12 eating secrets women with great bodies know

Uncover the path to a slim, shapely and sexy you simply by following these smart and sustainable healthy eating ideas from The Bikini Body Diet by Tara Kraft.
© 2014 Weider Publications // © 2014 Weider Publications

As editors at Shape, the most trusted source of fitness and weight-loss information for women, we spend countless hours thumbing through medical journals, nutrition news reports and exercise studies. Plus, we're lucky enough to have access to the secrets of the women whose livelihoods depend on staying shapely and sexy: actresses, singers, models and trainers. With this wealth of information at our fingertips, it's only natural for us to spill the lessons we've learned to our readers.

Enter The Bikini Body Diet. This new book by Shape editor-in-chief Tara Kraft is the ultimate diet and workout plan to help you achieve your best body ever—and maintain it for the long haul. While this program produces results in a matter of days, it's not just a quick fix. This science-backed plan is based on strategies that help women like Tara and our cover models maintain a bikini-worthy body all year long. On the following slides, you'll discover 12 principles of healthy eating that form the foundation of The Bikini Body Diet. Implement these tactics in your own life to transform your body, regain your confidence and keep it for good!

--By SHAPE Editors

1 of 14 Woman eating breakfast

Eat three meals per day--no snacking!

Many diet plans push the mini-meal approach that involves eating small portions six to eight times a day. Only problem? Lots of people subscribe to the "six to eight times a day," but not so much to the "mini-meals." To make this strategy work, you'd have to keep most of your meals and snacks in the 200 to 300 calorie range. Easy enough for snacks, but that's generally not going to happen for lunch, dinner or even breakfast.

Instead, fill up on three meals per day that will keep you satisfied and your energy high. This means no grazing throughout the day, even on healthy choices like carrots and dip. Research backs up this strategy: A 2012 study found that women who ate three meals a day had lower fat in their bloods than those who ate six, even with the same total daily calories. Give yourself only three opportunities to eat, and you'll slash the chances of overeating and gaining weight.

More: 10 unbelievable diet rules backed by science

2 of 14 Turkey sandwich (iStock/Getty Images)

Fill up on fruits and veggies

Losing weight—and keeping it off—isn't just about the number of times you eat during the day: It won't do you a lick of good to reduce your meals/snacks from six to three if those three meals could feed a suburban neighborhood. First, you need to re-familiarize yourself with what a "serving" really looks like. One trick to control your calories is to fill your plate halfway with fruits and veggies. Eating more of these nutrient-packed foods have been shown to be one of the most important predictors of weight loss. Then, fill the other half with healthy proteins and carbs, which we'll cover in the next slide.

3 of 14 Woman eating a strawberry (GrenouilleFilms/Getty Images)

Watch portion sizes

Slim women know that keeping portions in check is crucial for maintaining a healthy physique. Keep each serving of non-fruits-and-veggies, including carbs and proteins, about the size of your fist. It's a simple eyeball test, and while it certainly gives you some room to cheat if you're so inclined ("Well, tonight, I'm going to use Sasquatch's fist as my guide"), the point is that it teaches you to develop an instinct—and consistent behavior—for eating healthy.

The payoff for keeping portion size under control is huge. In a Cornell University study, those people who ate smallish portions at lunch consumed nearly 250 fewer calories daily and lost a little over a pound a week. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which tells you that if you eat less during the day, you'll gorge at night. Researchers say that after every meal your body resets itself, so smaller portions today won't make you gnaw the arm of the couch tomorrow, and you'll experience the benefit of fewer total calories consumed.

4 of 14 Salad (Cultura/Getty Images)

Sip smartly

With so many drink choices—Sodas! Apple martinis! Venti mocha nacho grande!—available today, it's easy to make diet-blowing decisions. But the right kinds of liquids can be part of the foundation of a healthy diet. Homemade soups and juices can be packed with nutrients and, as water-based liquids, research shows they'll help you feel satisfied. In fact, one recent study found those who ate a soup-based meal experienced greater satiety than those who ate a mix of solids and liquids of the same ingredients.

Now, we don't mean pre-packaged soups and bottled juices, which are often loaded with sodium and added sugars. We're talking about healthful, tasty soups and juices you can whip up at home with wholesome ingredients. For example, lentil soup makes a filling dinner, while a green juice made with apple, kale, lemon and celery is a perfect choice for breakfast or an afternoon pick-me-up. Drink water or unsweetened green tea the rest of day. Coffee is also fine, but minimize the additions—if you can drink it black, that's best. If not, try a little almond milk. Wine is fine in moderation, as are clear liquors like vodka (don't mix it with soda or sugary mixers, though).

5 of 14 Bowl of lentil soup (Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images)

Lose these liquids

Drop the sodas, diet or not. Even the no-calorie versions have waist-widening effects: studies have found that diet soda was associated with increased waist size, BMI and total percentage of fat. One theory as to why this happens is that because diet sodas have no calories, their sweet taste messes with our hormonal systems, and our bodies crave sugar even more than if we had regular soda because our need for sugar hasn't been satisfied. Replace caloric beverages—including sweetened tea, juices, sugary shakes, coffee drinks and cocktails—with water and you'll save an average of 200 calories per day. That equates to nearly a pound lost in two weeks just from making one swap.

6 of 14 Glass of soda (iStock/Getty Images)

Add in supplements

We live in a world designed to help us undo our own mistakes—thanks, spell-check, password retrieval systems and autocorrect! In your diet, it also makes sense to have backups—little cheats that can help in your quest for achieving your healthy body goals. Here are two supplemental allies we recommend.

First, magnesium, a muscle relaxer, helps you keep calm and promotes peaceful sleep, which is a crucial part of weight loss. Magnesium is needed for over 300 chemical reactions in the body, including keeping heart rhythm steady, regulating blood sugar levels and helping lower blood pressure. Recent studies have also suggested that it can aid in weight loss and body shaping. Eat plenty of leafy green vegetables, beans and nuts to consume the recommended 310 to 320mg daily.

Secondly, many of us are also deficient in vitamin D, which can aid in increasing muscle strength. Low levels of it have been linked to heart disease, cancer and other ailments. To reach the recommended value of 600 IU daily, make sure to get outdoors for at least 15 minutes, especially in winter months, and eat a variety of foods such as fish, eggs and fortified dairy products.

More: 3 reasons you're not losing fat

7 of 14 Vitamins (iStock/Getty Images)

Buff your body with protein

Building lean muscle is an essential part of slimming down. Besides giving you that strong and sexy look, muscle also helps keep your metabolism revved so you burn more fat. Focus your meals around lean sources of protein—foods that are packed with it but don't have a lot of saturated fat. That means eggs, fish, chicken, turkey and even some lean red meats. In particular, fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as tuna, salmon and mackerel, tend to be the best choices cited by nutrition experts.

Try to fit protein into the first meal of your day (hello, eggs!). A 2013 study found that while having breakfast changed hormonal signals that control appetite, only a high-protein breakfast led to changes in signals that led to reductions in nighttime snacking.

8 of 14 Eggs Benedict with a side of asparagus (Vetta/Getty Images)

Favor fruits

Forget the marketer's version of "fruit"—Froot Loops, Juicy Fruit and the like—and fill your plate with real, whole fruits. They're packed with nutrients, like antioxidants and fiber to keep you full, plus, research points to fruits as being strong disease-preventers. For example, two half-cup servings of blueberries can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes by as much as 23 percent. Grapefruit can help your body use insulin more effectively, keep blood sugar in check and improve your calorie burn. Potassium, found in bananas and avocados, has been shown to help decrease your chances of dying from cardiovascular disease. Fruit is also a great substitute for dessert, and can satisfy your cravings for sweets. Vary your choices—from apples to melons to berries to plums and more—so you're getting the most diverse nutritional benefits possible.

9 of 14 Blueberries (Neil Overy/Getty Images)

Veg out

We know vegetables may not be as fun as fries, but now you most likely know exactly why your mom implored you to eat up: Veggies are a nutritional deity. They're filled with vitamins and minerals, usually low in calories and, despite how they're stereotyped, they can taste amazing. The evidence is clear that vegetables not only assist with weight loss, but also help with health problems, such as a high blood pressure. One study even showed that people who ate the most vegetables rich in alpha-carotene (found in leafy greens, broccoli and carrots) had a 39 percent lower risk of premature death than those who ate the least.

With all the good health benefits packed into vegetables, it won't come as any surprise that increased veggie consumption correlates with increased weight loss. If there's one category of truly "super" foods, vegetables would be it. They're low-cal, satisfying and packed with properties to make your whole body healthier. Bottom line: More vegetables = better body.

10 of 14 Variety of vegetables (Kevin Summers/Getty Images)