Skip to content

20 Ways to Lose Weight Like a 20-Something

Every generation has their claim to fame, and millennials just so happen to be known for their extreme preoccupation with healthy eating and wellness. (A whopping 50 percent of millennials consider themselves foodies.) While it helps that they're still young, modern 20-somethings have Instagram-worthy figures because they're informed and deliberate about their daily choices. Here, we reveal their weight loss tricks that are worth stealing—no matter how old you are.

While you may know more about how the world works, we bet there's plenty you can learn from a 20-something about how to lose weight and get healthy. Now, more than ever before, it's considered "cool" to eat healthy, workout, and then brag about it all over the Internet. And while it may seem self-centered, today's millennials are really onto something. More of the general population is obese and sicker than ever before, and it seems that 20-somethings are trying to turn things around. They're educating themselves about nutrition and physical activity and demanding that the food industry up their game by offering healthier choices.

What's up with their interest in health? Well, it's one of the few things 20-somethings can control. "We grew up in the recession, we've got a trillion dollars in student loan debt, we don't trust our government. What you eat is a decision you have—control you can exert—three times a day," says Eve Turow, author of A Taste of Generation Yum: How the Millennial Generation's Love for Organic Fare, Celebrity Chefs, and Microbrews Will Make or Break the Future of Food. Curious how this health-hungry group of young adults is keeping weight gain at bay? We dug through sales and marketing data and chatted with a number of young health professionals and self-proclaimed "health nuts" to find out. Read on to get in the know and get your 20-something figure back—stat! And for even more ways to trim down, be sure to check out these 50 Ways to Lose 10 Pounds—Fast!

Make Your Diet Part of Your Identity


Years ago, no one used to say, 'I'm a gluten-free dieter' or 'I'm a Weight Watcher,' but these days, younger people wear their dietary choices of their sleeves and often use them to communicate to others what type of person they are; there's a lot of subtext going on. And believe it or not, this is all a very good thing. When people mold their identities around a healthy habit, they're more likely to stick with it.

Do This: Once you find a diet that works for you, start infusing it into your identity. You're far less likely to order dessert if you told everyone you know that you've cut out added sugars.

30 Easy Ways to Stop Eating So Much Sugar

Splurge When It Counts


They may have piles of student loans to pay off, but that doesn't mean 20-somethings are living off cheap meat and chips. In fact, it's quite the opposite. While about 20 percent of Gen-Xers and 15 percent of Baby Boomers regularly buy organic fare, a whopping 30 percent of millennials shell out the cash for higher quality organic foods—especially when it comes to things they consume on a daily basis like meat, milk, and eggs. In fact, people born between 1980 and 2000 spend 14 times as much on food as the average middle-class family—and the extra green is totally worth it. Grass-fed organic beef, for example, is lower in calories and fat than its conventional counterparts and organic produce is free of chemicals that can mess with the body's energy-burning process and make it more difficult to lose weight.

Do This: Not everything you buy needs to be organic. However, when it comes to fruits with edible skins, milk, meat, and eggs, it's worth the extra cash to get the good stuff.

Join a Gym & Find Some Fitspiration

"When my parents were growing up, exercise was not prioritized in the way it is today—especially for women. It was certainly gaining popularity, but it was rare for a 20-something to belong to a gym or play a sport," Ashlyn, a 21-year-old college soccer player, tell us. "These days, I think you'd have a hard time finding someone in their 20s—especially a girl in her 20s—who doesn't have a gym membership, attend some kind of workout class, or play a sport. I think fitspiration on Instagram plays a huge role in the current workout movement. It's 24/7 motivation that our parents didn't have."

Do This: If you don't want to join a gym to help shed the pounds, there are tons of grassroots-style free workout programs like the November Project, registered dietitian Isabel Smith tells us. "Check out free workout programs in your area—you won't be the oldest person there!"

And Don't Forget to Stay Consistent


Twenty-somethings don't just hit the gym whenever the mood strikes; it's a regular part of their routine, with 90 percent of millennials fitting in four hours of fitness each week, according to a study by Technogym, a fitness facilities supplier. That's far more activity than the recommended two and half hours the Department of Health and Human Services says to aim for—way to go, whippersnappers!

Do This: While hitting the gym for four hours a week may seem like a lot, that breaks down to just 34 minutes per day. And if you don't want to hit the gym on the weekends, you'll need to log about 48 minutes of sweat time Monday through Friday. Still seem like a lot? Don't forget that recreational activities like walking, hiking, biking, and swimming count, too! These are all popular, social activities among millennials that help them hit the four-hour mark. For even more ways to stay active, be sure to check out these 31 Sneaky Ways to Work Out—Without Hitting the Gym.

Eat the Rainbow


While you may have raised your kids on dinners of meat and potatoes, that's not what twenty-somethings are choosing to eat once they move out of the house. "I remember learning in health classes throughout middle and high school that the more color on your plate the better. For that reason, I'll often opt for salads made with a variety of fruits and veggies rather than a beige sandwich filled with brown or pale pink meat," says Cheyenne, a 21-year-old yoga and running enthusiast. "My mom's plate, on the other hand, is often a mix of beige and white foods like mashed potatoes and sour cream. If there is any color on her plate, it often comes from a sprinkle of cheddar cheese. Most of her meals are lacking in vibrant colors, for sure."

Do This: More color often means fewer calories. Think about it: Nutrient-void, fatty, and calorie-filled fare like French fries, burgers, white pasta, and chicken nuggets are all white or beige. Healthy things like fruit, veggies, and fish, often have vibrant hues—maybe that's why 20-somethings like to regularly post photos of their meals online. Cook up some of these 20 Easy, Healthy Side Dishes to amp up the health factor of any meal almost instantly.

Get Informed


"Us 20-somethings are really internet- and technology-savvy, so I find that most of my peers are well informed about eating well—I think more so than older generations," says Smith. Cheyanne agrees, saying, "It's common for people my age to watch documentaries on Netflix like 'Food Inc,' 'Cowspiracy,' and 'Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead.' Quite frankly, these documentaries scare the living daylight out of us and persuade us to be more careful about our food choices."

Do This: When it comes to weight loss, knowledge is power. So, make it a priority to learn about healthy eating and exercise. There are tons of great resources (like, of course) available at a click of a button.

Add Probiotics to Your Plate


According to food and consumer packaged goods market research firm Packaged Facts, millennials are uber interested in probiotics. Which is why you've likely noticed a boom in probiotic-spiked products in the supermarket as of late. Everything from muffin mix to butter is getting the probiotic treatment. While not all of these products are legit, things like yogurt, miso, and kefir are. And they help to maintain the good gut bacteria that fends off weight-inducing inflammation and keeps your metabolism humming.

Do This: Stock up on some of these 18 Probiotic Foods For a Healthy Gut to start trimming your waistline today!

Head to the Farmers' Market


"Twenty-somethings have less money than older folks. For this reason, my peers and I are more likely to head to the farmers' market to get our crops, which means we're spending less money and getting fresher items," says Smith. Bonus: When you shop at the farmers' market, you're less likely to buy the processed junk that's derailing your weight loss progress. Why? Because they don't sell it.

Do This: To find a farmers' market near you, check out Local Harvest. And while you're there, stock up on your favorite veggies, along with some ones you haven't tried before. Experimenting with produce makes eating low-cal healthy fare more enjoyable and enticing, upping the odds that you'll stick with your healthy eating routine for years to come.

Eat Out Less Often


Get this: The average main dish from a restaurant packs 1,500 calories—far more than anyone should eat in a single serving—and that's not including the drinks, appetizers, or desserts. That said, it's really no wonder health-minded 20-somethings are dining out less often than the generations that came before them. According to The NPD Group, a leading global information company, older consumers are dining out more often, while visits from millennials have dropped.

Do This: Aim to consume no more than two meals per week at a restaurant. (The national average of is 4.5 times per week.) And when you do, be sure to steer clear of The #1 Worst Menu Option at 40 Popular Restaurants.

Ditch Soda—Even the Diet Stuff


Thanks to this new generation of health-minded foodies (which have an annual buying power of about $200 billion), both regular and diet sodas have experienced a sharp decline in sales in recent years. In fact, over the last 20 years, U.S sales of full-calorie soda have dropped more than 25 percent. And it really is the 20-somethings leading the charge against soda. "My parents love to eat and cook healthy, but one thing they've never been able to give up is soda," says Ashlyn. "I wouldn't say they're addicted, but when either of them need a pick-me-up, they reach for a Diet Coke. They think it's harmless because they grew up in the age when anything with zero calories was considered healthy. I think 20-somethings are much more educated about the negative effects of chemicals and artificial foods."

Do This: Follow in savvy 20-something's footsteps and swap out soda for detox water, unsweetened teas, and kombucha. Even if you drink diet drinks, you'll likely drop a few pounds. "I was a diet soda junkie for years. So when more and more research came out linking artificial sweeteners to sugar cravings and weight gain and higher BMI, I decided to ditch the stuff in the name of better health," registered dietitian Ilyse Schapiro, tells us. "And believe it or not, I actually lost five pounds—and that wasn't even my intention."

Munch Healthier and More Often


Millennials and 20-somethings are all about the mini-meals, according to Packaged Facts, with 35 percent of them opting to nosh on snacks as meal replacements. And this is great news for their bodies. A nutritious meal or snack about every three hours keeps blood-sugar levels stable, feeds the body a steady stream of necessary nutrients, and helps control hunger-induced cravings for less-than-slimming snacks like ice cream and chips. It also leads to more effective glycogen storage in the liver and muscle tissues, ensuring your body won't cannibalize muscle as an energy source during your workouts.

Do This: Despite diet experts and new research constantly telling you otherwise, many people still consume the bulk of their calories in two or three large meals each day, often—in an attempt to slim down—going for hours at a time eating nothing in between. Sure, you can lose weight on a reduced-calorie, three-meal plan, but you can't make your body burn fat more efficiently, which is key to long-term weight loss. So, make your meals mini and spread them throughout the day. Things like fruit, veggies and hummus, and these high protein snacks all make for satisfying noms.

Take More IPhone Pics

It's not your imagination; 20-somethings are all totally obsessed with their iPhones. When they're not on social media updating their friends on their every move, they're snapping photos. As of today, there are 175,334,4000 posts on Instagram for #food and 67,562,438 posts for #gym—and that number is practically guaranteed to grow in minutes. And while it may seem that these youngins are just totally self-absorbed, many of them are using Instagram as a food and fitness diary. When you post a photo of that giant burger you enjoyed over the weekend, you'll be less apt to indulge again. And when you get a ton of likes on your weight loss selfie, you'll feel more motivated to keep at it.

The 30 Best Avocado Recipes Ever on Instagram

Do This: Get snappy and try this weight loss secret for yourself. If you're worried your friends and family will get annoyed by your health-centric pics, consider starting another account to solely chronicle your health and fitness progress. And for even more motivation, take selfies of your progress as you work toward your weight loss goal. A recent study from a nutrition clinic in Barranquilla, Colombia found that people are more likely to stay on track when they chronicle their progress through images. It may sound cliché, but we really are our own best motivation!

Ditch Bottled Water


Twenty-somethings care about the environment just as much as they care about their health, which is why 70 percent of millennials have traded in BPA-laced plastic water bottles for the reusable kind—many of which are now free of the chemical. Bisphenol A, commonly referred to as BPA, can negatively impact fertility in both men and women and has also been linked to obesity. A 2011 Harvard study found that adults with the highest concentration of BPA in their urine had significantly larger waists and the chance of being obese than those in the lowest quartile.

Do This: Buy a reusable BPA-free water bottle and aim to sip half of your body weight in ounces of water daily. (Example: If you're 150 pounds, you should sip 75 ounces or 9.5 cups of H20 daily.) Not only will staying adequately hydrated deter bloat and water weight, it will ward off fatigue and hunger. Translation: Sipping more often can help you bring more energy to your workout and fend off the munchies, aiding your weight loss efforts.

Don't Be Afraid to Customize


Twenty-somethings grew up in an era when customization is seen as a need, not a luxury. Today's consumers—and millennials in particular—want food that's fresh and made just for them. And we're not talking about choices like thin crust, regular, or deep dish; young adults these days favor restaurants (like Chipotle) that offer a build-it-yourself dining experience, so they can regularly try something new and have total control over the flavors and calories that wind up on their plates.

Do This: No matter where you're dining, don't be afraid to ask for exactly what you want. If you want the Caesar salad without croutons and the dressing on the side, don't be bashful; ask for just that. Don't see something healthy on the menu? See what ingredients are in other dishes on the menu and see if the kitchen can whip something up that fits into your smart eating plan. If there are chicken and veggies in a pasta dish, for example, you can probably ask for a grilled chicken breast with steamed veggies (sans noodles) as a custom order. For even more easy ways to slim down your selection, check out these 35 Tips for Being Healthy at Restaurants.

BYO Snacks & Lunch

"In my experience, 20-somethings do a better job at bringing snacks and lunches from home," says Smith. "This means they're getting more vegetables, fruits, and nuts in their diets than older folks who may rely on convenient stores and fast food buys on a daily basis. These healthy stashes help them maintain a healthy weight."

Do This: As you probably already know, the quality of your diet has a direct effect on the number you see on the scale, so eating smart on the reg is a non-negotiable is weight loss is your primary goal. Set aside time on the weekend to make a work week's worth of lunches and snacks. Chop veggies, drain cans of beans, bake chicken for salads, put nuts and carrot sticks into individual-size baggies, make homemade energy bites, and wash grab-and-go fruits like apples and pears. Desk-stable snacks like beef jerky, KIND bars, freeze-dried fruit, and kale chips are also great things to stash away. This ensures you'll be prepared with something healthy to eat whenever hunger strikes.

Get Spicy

There's no denying that 20-somethings are totally obsessed with sriracha. To capture the attention of the millennial palate, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Subway, White Castle, and TGI Fridays have all added the fiery sauce to a number of their menu items. While eating an 800 calorie burger slathered in the stuff won't help you shed the pounds, adding a kick to healthy dishes may just help you slip back into your skinny jeans. Fiery capsaicin, the compound that gives chiles (the primary ingredient in sriracha) their signature kick, has been shown to increase body heat, boost metabolic rate, and decrease appetite.

Do This: Check out these 20 Hurts-So-Good Ways to Eat Hot Sauce and start spicing up your life—stat!

Involve Your Friends


'Social exercise' is a growing trend among 20-somethings, with many of them forgoing happy hours and dinners out for spin and boxing classes with their besties.

Do This: You wouldn't blow off your 6 a.m. run if you knew your friends were waiting for you at the park, would you? Of course not! Which is why it's a great idea to set up workout dates. Not only will doing so make it far less likely that you'll skip a session, it will make your workout more fun, too! For even more ways to trim down—without driving yourself crazy—check out these 35 Fun Ways to Lose Weight.

Opt for Small Plates


As we mentioned before, 20-somethings are constantly munching—and restaurants are taking notice. Over the past few years, Olive Garden, TGI Fridays, and other eateries have rolled out new and improved appetizer menus. As a result, more millennials are noshing on healthy appetizers and salads in lieu of larger meals. And considering the average restaurant meal contains 1,500 calories, it's really no surprise it's helped them keep pounds at bay.

Do This: To save calories (and cash!) while dining out, registered dietitian Yasi Ansari suggests ordering a healthy appetizer (like seared scallops, mushroom caps or a salad) or splitting an entree with a friend. Looking for more ways to lean out? Be sure to check out these 20 Weight Loss Tricks You Haven't Tried.

Dress for Success

If it seems that every 20-something you see is dressed in fancy fitness apparel, you're not imagining it. But what you may not realize is that not all of them are actually running to or from the gym. Over the past few years, the fashion-forward "athleisure" segment of the retail industry has been growing by leaps and bounds, with brands like Tory Burch, Gap, Victoria's Secret, and H&M launching barre to brunch bras, tops, and legging. And it's easy to see why the gear is so popular. Athleisure allows busy millennials to fit their workout in whenever it's convenient. And since it's comfortable, it encourages them to move throughout the day, too, which is one of the many reasons it helps keep them trim.

Do This: If you can't imagine bopping around town in a pair of bright blue leggings or trendy Nike sneakers, at least try to add more jeans into your weekly rotation. Researchers have found that people who wear denim to the office take nearly 500 more steps (about a quarter mile) throughout the day than they did on days when they wore more formal attire. The more you move, the easier it will be lose belly fat and get the body you've always wanted.

Find a Community

If staying motivated is your biggest hurdle to a consistent diet and exercise routine, you might want to consider finding a community of like-minded folks who share your goals. Thanks to the Internet and social media, this is exactly what 20-somethings have begun doing. Just look at Instagram's foremost fitness authority, Kayla Itsines. The 24-year-old Australian is the creator of the high-intensity training system Bikini Body Guide (BBG), which has amassed a cult-like community who call themselves #KaylasArmy. These women encourage each other online and help keep each other motivated through pictures and comments.

Do This: You don't have to join an Instagram cult to reap the benefits of a community. Different types of communities work for different types of people. You might find that a local Weight Watchers group speaks to you, or you might prefer to join an online forum for those who are new to a gluten-free diet or running. Just find your people, and stick with 'em! They'll help you when the going gets tough.

Dana Leigh Smith
Dana has written for Women's Health, Prevention, Reader's Digest, and countless other publications. Read more about Dana Leigh