Strict diets are a drag, and excessive exercise just isn’t healthy. So what’s the best way to get rid of some extra weight so you can look and feel your best? Research shows these simple fat-loss strategies can help you peel off excess pounds so you can perform at your full potential.

1. Get in Sync

Calories do count, but meal timing is also crucial to weight control. The body’s circadian rhythms, which are driven by many different internal biological clocks, not only determine the times you’re alert and when you’re sleepy but also rule the efficiency of food digestion and metabolism, as well as the release of certain hormones such as insulin, which promotes fat storage. The old adage of “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen, and dinner like a pauper” has some scientific validity.

Research has shown that consuming the majority of your calories earlier in the day, when the body is better at burning them, can help increase weight loss. Studies also show that the body can process carbs more efficiently in the earlier hours. To coordinate your metabolic cycles with meals, try taking in about 70% of your calories and carbs by 3 p.m.

2. Go Nuts

Nuts may be rich in healthy fats, but they can also help whittle down your waistline. Research shows people who include nuts twice or more weekly weigh less than those who don’t. Thanks to the fat, fiber, and protein they offer, an ounce of nuts (that’s about 47 shelled pistachios, 30 whole peanuts, 24 almonds, or 14 walnut halves) can help you feel more satisfied, so you’re less likely to snack mindlessly or overeat. Moreover, every bite may not get metabolized: Research shows that up to 25% of calories for almonds and 21% for walnuts are unavailable to the body, so they may not be the calorie bombs you think. Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and peanuts offer a mix of nutrients, so swap in whole nuts for other foods that don’t offer as many benefits.

3. Be Kind to Your Gut

The good bacteria in the gut can be an effective weapon in the battle of the bulge. Research shows that certain foods can help you harness the power of microbes that fight flab, and that slimmer people tend to have higher levels of good gut bacteria. Fermented fare such as kombucha, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and tempeh deliver beneficial bacteria to
the large intestine. Eating fermented foods on a regular basis may also alleviate some of the digestive issues associated with irritable bowel syndrome. Opt for fermented foods from the refrigerated section for the highest levels of beneficial bacteria. In addition, aim to get at least 28 grams of fiber daily from a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Fiber not only helps you stay satis ed and improves your digestion but also helps the good bacteria flourish.

4. Refuse Refined Grains

Swapping out refined grains for whole grains saves upwards of 100 calories a day—about the amount you’d burn in 10 minutes of jumping rope. Experts are unsure why this happens, but whole grains, such as oatmeal, quinoa, and whole-wheat bread, prompt the body to absorb fewer calories while burning more calories during digestion. Plus, forgoing refined grains is a simple change with benefits that go beyond slimming down. Balanced diets rich in whole grains also help reduce the risk for heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and cancer.

5. Mind Your Meals

The Buddhist concept of mindfulness, or being fully aware of what is happening inside and around you, also applies to weight control. In one recent study, a small group of people coached on mindful-eating techniques dropped more than four pounds on average in 15 weeks, compared with those without any coaching, who lost an average of less than one pound. The mindful eaters consumed fewer calories by paying more attention to how they ate. Mindful eating enhances eating satisfaction and enjoyment by encouraging slowly chewing your food and taking the time to notice the aroma, taste, and texture of what’s on your plate. It takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to alert the brain that it’s full, and devoting that time to eating a full meal at a table instead of in the car or in front of the TV can curb calorie intake.

Eating foods that involve work, like a whole orange that needs peeling or pistachios in the shell, slows you down and allows your brain to register hunger and fullness. Try sitting down with your food; taking time to notice the aroma, texture, and look of the food before you dive in; and putting your fork or spoon down between mouthfuls.