4. Be wary of hormonal birth control. Birth control pills, intrauterine devices that release progesterone, and especially the progesterone-only shot, Depo-Provera, can cause weight gain in some women. A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women who used the Depo shot gained an average of 11 pounds over three years compared to an average gain of 3 to 4 pounds among women who used other forms of contraception. But the study also found that only 25 percent of Depo users gained a significant amount of weight, and Klauer says the same holds true for other forms of hormonal contraception. For example, some women gain 15 pounds on a particular brand of pill, while others don't. "It's extremely individual and probably related to genetics," she adds. If you're taking hormones and have noticed recent weight gain of five or ten pounds with no obvious explanation, she says, you might want to try switching to a different formulation to see if that helps.
5. Get an optimal amount of sleep. Research has shown that getting too little or too much sleep increases a person's risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes. Getting an adequate amount of sleep, says Klauer, ensures that your body produces enough leptin, a hormone released during deep sleep that regulates your hunger drive. That's why sleep deprivation tends to lead to overeating. While most adults need about 7 to 8 hours of shut-eye each night, some of us require a bit more or a bit less. How to tell how much you need? Go to bed a few nights in a row without an alarm clock and see what time you naturally wake up the next morning. (Best to try this when you don't need to make an early flight or work meeting!)
6. Eat six mini-meals a day. Klauer recommends eating one small meal every three hours to help curb those hunger pangs that trigger overeating. Research also suggests that eating mini-meals at regular times throughout the day boosts metabolism and balances blood sugar levels. Mini-meals should be about 250 to 300 calories consisting of a mixture of carbohydrates, protein, and a dollop of fat. Some nutritious ideas: two slices of turkey breast with lettuce and tomato on whole-wheat bread; a mixed-green salad topped with strawberries, sliced pears, and a serving of sliced almonds; one bowl of high-fiber cereal and a cup of light yogurt.
7. Weigh yourself regularly. While you don't want to be a slave to your scale, weighing yourself a few times a week can help you keep track of weight gain and reverse course before you find you can't button your favorite jeans. Need proof? A 2006 study from Cornell University found that college freshmen who were told to weigh themselves every morning gained almost no weight during the school year compared with a 7-pound gain for those who weren't given a scale.