1. Know Yourself.
The reason this rule comes before all the others? Self-awareness is a key factor in weight loss that everyone needs to consider, says Dedhia, who joined the Canyon Ranch team after serving as a staff physician at the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center. Once you know what caused the pounds to creep on in the first place, you can do something about them. Dedhia asks: "What are your eating habits? What drives your food choices—physical hunger or emotions or stress? What foods do you tend to overeat?"
Experts say the gold standard self-check tool is a food journal. Keep one for at least a week, "writing down everything you eat, including the times, and what was going on for you before you started munching," Dedhia says. "Was your tummy growling? Were you anxious? Are you always grabbing things on the run, or do you plan ahead?" If this seems like too much work, consider snapping a picture of everything you eat and taking a look at it at the end of the day. It's difficult to have food amnesia when the evidence is right there in front of you in photo form.
Perhaps you'll find that you have certain "trigger foods." For example, if you notice that eating something sweet only sets of more sugar cravings and nibbling, starting the day with a sugary muffin—even if it's low-fat—is a mistake. Be honest with yourself, and choose foods based on your personality and patterns.
Start thinking of animal protein as a "side dish," and veggies as the main course. Portionwise, that means sautéed spinach: big. Sliced steak: little.
2. Be a V.P. (Volume Produce) Girl.
Two leaves of lettuce on your sandwich or a couple of strawberries in your morning cereal bowl aren't going to cut it. At Canyon Ranch, the experts recommend at least eight to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, or about 4 cups' worth. When you're loading up on produce, which is packed with filling fiber, it's difficult to overeat the stuff that leads to weight gain, says Jenny Flora, a nutritionist at the spa resort. A serving is one piece of fruit or a half cup of vegetables—so if you make one meal each day a salad with lots of greens and your favorite veggies and you add a piece of fruit to your breakfast and afternoon snack, you're doing the V.P. thing.
Go for whole grains. Brown rice, barley, and quinoa are better choices than refined white four (say, bagels or pizza) since you digest them more slowly. A half-cup serving at each meal is a good guideline for weight loss.
3. Use the Less-is-More Mantra.
Less-processed foods—those with fewer ingredients—are generally the best fuel you can give your body. Think about it: Whole foods (tomatoes! chicken! almonds!) have just one ingredient. On the other hand, most of the packaged stuff that packs on pounds—potato chips, pie, pudding—requires a list, often of things you can't pronounce. When it comes to the number of ingredients, ask yourself: How low can I go?
4. Portion Like a Pro.
One way people trip up when they're trying to lose weight is by "giving themselves license to eat as much of something as they want because it's 'good' for them," says Dedhia. Consider extra-virgin olive oil, for example. Yes, it's true that foods rich in monounsaturated fats like EVOO are healthier than foods full of saturated and trans fats, but a 3-tablespoon pour on your lunchtime salad adds an extra 360 calories.
5. Take it Slow.
Many of us rush through and inhale what's on our plate. "But if you pace yourself and really chew every bite, you'll give your body a chance for the fullness signals to kick in before you overeat, and you may have an easier time slimming down," says Flora.
This story originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.