Weight changes through life are typical, but you don't have to settle for poor health. The American diet and lifestyle not only leads to extra pounds but also fewer healthy years.
For many, losing weight in a healthy, sustainable way is their ticket for feeling better and having the energy to take on life.
These 10 diet tips are some of the best strategies proven by research.
1. Eat less processed food
Regardless of your diet philosophy, the total number of calories you eat matters, so don't eat too much!
Eating fewer calories isn't as simple as just eating less food, but there is a trick backed by rigorous science that can help you eat 500 fewer calories a day.
Get rid of ultra-processed foods. This was shown in a 2019 study to cause four pounds of weight loss over one month, without even trying!
You've probably felt how foods like refined grains, sugar, deli meat, salt, and added fat make your brain want to eat more.
Simply getting rid of them is enough to make major progress towards your health goals.
2. Eat enough protein
Protein is the foundation of any effective dietary strategy. It helps you eat less, feel full, keeps muscle on while you burn calories, and it can help regulate your hormones.
The minimum daily protein intake recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for an inactive adult is 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of body weight.
Some research suggests that 0.73 grams protein per pound bodyweight may be ideal for minimizing muscle loss during weight loss.
For an average 180-pound American, those guidelines come out to 65 to 130 grams of protein per day.
Protein is more filling than any other macronutrient, and it burns more calories during digestion, too.
When eaten first in a meal, protein helps you feel full faster and stay full longer. It can also help regulate blood glucose and insulin sensitivity — critical for anyone trying to lose weight.
3. Eat more fiber
Fiber is the number one nutrient for a healthy gut, regular bowel movements, lowering inflammation, feeling full for longer, and eating fewer calories.
Unfortunately, the average American gets less than half of the USDA recommendation for daily fiber intake. Aim for 25 grams for women, 38 grams for men.
Whole grains (like brown rice or whole-wheat bread) are better than refined grains, but they pale compared to the best fiber sources.
The best sources of fiber are vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, and seeds. The nutrients that come alongside these plant-based foods will also help your health, from hormonal regulation to liberating fat to be burned during exercise.
4. Eat Healthy Fats
We've been hit over the head with low-fat dietary guidelines for decades, but better research shows that about half of people do better by limiting carbs instead.
Calories from fat are 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. Eating them instead of refined carbs helps raise HDL "good" cholesterol. Together this creates a healthy metabolic picture.
One of the largest diet studies ever completed showed better heart health outcomes with a higher-fat Mediterranean diet.
If eating a quarter cup of olive oil or a handful of nuts each day improves health, then I'm happy to say that the low-fat diet craze is finally on its way out.
5. Find Support
Maybe because it's easier to back off your goals when you have no skin in the game, or maybe it's because we just can't find the courage to open up to another, but a lot of people try to go on their health journey alone.
Unfortunately, going it alone often ends poorly. We are social creatures, after all!
Getting support is one of the key ways you can improve your accountability to your own goals, learn from other people while helping other people, and be successful.
Besides, no amount of Googling is going to give you the right answer for your individual needs. On the other hand, a single session with a nutrition professional can start you on the right foot straight from the get-go.
6. Find the right program for you
Having help to navigate the complexities of losing weight and improving health is so important for success.
The structure of a weight loss or healthy dieting program can jump-start your entry into a healthier lifestyle.
Weight loss programs provide a community of health-minded people, an easy-to-follow diet plan, and sometimes nutrition and health coaching as well.
Some may even provide all your food for you, which removes all the stress and worry typical of adopting a new diet.
Staying motivated is so much easier when you're surrounded by like-minded individuals. Check out our list of top weight loss programs to see which one might be right for you!
7. Get to know your body
We often just look at our bodies with expectations rather than objectively feeling what it's like to live with what we have.
Weight isn't always necessarily tied to health, so make sure you're focusing on the right things to improve health and not just trying to fit your body into the shape you've been taught to expect.
Think of your weight as secondary to your health. Shift your focus away from the scale and towards how your food makes you feel.
You may be surprised by how much stress and anxiety come along with every meal and every decision. If you can drop the stress and improve your health markers, then it doesn't matter much what your weight is!
8. Set effective goals
Weight is not a behavior, so changing it involves a couple of steps that are crucial to address to implement lasting changes.
You can't wake up one day and decide to shed pounds. Weight loss is a goal — ideally one of many healthy goals — that you have to break down into steps for it to be effective.
For example, you can set a goal of eating a Greek salad doused in extra virgin olive oil every day.
This goal is not only reasonable, but it's measurable and actionable; you know right away whether you've achieved that goal or not.
Additionally, adding a time frame can help keep you accountable to longer-term goals.
Switch your focus to things that you have control over. Set yourself up for success by setting goals with a healthy and sustainable mentality.
9. Start a food log
Most people can hardly recall what they ate last week, let alone last month. Yet, without a clear picture of where you're coming from, how can you get to where you want to be?
Besides having direct support from a facilitator or professional, tracking your diet and exercise is one of the most important tactics to lose weight and keep it off.
You'll notice patterns that help you improve your health — sleep is a big one that doesn't get enough attention.
Most dietary tips work by making it easy to eat fewer calories.
Only track what's important to you. Whereas counting calories may help you figure out your portion sizes, tracking your protein, healthy fats, or fiber, or even your emotions, your energy levels, or your sleep can reveal more important insights about what works and what doesn't work for you.
Try not to focus too much on the numbers, though: achieving better health is more than just numbers and progress metrics.
10. Find the foods that work for you
You might be surprised to see that dieting is the very last item on this list.
Going "on a diet" means that you're going to fall off that diet. Although weight cycling may not be all that negative for your physical health, it can certainly take a toll on your mental condition.
Instead of changing what you eat for a short period, take the anti-diet approach.
Low-carb, low-fat, paleo, Mediterranean, vegan, or any other diet may be exactly what's right for you. But, the idea of going on a diet hurts your ability to make positive changes that last.
Gradually find what foods make you feel best and what eating pattern works best for your health goals. Then implement changes to how you shop, what recipes you make, and what snacks you go to.
After taking such a refreshing break from diet culture, you'll find yourself naturally reaching for the foods that promote your health. That's far better than forcing yourself to reach for the foods that fit into the diet that you know you're supposed to be on.
When you look at all of the different diets that work for weight loss and better health (and let's be real, there are dozens of effective options), they all boil down to a few key tips. Here are the most important ones:
- Eat fewer processed foods; they're full of empty calories that don't register on your brain's balance sheet.
- Eat enough protein, fiber, and healthy fats to keep you full and energized all day.
- Try changing your eating pattern gradually, rather than going on a crash diet.
- Find support, whether that's from friends, family, a professional, or an online community of people on a similar journey. Check out our list of top weight loss programs to see which one might be right for you!
- Understand that weight and health, though related, are not the same thing. Focus on how food makes you feel and get in tune with your body.
- Set goals that are specific, measurable, and actionable. Set a time frame in which you want to complete them and ensure that they are relevant to your overall health goals. Track the behaviors related to these goals for optimal success!