It’s the first week of the new year, which means it’s “new year new me” season. But as friends, family, and coworkers compare diets, you may be wondering how to lose weight without dieting. Is it possible? By following these small changes for weight loss, absolutely!

small changes for weight loss

A little weight loss 101: The fundamental principle of weight manipulation is calorie control. But that doesn’t mean you have to go to extreme lengths to consume fewer calories than you burn. In fact, you don’t have to obsess over calories, period.

24 small changes for weight loss in 2024

There are countless small changes you can make to your diet that can help you control satiety and hunger, and therefore your overall calorie intake—no calorie counting or starvation necessary. And better yet, these sustainable habits can help you keep the weight off. Here are 24, dietitian-approved small changes for weight loss.

Woman pouring orange smoothie into glass for small changes for weight loss.

Focus on what you can add to the diet rather than subtract

A core theme of most weight loss regimens is restriction and deprivation. Unfortunately, we always want the things we can’t have. If you set certain foods off limits, it’s likely you’ll end up craving them even more.

By taking a nutrition-by-addition approach instead and focusing on the healthful foods mentioned throughout this article that you should add to your diet—think colorful produce, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and more—you’ll end up displacing some of the less nutritious foods in your diet naturally, and without the stress and scarcity mindset that comes with traditional, restrictive dieting.

Love on legumes

There is a lot to love about legumes. Legumes are your pulses (e.g., beans, chickpeas, and lentils) and soy products (e.g., tofu and tempeh). They are the ultimate package, packing in plenty of fiber—and prebiotic fiber at that—and plant protein, all at a pretty low price point. We often praise animal proteins as the end-all-be-all solution to our satiety woes, but plant proteins like beans, with less protein but more fiber, can be just as filling.

When researchers compared the satiating effects of two different patties with similar energy content but made from different protein sources, the bean-based patties—which were higher in fiber but lower in protein—were as satiating as the meat-based ones. But beans, and other legumes, come with no saturated fat and the bonus of anti-inflammatory, disease-fighting phytonutrients—so named because they are found only in plants.

Regular legume consumption has been linked to lower body weight and a smaller waistline.

Make it a habit to get in at least a half-cup (or one serving) of legumes (particularly pulses) most days of the week. You can enjoy them all in one meal or throughout the day—say a scoop at lunch and another with dinner. Pulses are so versatile that you can even mix them into sweet treats for an extra fiber and protein boost. Ever heard of black bean brownies or chickpea cookie dough? Scan the pasta aisles at your local grocery stores and you’ll notice a wide range of legume-based pastas popping up—from chickpea rotini to edamame fettucine, and more!

Nosh on a handful of nuts for your snacks

Nuts were once considered high-fat villains, the consumption of which would be a sure-fire recipe for weight gain. Nuts are indeed rich in fat and therefore calorically dense, so the logic makes sense at face value. But nuts have been shown to be incredibly satiating, thanks in large part to their plant protein and fiber content. Numerous studies have found that consumption of nuts can suppress hunger and decrease subsequent food intake, therefore offsetting some of their calories.

Plus, studies have estimated that up to 20 percent of the calories in nuts aren’t even absorbed because of how the fat in them is stored in their cell walls, which don’t easily break down during digestion. You can rest assured; the weight of the evidence does not indicate that nuts pose a threat to your waistline. In fact, noshing on an ounce or so regularly may make you less likely to gain weight.

overhead view of chia seeds in brown bag

Sprinkle some small seeds on meals or snacks

Try incorporating a tablespoon or two of small seeds, like chia, flax, and/or hemp, into your day. These seeds may be small in size but they’re mighty in nutritional power, providing you with the satiating duo that is fiber and protein.  And since they’re relatively tasteless, it’s easy to incorporate them into a variety of meals and/or snacks. You can:

  • Blend ground flaxseed into your smoothies
  • Add ground flaxseed to your baked goods
  • Sprinkle hemp seeds on your avocado toast
  • Use hemp seeds in a homemade pesto
  • Make chia pudding out of chia seeds
  • Mix flax and/or chia seeds into your oatmeal

Eat to 80% full

For centuries, the Okinawans—one of the regions that are home to some of the world’s longest-living and healthiest people known as the Blue Zones—have been following this eating practice, which they call “Hara Hachi Bu”. Basically, eat until you’re just satisfied and no longer hungry, but not stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey or even completely full. To put this into practice, try to…

Eat slowly & without distraction

They say it takes about 20 minutes for the stomach’s “I’m feeling full” signals to register in the brain. So, instead of shoveling down food like you’re in Nathan’s hot dog eating competition, slow down and savor every bite.

While you’re at it, turn of the TV, put away your phone, and step away from that laptop before eating, as these distractions can distract us from our fullness cues. And research suggests that eating a meal while distracted tends to make people eat more not only at that meal, but later on as well.   

Think slow carb, not low carb

Carbs are friend, not foe! To be clear, that doesn’t mean you should treat all carbohydrate-rich food sources the same. Common sense tells us that oats and frosted flakes—two carbohydrate-rich breakfast foods—are not equal. But by focusing on carb quality, you can stress less over carb quantity. The quality, carbohydrate-rich foods you want to choose most of the time (like oats) have little to no added sugar and retain their fiber (and may even be a good source of protein), which helps slow digestion and the release of glucose into the bloodstream—hence the name “slow carbs.”

On the other hand, quick carb sources (like many breakfast cereals) lack fiber and often are rich in added sugar, causing glucose to be rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and giving you a quick—but not sustained—burst of energy. Eating for balanced blood sugar is a helpful strategy for anyone looking to lose weight and/or improve/maintain overall health, not just individuals with diabetes. Choosing slow carbs over quick carbs most of the time—but not necessarily all of the time—can help you do just that.

Pair carbs with protein and fat

Speaking of carbohydrates, “no carbs stand alone” is a good rule of thumb when enjoying any carb-rich food—even a “slow” one. Protein and/or healthy fat can act as a buffer, helping to slow digestion and dampen the blood sugar response even further.

Think an apple with almond or peanut butter, toast with avocado and a fried egg, a bowl of oatmeal topped with berries and Greek yogurt, etc.

Interested in learning more on how to incorporate carbs into meals for satiety, weight loss, and blood sugar balance? Check out The Plant-Forward Solution: Reboot Your Diet, Lose Weight & Build Lifelong Health by Eating More Plants & Less Meat, available now!

Shoot for 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day

Only 5% of Americans meet the daily fiber recommendations, with the average intake in the United States being approximately 16 grams per day—meaning a lot of people need to almost double their fiber intake.

Fiber fills you up both directly and indirectly, all while contributing little to no calories. Additionally, fiber can positively influence the composition and activity of your gut microbiome, which in turn influences satiety, blood sugar control, insulin sensitivity, and inflammation for the better. And all those things play a role in weight management.

Upping your fiber intake may seem like a daunting task, but don’t worry—we’ve got you covered. Check out these 10 Easy Ways to Sneak Fiber into Your Diet!

Frozen mixed berries.

Have a serving of berries (fresh or frozen) daily

Incorporating a daily serving of berries, whether fresh or frozen, into your diet can offer numerous health benefits, particularly for weight management. Berries, including strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are the fiber MVPs among the fruits, with one cup of raspberries or blackberries providing a whopping 8 grams of fiber. They’re also rich in essential nutrients and antioxidants while being low in calories, making them an ideal choice for those watching their calorie intake.

Furthermore, the antioxidants present in berries, such as flavonoids and anthocyanins–which are responsible for their blue, purple, and red hues–contribute to reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, supporting cardiovascular health and potentially lowering the risk of certain chronic diseases. Eating berries daily can also add natural sweetness and variety to your diet, making it easier to reduce the intake of added sugars.

Beyond their health benefits, berries are incredibly versatile and can be easily incorporated into various meals and snacks:

  • Top your morning oatmeal or overnight oats with berries.
  • Keep a bag of frozen mixed berries on hand for smoothies.
  • Add berries to your salads.
  • Make chia jam with your favorite fresh or frozen berries.
  • Enjoy berry-topped yogurt or chia pudding as a snack.

Limit added sugars

There is a place for added sugars in a balanced diet. However, diets high in added sugar have been linked to an increased risk of overweight/obesity and weight gain. 

It’s not that the calories from added sugar are any more fattening than other calories per se—after all, a calorie is a calorie. Simply put, foods and beverages rich in added sugar often provide little nutritional value for a lot of calories and aren’t filling, as they typically contain little to no fiber or protein (the fill-you-up nutrients). And it’s easy to overdo it on these added-sugar-rich foods considering how palatable and unsatiating they are.

Plus, the more added-sugar-rich foods in your diet, the more they’re displacing nutritious foods, like fruit, veggies, and lean protein.

So, how much added sugar should you limit yourself to? The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 6% of calories each day. For the average American, this translates to approximately 25 grams (or 6 teaspoons) per day for women, and 36 grams (or 9 teaspoons) per day for men.

With the availability of so many different sugars and sweeteners and the endless social media posts encouraging you to use “unrefined” sugars, you may be wondering exactly what are unrefined sugars and are they truly healthier than their “refined” counterparts? Click here to find out!

… but still save room for dessert!

Interestingly, a small study found that those with a weight-loss goal who associated chocolate cake with guilt were less successful at losing weight over a 3-month period compared to those who associated chocolate cake with celebration.

Instead of viewing your favorite sweets, like chocolate, cookies, cakes, muffins, etc., as “bad” foods that you shouldn’t be eating, remove the guilt—and the halo—from foods and give yourself permission to indulge your sweet tooth. In moderation, of course. In doing so, the indulging becomes less special, in a good way. There’s no longer this sense of restriction or scarcity and you’ll probably find that your sweet cravings become way less intense.

This approach aligns with research findings that highlight the negative impact of dichotomous thinking—categorizing foods as strictly ‘good’ or ‘bad’—on weight management. A comprehensive study revealed that such black-and-white thinking about food and dieting is positively associated with weight regain. It suggests that adopting a more flexible, non-dichotomous view towards food, where occasional indulgences like sweets are neither glorified nor demonized, can be more conducive to maintaining a healthy weight in the long term.

Thus, by allowing yourself to enjoy desserts without guilt, you are likely adopting a healthier, more sustainable approach to eating

Woman holding bowl of oatmeal topped with greek yogurt and strawberries.

Incorporate oats into your day

Oats are well-known for being rich in the soluble fiber beta-glucan, which evidence suggests has a positive effect on satiety. As a soluble fiber, it absorbs water to form a gel that slows stomach emptying and digestion, keeping you fuller for longer, and functions as a prebiotic, feeding your good gut bacteria and enabling them to produce appetite-hormone-regulating short-chain fatty acids as a byproduct.  

Not only that, but prepared oats make for the perfect canvas for a variety of other satiating, fiber-rich foods—think berries, seeds, nut butters, and more! You can enjoy oats for breakfast in a variety of ways: overnight oats, baked oatmeal, oat pancakes, muesli, and more. For a less conventional ways of getting oats into your diet, try using them as a breadcrumb replacement in meatballs or your favorite veggie burger recipe. 

Swap white pastas with whole wheat & legume ones

Breathe a deep sigh of relief—you do not have to eliminate pasta from the diet in order to lose weight. However, it’s a good idea to swap most (but not all) of the white, refined kind with whole wheat and legume-based pastas, which boast at least double the fiber and protein of their white wheat counterpart.

Beyond chickpea pasta, you can now buy lentil penne, black bean spaghetti, edamame fettuccine, mung bean rotini, and more. There’s even chickpea pasta-based boxed mac and cheese available (like this Banza Chickpea Mac & Cheese)!

Don’t skip lunch

You may think you’re saving yourself calories on those days when “you’re just too busy to eat lunch”, but what usually ends up happening is you end up compensating—or more likely overcompensating—for these calories throughout the remainder of the day.

Skipping lunch often leads to subconscious snacking on nutrient-void snacks throughout the afternoon (a handful of M&M’s off your coworker’s desk, a hand or two full of your kid’s Goldfish crackers—you get the picture). Not only can these snacks add up and leave you hungry again soon after, but come dinner time, you’ve now convinced yourself you can eat as much as you want because you saved yourself so many calories from lunch. You ultimately end up making up for those “lost lunch calories” and then some. 

Do yourself a favor and make it a priority to not skip lunch. Serve yourself a nourishing, balanced meal made up of non-starchy veggies, lean protein, “slow” carbs, and healthy fats. 

Cook once, eat (at least) twice

Anyone who says making dinner isn’t a chore is lying. The chopping, cooking, waiting, cleaning—it’s no wonder many of us resort to takeout more often than we’d like to admit. So, whenever you make a nourishing meal, be sure to double or triple the ingredients to have enough servings for dinner the next day. That way, you’re less tempted to order takeout when you open the fridge to emptiness at 7 PM after a long, hard day of work.

Need help finding some batch/bulk recipes? Search for:

  • Casseroles
  • Instant pot or slow cooker recipes
  • Freezer-friendly meals
  • Sheetpan meals
  • Bowls (burrito bowls, buddha bowls, etc.)
Open freezer stocked with frozen vegetables.

Stock your freezer with easy veggie options

Frozen food has gotten a bad rap over the years for being highly processed and unhealthy—a largely undeserved reputation, especially when it comes to frozen produce. Freezing is one of the easiest and most effective food preservation methods.

Frozen produce is often picked at peak ripeness and frozen within a few hours to lock in the nutrient content; however, it may lose some nutrients during the blanching and freezing process. Fresh produce is often picked before it’s fully ripe, giving it less time to develop a full range of nutrients. It’s also more likely to sustain some nutrient loss during transport and storage. That said, studies have found that frozen fruits and vegetables are—for the most part—comparable nutritionally to their fresh counterparts.

Frozen, pre-chopped veggie blends and riced veggies are so convenient and cost-effective—having a stock of them in your freezer is a surefire way to guarantee more vegetable intake. Some of our favorites include frozen cauliflower rice, stir-fry veggies, and bell pepper and onion mix.

To catch up on the latest in the fresh versus frozen produce debate, click here.

Get your greens from foods instead of supplements

Greens powders are not a replacement for whole veggies, plain and simple. While they are generally low in calories and therefore unlikely to cause weight gain or prevent weight loss, there’s no evidence to support that these supplements will help you shed pounds. (Unless, of course, you replace your usual bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich with a glass of greens powder and don’t make up for those calories later on.)

But increasing consumption of whole, non-starchy vegetables, especially green leafy and cruciferous vegetables, has been inversely associated with weight change over time. Unfortunately, relying on greens powders can lull you into a false sense of security, leading you to believe it’s okay to skip the real stuff. Skip the supplements and instead…

Make half your plate non-starchy veggies

Non-starchy vegetables, like leafy greens, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, etc., provide you with fiber and add volume and phytonutrients to your meals without adding many calories, giving you the most bang for your calorie buck. Aim to fill half your plate with them or strive for at least five servings a day (1 serving = ~1 cup raw leafy greens or ½ cup everything else).

Woman drinking a bottle of water outside.

Drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily

Water does more for the body than just quench your thirst. Inadequate hydration has been associated with elevated body mass index (BMI) and obesity, suggesting that good ol’ H2O deserves greater focus in your weight management strategy. Furthermore, several small studies have found that a water “preload”—drinking about 16 ounces of water—before a meal can reduce energy intake at the meal and aid weight loss efforts.

So, how much water should you aim for per day? Data from the National Academies found that women and men who appear to be adequately hydrated consume an average of about 90 and 125 ounces of total water (from beverages and foods) per day, respectively. After adjusting for the water we get from foods, a good beverage water goal for most people will likely fall somewhere in line with the “half your body weight in ounces” guideline. Keep in mind, this is just a starting goal—be sure to adjust if you are pregnant or nursing, extra active, or live in a hot climate.

Make coffee at home

We all love a Starbucks Vanilla Latte or a Caffe Mocha, but did you know that many of these Starbucks classics contain over 30 grams of sugar (for a grande-sized cup)? That’s as much sugar as a can of soda!

Instead, try making your coffee at home most of the time—that way, you have total control over what goes in it (and aren’t tempted by the endless flavor syrups, pastries, and more). It might be time to upgrade your coffee machine to make making coffee at home a little more exciting.

Use smaller amounts of cooking oil

No need to fear fat when trying to lose weight. Fat is critical to the structure and function of the body and
should have a place on your plate. In fact, fat will help you absorb the fat-soluble vitamins—A, D, E, and K—on your plate. (And no, eating fat does not make you fat.) That said, at 9 calories per gram, fat is the most calorically-dense macronutrient. So, while your favorite oils, like olive and avocado, offer healthy fats and can be nutritious in moderation, the calories they offer can quickly add up if you’re not careful. For example, just one tablespoon of olive oil delivers 120 calories.

If you’re used to measuring oils “with the heart” and it’s been a while since you last used a measuring spoon when pouring them, you may want to measure out your cooking oil for the next week or two to get a better visualization of what a teaspoon versus a tablespoon (or two) looks like in the pan. Oftentimes, you can get away with less oil than you’d think when sauteing or stir-frying something. Additionally, air-frying your proteins and veggies can help you get a crisper texture with less oil.

Finish your last bite at least 2 to 3 hours before bed

Finishing your last bite at least 2 to 3 hours before bed can be a key strategy for improving sleep quality, which is crucial for overall health and weight management. A study focusing on university students, a group particularly vulnerable to poor sleep, found that eating closer to bedtime was associated with an increased likelihood of nocturnal awakenings. This finding supports the common sleep hygiene advice of avoiding meals near bedtime, as it’s thought that late-night eating can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, heartburn, and reflux, disturbing sleep quality.

Better sleep has been consistently linked to healthier weight management, as it affects appetite regulation and energy balance. Additionally, establishing a cut-off time for eating in the evening (like 7 or 8 PM) can also be beneficial in controlling snacking and managing calorie intake. This practice creates a more structured eating pattern, discouraging late-night snacking, which often contributes to excess calorie consumption.

Drink minimally & mindfully

Let’s face it—while alcohol may be good for the soul after a long day, it’s not great for the waistline. Alcohol is empty calories, meaning those calories provide little to no nutritional value. And at 7 calories per gram, alcohol delivers more calories per gram than both carbohydrates and protein. Plus, alcohol lowers your inhibitions and leads to poor decision-making when it comes to food quality and quantity.

A standard, 5-ounce glass of wine has 130 calories, but unless you have a measuring cup handy every time you pour yourself a glass, you’re probably pouring yourself quite a bit more than that. And when it comes to cocktails, the calories can really start to add up when using mixers like tonic water, simple syrup, fruit juices, and soda.

That said, you don’t have to cut alcohol completely while following these small changes for weight loss. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults who choose to drink should do so in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men or 1 drink or less in a day for women, on days when alcohol is consumed. But you may want to drink even less than that to lose weight.

And when you do choose to have a drink, keep these tips in mind:

  • Go drink for drink with water
  • Choose low calories mixers (soda water or seltzer, diet soda, splash of juice, squeeze of a lemon or lime wedge, etc.)
  • Keep an eye on portion size and know what a standard drink looks like
  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach
  • Drink slowly
Legs standing on a scale for weight loss.

Bottom line

As you can see, there are numerous sustainable small changes for weight loss you can make in the new year, none of which involve a crash diet.

No need to take them all on at once—start off with a few favorites and then add a few more week by week.