Being healthy is really about being at a weight that is right for you. The best way to find out if you are at a healthy weight or if you need to lose or gain weight is to talk to a doctor or dietitian, who can compare your weight with healthy norms to help you set realistic goals. If it turns out that you can benefit from weight loss, then you can follow a few of the simple suggestions listed below to get started.
The diversity in tools and strategies that work for people is nicely illustrated by the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), which, since 1994, has collected data on people who have lost 30 pounds or more and kept it off for at least one year. If you take a look at some of their findings, you’ll see some commonalities in various behaviors and strategies (such as increasing eating breakfast every day, watching fewer than 10 hours of TV per week, and weighing themselves regularly). But rather than looking at the NWCR’s data as a how-to guide—after all, these are the behaviors that correlate to weight loss, we can’t know if they’re the ones that caused weight loss—look at it as further evidence that there’s no one right way to live to lose weight and keep it off, and that finding the thing that will work for you is a personal journey, specific to you.
Excess weight in your midsection can be annoying—not only because it’s so darn tough to ditch, but because it also has an impact on your overall health. Extra belly fat ups your risk of issues such as heart disease and diabetes, and, according to certified strength and condition specialist Michele Olson, PhD, life is filled with sneaky little saboteurs that make putting on the pounds in this area way too easy.
Based on my experience in nutrition counseling, most of us tend to snack on foods that aren’t nutrient-dense, but are high in calories. For example, skipping sugary beverages is often the easiest way to lose weight faster. You don’t feel full from drinks — even the ones that do contain calories — so swapping those out for sparkling water or unsweetened tea and coffee is the best place to start. Other major culprits often come in refined grains like cereals, chips, crackers, and cookies.
At breakfast, go ahead and drink orange juice. But throughout the rest of the day, focus on water instead of juice or soda. The average American consumes an extra 245 calories a day from soft drinks. That’s nearly 90,000 calories a year—or 25 pounds! And research shows that despite the calories, sugary drinks don’t trigger a sense of fullness the way that food does. Find out how many calories in a pound you’ll need to shed to lose weight.
Don’t let extra hours lounging in bed stand between you and a flatter belly. While getting enough sleep can help boost your metabolic rate, sleeping in may undo any benefit you’d enjoy from catching a few extra winks. One Obesity study reveals that late sleepers who snoozed past 10:45 in the morning ate nearly 250 more calories over the course of the day, despite eating half as many fruits and vegetables as their early bird counterparts. Even worse, they chowed down on more salty, sugary, and trans-fat-laden fast food than those who woke up earlier. If you happen to head out of the house early, you’re in for an additional metabolic boost; researchers at Northwestern University have found that people exposed to just a short period of early morning sunlight had lower BMIs than their late-waking counterparts.
You already know that a perfect diet doesn't exist, but many of us still can't resist the urge to kick ourselves when we indulge, eat too much, or get thrown off course from restrictive diets. The problem: This only makes it more difficult, stressful, and downright impossible to lose weight. So rather than beating yourself up for eating foods you think you shouldn't, let it go. Treating yourself to about 200 calories worth of deliciousness each day — something that feels indulgent to you — can help you stay on track for the long haul, so allow yourself to eat, breathe, and indulge. Food should be joyful, not agonizing!
It’s true that a caloric deficit—burning more calories per day than you take in—is a requisite of weight loss. But creating a deficit doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) involve deprivation. That goes for calories, carbs, sugar, fat, or any other commonly demonized nutrient. “No one food is responsible for your weight,” Langer says, explaining that a good vs. bad mentality sets people up for disordered eating and exercise habits. In fact, caloric deprivation increases how the brain responds to food, setting you up for binge-eating down the line, according to research from the Oregon Research Institute.
We all get by with a little help from our friends, and this is especially true of people who have lost weight and kept it off. In one study among women who went through a 12-week weight loss program, 74 percent of them maintained their loss or lost more in the three years after the program ended. Those who reported having a support system around eating well were more likely to keep the weight off. (Support around exercise didn’t seem to matter.) Another study found that the type of support you receive matters, too. Your friend who’s cheering you on isn’t likely to be as helpful as your friend who will pass on the fries when you’re trying to eat well. When you’re going out to eat, join friends who will support your healthy eating goals and go to a museum or movie with those who are less likely to be in it with you. Your pals who are in the trenches with you are more likely to hold you accountable, and that’s going to help you in the long run.
On the physiological side of things, it’s important to realize that the vast majority of your daily caloric burn comes down to just basic functions like breathing and keeping your heart beating, Moore says. Called your basal metabolic rate (BMR), your muscle does play a role in setting it, but extra muscle isn’t going to turn you into a supercharged calorie-torching machine. And even though exercise does burn calories, that total is often significantly less than what we expect and would need to create a large daily caloric deficit, he says.
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.