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Curb the urge to nosh. Many women in their 30s find themselves nibbling on their kids' foods before eating their own supper. A few fries here, a cookie there, and suddenly you've consumed an extra 50 to 100 calories a day, which can translate to a weight gain of 5 to 10 pounds a year, says Katherine Tallmadge, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Even family-style dinners can get oversized if you're not careful: A recent study from Cornell University found that when subjects dished out their portions in the kitchen -- instead of using serving platters at the table -- they ate almost 30 percent fewer calories.
Fit in exercise whenever you can. We know it sounds impossible to sneak in a 45-minute daily workout, but break it up into chunks and the net payoff will be the same, says Geralyn Coopersmith, director of the Equinox Fitness Training Institute. Home with the kids? Get into your gym clothes and chase them around for 10 to 15 minutes (the secret is to get at least a little breathy). Add a short walk at lunch and another before dinner. Do it daily and you can lose half a pound a week -- or 26 pounds a year!
Find time for nookie. Fight the urge to fall asleep the moment your head hits the pillow and try snuggling instead. Sex can provide significant better-body benefits, not the least of which are a big burst of feel-good hormones and a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to weight gain.
Don't ignore dairy. Fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products are not only crucial for protecting bone mass (which is already starting to dip in your 40s) but they may also play an important role in weight loss. A recent study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham suggests that women who take 1,000mg of calcium daily could lose 4 inches of hidden belly fat in a year. One easy way to add calcium and satisfy your sweet tooth at the same time? Have a glass of fat-free milk mixed with light chocolate syrup.
Multitask your workouts. By their mid-40s most women start to see a loss of lean muscle tissue, which can slow metabolism and make strength training more important than ever. At the same time, shifting hormone levels can increase fat stores, especially around the stomach, which calls for more calorie-burning cardio. The solution? Circuit workouts that combine several bouts of fat-burning cardiovascular exercise (brisk walking, jogging, or cycling) followed by a few strength exercises that work several muscles simultaneously (squats, lunges, push-ups, planks). Do this combo a few times through for both strength and cardiovascular payoffs, says Coopersmith.
Watch for stress snacking. The ever-present demands of family, work, and dozens of other obligations can leave you longing to dive into a bag of potato chips, so keep healthier choices -- baby carrots, apple slices, air-popped popcorn -- on hand for the times you have the urge to munch. Or get your oral satisfaction from sugar-free gum. Researchers from the University of Rhode Island found that volunteers who chewed gum for an hour in the morning consumed 67 fewer calories at lunch.
Eat a healthy breakfast. "It's one of the best ways to get your metabolism going and jump-start your day," says Baltimore nutritionist Angela Ginn-Meadow, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Choose a combo of whole grains for energy and a lean or low-fat protein to keep you satisfied (think oatmeal with almonds or whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk). Or whip up some eggs: Studies have shown that women who eat eggs for breakfast consume fewer calories over the course of the day than when they have bagels and other high-carb breakfast fare.
Ramp up your routine. Regular exercise may well be the magic bullet to preventing middle-age spread. A recent Harvard study of more than 34,000 women (average age: 54) found that among subjects of normal weight, those who did moderate exercise for about an hour a day kept the scale relatively steady for 13 years. Can't squeeze a full hour into your ultra-busy schedule? Save time by doing intervals -- short bursts of intensity followed by equal- or longer-length recovery periods, repeated several times.
Get a good night's sleep. How much time you spend on the pillow has a strong correlation to body weight, according to research. A Case Western Reserve University study of more than 68,000 women found those who slept five hours or less a night were 32 percent more likely to gain 33 pounds or more and 15 percent more likely to become obese than those who slept at least seven hours. Regular exercise can help you drift off, especially when menopause comes into play.