For decades, leading weight loss experts have preached the same formula: Sweat more and eat smarter. And if you’ve ever thought that sounds too easy to be true, you’re right. This month, Canadian researchers called BS. Their study in the journal Obesity Research and Clinical Practice revealed an entirely new reality: It’s more difficult to shed fat today than any other time in the past 30 years, even with the same amount of diet and exercise.

What’s tipping the scales? The study, which analyzed health and fitness data from 36,377 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), didn’t point to one specific cause—it pointed to thousands. “For some people, there are a few large culprits [like excessive eating and poor exercise habits],” says Jennifer Kuk, PhD, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of kinesiology at York University, in Toronto. “But for most people, it’s the cumulative effect of countless daily habits, health choices, and environmental factors that cause us to burn fewer calories.”

Compared to previous generations, we’re exposed to more medications, pesticides, and pollutants that slow our metabolisms; we eat highly-processed diets that foster a less efficient intestinal flora; and we encounter more viruses linked to weight gain (like adenovirus 36). “We also move less,” says Kuk, adding that television watching and desk jockeying are only partly to blame. “Many of the conveniences we take for granted—even seemingly inconsequential things like automatic transmissions and food processors—result in less daily movement and a more sedentary lifestyle overall.”

So what’s a person to do? “Eat as well as you can, exercise as much as you can, and (most important) take greater control of as many aspects of your life as you can,” says Kuk. Here are five good places to start.

Eat Slower
Savoring every bite will help you consume fewer calories during a meal, according to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Need another reason to embrace the “mindful eating” movement? Here are two: You’ll feel fuller and more satisfied when you’re done, say the researchers.

Snack Smarter
You already know to avoid anything filled with ice cream or cheese sticks. Here’s your best option: Fruit. The natural sugars will satisfy your sweet tooth, and the water and fiber content will help keep you fuller longer, according to scientists at the Mayo Clinic. Plus, you’re all but guaranteed to keep your snack below 100 calories. Here are some good options: An apple (95 calories), 20 grapes (68 calories), a peach (58 calories), or an orange (65 calories).

Put Your Mind at Ease
The weight of scientific evidence is clear: The more stressed you are, the more likely you are to eat high-calorie (i.e., junk) food. Fortunately, the solution is simple: Just sit quietly and focus on your breathing for 10 minutes a day. Practiced consistently, such “mindful meditation” can reduce psychological stress by up to 44 percent, according to a study at West Virginia University.

Take a Walk
You need to walk more to shed pounds. Five thousand steps a day is a good start, according to a recent study by the Walking Behavior Laboratory at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, in Louisiana. But if you want to optimize your calorie burning, shoot for 7,500 steps a day, and do at least 3,000 of them at a cadence of 100 steps per minute, say the researchers.

Hit the Sack Earlier
You already know that skimping on shut-eye can slow your brain’s processing power. But research also shows that a lack of sleep can make you consume more calories during the day. Not only does it stimulate the production of hormones that tell you to eat, and suppress others that tell you to stop, but it also silences the part of your brain that helps you order grilled chicken salad instead of a double-bacon cheeseburger. Bottom line: Get your seven to eight hours a night.

by guest blogger, Hannah Rex