The best low-cal diet plan isn't a diet so much as it is a method. CICO stands for "calories in, calories out" and is based on the mathematically sensible principle that as long as you're burning more calories than you're eating, you'll lose weight. All you need to get started is a way to track your calories—there are plenty of apps on the market although a pen and paper works great too—and a food scale to keep you honest about your portion sizes. (Also read this guide on how to safely cut calories to lose weight.) People love the simplicity and straightforwardness of the plan. And while it may not be the fastest way to lose weight, you're guaranteed to have success long term. (Just know that some weight-loss experts actually don't recommend calorie counting.)
“[These tools’] potential benefit is awareness,” Fear says. “Knowledge can be power, but these things can be counterproductive when they simply create alarm without any clear course of action to take. Seeing your weight rise doesn't necessarily provide you with any action steps you can take. It's just upsetting, like a fire alarm going off with no exit routes identified.” Langer notes that “in people who have a history of or are at risk for an eating disorder or compulsiveness, tracking anything should be off limits.”
If food contains the word “veggie,” it’s not automatically healthy. Don’t let marketing gimmicks fool you: The majority of foods are mislabeled and not as healthy as they claim to be, veggie chips included. You’re a lot better off eating fresh vegetables than synthetic and processed versions. You can always try making your own veggie chips by slicing veggies like kale, carrots, zucchini, and squash, really thin, misting them with olive oil, and then baking them in the oven. Here are 25 more weight-loss myths you need to stop believing.
You know that recording what you consume is a good way to keep your weight in check, but Brittany Hicks, who dropped 110 pounds in college, didn't only write down what she ate—she also wrote down why she was eating it. "I realized I'd been using food to cope with stress," she says. "Just noticing that helped me do it less." Make sure you're not making these food journal mistakes so you can reap the rewards of eating and jotting, too.
U.S. News enlisted the help of a panel of food and health experts to rank 40 diets on a variety of measures, like how easy it is to follow, the diet’s ability to help a person lose weight in the short and long term, safety and more. The company then converted the expert’s rankings into scores that allowed them to determine the top diets. Beyond best overall diet, the experts also ranked the best diets for weight loss, healthy eating and more.
You’re only losing one or two pounds a week. Sustainable weight loss is slow and steady. “It depends on where you start — if you have quite a bit of weight to lose, you tend to lose the initial weight faster,” noted Dr. Steinbaum, “but losing more than a pound a week is quite a bit. A gradual decrease in weight loss implies that your dietary changes are sustainable. If you lose weight very quickly, it means that there has been a calorie restriction or an increase in activity that is really significant, and it is really hard to sustain that.” That’s why so many yo-yo dieters gain the weight back. But aiming for smaller targets can add up to big changes -- and reaps more health benefits than the numbers on the scale suggest. “Even when you lose only 3% of your body weight (six pounds for a 200-pound person), your blood sugar improves; your insulin sensitivity is improved; inflammation goes down; your cholesterol goes down,” said Dr. Arad. “You don’t have to cut down half of your weight; even losing 3% to 5% is an excellent goal.”
First, as women near midlife, their ratio of fat to body weight increases rapidly. Second, many women see that new fat mostly around their bellies. This is “visceral fat” and it can change the entire shape of your midsection. Visceral fat cells are like miniature endocrine organs that are especially active, setting off inflammation and increasing insulin resistance. Third, visceral fat gets a huge boost from lifestyle issues like depression and stress, poor sleep, smoking (proven to increase belly fat ), irritability, and drinking fructose-sweetened beverages (leads to more visceral fat and decreases insulin sensitivity).
Fighting belly fat is 80% healthy diet. Reduce calories by filling yourself up with protein, vegetables, whole grains, and replacing bad habit snacks with good ones. For example, if you have a sugar craving, replace your calorie laden latte with a Muscle Milk lite, one of my favorites, because it has zero sugar and a ton of protein that will satiate while also torching my sugar craving! Another great trick is a sprinkle of cinnamon in your morning coffee or oatmeal- the spice has been shown to help stabilize blood sugar. It also slows the rate at which food exits the stomach, which helps you feel fuller longer.
And maybe a new mattress, because it’s not just the amount of time you spend sleeping that keeps you lean, it’s also the quality of your sleep. Fat cells in your body produce a hormone called leptin that helps the body keep track of how much potential energy (i.e. fat) it has stored. But leptin is only produced during certain stages of sleep. Miss out on those stages because you’re not resting soundly enough, and you’ll disturb levels of the hormone, leaving your body with no real idea of its energy reserves. Consequently, you’ll end up storing calories rather than burning them.
When you exercise on the rowing machine, try this interval workout: Row for 60 seconds, note the distance on the machine, then rest 60 seconds. Repeat, only this time, row for 55 seconds and try to match or better your distance from the first time. Rest 55 seconds, then repeat, reducing the time to 50 seconds. Continue until you can’t beat your original distance.
Frozen meals are super-convenient. They’re cheap, easy to throw in your bag as you’re running out the door, and take just three minutes to cook. While your 300-calorie Lean Cuisine may seem like a waist-friendly option, it’s not. Most frozen meals are loaded with sodium—as much as you should eat over a full day, not just in one meal—and lots of other synthetic additives. Sodium packs on water weight, as the body needs to maintain a balance in the body, and when you’re thirsty, you could reach for a sugary beverage, which adds hundreds of more calories. Salt also makes food taste better, prompting you to shovel more of it in your mouth. Another problem with frozen meals is they frequently lack sufficient fiber to keep you full, so you’re likely to find yourself sneaking back into the kitchen shortly after you’ve eaten. If you must eat a frozen meal, consider adding a serving or two of frozen vegetables to boost the fiber and fullness quotient and dilute the sodium.
Carbohydrates are considered to be the body's main source of energy and are quickly utilized by the brain and muscles. Carbs come in two forms: simple & complex. Processed and refined sugars are simple carbs, which are digested and absorbed quickly. Complex carbs pack in more nutrients and are digested more slowly, which helps stabilize blood sugar levels.
You start to link up the cost of points with the cost of certain foods on your body, without any item every becoming taboo or strictly off-limits. Our tester found the point system both easy-to-use and eye-opening. “I can’t believe how many ‘healthy’ or at least innocuous foods are actually bad for you,” she remarked, noting how diet staples like granola bars took a big bite out of her daily allotment of points.
While many people turn to artificial sweeteners in a misguided attempt to whittle their waistlines, those fake sugars are likely to have the opposite effect. According to researchers at Yale, artificial sweeteners are actually linked with an increased risk of abdominal obesity and weight gain, possibly because they can trigger cravings for the real stuff and spike insulin levels in a similar fashion to real sugar.
This is hardly surprising when you consider just how successful (or not) quick-fix diet solutions have proven to be. Research indicates that not only do nearly 70% of fad diets fail due to people neglecting to couple them an appropriate exercise regime, but 65% of people who successfully complete a fad diet will end up gaining all of their weight back within a matter of months.
Many women fall short in their protein intake, according to Precision Nutrition, but getting enough protein can actually help you shed pounds. Protein takes more energy to digest than carbs or fats, so including more of it in your diet actually boosts your metabolism. And protein also provides nutritional support for your workouts, so you can build sleek, lean muscle tissue to get a toned appearance.
If you want to shrink your gut, get enough protein in your diet. In this case, about 25 percent of calories. Why? For starters, protein makes you feel full and helps you build muscle (which increases metabolism, thereby making it easier to lose weight). Just as important, high-protein diets have been shown to be the best way of attacking belly fat. In one study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, Danish researchers put 65 people on either a 12 percent protein diet or a 25 percent protein diet. The low-protein dieters lost an average of 11 pounds, which isn't bad. But the high-protein subjects lost an average of 20 pounds--including twice as much abdominal fat as the low-protein group.
“That first day was so tough, I almost caved and reached for the vending machine at work but I remembered a quote I had on my Facebook page that said ‘The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can't achieve it’ and that was enough to make me turn away from the machine,” she says.
It is not that men don’t diet. They just do it differently. They tend to include more saturated fat in their diet, while women tend to completely avoid them. Nutritionists explain, as long as they keep their intake lower than 15 per cent of their total daily fat intake, saturated fat isn’t harmful. In fact, small doses of saturated fat can help them avoid testosterone depletion.
“This is a great way of eating that I highly recommend to many clients, and I even model in my own life,” says Elizabeth Shaw, RDN, who is in private practice in San Diego and is the co-author of Fertility Foods Cookbook. “Since the premise of the diet is designed to help people who have high blood pressure, low-sodium foods are recommended. But considering that most Americans exceed their daily sodium levels anyway, it’s not surprising that dietitians recommend this style of eating for treating many different conditions, such as heart disease and obesity.”
You don’t have to be the next Usain Bolt in the making to enjoy some serious belly-slimming results from hitting the track from time to time. Even a moderate-rate jog a few times a week can blast through that belly fat; in fact, a study conducted at Duke University Medical Center found that, over the course of an eight-month study, overweight adult study subjects who jogged 12 miles a week lost the most belly fat and burned 67 percent more calories than participants who did an equivalent amount of resistance exercise, or a combination of cardio and resistance work.
Think about it: If you have a big plate, it may be easy to pile on the food until the plate is full, leaving you with portions that are way too large. "Since I regularly ate balanced meals, I knew it was my portions that had to be fixed," says Erika Cataldi. "I began using toddler plates; I could load them up and still feel like I was getting a lot." That optical illusion help Cataldi drop 70 pounds.
The upshot of all these chemicals floating around is big trouble for big-bellied guys. In a study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, researchers took 137 men of all ages and sizes and used seven different measurements to determine their risks of cardiovascular disease. The single best sign of multiple heart-disease risks? No, it wasn't the guys' family histories or their cholesterol profiles. It was the amount of abdominal fat they carried.
It's not just what you eat that can make you pack on pounds—it's also how much. Before dropping 102 pounds, DeGennaro did not have a grip on proper serving sizes. "Sitting down to dinner with my husband and three kids, I'd scarf down mounds of pasta and endless rolls," she says. "Adjusting to smaller portions was tricky at first; I'd round out meals with extra veggies to keep from getting hungry."
You can’t skimp on sleep. Losing weight for good calls for a total lifestyle change -- and that includes getting more Zs. Missing the recommended seven to nine hours of shut-eye has been linked repeatedly with increased obesity rates. “When you don’t sleep enough, it certainly affects your brain,” explained Dr. Arad. “What we’ve learned is that people who don’t sleep well are making poor choices — eating more unhealthy diets, and they are obviously more fatigued, so they become less physically active.” In fact, people who sleep six hours or fewer per night on average consume about 300 extra calories the following day.
"When we’re lacking in sleep, our body’s hormones get thrown off balance which can impact our hunger levels the next day. We all have two hormones that affect our appetite: ghrelin and leptin. When we don’t get enough sleep, our ghrelin levels (the hormone that makes us feel hungry) rise, and our leptin levels (the hormone that makes us feel full) drop. This means that when we’re awake, we tend to eat more but feel less satisfied. Try going to bed a little earlier than usual to avoid this imbalance and remember to remove any distractions that might prevent you from nodding off."
But the whole idea of fast weight loss may be the root of the problem. According to a Time expose on the subject: “When people are asked to envision their perfect size, many cite a dream weight loss up to three times as great as what a doctor might recommend.” An improbable and disheartening goal, and one that obscures the truth that losing small amounts of weight — even ten pounds — still has great health benefits.
Choose the turkey sandwich over pizza and you think you're set, but again, looks can be deceiving. A turkey sandwich that comes on focaccia with cheese and mayo can deliver 970 calories. Two slices of pepperoni pan pizza total 520 calories. Put your sandwich in a spinach wrap instead of regular bread? It's the same difference, says Tara Gidus, RD, a former spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "My clients think they get more nutrients and save on calories with 'healthy bread,' but often that's not the case."
We pulled the top 14 of the best commercial diets (marketed to the public for profit) and the top 12 of the best diets overall. We also threw five of the most popular diet apps into the mix. Since these are largely tracking devices that don’t espouse unique eating habits, they don’t appear to meet US News’ definition of diet, but are still potentially effective weight loss tools.
"Anytime you’re stressed, you probably go for food," Dr. Seltzer says. (Have we met?!) That’s because cortisol, the stress hormone, stokes your appetite for sugary, fatty foods. No wonder it’s associated with higher body weight, according to a 2007 Obesity study that quantified chronic stress exposure by looking at cortisol concentrations in more than 2,000 adults’ hair.
It’s wise to want to eliminate sugary drinks from your diet, but replacing them with “diet” versions or drinks with artificial sweeteners is not the solution. One study conducted by researchers from Marquette University and the Medical College of Wisconsin showed that artificial sweeteners could actually contribute to weight gain in a way that does not happen with natural sugars. Other studies have shown that drinking artificial sweeteners was highly correlated to an occurrence of dementia and stroke.
Consider a weight loss program’s overall approach to food. What will you be eating every day? Does the meal plan react poorly with your food allergies or intolerances? Does the program cater to your special dietary needs, for example, if you are vegan or diabetic? If most (or even some) of the foods are not enjoyable to you, within your budget or readily available, you're going to find that plan tough to stick with.
Sure, you can lose weight quickly. There are plenty of fad diets that work to shed pounds rapidly -- while leaving you feeling hungry and deprived. But what good is losing weight only to regain it? To keep pounds off permanently, it's best to lose weight slowly. And many experts say you can do that without going on a "diet." Instead, the key is making simple tweaks to your lifestyle.