7 Small Changes with Big Results

By: Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D.

7 things you can do now—as in right now—to boost your health and well-being and lose some weight.

Spanakopita Scrambled Egg Pitas

Pictured recipe: Spanakopita Scrambled Egg Pitas

When it comes to weight loss, it's the little things that can really add up to make a big difference. Think "diet" and you might assume it requires a radical revamp of your life or misery-inducing restrictions. But when it comes to lasting weight loss, research shows you're better off making small, consistent changes rather than aiming for a major diet or lifestyle overhaul.

The key is to keep the changes are practical and sustainable so that you can permanently adopt them into your everyday life. In one study, people who made tiny adjustments to their eating habits were able to stick to their new routines—and had more success slimming down compared to those who didn't incorporate the tips.

And while it may not be possible to wake up tomorrow 10 pounds lighter or with an insatiable love of salads, there are a lot of smaller changes you can make that deliver an immediate healthy payoff—the kind that will encourage you to make another small change, and another, and, well, you get the idea. Here are 7 small changes that can have a really big payoff when it comes to your health.

1. Eat breakfast every day

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Overnight Oats with Banana

Pictured recipe: Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Overnight Oats with Banana

Research shows dieters are more successful at losing weight—and keeping it off—when they eat breakfast. If you don't already eat breakfast, start. If you are already a breakfast eater, try eating the same breakfast multiple days each week. Repeating the same meals can help you shed pounds, according to research. A whole-wheat English muffin topped with peanut butter and sliced banana delivers filling fiber and protein. It's also portable and ready in less than 5 minutes, so forget about using any "I don't have time for breakfast" excuses. Yogurt with fruit and granola, oatmeal and egg sandwiches on whole-grain bread are other good options.

Get More: High-Protein Breakfast Recipes for Busy Mornings

2. Turn on the lights

People who eat in well-lit spaces consume about 39 percent fewer calories—and make healthier food choices—than those who dine under dim lighting, says recent research. Why? Bright spaces make us feel more alert, so we nosh more mindfully. In fact, participants who skipped the candles at mealtime ate more slowly, enjoyed their food more and, yes, ate 373 fewer calories.

3. Use Smaller Plates

Salmon Tacos with Pineapple Salsa

Pictured recipe: Salmon Tacos with Pineapple Salsa

Studies show that we eat less when we use smaller dinnerware. The theory is that our eyes get tricked into thinking we are eating more because our plate is full, making the food portions look bigger. The result: we are satisfied with less food. Try eating your meals on salad plates instead of larger dinner plates.

Don't Miss: 10 Simple Ways to Control Portions

4. Tap your toes

Boost your health by (no joke) tapping your toes. You've heard of "sitting disease," and how our desk-bound days can be bad for our health. Well, researchers at the University of Missouri recently discovered that simply fidgeting can reduce the arterial damage that happens from spending too much time on your derrière. In the study, healthy men and women were asked to intermittently tap one foot, while keeping the other one still. After three hours, they compared the blood flow in each leg and found that the fidgeting one showed improved vascular function, while the stationary leg was worse off. Other recent research found fidgeting mitigated the increased risk of death from sitting too much. Of course, actual exercise is still better at keeping you healthy, but considering that the average person sits 15 hours a day, a little fidgeting could have very real benefits as well.

5. Put out a fruit bowl

Fresh Fruit Salad

Pictured recipe: Fresh Fruit Salad

You know the phrase "out of sight, out of mind"? Not what you want when it comes to eating more fruits and vegetables. Produce delivers lots of nutrients but not a lot of calories. Plus, it's packed with fiber, which helps fill you up. Don't shove your beautiful apples to the back of the produce drawer, or bury your carrots under your other groceries. Instead, bring the fruits and vegetables front and center in your refrigerator and out in your kitchen. Try keeping fruit like bananas and oranges on the counter in a fruit bowl where they'll be in plain sight. You'll also be more likely to reach for diet-friendly fruits and veggies if they're ready for easy snacking. In fact, when Google moved their fruit bowl to the front of the cafeteria, employees' fruit consumption increased by two thirds in just one month. Wash and slice celery, peppers and other delicious produce, and then pack them in baggies so you can easily grab them for a quick—and healthy—treat.

6. Don't eliminate treats

Mug Brownie

Pictured recipe: Mug Brownie

Banishing all your favorite foods can lead to failure. A drastically limited diet is not sustainable and feeling deprived may eventually cause you to overeat. Savoring a small treat daily really won't sabotage your weight-loss efforts, according to research. Keep the treats small—aim for about 150 calories or less. Try savoring two squares of dark chocolate, a ½ cup of ice cream or one 5-oz. glass of wine. This is one habit most of us can stick with for the long haul.

7. Snack on Yogurt

Nut & Berry Parfait

Pictured recipe: Nut & Berry Parfait

Yogurt was recently identified as a top weight-loss-promoting food by Harvard University. It's high in protein, which, gram for gram, helps fill you up more than carbs. Stick to plain yogurt for a healthy snack, without lots of added sugar, and add fresh fruit to sweeten your cup.

Another bonus? The probiotics in yogurt may help you burn fat. In one study, researchers gave overweight, but otherwise healthy, adults about 1/2 cup of yogurt at dinner every night for six weeks. Some ate yogurt supplemented with an added dose of probiotics (either Lactobacillus fermentum or L. amylovorus), while others got regular yogurt (which has a lower probiotic content ). Though none of the subjects lost weight, those consuming the probiotic-enriched yogurt lost 3 to 4 percent of their body fat, compared to just 1 percent body fat lost in the other group. To ensure your yogurt delivers a decent amount of probiotics, look for one that carries the "Live & Active Cultures" seal.

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Some original reporting by Shaun Dreisbach