Losing weight is a goal many of us strive to achieve, but finding the best and most effective way to do it can be a challenge. Fortunately, with these expert tips and strategies, you can embark on a journey towards shedding those extra pounds and achieving a healthier lifestyle. From implementing long-term lifestyle changes to focusing on the first 5% to 10% of weight loss, this article covers a wide range of techniques to help you succeed. So, whether you're looking to cut calories without sacrificing flavor, revamp your meal planning, or boost your protein intake, this comprehensive guide has got you covered. Get ready to take charge of your weight loss journey and discover the best way to achieve your goals.
Implement Long-Term Lifestyle and Behavior Modifications
When attempting to shed pounds, banish the term "diet," recommends Albertson. Dieting can be unpleasant and leave you feeling hungry, leading to constant thoughts about food, which is counterproductive to weight loss. Instead, she suggests considering weight loss as part of a journey towards improved health and focusing on taking care of your body as the primary goal.
"Weight loss is a complex process and the number on the scale is not entirely within your control. However, you do have control over your food choices, physical activity level, and other factors that influence weight, such as stress and sleep," says Albertson. She recommends setting SMART goals—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-sensitive—and rewarding yourself when you achieve them.
Focus on the First 5% to 10%
Rather than aiming for a daunting goal like "I need to lose 25 pounds," shift your focus towards the health benefits that can result from even a modest weight loss.
"Set smaller, attainable targets," suggests Bennett. "Losing just 5% to 10% of your total body weight can significantly improve your health and reduce your risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer."
Reduce Consumption of Highly Processed Carbohydrates and Sweets
Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association emphasizes the importance of food choices for weight loss. Improving the quality of the foods you eat can expedite the shedding of pounds.
"One of the healthiest ways to lose weight is to decrease your intake of sugar and quickly metabolized carbohydrates," advises Bennett. "Specifically, you should eliminate or drastically reduce your consumption of high-glycemic-load foods, such as sugary snacks, processed carbs, and soft drinks. By avoiding or cutting back on items like French fries, chips, and crackers, you can accelerate your weight loss."
Incorporate More Plant-Based Foods
Studies indicate that a diet centered around plants not only aids in weight loss, but is also easier to maintain compared to low-calorie diets. Additionally, it offers a plethora of nutritional benefits.
"Consuming produce supports weight loss because it is packed with fiber and water, which have no calories but fill up your stomach, making you feel full," explains Albertson. In fact, a study conducted in Brazil found a direct relationship between increased fruit and vegetable consumption and enhanced weight loss.
Start by aiming for five servings of produce each day and gradually increase it to seven to nine servings. "Begin your day with a green smoothie, enjoy a salad or have some cut-up vegetables with your lunch, and snack on fruit. Incorporate more stir-frys and vegetables into your pasta dishes and soups for dinner," suggests Albertson.
Increase Protein Intake
Boosting your protein consumption can help reduce your appetite and prevent muscle loss.
"Consume approximately 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal, which can be achieved through two scoops of protein powder or 4 ounces of chicken breast," advises Dr. Albertson. "Ensure that each meal includes a serving of high-quality protein."
Dr. Albertson further notes that women over the age of 50 require significantly more protein (1 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight daily) compared to men and younger women (.8 grams per kilogram of body weight daily). This increase in protein is crucial as women approach menopause since a decline in estrogen leads to a loss of skeletal muscle mass, strength, and regenerative capacity.
Research demonstrates that increasing water intake is associated with weight loss, regardless of diet and exercise. Sufficient water consumption can enhance satiety and curb sugar cravings. Moreover, water is essential for lipolysis, the body's mechanism for burning fat to generate energy.
"I recommend following the eight by eight rule—consuming 8 ounces of water eight times a day—as a minimum guideline for water intake," says Florida-based celebrity trainer Jordan Morello, who is affiliated with the fitness platform Sweat Factor. "My clients are often amazed at how much this simple practice can reduce cravings and keep them feeling more satisfied throughout the day."
Another effective strategy is to drink two cups of water before each meal, as studies suggest that this technique can promote weight loss.
Start Your Day with a Nourishing Breakfast
If you are aiming to lose weight, skipping breakfast is not the way to go. Numerous studies consistently indicate a correlation between skipping breakfast and higher body weight and obesity rates.
Additionally, research published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society shows that individuals who skip breakfast tend to have poorer overall diet quality and inadequate intake of essential nutrients such as vitamin D, calcium, and iron.
However, not just any breakfast will suffice. "To enhance cognitive function, performance, and mood, it is essential to consume a balanced breakfast that regulates blood sugar levels. This means incorporating sufficient protein, healthy fats, and quality carbs like fresh berries," advises Bennett.
Incorporate More Physical Activity
Boosting your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)—the energy expended during activities other than eating, sleeping, or formal exercise—is an easy way to shed pounds. Simple changes like carrying groceries instead of using a cart, parking farther away from stores, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or fidgeting can result in burning hundreds of extra calories.
Furthermore, try to spend more time standing rather than sitting. Studies indicate that replacing sitting with standing leads to higher daily energy expenditure, resulting in more calorie burn and ultimately weight loss.
For instance, if you weigh 160 pounds and alternate between sitting and standing, you can burn approximately 35 additional calories per hour. This equates to an extra 280 calories per day, 1,400 calories per week, and around 70,000 calories per year.
"Set reminders on your phone, Fitbit, or computer to prompt you to get up and move around every hour. This will increase calorie burn and potentially reduce blood sugar levels and the risk of heart disease," advises Albertson.
Incorporate Strength Training
Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat. Therefore, incorporating strength training into your weight loss plan not only burns calories during the workout itself but also raises your metabolism after the exercise session ends.
Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), also known as the "afterburn effect," refers to the elevated oxygen uptake that occurs following exercise to aid in muscle recovery. This elevation in metabolism during and after strength training sessions can contribute to weight loss.
Moreover, the more muscle mass you gain, the higher your resting metabolic rate (RMR) becomes. RMR represents the number of calories your body requires to function at rest. A higher RMR allows for a greater caloric intake without weight gain.
"While cardiovascular exercise is often emphasized, strength training is vital for weight loss and weight maintenance, particularly after the age of 50. This is because muscle mass, which burns calories, declines by 1% to 2% per year," explains Albertson. "Strength training can help slow down this decline."
Stay Accountable with a Partner
Losing weight can sometimes feel like a solitary journey, but it doesn't have to be that way. Research indicates that accountability plays a significant role in weight loss success. In a study, two-thirds of participants who joined a weight loss program with friends were able to maintain their weight loss for six months after the program ended, compared to just a quarter of those who attended alone. Many organizations recommend having a sponsor or champion to support you on your weight loss journey.
"One of the best ways to consistently eat better and steadily lose weight is to check in every day with an accountability partner," advises Bennett. "Your accountability partner doesn't necessarily have to be your best friend, favorite co-worker, or partner. Simply find someone who shares similar weight loss goals. You don't need to communicate every day either; just send each other texts to share your healthy eating choices and stay on track. If you find yourself tempted by unhealthy foods, you can also rely on your partner for support. That's when it may be beneficial to call them."
Reconnect with Your Body's Hunger and Satiety Signals
To overcome mindless eating habits, it is crucial to tune in and reestablish a connection with your body's natural hunger and fullness cues.
"Diets combined with eating on the go or while multitasking—such as driving, watching TV, or using your phone—can disrupt our natural signals of hunger and satiety," states Albertson. "Furthermore, as children, we were often taught to clean our plates rather than stopping when we were satisfied." The increasing portion sizes, which can be up to 60% larger for snack foods, contribute to overeating as well.
"To restore this connection, try to eat when you are genuinely hungry and stop when you feel satisfied instead of overeating," suggests Albertson. "Instead of solely focusing on tracking your food intake, pay attention to your hunger levels before, during, and after meals to regain a better understanding of your body's signals."
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Prioritize Sufficient Sleep
Getting an adequate amount of sleep each night is crucial for maintaining a healthy weight and overall well-being. Numerous studies have associated poor sleep with weight gain and various health issues. For instance, when researchers analyzed 16 years of data on 68,183 middle-aged American women, they found that those who slept less than five hours per night had a 15% higher risk of obesity compared to those who slept seven hours per night.
Insufficient sleep can also disrupt the production of appetite-regulating hormones, such as ghrelin and leptin, leading to increased feelings of hunger throughout the day. Additionally, poor sleep raises cortisol levels and promotes the accumulation of stubborn body and abdominal fat.
"While we may not have control over when we need to wake up, we can control our bedtime. By counting back seven to nine hours from your wake-up time, you can establish a consistent sleep routine," advises Darnbrough. "I also recommend following the 3-2-1 rule: stop working three hours before bed, avoid eating two hours before bed, and minimize exposure to electronic devices one hour before bed. These practices can enhance the quality of your deep sleep and REM sleep."
"I teach my clients to choose foods they genuinely enjoy, savor every bite, and chew their food deliberately. I advise them to eat slowly, swallow only when thoroughly chewed, and repeat. It takes time for us to realize when we are full. Eating slowly allows us to savor our meals and provides us with better signals of satiety," says Janet Zinn, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in private practice in New York City.
Savor the Flavors of Your Meal“Too often, we are given strict guidelines on what to eat. And when we don't enjoy those specific foods, we may struggle to develop healthy eating habits in the long run. Embrace the opportunity to try new fruits and vegetables. Experiment with new recipes that offer variety and taste. Enhance the flavors with herbs and spices. Alternatively, appreciate the natural sweetness of fruits and the depth of raw and steamed vegetables. There's no reason why you can't find pleasure in your relationship with food.”
Document Your Daily Gratitude“Our emotional state sometimes affects our eating habits, whether we are aware of it or not. When we experience stress, we may turn to food as a coping mechanism. I encourage my clients to keep a daily journal of things they are grateful for, or simply a journal to write in during stressful moments. This helps them better manage stress by acknowledging it and utilizing alternative coping tools, rather than resorting to food.”
— Lauren Manganiello, RD, CSSD, a registered dietitian and board-certified sports nutritionist in private practice on Long Island, New York
Prepare Meals in Advance“Every Sunday, I cook enough chicken for the entire week. I trim off the fat, season it, bake it, then measure out 3.5 ounces and place it in a container with some mustard and frozen veggies. This way, I can easily grab a ready-made meal for work every day. I also take the time to divide ¼ cup of rolled oats, 1 tablespoon each of natural peanut butter and ground flax, and a pinch of protein powder and cinnamon into individual containers. In the morning, all I need to do is add water and microwave! This saves me time and effort when I'm still half-asleep.”
— Kyra Williams, a personal trainer in Boston
Maintain Flavor Without the Extra Calories“You can reduce your calorie intake without sacrificing taste by choosing sharp cheddar over mild cheddar. This way, you can use less cheese but still enjoy plenty of flavor, without feeling like you're on a restrictive diet.”
Start Where You Currently Are and Take Small Steps“You don't have to completely transform your life overnight. Begin by assessing your current situation and then determine where you'd like to be in the future. A good starting point for mostly sedentary individuals is to track their daily steps with a step counter and determine the average number of steps taken. Set a slightly higher step goal and gradually work your way up to 10,000 steps per day. This gradual approach is more sustainable and effective in the long run.”
— Esther Avant, an online sports nutritionist specializing in weight loss based in San Diego
Focus on the Key Elements for Weight Loss“Direct your attention towards the most important aspects of weight loss. Prioritize your efforts on areas that will yield the best results. When it comes to nutrition, pay attention to calories, protein, and fiber. In terms of exercise, emphasize strength training, daily steps, and recovery.”
Move Beyond the Scale“While the scale can provide some valuable information, it shouldn't be the only factor you focus on. To gauge progress that might not be reflected by changes in weight, take regular photos and measurements. Additionally, keep a list of non-scale victories to track the positive changes you're making to your health and overall lifestyle.”
Boost Your Protein Intake at Breakfast“Aim to include 15 to 25 grams of protein in your morning meal. Protein digests slowly and helps suppress hunger hormones, keeping you satisfied for longer. A high-protein breakfast also helps curb cravings later in the day. Pair protein-rich foods with fiber and healthy fats, such as two eggs with whole-wheat toast and avocado, or high-protein frozen waffles with nuts, berries, and a drizzle of maple syrup.”
Opt for Whole, Minimally Processed Foods“Processed foods are often packed with added sugars, fats, and salt, which contribute to their appealing taste and make us crave more. Research shows that people can consume up to 500 more calories per day when offered unlimited amounts of ultra-processed foods compared to unprocessed ones. Limit your intake of highly processed foods and opt for whole, minimally processed options for better health.”
Manage Consumption of High-Glycemic Carbohydrates“High-glycemic carbohydrate foods, like white potatoes and refined bread, can cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels when consumed alone. This can lead to increased hunger and cravings. While more long-term studies are needed, current evidence suggests a link between high-glycemic foods and appetite regulation. However, high-glycemic foods can still be enjoyed in moderation. Working with a registered dietitian-nutritionist can help you balance your nutrients and prevent spikes in blood sugar, helping to control your appetite.”
— Sue-Ellen Anderson Haynes, RDN, CDCES, a certified personal trainer and national media spokesperson of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics based in Boston
Explore Fruity Delights for Dessert“Fruits are not only low in calories, but they also provide essential nutrients like antioxidants and fiber. Sadly, most people in the U.S. fail to meet their recommended intake of fruits and vegetables. However, incorporating fruits into your dessert can help you meet your daily requirements while adding delightful flavors to your day. Experiment with sautéed, grilled, or baked fruits. For example, a grilled peach topped with vanilla yogurt and shaved almonds is truly amazing!”
— Anderson Haynes
Embrace the Art of Meal Planning“Meal planning is a valuable tool for maintaining a healthy diet. It saves you time, money, and unnecessary calorie consumption. Spend 5 to 10 minutes over the weekend to plan your meals for the week. This way, you'll know what to make for dinner each night, preventing last-minute decisions that can lead to unhealthy choices. Menu planning helps you stay organized, keeps track of your groceries, and promotes a balanced plate. Remember, it's also acceptable to take a night off from cooking and order takeout or enjoy a frozen meal occasionally. Simply include it in your plan so you won't be caught off guard when hunger strikes. Writing down your plan increases the chances of sticking to it.”
— Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN, a culinary nutrition and communications dietitian based in Westchester County, New York
Create a Shopping List and Follow It“Once your weekly menu is planned, prepare a shopping list either on paper or your phone. Knowing in advance what you need to buy reduces the time spent at the supermarket, minimizes food waste, and prevents impulse purchases. To stay on track, avoid grocery shopping when you're hungry or tired, as research shows that these conditions increase impulsive behavior.”
Organize Your Kitchen Staples“To cook healthy meals, it's essential to have the right ingredients and tools readily available in your kitchen. Stock up on pantry essentials like low-sodium canned beans, canned fish, tomato sauce, whole-grain pasta, quinoa, brown rice, low-sodium stock, low-fat plain yogurt, and a variety of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables. Also, don't forget to have olive oil, dried herbs, and spices on hand. These ingredients form the foundation of delicious and nutritious meals.”
Equip Yourself with the Proper Kitchen Tools“A well-equipped kitchen can make cooking easy, efficient, and healthy. Consider investing in a seasoned cast-iron skillet, which requires less oil or butter for cooking. Other useful tools include an immersion blender, Instant Pot, baking sheets, measuring cups and spoons, and a hand juicer. And, of course, make sure you have a set of quality knives for your culinary endeavors.”
Read and Understand Food Labels“Develop the habit of reading food labels, as it can save you time, money, and even calories. Labels provide valuable information about the nutritional value and content of the product. To achieve healthy weight loss, it's important to not only consider the number of calories but also the quality of those calories. Look for a balance of nutrients while being mindful of your sodium, sugar, and saturated fat intake.”
— Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com, author of Read It Before You Eat It — Taking You from Label to Table
Increase Your Vegetable Consumption“Instead of restricting certain foods or food groups, focus on incorporating a wide range of nourishing foods into your diet for overall health and weight management. Vegetables, in particular, are rich in water and fiber, low in fat and calories, and packed with essential nutrients. Adding more veggies to your meals can create lower-calorie versions of your favorite dishes. For example, use cauliflower rice instead of white rice or try a 50/50 mix. If you aim to make your meals mostly plant-based, with at least 50% of the plate filled with vegetables, you're on the right track to improving your health.”
Avoid sugary drinks.We simply don't feel satiated by liquid calories in the same manner as we do with solid food. Imbibing a glass of juice or indulging in a caramel coffee beverage just doesn't produce the same level of contentment as the consumption of a bowl filled with stir-fried vegetables and protein. Abstaining from sweetened beverages is frequently the simplest approach to expedite weight loss, and, as an added bonus, it promotes heart health and assists in preventing diabetes. Keep a close eye on your intake of soda, juice, sweetened coffee and tea, as well as alcoholic beverages. If you consume each of these beverages throughout the day, you will have ingested a minimum of 800 additional calories by nightfall — and you will still feel hungry. (By the way, alcohol may impede the fat metabolism process, making it more challenging for you to burn those calories.)
Prioritize mindful eating.Mindfully savoring and fully focusing on factors like taste, texture, temperature, and aroma of your food can aid in portion control. However, mindful eating also entails being truly present with what you consume and when — this helps you recognize and address unnecessary snacking moments that may unknowingly contribute to excess calorie intake. Moreover, strive to avoid consuming foods that you didn't consciously choose for yourself. Mindful eating empowers you to shift control from external influences and cues to your body's innate wisdom. Identifying the true sources of your extra calories is a crucial step towards making better choices in both the short and long term.
Opt for reducing carbs instead of fats.When researchers at Johns Hopkins compared the cardiovascular effects of losing weight through a low-carbohydrate diet versus a low-fat diet over a six-month period — with both diets providing an equal number of calories — those following the low-carb approach shed an average of 10 pounds more than their low-fat counterparts — 28.9 pounds versus 18.7 pounds. Additionally, the low-carb regimen resulted in a higher quality of weight loss, as stated by Stewart. While weight loss on both diets led to a decrease in fat, there was often a simultaneous loss of lean tissue (muscle), which is not desirable. In both groups, approximately 2 to 3 pounds of lean tissue were lost alongside the fat. This indicates that the proportion of fat loss was substantially higher when following the low-carb diet.
Distance yourself from processed foods.The constituents found in packaged goods and snack items are frequently abundant in trans fats, added sugar, and excessive salt or sodium — three factors that impede weight loss efforts.
Surround yourself with health-conscious companions.Research demonstrates that you are more likely to make better dietary choices and engage in regular exercise if your friends and family adopt similar habits.
In conclusion, losing weight is not a short-term fix, but a long-term commitment to making positive lifestyle and behavior changes. Implementing the strategies mentioned, such as focusing on the first 5% to 10%, reducing processed carbs and sweets, eating more plants and protein, drinking more water, and moving more, can help you achieve your weight loss goals. Remember to prioritize self-care by getting enough sleep, eating slowly and mindfully, and enjoying the food you eat. Don't forget the power of accountability and support, whether it's checking in with an accountability partner or surrounding yourself with health-focused friends. And most importantly, don't be discouraged by the numbers on the scale. Look beyond the scale and focus on how you feel, the positive changes you've made, and the healthy habits you've developed. By starting where you are, thinking big, and staying consistent, you can create a sustainable, healthy lifestyle for yourself. So, go ahead and take the first step towards your weight loss journey today!