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10 Last-Ditch Diet Tricks


Expect to drop 3 to 5 pounds with these tips

You've trained hard; filled your fridge, freezer, and pantry with healthy fare; and been diligent about getting your H20. But despite all that, a little bit of flab lingers. Don't give up—or turn to a crash diet in desperation! These 10 diet tweaks are designed to help you banish bloat and rev up your metabolism without the sluggishness, hunger, irritability, and other side effects of crazy "miracle" plans. Work them into your diet in the two to four weeks before your wedding and we promise you'll love the results.

1. Flatten your belly with fiber

Excess body fat isn't the only thing that leads to tummy bulge: About 80 percent of us struggle with constipation at some point. While brief periods of irregularity are normal, they can make the scale creep up and cause that little extra pooch. The easy solution: Up your intake of soluble fiber, found in apples, citrus fruits, seeds, and beans. "This sticky fiber soaks up water to form a gel-like substance that stimulates the muscles of your digestive system so they contract and push waste through faster," says Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., R.D., a spokes-woman for the American Dietetic Association. A simple way to boost your intake: Sprinkle chia seeds (found at health food stores) or ground flaxseed into yogurt or a smoothie.

2. Add healthy bacteria

Yogurt and kefir contain probiotics, such as acidophilus, which may be a hidden factor in weight control. Everyone has bacteria in their digestive system, but if you're overweight, it may be because the blend of those bugs is causing you to absorb more calories from the food you eat. "Getting more pro-biotics in your diet can change the balance of bacteria," says Steven Pratt, M.D., author of SuperHealth. And that can lead to weight loss.

Next Page: More Ways to Get Rid of Bloat

3. "C" yourself slimmer

A study in Nutrition & Metabolism found that exercisers who skimp on the vitamin burn 25 percent less fat during workouts. "Vitamin C helps produce carnitine, an amino acid that helps you use fat for energy. If there is too little carnitine in your tissues, your body will use carbohydrates or protein for fuel," says lead study author Carol S. Johnston, Ph.D., R.D., a professor and the director of the nutrition program at Arizona State University, who published the study. "Not only does this reduce the amount of fat you burn, but you're also more likely to feel fatigued when exercising." Johnston advises aiming for at least 100 milligrams daily, about the amount in 10 large strawberries, one small red pepper, one large orange, or 1 cup of cooked broccoli.

4. Swap carbs for spinach

A cup of this leafy green packs just 41 calories—five times less than a cup of cooked brown rice or whole-wheat pasta—making it a better side dish option in these crucial last weeks. This superfood may be light on calories and carbs, but it's rich in more than a dozen stress-fighting antioxidants. Try it sautéed in 1 teaspoon olive oil with chopped red bell pepper, minced garlic, and a dash of chili oil. Or serve it in a salad topped with strawberries, minced red onion, and a few pecans.

5. Crank up the fat burn

Capsaicin, the natural substance in peppers that gives them their heat, helps you use more calories, even at rest—and every little bit helps. "Studies show that eating the amount of capsaicin found in one small chili pepper at meals may boost metabolism by 23 percent in the short term," says Julie Upton, M.S., R.D., co-author of Energy to Burn. In other research, people who got about a gram of red pepper in capsule form or stirred into tomato juice before they sat down to eat cut their calorie intake by 16 percent over the course of the day, but didn't feel deprived. Try using fresh chilies or peppery Thai, Indian, or Latin seasonings to spice up your meals.

6. Have fruit for dessert

The enzymes bromelain (in fresh pineapple) and papain (in fresh papaya) ease digestion by breaking down proteins in meat, tofu, dairy, and beans, so food moves through your system faster, which can decrease bloating.

Next Page: More Ways to Get Rid of Bloat

7. Slice up an avocado

This fruit is rich in potassium, a mineral that helps you lose the pooch by flushing out excess sodium and reducing water retention. Per ounce, avocados pack 60 percent more potassium than bananas, and their healthy fats blunt hunger by keeping you fuller longer. Try serving avocado-mango salsa over chicken, fish, or tofu: Chop a quarter of an avocado and toss it with 1?4 cup fresh mango, 1 tablespoon lime juice, chopped fresh cilantro, and 1 teaspoon minced jalapeño. Or, for a double hit of potassium, try avocado-banana salsa: Chop a quarter of an avocado and half a small banana and combine with 1 tablespoon minced onion, 1 tablespoon lime juice, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

8. Ban the bottle

Giving up alcohol forever may not be realistic, but taking a break from booze can help you see how it affects your health, including your appetite, weight loss (alcohol contains empty calories), and sleep schedule. Not getting enough zzz's has been linked to weight gain in studies.

9. Time your caffeine intake

Coffee and tea can actually help you drop pounds. When you drink caffeine about 30 minutes before a workout, it helps you push yourself harder and longer. Caffeine also stimulates your digestive tract, so it eases bloating.

10. Put a cap on sugar

Foods that contain natural sugar, like fruit and milk, come bundled with fiber, antioxidants, and protein. But refined sugar can stoke hunger and cause bloating. Read nutrition labels and cut back on foods that have any form of sugar high on the ingredients list.

Cynthia Sass, R.D., is a New York City–based nutritionist and Shape contributing editor.