Summer Shape-Up Secrets

These 12 research-backed nutrition hacks and quick-fix strategies can help you get your body bikini-ready.

When trying to tone up and shed those last few pesky winter pounds, you know the score: Eat whole, clean foods, exercise regularly and cut back on vices such as sweets, alcohol and junk food. But there are a number of less obvious dietary strategies that have been proved by research to be effective in whipping your hibernating bod into shape. Here are the top 12 tips to get you shorts-ready in short shrift. 

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand … Calories?

Pants too tight? Perhaps your Facebook feed is to blame. In today’s social media storm, everyone is eager to share their food porn, and while these opulent meals are just photographs and not the real thing, they can still have an effect on your physique. Multiple studies show that images of towering smoothie bowls and decadent desserts actually increase your urge to eat by lighting up the brain’s reward center and triggering visual hunger — sensations of appetite even in the absence of true hunger or real food. In other words, even if your stomach is not saying “feed me,” your Instagram feed can send you to the kitchen in search of a treat, leading to unnecessary calorie consumption.

Your move: Limit the time you spend on social media and unfollow your usual #foodporn feeds. Instead, follow accounts with inspirational people doing extraordinary feats in the gym or other activities.

Eat the Burn

The beach shouldn’t be the only place you feel the heat this summer: When Danish researchers provided people with tomato soup made with and without cayenne pepper, they discovered that the fiery soup resulted in increased satiety both at the end of the meal and one hour afterward, as compared to a bland soup. Capsaicin, the compound that gives chili peppers their hurts-so-good bite, appears to help tame the hunger monster and put the brakes on overeating. And while it’s true that chili peppers can raise your metabolic rate, it’s not enough of a change to impact your figure.

Your move: Look for ways to spice up your meals. Shake some hot sauce onto scrambled eggs and sandwiches, add chili powder to salad dressings and use sliced fresh chilies in stir-fries. A great book to check out is The Chile Pepper Bible, by Judith Finlayson (Robert Rose, 2016).

Mindful Mealtime

When it comes to eating, slow and steady can trim your waist. Recent Japanese research discovered that speed eaters are more likely to pack on pounds and possibly develop metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions like high blood pressure and cholesterol that raise your risk for diabetes and heart disease. When you wolf down your chow, you don’t give your body time to register satiety cues, making it easier to overeat. Eating slower also means you’ll have a better chance to determine when you’re full and ready to push away from the table, and it also may improve blood sugar levels, offering up some protection against fat gain and disease.

Your move: If you habitually inhale your food, take some measures to pump the brakes: Eat free of distractions such as social media, slice food into smaller pieces, put your utensils down between each bite and chew your food more thoroughly. This allows you to be more mindful of how you’re fueling your body and with what foods.

Divert Dining Disaster

For the sake of a flat belly, it’s good practice to prepare your own meals. But at times you want to dine out, so preorder your food to stay slim. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that when people selected their lunch meal an hour or more in advance, they tended to order lower-calorie options than when they made their selection immediately before dining and wound up ingesting 38 percent fewer calories. The reason? Ordering food when your stomach is already growling can lead to indulgent choices and spiral into calorie overload.

Your move: Try apps like GrubHub that let you order in advance to make better choices. If you’re dining out, browse the menu online ahead of time and pre-commit to a healthier meal choice before walking through the door.

Save the Starch

It seems there is an order in which to eat your macros: A study from the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City gave people a meal consisting of bread, orange juice, chicken and salad. When subjects ingested the starchy and sugary carbs (bread and OJ) after the protein and veg (chicken and salad), their blood sugar levels were about half as high afterward as compared to when they ingested the food in the reverse order. The protein in the chicken and the fiber in the vegetables help regulate your blood sugar, slashing diabetes risk and promoting your fat-fighting efforts. Front-loading with protein and veg also boosts levels of the hunger-busting hormone GLP-1, which could truncate your desire for dessert.

Your move: Practice this starch-last approach at the majority of your meals. For example, eat your hard-boiled egg before your breakfast oatmeal or the salmon and steamed broccoli before the quinoa.

Whip It Thick

Warmer temps make frosty smoothies more appetizing, so when you blend one up for breakfast or for postworkout recovery, get into the habit of making it thick: When people were provided with a thick, dairy-based shake, they felt significantly fuller 40 minutes afterward as compared to when they sipped a thinner shake — even when the thicker shake contained one-fifth the calories of the thinner shake, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Study participants also reported a reduced desire to eat more food after drinking the thicker shake.

Your move: Add to this feeling of phantom fullness by blending in some frozen banana, Greek yogurt, avocado and even cooked sweet potato to thicken up your smoothies.

Expose Subversive Sugar

Life is sweet — so sweet that the typical American consumes 77 pounds of added sweeteners (sugar that doesn’t occur naturally in food) each year. In addition to being disgusting, this sky-high number can stymie your six-pack pursuits and place you at a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes and even depression. But dialing down the sugar is easier said than done, since about 75 percent of packaged foods contain added sweeteners, according to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A lot of these hitchhike into your diet on unexpected sources such as crackers, bread, nut butters, deli meats, salad dressings and tomato sauce.

Your move: To weed out a good chunk of the sweet stuff from your diet, you’ll need to do more than simply quell your cookie habit. Spend time analyzing ingredient lists on all packaged foods, and opt for those free of high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, fruit juice concentrate, dextrose and, yes, even honey.

5 Quick-and-easy get-slim strategies

Walk this way: The next time you’re faced with a chocolate temptation, lace up your shoes. Research shows that taking a brisk 15-minute walk is enough to tame cravings for sugary snack foods.

Go nuts: Nuts are a nutritional treasure trove, but it’s easy to go overboard. Control your snacking speed with in-shell pistachios: The extra work of shelling the nuts was found to help people consume 41 percent fewer calories yet feel just as satisfied.

Tidy up: Your kitchen is ground zero for healthy eating, so make sure it’s not cluttered with dirty dishes and unpaid bills: A Cornell University study found that women who spend time in messy kitchens mindlessly snack on twice as much junk food as those who hang out in tidy ones.

Rise and dine: For a trimmer belly, make breakfast and lunch your major meals of the day. Recent data from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that people who eat more of their calories earlier in the day have an easier time staying lean than those who eat the majority of their food later in the day.

Sleep tight: Research published in PLOS One shows that people who get six or fewer hours of sleep a night tend to have larger waistlines. A lack of adequate shut-eye messes with your hunger hormones, making you more prone to eating junk food during your waking hours.