When you’re aiming to make changes to your body, it’s tempting to change everything at once – to flip the switch and go straight from takeaways three times a week and leftover pizza for breakfast to eating steamed veg from Tupperware every lunchtime and feeling sad when you glance at a muffin. That’s one way of doing it, but it’s not necessarily the best way. Science suggests that large-scale habit change is difficult to maintain, and if – probably when – you backslide, you’ll pack the fat back on.

Fortunately, there’s a better way. By making smaller changes to your daily nutrition, research indicates, you’ll be able to maintain your new habits with minimal effort. Then, as the results come, you can make more mini-changes to help the process along. Make one or two of the following mini-changes each week and in a month, you’ll have changed your diet without noticing.

Water when you wake up

Hydrating as soon as you wake is one of the most important things you can do for your body. It gets your metabolism up and running, improves cognitive powers and boosts your energy levels.

It can also help you to lose fat: in a 2009 study where volunteers went on calorie-restricted diets for 12 weeks, a group that drank 500ml of water before every meal lost an average of 4.4% of their body fat, while the group who didn’t lost only 1.1%.

There’s also a study that found that drinking half a litre of water made volunteers use 24% more calories for 60 minutes after drinking water – the researchers concluded that this was because of changes to bodily fluids that required the body to expend energy to redress.

Protein with breakfast

Of course you love toast and cereal. Everyone loves toast and cereal. If cutting them out is too much to face, think inclusion instead: add protein in the form of a hard-boiled egg or two, a protein shake or a scoop of whey powder mixed in with your oats.

Protein has a mild thermogenic effect when it’s digested – so it helps to burn fat – and also increases feelings of fullness, decreasing the chances that you’ll be ready for a croissant by the time you get to the office.

An apple before you snack

Your new rule? You’re allowed whatever you want – a digestive biscuit, Chunky Kit-Kat, slab of Victoria sponge – as long as you eat an apple first. Typically, you’re eating because you’re bored, low on energy or having a blood sugar dip… and an apple fixes all three. Make it a Granny Smith, because they’re particularly high in pectin and there’s good evidence that this form of non-digestible fibre improves your gut bacteria, helping you feel full for longer and reducing your hunger levels.

Eat more spices

They do more than just add taste (although that itself should reduce your reliance on sugar). The curcumin found in turmeric reduces the formation of fat tissue, and capsaicin – the compound that gives cayenne pepper its heat – mobilises fat for your body to use. Even if all you’re eating is eggs, it’s worth grinding in some black pepper because it contains a substance called piperine, which blocks the formation of new fat cells.

Drink your coffee black

It’s an acquired taste, and you should acquire it. Apart from saving hundreds of calories on the usual frappuccino fare, you’ll save cash. It’s worth investing in a cafetière and making your own but if you need something to dull the taste of your office tar, throw in a dash of cinnamon, which helps regulate blood sugar levels and makes your body less likely to store calories as fat.

Change the way you store leftovers

You probably already use a mixture of foil and plastic storage containers like Tupperware, so just fine-tune the system. Anything “good” (vegetables, salad, protein-heavy stuff) goes in transparent packaging, while the “bad” foods (cookies, brownies, week-old birthday cake) go unseen in the back of the fridge. You’ll be more likely to see off the vitamin-packed fare and less likely to snack on the bad stuff.

Now find out how to make a better breakfast

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