Losing weight isn’t necessarily a matter of meat vs. plants or carbs vs. fats. Repeatedly, studies suggest you can lose weight with a number of different approaches, including the ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting, and WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers). Truth be told, losing weight is much easier than keeping it off. The last decade of research on weight loss points to the fact that once you lose weight, your body is in a battle with biology. It’s an unfortunate irony, but studies show that as you drop pounds, your levels of “I’m hungry” hormones increase, while your “I’m full” hormones decrease. At the same time, your body physically needs less fuel to operate your smaller size. It’s not an easy battle, but it isn’t impossible; you can march on. Here’s what we’ve learned about weight loss, and what you can do to take charge of your weight this year.
Don't banish certain foods. Don't tell yourself you'll never again eat your absolutely favorite peanut butter chocolate ice cream. Making all treats forbidden is sure to make you want them even more. The key to long-term success is making healthy choices most of the time. If you want a piece of cake at a party, go for it! But munch on the carrots rather than the chips to balance it out.
All meals are important, but breakfast is what helps you start your day on the right track. The best, heartiest breakfasts are ones that will fill you up, keep you satisfied, and stave off cravings later in the day. Aim to eat anywhere between 400 and 500 calories for your morning meal, and make sure you're including a source of lean protein plus filling fat (e.g., eggs, unsweetened Greek yogurt, nuts, or nut butters) and fiber (veggies, fruit, or 100% whole grains). Starting your day with a blood sugar-stabilizing blend of nutrients will help you slim down without sacrifice.
Don't get me wrong — exercising at any time is good for you. But evening activity may be particularly beneficial because many people's metabolism slows down toward the end of the day. Thirty minutes of aerobic activity before dinner increases your metabolic rate and may keep it elevated for another two or three hours, even after you've stopped moving. Plus, it'll help you relax post-meal so you won't be tempted by stress-induced grazing that can rack up calories.
Build muscle. Muscle burns more calories than fat. So adding strength training to your exercise routine can help you reach your weight loss goals as well as give you a toned bod. And weights are not the only way to go: Try resistance bands, pilates, or push-ups to get strong. A good, well-balanced fitness routine includes aerobic workouts, strength training, and flexibility exercises.
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Avoid sweetened drinks. Drinks that are sweetened, whether artificially or naturally, will have little nutritional value and add lots of empty calories to your diet. Do not drink fruit juice or other sweetened drinks. Even natural sugars will increase your daily calorie intake and prevent weight loss. If you chose to drink juice, do not exceed 4 oz per day (1/2 cup). Instead of drinking sweetened beverages throughout your day, drink unsweetened, calorie-free beverages. Some beverages to avoid include:
A little garlic in your meals could mean a lot less weight around your middle. The results of a Korean study found that mice given a high-fat diet supplemented with garlic lost significantly more weight and abdominal fat than those who just ate fatty foods. Even better, they also improved their liver health, making it easier to stay healthy and burn off that excess fat in the long term. For more flavorful ways to make your food more enjoyable, turn to the metabolism-boosting spicy recipes and watch those pounds melt away.
It’s possible you’ve lost significant fat already with foods like milk, wheat bread, and artificial sweeteners in your diet, but for the next week, cut these out entirely—even if you don’t think you have an intolerance to them. Even the slightest irritation to your digestive system can cause bloating and water retention, so eliminate the risk completely. Dairy and gluten appear in numerous condiments (soy sauce, salad dressings, some brands of barbecue sauce, etc.), so to avoid a potential problem, read labels and control your intake as much as possible. Season your food with condiments such as sea salt, salsa, and balsamic vinegar instead.
The truth is there is no “one size fits all” solution to permanent healthy weight loss. What works for one person may not work for you, since our bodies respond differently to different foods, depending on genetics and other health factors. To find the method of weight loss that’s right for you will likely take time and require patience, commitment, and some experimentation with different foods and diets.
In reality, a never-ending list of factors—including (yes) food and exercise, but also sleep, stress management, hormone health, self-esteem, past weights, and those pesky genetics—influence weight loss as well as the weight your body naturally gravitates toward at a given time in your life, Abby Langer, R.D., a Toronto-based dietitian and nutrition counselor, tells SELF. Of course, maintaining a caloric deficit drives weight loss, but so much more goes into a successful weight-loss effort than the math of calories in and calories out.
Too little sleep or too much sleep can throw your stress and regulatory hormones out of whack, and may lead to weight gain. A single night of sleep deprivation can increase levels of ghrelin (a hormone that promotes hunger), making you more likely to overeat the next day. Reduced sleep may also lead to fatigue during the day (duh) and less physical activity, which may be another reason why people who regularly don't get enough sleep tend to gain weight.
You might not find the motivation to burn away all that fat if you don't have the muscles to show off underneath. A well-rounded, symmetrical weightlifting program will build your muscles and make them something to be admired. Choose a split workout, or an all-body workout, and work out three to four times a week. Work all major muscle groups, and leave 48 hours between working the same muscles to prevent overtraining. Another benefit of weight training is the boost it gives your metabolism.
“The best way to stick with a diet, is for people to put the fewest restrictions on themselves as possible,” Langer says. “There shouldn't be anything in the world that they shouldn't ever eat again.” Similarly, Albers recommends ditching the “don’t” list entirely. “Instead of trying to stop an old negative habit, focus on building a positive new one,” she says. “New habits crowd out the old without the struggle of trying to stop a behavior.”
‘Lastly, if your nutrition is on point but you still have excess tummy fat, then you need to look at your training. There’s a real craze for high-intensity workouts and really pushing yourself at the moment, but training is a stress on the body, and if you’re not giving it the tools to manage that stress and recover from it, then it can lead things like excess belly fat.
The reason we’re suggesting 45 minutes instead of the typical 30 as one of the easy ways to lose weight is that a Duke University study found that while 30 minutes of daily walking is enough to prevent weight gain in most relatively sedentary people, exercise beyond 30 minutes results in weight and fat loss. Burning an additional 300 calories a day with three miles of brisk walking (45 minutes should do it) could help you lose 30 pounds in a year without even changing how much you’re eating. Here are 20 hidden reasons your diet isn’t working.
The final possible culprit behind stubborn weight issues may be the stress hormone, cortisol. Too much cortisol will increase hunger levels, bringing along subsequent weight gain. The most common cause of elevated cortisol is chronic stress and lack of sleep (see tip #10), or cortisone medication (tip #9). It’s a good idea to try your best to do something about this.
Weight loss ultimately comes back to the concept of calories in, calories out: Eat less than you burn and you’ll lose weight. And while it’s possible to lose water weight quickly on a low-carb diet, I certainly wouldn’t advocate for it. The diet itself can trick you into thinking that this eating style is working — when really, you might gain back what you lost as soon as you eat carbs again. That can feel incredibly dispiriting if you want results that last longer than a week.
Here's something else most people probably don't know: Fidgeting is good for you. It's considered a nonexercise physical activity, and it's an important way to burn energy. You get more health benefits if, in addition to exercising, you are a more fidgety, more active person the rest of the day. This means gesturing while you're talking, tapping your foot, just moving around.