The Best Ways to Lose Weight for Good, Backed By Science
If there's one thing more difficult than losing weight, it's keeping it off. Even if you've managed to banish the belly fat and trim down the muffin top, sustaining your success is no easy feat.
Often, once you reach your weight-loss goals, maintaining that ideal weight can be even harder than getting there in the first place. In fact, University of California, Los Angeles researchers report that between one-third and two-thirds of dieters actually gain more weight than they lost within four or five years following a diet.
However, beating the odds can be a breeze as long as you stick to our science-backed solutions for lasting success. Adopt the lifestyle hacks below to look good for good, and for more on how to eat healthy, you won't want to miss these 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.
Continue your exercise regimen
If you part with your gym membership, don't be surprised when you have to wave goodbye to that new and improved number on the scale, too. Successful losers have a much better chance of maintaining their weight loss when they continue their regular workout routine—or, at the very least, don't bounce from gym rat to couch potato. According to University of Alabama researchers, not working out after weight loss will result in a metabolism dip. The study claims that people who do 40 minutes of lifting or cardio three times a week keep burning calories at the same rate. Get up and get moving; even taking a walk is one of the 42 Ways To Lose 5 Inches Of Belly Fat.
Step on the scale
Looks like weighing yourself is the way to go. When Cornell researchers pushed study participants to lose 10% of their body weight, those who accomplished this in the program's first year were able to keep the pounds at bay throughout the second year as well. The reason for this? Researchers think stepping on the scale played a large factor, as this became a daily reinforcer for participants to continue effective behaviors like eating less and exercising more. While this was more effective in the males being studied, David Levitsky, senior author, recommends using a simple bathroom scale and Excel spreadsheet to track progress and keep things moving in a positive direction.
Rid your fridge of triggers
An American Society For Clinical Nutrition study found that avoiding periodic binging was linked to a 60% higher chance of maintaining weight for over a year. To help you combat the urge to dive fork-first into a guilt-ridden meal, make sure your kitchen is stocked with healthy picks and toss out any possible trigger foods. If the mere sight of a pint of ice cream in your freezer usually sets off an uncontrollable course of overeating, avoiding stocking up on the pints at the supermarket and stock your fridge with these 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
Keep a food journal
If you're interested in doubling your weight loss, keep a notebook and a pencil on hand at all times. Researchers from Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research found that even though 1,700 participants exercised 30 minutes a day and ate diets rich in fruit and veggies, the more food records people kept, the more weight they lost in the long run. Those who didn't keep a record at all only experienced half as much loss. So start this healthy habit and hold onto it even after you've hit your mark to stay mindful of your munching.
Cook at home more often
The next time you're tempted to go out for dinner, try whipping something up at home instead. Limiting the number of times you go out to eat may be the key to keeping off the weight you've lost. When the National Weight Control Registry surveyed its members, those who lost 30 pounds or more and maintained that for at least a year didn't frequent fast food chains too often. In fact, only 0.74 of their weekly meals were of the drive-thru variety, while 2.5 were at a restaurant. It's better to get your grub from the grocery store instead of ordering off of a menu.
There's a new therapy in town and, according to a study published in Obesity, it helps people lose more weight and keep it off longer. While standard behavioral treatment (SBT) is the norm for encouraging patients to decrease caloric intake and increase physical activity, acceptance-based behavioral treatment (ABT) has all the same behavioral skills but links weight loss efforts to a larger personal value. People who tried ABT didn't just experience 36% more loss than SBT patients, they also had a higher likelihood of maintaining 10% weight loss 12 months later. Worth looking into, right?
Pack on the flavonoids
Getting your daily dose of fruits and veggies is even more important than you thought it was. Not only is colorful produce healthy and low-cal, but it'll also often contain flavonoids, a plant compound that can stave off weight gain. A recent study in the British Medical Journal found that out of 124,000 middle-aged and older people, those eating a flavonoid-rich diet had more success maintaining their weight than those who didn't. Get a liquid boost of the stuff with a glass of green tea; it's full of flavonoids as well.
You probably wouldn't think body maintenance has anything to do with sitting in front of your computer or looking at your phone, but it does. A little screen time goes a long way when you engage in interactive weight management websites. According to a study published in the Journal of Diabetes Research, consistently logging on and recording food records, activity levels, and the number on your scale once a month for almost three years resulted in maintaining the most loss. To be more specific, these active users kept off an average of 9 out of 19 pounds they lost in the first place.
Schedule a phone call
Maintenance is hard, but we've got good news! You don't have to do it alone. A study in Annals of Internal Medicine found that low-intensity interventions could help obese outpatients who had just lost 16 pounds hold onto the progress they'd made. For 56 weeks, participants spoke to intervention contacts in group visits at first, then over the telephone with less and less frequency. By the end of the study, they weren't in contact with anybody at all but still managed to only regain an average of 1.5 pounds. Those who hadn't had any intervention contacts regained over three times as much weight. So whether you participate in a program or phone a friend, find people who can hold you accountable as you work to maintain your success.
Limit the junk
If you used a very low-energy diet to help you slim down (think shakes and soups), you'll be widening that waist in no time if you jump right back into normal food. While no one's saying you have to live off of this strict regimen forever, you do need to ease your way back into the good stuff. And by ease back into it, we mean you should take six weeks to slowly incorporate your favorite foods back onto your plate. Researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that people who were eating normally within a week gained back twice as much weight in ten months as those who took six weeks to reintroduce regular food. So it must be true; slow and steady does win the race.
It doesn't take much convincing to wake up to a plate of over-easy eggs and whole-grain toast. In fact, munching in the morning—rather than saving your appetite for lunchtime—can help you fight off weight gain for good. A study published in the journal Obesity Research discovered that out of participants who lost an average of 70 pounds and kept it off for six years, 78% ate breakfast daily.
Limit your intake of high-fat foods
Healthy fats certainly play an important role in keeping your belly trim, but these satiating foods—and, more importantly, their less healthy counterparts—must be noshed on in moderation. For example, less-healthy foods like pizza are among the top sources of saturated fat in the U.S. diet. According to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the National Weight Control Registry participants maintained the majority of their weight loss when they stuck to a low-fat diet. What's more, increases in fat intake were linked to increased weight regain during the study's 10-year follow-up period.
Focus on your goal weight
Setting lofty weight-loss goals may actually set you up for lasting success, according to the same American Journal of Preventive Medicine study. Researchers found that those who lost the most weight initially ended up losing the most weight long-term, too. The study authors stress that large weight losses come hand-in-hand with greater health benefits, including increased sustained weight loss overall.
If you often find yourself binge-watching your favorite reality series or catching up on emails come midnight, you may be doing your body a disservice. A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that participants who slept over seven hours a night and reported better sleep quality, longer sleep duration, and shorter latency to sleep onset were actually able to maintain their weight loss more successfully than those who got less than six or seven hours of shut-eye. Plus, those who considered themselves early birds also reported better weight-loss maintenance. If you need help clocking in more hours of beauty rest, turn to our tried-and-true 20 Ways to Double Your Sleep Quality.
Turn off the TV
In addition to watching what you eat, you should also take note of the hours you spend watching television. Not only is sitting in front of a screen for too long detrimental to eye health, but it can also wreak havoc on your newly-trim waistline. Members of the National Weight Control Registry, who were able to lose weight and keep it off, nixed their binge-watching habit: 62% report watching less than 10 hours of TV per week. And it seems like the majority of the NWCR members also found a new, more productive pastime—just take a look at our next savvy hack.
Walk for an hour
An impressive 90% of NWCR members report exercising for about an hour per day. Whether you enjoy going for a jog outdoors, signing up to different boutique fitness classes every week, or lifting free weights at the gym, getting up and moving is your key to burning some major calories and keeping belly fat at bay. Even if you prefer taking a brisk walk after dinner, you'll still see long-term results; the registry's most frequently reported form of activity is actually walking.
Forget fruit juice
Sure, it's packed with vitamin C, contains natural sugars, and tastes great in a cocktail, but that shouldn't grant you a free pass to sip on fruit juice every day. Just one 8-ounce cup of your leading orange juice brand packs in 110 calories and 22 grams of sugar. To put that into perspective, drinking two glasses every day can add over a pound to your frame in just three weeks! Whether you're used to pairing a drink with dinner or rather quench your thirst with something flavored, NWCR members reported maintaining weight loss and limiting total calorie intake by swapping out their regular beverages with water or low-calorie and calorie-free sips. Just remember to forgo drinks spiked with artificial sweeteners and choose one of our favorite healthy sodas instead.
Practice patience with cravings
Instead of caving in to that hot fudge sundae or slice of banana bread, practice your most-preached virtue. "Research shows cravings usually last between 5-10 minutes, sometimes as short as 3 minutes. So take some deep breaths and a walk around the block until it passes," Carolyn Brown, MS, RD at Foodtrainers in New York City, tells us in How to Lose Weight and Keep It Off Long Term. Oftentimes, we also mistake thirst for hunger, so guzzling down a glass of H2O is your best bet when cravings kick in.
Change your workout routine
We applaud you for getting off the couch and making it to your weekly spin class. But if you refuse to venture beyond stationary bikes, you might give the pounds the green light to creep back on. "If you've been doing the same workout for the past few months, your body isn't being challenged anymore, meaning it's not burning as many calories as it otherwise could," Dr. Sean M. Wells, personal trainer and author of Double-Crossed: A Review of the Most Extreme Exercise Program, tells us in 17 Reasons Why You're Regaining Weight. Spike your metabolism and switch things up by exploring different fitness classes or trying a HIIT routine at home.
Switch to a high-protein diet
Maintain your newly slim physique and staying lean for life is as easy as adding more protein to your diet. Not only is protein super satiating and able to boost your metabolism, a multi-study analysis in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that sticking to a high-protein diet helped participants helped folks avoid unwanted weight gain. In fact, one of these protein shakes will do the trick.
"People have a much better chance of having a slim waistline if they plan when they are going to eat and what they are going to eat," Mark Langowski, celebrity trainer and author of Eat This, Not That! For Abs tells us in 20 Ways to Lose Weight Forever. "Before I go to bed, I look at my schedule for the next day and plan out what I am going to eat and where I will eat it. If you let the day begin without planning, it will be 3 pm before you know it and you'll wind up making an unhealthy decision."
Prep your plates
Rather than relying on the drive-thru when hunger strikes, prep your meals in advance so that you have healthy grub on hand. "Identity three meals you can prepare with pantry staples and start cooking. Store the meals in your freezer so you always have something healthy on hand when hunger strikes," Dietitian Christine M. Palumbo, RD, explains in 20 Ways to Lose Weight Forever. "For example, my go-to meals include risotto with frozen shrimp and asparagus, vegetable barley, and a red lentil soup. Your goal should be to replace the meals whenever your stash starts running low."
Take a break from your diet
Hold your horses; we're not giving you the go-to order a bubbling skillet of mac and cheese three times a day, but taking a break from your diet may be the secret weapon you need to ward off pesky pounds. An eye-opening study in the International Journal of Obesity found that participants who deviated from their low-calorie diets for two weeks ended up weighing 18 pounds less than those who didn't ditch their diet—even six months later! Although, there is a catch: During your double cheat week, you should be eating enough calories to maintain your current weight—not increase it. (Use a calorie calculator can help you find your caloric maintenance level.)
Consistency is key
Regardless of birthdays, late-night bar crawls, and crazy work weeks, sticking to a consistently healthy diet on both weekdays and weekends renders long-lasting results. According to an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, most folks who maintain their weight loss report that their diet is the same on both the weekends and weekdays. And same goes for your workout schedule. "My most successful clients are the ones who stay consistent with their workouts throughout the year; they don't let anything get in the way of their workout! It's like putting on their pants or brushing their teeth and is something that they wouldn't think of not doing," Langowski says.
You have to keep it off for a year
Think of the first year post-weight loss as the final stretch. "If an overweight person is able to maintain an initial weight loss, in this case for a year, the body will eventually 'accept' this new weight and thus not fight against it, as is otherwise normally the case when you are in a calorie-deficit state," Associate Professor Signe Sorensen Torekov from the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research explains to Science Daily. In fact, formerly overweight people had more appetite-inhibiting hormones a year after they lost weight, according to a study in the European Journal of Endocrinology.
It's not rocket science: Limiting your daily caloric intake will result in the weight-loss success you've been seeking. After all, the formula to losing weight—consuming fewer calories than you burn—is also the key to keeping it off. A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that participants who followed a very-low-energy diet experienced significantly better weight loss maintenance five years after completing a low-calorie weight-loss program.
… But don't restrict yourself too much
Depriving yourself of the foods you love in hopes of fitting into your skinny jeans won't do you any favors in the long run. While limiting your daily caloric intake will help you shed the pounds, you should allow yourself a little wiggle room. According to Harvard Medical School, "People who followed a calorie-restricted diet regained an average of nine pounds, but those who ate what they wanted—within healthy eating guidelines—regained less than half that amount."
Turn to a professional
If you feel like your detrimental eating habits are affecting your quality of life and inhibiting you from reaching your goals, Harvard Medical School advises seeking out the help of a therapist or meditation instructor. Both experts can help you pare down stress-related eating and discover healthier coping mechanisms.
Forget the fads
University of Pennsylvania researchers found that about 65% of dieters gain back the weight they lost within three years. While diets are meant to be followed short-term, many people end up veering back to their old habits. To reap a long-lasting lean body, make sure that your diet is maintainable and that you can continue following your slim-down plan for the long haul.
Shake off the salt
Hiding your salt shaker in the cabinet rather than keeping it in plain sight on the kitchen table can do wonders for your long-term weight-loss goals. A study conducted by the Queen Mary University of London showed that every excess gram of salt you consume daily can increase your risk of obesity by a staggering 25%! If your food is lacking flavor after ditching the sodium, try experimenting with different spices such as anti-inflammatory turmeric, zesty cayenne, and smoky paprika.
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