What a week you've had: Your clothes dryer started acting up, shrinking your favorite duds. The button on your best pair of pants popped. And every pair of underwear is giving you that same muffin-top bulge ... hmm, what's that? The dryer works just fine, and there's nothing wrong with the button stitching or underwear? In that case, it's time to face the truth: Your waistline is expanding.
The good news is there are some simple ways to take action before that two- or three-pound gain veers into the five- to ten-pound territory. Here are 10 top tips from experts for squeezing back into your favorite clothes.
1. Limit liquid calories. "These are the easiest calories to omit because they really don't contribute to your feeling of fullness," says registered dietitian Rebecca Solomon, a clinical nutrition coordinator at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. What's more, a Johns Hopkins University study found that people who stopped pouring caloric drinks lost more weight than people who cut food calories. They kept it off longer, too. So ditch the 500-calorie, 16-ounce Frappuccino in favor of an iced non-fat latte (90 calories). Soda drinkers can swap their favorite 200-calorie soft drink for a sparkling juice from Izze (about 50 calories). Even better, sip on plain old water. Research has found that drinking about six glasses of water each day will help you shave 200 calories from your day's meals.
2. Swap chicken for turkey. Lean sources of protein are crucial for losing and maintaining weight — especially in your 40s and 50s, when muscle mass is naturally on the decline, says Felicia Stoler, a registered dietitian, exercise physiologist and author of "Living Skinny in Fat Genes: The Healthy Way to Lose Weight and Feel Great" (Pegasus Books, 2011). "Protein helps build and maintain muscle mass," Stoler explains, "which is the best way to boost metabolism." Protein is also more satiating than fat or carbs, so you're less likely to overeat. The humble gobbler has the fewest calories per ounce of any animal protein. One 3-ounce boneless, skinless turkey breast delivers just 90 calories (10 from fat), compared to 165 calories (35 from fat) in the same size of chicken breast.
3. Keep up with calcium. Skimping on calcium prompts the release of calcitriol, a hormone that causes the body to store fat, whereas getting your recommended daily amount of this mineral will help you burn fat more efficiently, according to researchers at the University of Tennessee. Bonus: Calcium is another good source of muscle-friendly leucine. Plain, low-fat yogurt is one of the top sources of calcium. Dress it up with fresh fruit or a few dark chocolate chips to control the sugar count.
4. Pour a bowl of ready-to-eat cereal. A report in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that women who ate cereal for breakfast were 30 percent less likely to be overweight than those who ate other popular breakfast foods. The catch? Choosing a box that has at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. The higher fiber content will help keep you satisfied throughout the morning.
5. Change your carbs. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables have more nutrients and fewer calories than refined carbs, says Solomon. Experiment with the many whole grain pasta alternatives (quinoa pasta, for example, tastes similar to traditional white pasta). Aim to fill your plate with more vegetables than meat.
6. Get more sleep tonight. Short-changing your shut-eye may trigger cravings the next day, according to new research. Scientists from the University of Chicago Medicine and the Medical College of Wisconsin found participants' peak levels of 2-AG, a molecule that influences how much pleasure you get from eating, were 15 percent higher if the subjects were sleep deprived (nodding off for just 4.5 hours a night), compared to when they had 8 full hours of pillow time. The molecule apparently triggers cravings for calorie-dense food. The study authors believe the spike in 2-AG levels could be the body's way of guaranteeing you increase your energy intake to make up for the lack of sleep. This finding adds to the body of research linking poor sleep with increased appetite, weight gain and a greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Nine hours of sleep a night is optimal when it comes to your waistline.
7. Move more. You don't need to sign up for a 5K or endure a hot yoga session, but exercise will help you burn off more calories than just cutting back at mealtimes, says Stoler. Multiple studies also have found that people who drop pounds and keep them off over the long term get regular physical activity. Just 10 minutes of intense exercise has been shown to boost metabolism for the entire day.
8. Quit the clean-plate club. It takes about 20 minutes for our bodies to register feelings of fullness, Solomon explains. So take the time to linger over those first few bites, and hold off on polishing off the meal. "Talk to your dinner companions," she says, "or if you're eating at your desk, check your email or do something to slow down your eating. You'll most likely be full before your plate is empty."
9. Get comfy with feeling slightly hungry. This is a hard tip for most Americans to follow, admits Solomon. "We've been trained to eat at the first sign of hunger," she says. "But it would be so much better for our waistlines and our health if we'd learn to make do, to just wait until it's dinnertime to eat. Really, nothing terrible will happen — it's completely normal to feel a little hungry between meals."
10. A final thought: Don't diet! "Diets are about deprivation, which just makes people miserable," says Stoler. "The better — and frankly, easier — approach is to start simple: Eat less of what you really want."