momentary lapse of judgment. Even healthy foods can become unhealthy when you eat too much. (Note to self: A few tablespoons of almond butter are perfectly fine; devouring half the jar is not.) Keep trigger foods -- even healthy ones if they become a problem -- out of the kitchen and you'll be far less likely to succumb when temptation strikes.
- Schedule in bliss time. Do you really need studies like this one that spanned five years and concluded stress, including "perceived stress and life events stress," could make you gain weight? Our fast-faster society encourages over-doing, and the repercussions are showing up around our midsection. Stress management is not a luxury, so schedule time for a massage, coffee date with your girlfriend, or even a leisurely walk around the neighborhood with your terrier.
1. University of Washington Study. 2002. Reported in Integrated and Alternative Medicine Clinical Highlights. 4:1(16).
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