The formula for losing weight couldn’t be simpler: Consume fewer calories than you require, which means eat less and/or exercise more. To lose a pound of fat there needs to be a deficit of roughly 3,500 calories; so, for example, burning an extra 500 calories a day — or consuming 500 fewer calories a day — will result in the loss of about a pound in a week.
However, while the math is simple, getting there seems far from easy. And thus comes a slew of miracle supplements, fad diets and fancy gizmos.
But the truth is, losing weight takes work. That said, interesting research has revealed that some simple tricks can make the work a little easier; specifically, creating small obstacles and changing cues.
Keep a food journal
It may sound daunting, but writing down everything you eat can help promote weight loss.
In a 2019 joint study conducted by the University of Vermont and University of South Carolina, 150 participants kept track of everything they ate for six months. Those who consistently recorded their food intake lost the most weight.
The best part is that the average amount of time spent daily on writing down was between 20 to 15 minutes — less time that you probably spend surfing the internet or watching TV.
Out of sight, out of mind
In 2013, researchers in Switzerland found that the relative availability of food influences food intake. Researchers for the study say that eating is an automatic behavior that can be disrupted when any additional effort is required.
Study participants were invited to sample freely from a bowl of candies; one group was offered unwrapped candies while another group was given wrapped ones. Participants who had to unwrap the candy themselves ate on average 3.6 pieces, while those who had no unwrapping to do ate 5.5 pieces each.
Similarly, in another experiment those who were asked to use tongs to take the candy ate significantly less than those who used their fingers; and in yet another experiment, the results were the same, even when the choice was between high-fat chocolates and dried apricots, indicating the tongs, not the food, were the deterrent, researchers said.
The moral of the story? While the packaging-minded among us may not want to purchase individually wrapped treats, we can still create similar obstacles. For example, wrap snacks in reusable packaging, make snacks hard to reach (just store them in the garage!) or of course, you could resort to eating snacks with tongs!
Take a different route
In a different but similar vein, consider the work of clinical dietitian and author Timi Gustafson, R.D., who explores habits and how they can sabotage our best laid plans to eat well. In a blog for online newspaper SeattlePI.com, Gustafson takes a scientific look at the influence our daily habits. In one case, a woman with an “addiction” to pastries simply changed her driving route to avoid passing her favorite bakery and her "addiction" was eventually cured (and she lost 50 pounds along the way).
Another person exploring the amazing pull of routine as it relates to diet is New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg, who wrote the book "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business." Similar to the bakery visitor, Duhigg had a chocolate-chip cookie habit, and he was able to escape the rut by switching up his routine by avoiding the cafeteria during the afternoon slump and socializing with co-workers instead.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in January 2014.