The easiest hack for losing weight and belly fat would be one that’s so effortless and so enjoyable that you don’t even have to think about doing it. But healthy living rarely accommodates such hedonistic fantasies. To lose requires loss, giving up or at least replacing that which causes gain, namely calorie-dense food and drink.
But the best way to lose weight isn’t to think about dieting in terms of replacement but rather addition. According to Andrea Ovard, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified specialist in sports dietetics for idealfit.com, the easiest hack for weight loss is to eat two servings of vegetables a day.
“Eat at least 2 cups of vegetables every day,” Ovard says. Do it until it becomes a habit, like brushing your teeth.
The number one reason why adding or making sure you eat two servings of vegetables a day is that these foods are typically low in calories and high in fiber—two characteristics that help you to feel fuller for longer and help you eat fewer calorie-dense foods.
“Vegetables are nutrient-dense but usually very low in calories, which means you can eat A LOT of veggies to help you feel full while consuming very few calories. They also contain a lot of fiber, which is important in helping keep you full longer.”
Related: The Best Low-Carb Vegetables for Weight Loss
When you fill up on fiber-rich vegetables first during a meal, you won’t overeat the calorie-dense part of dinner, and you won’t have room for a sugary and fatty dessert, she says. “That strategy aids in weight loss.”
It may not come as a surprise, but eating fewer calorie-dense foods is a key tenet of losing weight. Consider what Harvard School of Public Health researchers found in a study of more than 120,000 healthy men and women reported in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2011.
The study analyzed changes in diet and lifestyle and weight gain every four years for 20 years. The average weight gain among participants was 3.35 pounds during each 4-year period, which amounts to a gain of 16.8-pounds over the course of the study. Researchers found that participants’ weight gain was most strongly associated with calorie-dense foods that are higher in starches, refined grains, fats, and sugars.
The number one food linked to weight gain was potato chips, followed by potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red meats (both processed and unprocessed). The study also found that certain foods were associated with less weight gain when participants ate more of them. You can guess what they are. (Hint: many of them are the foods Ovard recommends you eat to lose weight). In order of least weight gain was vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and yogurt. So as you can see, vegetables were the food group that helped participants stave off the most weight over the course of two decades.
The bottom line, the researchers suggested, is that focusing on high-quality foods and beverages and limiting poor quality (cheap, processed) foods is the most useful way to consume fewer calories and managing your weight.
Easy hacks for getting your veggie quota
OK, so what’s the easiest practical hack for eating more high-quality, lower-calorie foods so that they elbow the poor-quality stuff off your plate? Ovard has some tips:
- If you don’t like the taste of some raw vegetables, try new ways of cooking them. “Try them roasted; it’s a totally different experience as they’re so good,” says Ovard.
- Dip them in hummus. Dunking raw vegetables into dips isn’t a bad thing. It can add extra flavor and you’re still getting a lot of healthy nutrients and fiber from the produce. Choose healthier dips like hummus that are high in protein.
- Hide them. “Mix spinach and cauliflower into a smoothie, casseroles, and mac ‘n’ cheese; you won’t even taste them,” says Ovard. “Load up your fajitas, tacos, burgers and pizza with a ton of vegetables.”
Find the fiber
Ovard likes to focus on vegetables that provide the most fiber and nutrients, like carrots (3.6 grams of fiber per cup), spinach (4 grams per cup), broccoli (2.5 g) and artichokes (7 g).
The benefits of these foods extend beyond their fiber counts. Carrots are high in vitamin A for good vision, spinach is a great source of magnesium, which is important for energy metabolism, and artichokes are rich in disease-fighting folate, vitamin C and vitamin K.
Build a harvest bowl
Planning ahead can make it even easier to boost your vegetable eating. Ovard recommends trying her Harvest Bowl, which makes four servings so you can pack the extras for lunches or snacks. One serving of this delicious meal hits your two-cups-of-veggies quota.
Ingredients (makes 4 servings)
- 2 cups brown rice, uncooked
- 2 large chicken breasts
- 1 medium-large sweet potato
- 1 tomato
- 1.5 cups Brussels sprouts
- 1 yellow bell pepper
- 2 cups chickpeas
- 1/4 red, onion
- Ranch dressing
- Olive oil
- Garlic salt
- Cook rice on the stove, until fully softened/cooked.
- Cook and shred chicken.
- Preheat oven to 400 F.
- Chop the sweet potatoes, bell pepper, Brussels sprouts, and onion, and spread on a baking sheet, along with the chickpeas.
- Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil, garlic salt and pepper and bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until starting to crisp and brown.
- Serve by placing a serving of rice in a bowl, topping it with chicken and the roasted veggies. Finally, top with some cilantro and ranch dressing.
While you’re filling up on sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts, stay clear of these 20 Foods Ruining Your Weight Loss Goals.
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