If you've been overdoing it throughout the holidays you may be tempted to go to extreme measures to undo the damage, but the truth is a few smart, reasonable adjustments you can actually stick with can loosen up those too-tight jeans before New Year's Day. Here's how to get started:
Start Eating on Schedule
Each day, eat breakfast within an hour of waking up and eat again every 3 to 5 hours. Starting your day with a healthy meal and enjoying evenly spaced meals will maximize your metabolism, regulate your blood sugar and insulin levels, and level out your appetite. I know it may be tempting to cut way back, but starving yourself completely backfires. Eating too little forces your body to switch into conservation mode and burn fewer calories, which means you're more likely to hang onto body fat. And undereating can cause your body to break down muscle mass for fuel, which also causes a metabolic slow down. Unless you want to wind up thinner but flabbier, eating enough and at regular times is key.
Drink More H2O
Water does support optimal metabolism and some research shows it may naturally curb your appetite, but it can also help you feel better fast. Drinking more water flushes out excess sodium to help you quickly de-bloat, and it gets things moving in your digestive system to relieve constipation. Aim for 2 to 2.5 liters a day (about 8 to 10 cups).
Cut Back, but Don't Cut Out Carbs
Nixing carbs completely can force your body to burn protein for fuel instead of using it to support and maintain your calorie-burning muscle. So instead of cutting carbs out, just cut back. Pair veggies and lean protein with a small amount of a healthy fat and a small serving of whole grains. I recommend aiming for 2 cups of veggies (about two baseball's worth), 3 ounces (deck of cards) or a 1/2 cup (half a baseball) of a lean protein such as tofu, beans, fish or poultry, a 1/2 cup of a whole grain such as quinoa, barley or wild rice, and a little bit of healthy fat like extra-virgin olive oil, chopped avocado, or sliced almonds.
Here's a great example: Sauté one cup of veggies such as onions, sliced grape tomatoes, chopped asparagus and mushrooms in a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil with garlic and herbs. Serve over a cup of organic greens, and top with a half-cup of cooked quinoa (warm or chilled) and 3 ounces of diced chicken breast or a half-cup of lentils. Dust with cracked black pepper and drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar. These portions and proportions will leave you feeling full, satisfied and energized while you still see results (in other words you won't be starving, moody, irritable, or depressed with no energy and out-of-control cravings).
For a month's worth of meals that follow this same configuration, check out the excerpt from my latest book here. Give the plan a try and let us know how you're doing— more than 70 percent of the real women who tested the plan dropped a dress size in a month while eating four easy-to-prepare, satisfying meals a day, like my chocolate pear ginger smoothie and black bean tacos with cilantro-jalapeno guacamole.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.