15 healthy eating habits that work according to scientists

From the Paleo diet to the 21-day challenge, there’s a fad diet for practically everyone.

But as fun as they may seem, it’s often difficult to stick with them for more than a few weeks, and as a result few people actually see any long-term results.

Rather than trying one of those, here are 15 science-backed habits that can help boost your health and may help with weight loss too.

Portion sizes are key.

Sapori

There's a psychological component to eating, especially when you have weight loss in mind. Being conscious of losing weight and sticking to the right portion sizes is half the battle, said Sasson. This phenomenon is why most people in studies lose weight, regardless of whether they're in the group assigned a special diet or not. Simply being studied can lead to people being more conscious of what they're eating.

But overall, keeping an eye on portion sizes is a great way to help avoid overeating -- especially with rising since the 1970s.

Skip the restaurant and pack your lunch.

Portion size in American restuarants have doubled or tripled in the last 20 years, and it is changing what we think of as a normal meal.

'One way to keep calories in check is to keep food portions no larger than the size of your fist,' Elizabeth G. Nabel, director of NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, writes.

If you're trying to control your portion sizes, it is best to pack your own lunch because restaurants will give you more calories than you need.

Be flexible.

Sasson says having an eating plan with flexibility is key. Weight Watchers, for example, allows for a variety of different meal types. Having options for what you can eat can makes it easier to build that into your life, as opposed to a diet that sticks to the same five meals every week.

In a study of diets like Weight Watchers and Atkins that allowed for such flexibility, doctors and dietitians at Tufts University looked at 160 overweight people ages 22 to 72 on the diets over a one-year period. They found that the people who followed the popular diets were associated with more weight loss and a reduction in heart risk factors than those who didn't stick with the diets.

Go with your gut... bacteria.

Shutterstock/Suzanne Tucker

The microbes that live in your stomach, collectively called your microbiome, play an important role in digestion. In a recent study, researchers in Sweden came up with a mathematical formula to help find the right eating plan for each person based on his or her microbiome. The study authors found evidence that these plans could help the participants lose weight and even possibly prevent certain diseases.

Want to diversify your gut microbiome? Eat a variety of dairy, vegetables, chicken, fish, eggs, and oils, suggest the study authors.

Don't kill yourself on the treadmill. There may be a simpler way.

Eating when you're very hungry can make you more likely to overeat. One possible way to stave off this problem may be as simple as drinking at least 16 ounces of water about 30 minutes before your meal. A small study found that people who did this before at least one meal a day lost 2.7 pounds more than their study counterparts who did not drink water before meals. Neither of the two groups reported changes in their exercise regimes, either.

Never go grocery shopping when you're hungry.

One small study found that hungry shoppers grabbed one-third more junk food than full shoppers. So, just make sure that you're aware not only of what you're eating, but also of what you're buying.

Avoid diet drinks.

Roughly 20% of Americans drink at least one soda a day. If it's regular and not diet that you're drinking, swapping it for diet could lead to weight loss. But studies suggest that change may only work in the the short-term.

In a study that ran from 1979 to 1996, researchers found from a sample of nearly 750 people age 65 or older, that those who drank diet soda on a daily basis had a 70% greater increase in waist size than people who drank it less regularly or not at all.

While there's no firm evidence to support the scary notion that artificial sweeteners increase our risk of cancer, there is reason to suspect that in the long-run it won't help your waist line.

Don't go hungry.

The SmartMio can strengthen your muscles with no exercise required.

At the end of WWII, researchers starved 36 young male volunteers for 24 weeks, giving them a low-fat diet limited to just 1,600 calories a day, which anywhere from 600 to 1500 calories fewer than their body needed (depending on their level of daily activity) to maintain a healthy weight.

Although the men lost about 1 pound a week for the first 12 weeks, they only lost 1/4 a pound a week for the last half. Worse things happened as well: Many became obsessed with the thought of food, began to lose their hair, and noticed their wounds seemed to heal more slowly.

When the men were finally allowed to eat freely, many went on extreme binges, consuming as much as 10,000 calories a day -- five times as many calories as they needed. Twenty weeks after freedom the men had gained an average of 50% more body fat than when they began the study.

You cannot go hungry forever, and your body doesn't want you to, so be smart about losing weight. First, know how many calories your body needs with online calculators like this one from the Mayo Clinic, and then reduce your caloric intake moderately.

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