Fluctuations in weight are normal and to be expected, but if extra pounds are keeping you from living the life you want to live, then losing weight means feeling better and having better health.
These 10 tips are the first strategies that come up in research, and also the ones I use as a practicing dietitian.
1. Get enough physical activity
Exercise and physical activity help prevent muscle loss, regulate hormones like insulin, testosterone, and estrogen, and burn calories, both during and after your workout.
Hard to beat those benefits, but exercise alone isn’t going to do it all. Working out has to be paired with a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Whether you go for low-and-slow cardio to boost metabolic flexibility, high-intensity interval training to optimize mitochondria function, or strength training to build up muscles while you melt fat, all exercise is good exercise when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off.
2. Eat less processed food
A landmark 2019 study clearly showed that on a diet of hyper-processed foods — i.e. a standard American diet — people will naturally eat 500 more calories per day than when they’re presented with a healthy, whole foods diet.
The difference amounts to 4 pounds of weight gain over one month. Or, it could mean 4 pounds of weight loss, depending on what foods you chose.
Candy bars, chips, cereal, deli meat, baked goods, sweets, soda, and other hyper-processed foods account for 58% of what Americans eat.
These foods wire your brain to want more, in turn leading to weight gain. Remove the temptation and you’ve already taken one major step toward your goals!
3. Stock healthy snacks and eat less of them
You might not even realize how many calories you’re getting in little snacks throughout the day.
Eating larger main meals can help you eat fewer unhealthy snacks, but you shouldn’t have to completely eliminate snacks to improve your health.
Add nuts, seeds, whole vegetables, and fruits to your list of snack foods. Whether or not the shift helps with weight loss, you’ll find that nutrient-dense snacks can help improve your health.
4. Eat out less, and take half of your order to go
Food ordered at a restaurant is likely to have more calories, more fat, more salt, and larger portions than what you eat at home.
It comes down to a simple guideline: when served with more than you need, you eat more than you should.
Making eating at home easier, tastier, and more enjoyable can help with any of your health goals. If you’re trying to break into healthy, fun home cooking, check out a meal kit delivery service to get started!
But if you want to keep eating out, try out new options that look healthier or ask for half of your order to go.
5. Fill your plate with fruit and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables, full of nutrients, water, and fiber, are essential to any healthy diet.
They fill your stomach up with fewer calories and help you feel full for longer, whereas processed foods tend to make you want more.
Vegetables might not taste great at first, so I recommend spicing them up with calorie-free all-purpose seasoning and extra virgin olive oil. Healthy doesn’t have to mean bland!
6. Get lots of protein and eat it first in a meal
Protein is the cornerstone of any effective weight loss diet. It helps you preserve muscle, eat less, burn calories, and it helps regulate hormones.
To minimize muscle loss during weight loss, some research suggests that 0.73 grams protein (130 grams for an average 180-pound American) per pound body weight may be ideal.
For reference, though, the daily protein intake recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for an inactive adult is 0.36 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight (that’s 65 grams a day for the average American).
Calorie per calorie, research shows that protein is more filling than any other macronutrient, and burns off more calories during digestion, too. Eat it first in your meal in order to fill up faster.
When eaten first in a meal, protein can also help regulate blood glucose and insulin sensitivity — critical for many people trying to lose weight.
7. Eat healthy fats
The low-fat guidelines of years past helped plenty of people, but research shows that half of people do better with more fats.
Fat is more filling than calories from carbs, which is why I recommend people use more plant-based oils, like olive, avocado, and canola oil.
Eating these in place of saturated fats can help to lower LDL “bad” cholesterol. Instead of refined carbs, they will help raise HDL “good” cholesterol.
One of the largest diet studies ever showed better glucose management and weight loss with a higher-fat Mediterranean diet. If people eating 1 liter of olive oil per week or a handful of nuts each day saw success, why wouldn’t you?
8. Get in touch with how food makes you feel
Think of weight loss as a side effect of successfully improving your health.
Start by shifting your focus from the numbers on the scale to how what you eat affects how you feel.
For example, you can set a goal of eating a salad with almonds and olive oil every day. This is a habit that is measurable and actionable; you know right away whether you’ve achieved that goal or not.
You can’t wake up and lose weight one day, though — it must be broken down into actionable steps to work.
Switch your focus to things that you can change on a day-to-day basis to help you set goals with a healthy and sustainable mentality.
9. Find the right diet for you
A diet isn’t something you go on, it’s what you habitually eat each day. Long after a fad diet wears off, what are you left eating?
You’ve seen a dizzying array of new diets replace the conventional low-fat diet advice. Many diets are effective for some, but no one is effective for every person.
Figure out whether it’s carbs or fat, processed foods, or the animal products in your diet that should be your first focus.
Another option to make it a bit easier is to find a weight loss program that works for you.
Whatever you choose, study after study shows that the common thread in improving health and losing weight is getting off the standard American diet.
10. Track your healthy behaviors
Even if you know what you eat every day, quantifying it can help you get a crystal clear picture. In fact, it is one of the most important tactics to lose weight and keep it off.
Track what you eat, your exercise, how you feel, your energy levels, and your sleep, for starters. You’ll notice that patterns that help you improve your health — sleep is a big one that doesn’t get enough attention.
Most dietary changes work by making eating fewer calories easier, so counting them can help you calibrate your sense of proper portion size. Just don’t focus too much on the numbers: achieving better health is just as important as losing weight.
Weight loss is not just about eating less and exercising more; there are so many variables that determine how well you can regulate your weight.
When it comes to what’s in your control, these are some of the most effective strategies for sustainable health:
- Whether it’s with endurance, HIIT, or strength training, get enough physical activity.
- Eat less and feel full by incorporating more whole foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, and eating fewer processed foods.
- Eat lots of protein — 65 to 130 grams per day for the average American — and eat it first in your meal.
- Eat lots of healthy fats like avocado, olive, and canola oil.
- Eat out less and stock your pantry with healthy snacks.
- Improve what you eat by making changes that you can sustain for life, not going on a fad diet that gets results quickly. We ranked the options for effective weight loss programs here.
- Tracking what you eat and other healthy activities is one of the best ways to help you cut out what’s holding you back.
Remember, weight loss is an outcome of getting healthier. Focus on the things that are within your control and you’ll reap the rewards of losing weight and feeling healthier.