Here's a fun fact for you: "When John F. Kennedy took office, and Martin Luther King, Jr., proclaimed "I have a dream," over 2 million Americans were obese (13 percent of the population). Today the number stands at 35 percent...nearly 110 million Americans."
Good thing King, Jr.'s dream wasn't to combat the obesity epidemic.
Today, approximately 108 million Americans are dieting, according to Jorge Cruise, celebrity trainer and New York Times best-selling author. But dieting is such an ugly word—it conjures images of celery sticks and broccoli, tossing out ice cream and chocolate, and spending way too much time staring at a number on a scale. Plus, it's a lot of work. So to make life easier, we stole six Jedi mind tricks from Cruise's book, Stubborn Fat Gone!, that help you lose weight without cutting out your favorite food groups...or working out.
Jedi Mind Trick #1: Be Kind and Unwind
Alright, we may have riffed off the old Blockbuster reminder to reset those VHS tapes (throwback!), but the advice is solid. People who are kind have 23 percent less cortisol, aptly nicknamed the stress hormone. Elevated levels of cortisol—or high levels of stress—can contribute to weight gain because it can make you crave unhealthy foods, increase your blood sugar levels, and lead to excess abdominal fat, says Cruise. In other words, the more you channel your inner Regina George, the more stressed you become and the wider your waistline gets (so that explains the weight gain, not Lindsay Lohan's Cady Heron's sabotages). So just go on and be nice, even when that co-worker takes credit for your brilliant idea or someone cuts you off on your commute home.
Jedi Mind Trick #2: Repeat After Me
When you're having a down-in-the-dumps day, it's really easy to dig into a bag of dark chocolate with sea salt (because the sea salt really seals the deal) or overload that froyo cup. But doing so can toss you into a vicious cycle of bad food habits and negative thinking, as research shows the two are closely related and one fuels the other. Instead, when things start to go awry, turn to those good old-fashioned mantras mom always told you were important. Cruise says that not only will optimistic thoughts—think "There's a reason they hired me for this job; I'm great at it and know what I'm doing"—raise your serotonin levels (the feel-good hormone that brings on calm and happiness), but research from Carnegie Mellon University also shows that they improve a person's overall ability to recover from stress. And as we learned in Jedi mind trick number one, stress is what triggers weight gain, so getting out of that zone—stat—is good for your sanity and jeans size.
Jedi Mind Trick #3: Don't Worry, Be Happy
Remember that happy hormone we talked about earlier? One way to easily get more of it: Carbs. Research shows they help bring serotonin levels back up when you're feeling blue, which is why you long for a savory bowl of pasta or want to dive face-first into the bread basket when you've had a rough day. It's comfort food. But that doesn't do anything good for your weight loss efforts, and those carbs are a quick fix. Instead, focus on a future positive event, like the half-marathon you've always wanted to run or the vacation you want to rock a swimsuit for. A study from the National Institute of Mental Health found that when people did that, it triggered the same area of the brain that activates serotonin production. Best part? Cruise says it also helps reduce those carb cravings, so you'll yearn for a cheesy bowl of noodles less often.
Jedi Mind Trick #4: Have Friends in Low Places
At least when it comes to their weight. While we're not telling you to ghost your friends that are heavier, Cruise says they could have a negative affect on your brain game while you work to lose a few pounds. "Several studies have found that your risk for obesity increases when you have overweight friends," he writes. "An obese friend increases your [own] risk of obesity by 57 to 171 percent, depending on the closeness of your relationship. [And] a recent study from Arizona State University revealed that [it's because] we unconsciously change our habits to mirror those of our friends." Again, we're not saying to drop those lifelong friends like a hot potato just because their pant-size is a little bigger—that's taking a trip to crazy town. Instead, Cruise suggests branching out to make new friends in places where people are making healthy choices, like the park, a local boot-camp class, or a healthy cooking event. "Having people in your social network who pay attention to their health will be encouraging for both you and your other friends," he writes.
And while we're at it, make sure you're really connecting with those health-focused friends. "Studies have found that social isolation leads to increased cortisol, while having more high-quality social connections reduces the stress hormone," writes Cruise. So if you haven't caught on yet, let us spell it out: Cortisol majorly affects your weight, and having regular bonding time with your BFFs is one way to help lower those levels—and your number on the scale.
Jedi Mind Trick #5: Meditate...In Your Kitchen
The whole point of meditation isn't to simply sit in a room and chant "ommmm." Simply put, it's to center yourself, hone in on what's happening in that exact moment, and basically forget—if only for a few minutes—about all the crazy sh*t going on in your life. Knowing that, why would you restrict such a calming activity to a quiet corner in your bedroom, or some secret space your kids can't find (does that really exist?). Cruise says the kitchen is just as good a place as any, and can directly influence the quality of food you create. "For many, cooking in the kitchen is a spiritual experience," he writes. "It allows you to take time away from other activities, and bring your focus solely to cutting, slicing, chopping, sauteing, or broiling. Enjoying this time can transform your evening." But if your kitchen is more of a stress zone than relaxation station, Cruise suggests taking the time to look around and identify areas or items that freak you out. Maybe the cupboard is overflowing with pots and pans, but you can't find any lids—take a few minutes to calmly organize them. Or perhaps that cabinet is overflowing with four containers of cinnamon and god-knows-how-many packages of taco seasoning. "Throw out the items you never use, or have double of. Take charge of your creative zone," writes Cruise. "You'll be able to really focus on the nutritious meal you are about to prepare, and fully enjoy the process." Now that beats haphazardly throwing together a case of instant mac and cheese, don't you think?
Jedi Mind Trick #6: Study Up
Remember those gigantic "Knowledge is Power" posters guidance counselors had hanging in their office to motivate us to stay in school? Well, they were on to something. The thing to remember is that when you're not knowledgeable about a subject—say, what foods are your best bet when headed to a restaurant—it automatically triggers a sense of fear. And fear is not your friend, says Cruise. "It increases [those] cortisol levels, causing you to hang on to that stubborn belly fat," he writes. But there's an easy, obvious solution to the issue: learn. "Take a few minutes to think about your favorite restaurants and look up nutritional information online to find a healthy go-to meal you can order at each one." Bonus: You've automatically eliminated that annoying, "What do you want?" "I don't know, what do you want?" conversation that lasts for 20 minutes.