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7 diet tricks that actually work

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Many of us are looking for ways to lose weight, eat less, and have a healthier, more balanced diet, but sometimes it feels like a mountain to climb. It’s tempting to believe the latest diet tricks or ‘hacks’ will give us a quick and easy route to shedding the pounds. But do any of them actually work?

We’ve taken a look at the latest evidence and talked to a registered nutritionist to see if there are any genuine diet tricks that can help you lose weight faster, or with less effort. Read on for our top diet tricks that actually work, according to the experts.

For every trick that helps, there are a hundred that won’t. Our 7 biggest diet myths separates fact from fiction, giving you the hard evidence behind these popular dieting fads. 

1. Time when you eat

Not only what you eat, but when you eat, could have an impact on your weight. Some experts (opens in new tab) suggest that our circadian rhythm (our body’s internal clock) has a greater influence on our eating and digestion than previously thought.

In 2016 (opens in new tab), researchers found that when people with obesity reduced the window of time in which they ate, from more than 14 hours to between 10 and 11 hours, they lost weight, gained energy, and improved their sleep to boot. 

A later study in 2019 (opens in new tab) found that restricting eating to between 8 and 10 hours during the day, or increasing the fasting period overnight, was just as effective as restricting calories continuously. Such an approach, called time restricted eating, may feel more achievable for people who find calorie counting every day something of a chore.

Scheduling meals for the same time every day can be a help or a hindrance, depending on how you work, exercise, or whether you have a family. However, keeping the same pattern of eating day-to-day has been linked (opens in new tab)to weight loss, so it’s worth considering. 

Round wooden board with a quarter portion of vegetables symbolising intermittent fasting

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2. Cut back on sugar

Cutting down on unnecessary sugar in your diet can be an effective way to lose weight and prevent obesity, according to several studies (opens in new tab). Swapping your usual sugary beverage for a glass of water or a green tea can knock hundreds of calories off your daily consumption. Less sugar in the diet is also proven to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Dr Richard Allison, registered nutritionist at Herbalife Nutrition (opens in new tab), agrees. “I strongly recommend reducing your intake of simple sugars – that is the type of sugar found in sodas, ice-cream, sugary cereals, sport drinks and sweets.” He recommends trying a low sugar or sugar-free alternative as a first step to set you on your way. 

woman stealing a cookie from a jar

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3. Mindful eating

Mindfulness has become an effective intervention for all sorts of issues, from stress and anxiety, to sleep and eating habits. 

Mindful eating involves paying attention to our food as we eat it, savoring each moment as it passes by. It involves no special foods, no calorie counting, and no restrictions on food. Instead, individuals are encouraged to feel present with every mouthful. 

Given that we know we eat more when we’re distracted, it makes sense that by paying attention to our bodies during eating, we may identify when we feel fuller, sooner. Some practitioners suggest that it can even change eating behaviors, encouraging people to choose healthier foods. 

“Mindful eating can help reduce binge-eating and mindless snacking”, says Dr Allison. “In time, it should encourage you into a healthier relationship with food and help you build a positive awareness of your diet and habits.”

We need more research on mindful eating to be sure of its efficacy. Two separate systematic reviews into mindful eating found differing results. One, in 2019 (opens in new tab), found it was significantly effective compared with no interventions, while another, in 2021 (opens in new tab), found that there was little evidence to suggest it had any impact. 

However, it’s free to try, easy to do, and it could change how you eat.

woman eating an apple while looking at nature

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4. Eat lots of fiber

Increasing your dietary fiber intake by just four grams a day could help you to lose more weight. That’s the result from a 2019 study (opens in new tab) into people with obesity on four different energy-restricted diets. On average, those who increased their daily fiber intake lost an additional 3.25 lbs over the course of six months. They were also more likely to stick to their diet.

“Fiber helps to regulate the body's use of sugar, helping to keep hunger and blood sugar in check,” says Dr Allison. “Fiber delays gastric emptying, which helps us to feel fuller for longer. That’s why it’s known for its positive role in weight management. Whole grains are a great source of fiber, along with fruit and vegetables, legumes, and nuts.”

fiber rich food

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5. Get a good night's sleep

“Nutrition and sleep are closely linked,” says Dr Allison. “We know that people who have a poor nutritional intake, under-eat, or take in insufficient amounts of energy throughout the day tend to have poor sleep.”

The Sleep Foundation (opens in new tab) points to research that supports this relationship, showing that a lack of sleep can lead to increased appetite and diminished feelings of fullness. It can also lead to unhealthier food choices, with sleep-deprived individuals seeking out foods that are higher in calories and carbs.  

“If your body is in a state of starvation, finding food becomes more important than sleep,” says Dr Allison. “Sleep is one of the most important factors to both cognitive and physical recovery, so a good night’s sleep is key.”

How does sleep affect weight loss? image shows woman sleeping

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6. Manage stress levels

Stress not only harms our mental health, it can have a huge impact on our physical health as well. High levels of stress can lead to overeating, unhealthy choices, and a reluctance to do physical exercise. 

A study published in the Journal of Molecular Biochemistry (opens in new tab) implemented an 8-week stress management program for overweight participants. Relaxation techniques, such as deep diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided visualization were all employed for half the group. 

Those people who were given healthy lifestyle tips, plus stress management techniques, achieved a significantly larger reduction in body mass index than those who were simply given tips for a healthy lifestyle. They also scored lower on depression and anxiety. 

man working in an office feeling stressed

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7. Make small, healthy swaps

It’s easy to imagine how you’re going to turn your life around, join a gym, fast every other day, and lose loads of weight, especially around New Year or as vacation time approaches. However, research (opens in new tab) tells us that the bigger the goal, the harder it is to achieve. Instead, focus on making small, healthy swaps right now. 

“Making small, healthy swaps, particularly with snacks, is a simple way to boost your nutrition and see positive results from your diet,” says Dr Allison.

Instead of focusing on how much weight you want to lose, focus on eating 100 calories less every day, or adding 1,000 more steps to your daily walking. 

Small changes, gradually added to your daily routine, will help you feel like you’re achieving more. They also set up healthy habits that you can follow for life. 

Joanne Lewsley is a UK-based freelance writer and editor, covering health and lifestyle news and features. She mainly creates evidence-based health and parenting content and has worked with a number of global sites, including BabyCentre UK, Medical News Today, Fit & Well, Top Ten Reviews, and Yahoo!