Humans are creatures of habit. Maybe you start every morning off with a latte and scone from your favorite coffee shop or hit up the same treadmill during every trip to the gym.
When it comes to losing weight, the trick is making all of those routines healthier—even if it’s just by a little bit. Here are some easy tweaks you can make to all of your routines to set yourself up for weight-loss success.
1. Your morning routine: Eat 30 grams of protein for breakfast
You’ve heard the old adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But for weight loss, you need to make sure it’s a high-protein breakfast. In one 2015 University of Missouri study, when women ate breakfasts that contained between 30 and 39 grams of protein, they reported feeling less hungry well into the afternoon, compared to women who ate breakfasts with only three grams of protein. (This particular research was funded by Hillshire Brands, a company that makes breakfast foods, including high-protein ones, but the effect protein has of quelling hunger has borne out in other studies.)
To get 30 grams of protein at breakfast, try noshing on a cup of plain Greek yogurt with slivered almonds or a three-egg omelet with cheese, turkey and veggies. Not big into morning meals? Try blending up a whey protein powder smoothie, recommends Christopher N. Ochner, president of the Nutrition Science Initiative in San Diego. You’ll get all of protein without feeling like you have a ton of food in your stomach.
2. Your exercise routine: Lift weights
“Strength training is essential for women to obtain their weight-loss goals,” says Jacquelyn Brennan, certified strength and conditioning specialist and cofounder of Mindfuel Wellness in Chicago. She notes that increasing your lean muscle mass increases your resting metabolic rate, or the number of calories you burn when you’re at rest. On the flip side, cardio burns lot of calories while you’re working out, but it stops doing so as soon as you finish your cool down. And it doesn’t increase muscle mass to any substantial degree. That explains why 2015 research from the Harvard School of Public Health found that, minute-per-minute, strength workouts are better for fighting abdominal fat than cardio ones.
3. Your bedtime routine: Wind down with a bath
Your sleep schedule plays a role in what you do and don’t eat during the day. Case in point: In one SLEEP study, when adults got 4.5 hours of sleep per night, they snacked on double the fat as when they got a full 8.5 hours. That’s because their brains’ levels of endocannabinoids shot up an extra 33%, giving them the munchies.
So instead of relaxing by watching TV or playing on your iPad, both of which emit blue light that can zap your melatonin production, try taking a bath, recommends Lisa Medalie, a behavioral sleep medicine specialist at the University of Chicago. She notes that, just as our levels of sleepiness and alertness follow a circadian rhythm, so do our body temperatures. And when our core temperatures drop, that’s when we also experience an uptick in drowse-inducing melatonin and feel sleepiness set in. When your body senses that you are hanging out in a hot environment, like a bath before bed, it responds by dilating your blood vessels to let off heat. Then the post-bath drop in your internal temps will help you drift off.
4. Your work routine: Log off when you clock out
While every boss has a different approach to what “work hours” means, the more you can do to keep work stresses from running over into your personal life, the better for your weight-loss efforts. Research from the University of Kentucky suggests that learning to manage stress results in even more weight loss than does learning intuitive-eating strategies. That may be because slashing stress improves your energy levels, explains Dr. Brian Quebbemann, president of The N.E.W. Program, a California-based bariatric and metabolic weight-loss center. What’s more, maintaining healthy cortisol and adrenaline levels can help prevent muscle breakdown to keep your metabolism up.
So when you leave the office, try to leave your work there. If that’s not realistic, at least cut yourself off from work email a few hours before bedtime so that you aren’t amped up when you tuck in.
5. Your cooking routine: Prep your meals once per week
A 2014 study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that people who spend time preparing their own foods eat more produce and have an overall healthier diet than those who avoid the kitchen. But let’s face it: Cooking every day is not realistic for many people. That’s why Ochner recommends using one day per week to buy and prep all of your meals and snacks for the week. After you get home from the supermarket, immediately start chopping, sautéing and baking all of your ingredients. You can then mix and match them to make salads, quinoa bakes, stuffed peppers, quiches (or whatever other meals or snacks you’d like to eat on for the week), he says.
After divvying meals up into single-serving airtight containers, store some at work and some at home. You’ll minimize the urge to hit the drive-thru and make sure you hit your five-a-day.
6. Your TV routine: Ban mid-show eating
In one Brigham Young University study of 300 women, those who watched three or more hours of TV per day were twice as likely to be obese, compared with those who watched one hour or less. But it’s not just the time spent sitting that hurts your weight-loss efforts.
Researchers note that, when you watch TV, your hands are generally freed up for mindless eating, and the barrage of junk- and fast-food commercials spurs cravings to trick you into eating more than you would if you watched ad-free programming (hello, Netflix!). What’s more, a 2015 Appetite study shows that, when people eat a meal while watching TV, they end up eating 19% more junk food later in the day. That’s because, when you eat while distracted, you hinder your brain’s ability to register your food intake. And if your brain doesn’t know you already ate plenty of food, it’s going to crave more later.
7. Your cleaning routine: Do a little bit every day
A lot of us turn our houses into disaster zones during the week, only to play cleanup crew over the weekend. But if you pick up after yourself here and there throughout the week, you’ll reduce the amount of time you have to devote to cleaning and curb emotional eating, suggests 2016 research from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.
In the study, when stressed-out women hung out in a messy, disorganized kitchen, they ended up eating twice as many cookies as did women who hung out in a tidied-up kitchen.
“A messy environment has the opposite effect of feng shui,” says Quebbemann.