Surefire Ways to Lose Weight For Good, Say Dietitians
Losing weight is already a challenge for many people—but keeping it off? That's even more of a struggle. The main reason why some have a hard time losing weight for good, according to experts, is that they're looking for "quick fixes" that might offer dramatic results in the short term but aren't sustainable in the long term.
"Always be wary of fad diets and products that promise rapid weight loss in a short time frame," says Allison Herries, MS, RDN, creator of Bite Out of Life Nutrition. "Many fad diets advocate very low-calorie meal plans. Due to the extensive calorie restriction, most people will lose weight, but they will also not consume enough vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients while on these plans. These 'magic bullets' can also lead to yo-yo dieting, which research has linked to increased appetite and more weight gain over time."
Not only that, but according to Ashley Krautkramer, RD, a board-certified specialist in obesity and weight management, weight loss supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and some could potentially be dangerous to your health.
"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," she says.
Sarah Williams, MS, RD, owner and founder of Sweet Balance Nutrition, notes that not getting enough calories can actually backfire, slowing down your metabolism. The slower weight comes off, the more likely it is to stay off, says Williams.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends a gradual weight loss of one to two pounds per week—and RDs agree that if you stick to these guidelines, you're more likely to be successful in keeping the weight off. But how do you accomplish that? We asked experts to share their top tips for sustainable weight loss. Here's what they had to say, and for even more tips, be sure to check out our list of these Eating Habits to Avoid if You Want to Lose Weight, Say Dietitians.
Get in a calorie deficit.
"It sounds overly simplistic, but how all weight loss regimes work is through eating fewer calories than you burn," explains Krautkramer.
The average adult female needs between 1,600 to 2,200 calories per day, while the average adult male needs 2,200 to 3,000 calories per day — but this number can also depend on your activity levels.
To achieve a 500-calorie daily deficit, you can try replacing calorie-dense foods with lower-calorie alternatives and getting more exercise.
Eat more protein.
"Protein helps boost your metabolism and keeps you full, making it easier to stick to a lower-calorie diet," says Mitri. "Include protein at every meal and snack to support weight loss."
Keep in mind that not all protein is created equal, however.
"The protein needs to be lean, but evidence from the W.I.S.E. study shows lean beef can be included, too," says Keith-Thomas Ayoob, RD, associate clinical professor emeritus at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Skinless chicken and turkey, eggs, tofu, low-fat yogurt, shrimp, tuna, beans, and legumes are just a few other examples of lean protein sources.
Increase your activity level.
We've already established that losing weight requires consuming fewer calories than your burn—which means that exercising more is bound to pay off.
"Both cardio and resistance exercise burns calories, which makes it easier to get into that calorie deficit," explains Mitri. "Cardio helps to burn calories and reduce body fat while resistance exercises build muscle to improve your metabolism."
Once you've reached your goal weight, the CDC recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or a mix of the two. But remember: those sweat seshes likely won't pay off unless you're adjusting your eating habits, too.
"Exercise is helpful in conjunction with diet changes, but it is important to note that exercise on its own has not been shown to be very effective for weight loss," adds Krautkramer.
Drink more water.
Water is calorie-free, keeps your metabolism and digestive system in working order, and can also help you feel full.
"Drinking more water can help you burn more calories and may help you eat less at meals," says Mitri. "In fact, several studies have shown that drinking water before meals helps to reduce calorie intake."
As for how much water you need, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) a day for women.
Be reasonable and specific with your goals.
According to Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, senior director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife Nutrition, when you set goals that aren't realistic, you can sabotage your weight loss efforts because you're more likely to give up.
"Focus on small, incremental changes that are measurable," says Supriya Lal, RD, MPH.
For example, a goal of reducing your sugar intake to 15 to 20 grams a day is a lot more reasonable than deciding to cut out sugar entirely.
Experts say it's also important to make your goals as specific as possible.
"It's great to say that you want to 'eat less fat' but that's too vague," says Bowerman. "Instead, you might set a measurable goal to limit your fat intake to 40 grams a day."
Track your progress.
"Whether it's a doctor, dietitian, friend, family member, or app keeping you accountable towards your goals, accountability is a key piece of sustained progress," says Lal. "I encourage patients and clients to figure out what works best for them and stick to a process. Sometimes, journals can also be helpful for this so they can track their intake over time."
A 2019 study in JMIR mhealth Uhealth found that keeping a food journal, especially one that allows you to upload photos, resulted in significantly greater weight loss.
Whether you use a diet app or a good old-fashioned journal, consider keeping track of what you eat on a daily basis—and how much weight you're losing per week—to see which dietary habits are paying off.
"Keeping a food journal is a great way to build awareness about the nutritional value of foods," says Williams. "It helps people understand how to get in a calorie deficit, and encourages them to stay mindful about food choices."
And speaking of journaling—while you're at it, you might also want to log how life stressors and your emotions impact your eating.
"Many of us eat because we are tired, stressed, or need a pick-me-up," explains says Ana Reisdorf, RD with Wellness Verge. "Until you learn to address these reasons why you are eating (or overeating), it will be difficult to lose weight or maintain the weight you have lost."
Fill up on non-starchy veggies.
A 2019 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that increased vegetable intake, especially leafy greens, was associated with decreased body weight, even in people with genetic risk factors for obesity.
"Non-starchy vegetables and fruits like spinach, green beans, asparagus, cauliflower, and broccoli are filling, but they don't have enough calories to result in weight gain even if they are consumed in large quantities," says Lindsey DeSoto, RDN, LD, owner of The Dietitian Momma. "With just around 25 calories in half a cup of cooked vegetables, it's a good way for those who enjoy meals with volume to enjoy consuming extra food without the calories, which can lead to weight loss."
As a general guideline, Williams advises filling half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables twice per day.
"Instead of taking weight loss as a negative approach and telling clients to avoid foods, I like to focus on eating more of certain nutrients," explains DeSoto. "Research shows that diets high in fiber are associated with weight loss and dietary adherence, so start with focusing on fiber. Fiber is not a magic fix to drop weight, but it is one of the best ways to promote satiety and achieve overall meal satisfaction resulting in decreased overall calorie intake and weight loss."
A good rule of thumb, says DeSoto, is to aim for around 30 grams of fiber per day. To minimize GI discomfort (read: gas and bloating) you might want to gradually increase your intake by about 2 to 3 grams extra each day.
Here's why fiber is considered The #1 Thing To Eat Every Day To Lose Weight For Good.
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