In addition to improving your health, maintaining a weight loss is likely to improve your life in other ways. For example, a study of participants in the National Weight Control RegistryExternal* found that those who had maintained a significant weight loss reported improvements in not only their physical health, but also their energy levels, physical mobility, general mood, and self-confidence.
‘Lastly, if your nutrition is on point but you still have excess tummy fat, then you need to look at your training. There’s a real craze for high-intensity workouts and really pushing yourself at the moment, but training is a stress on the body, and if you’re not giving it the tools to manage that stress and recover from it, then it can lead things like excess belly fat.
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."
Then, there’s biochemistry. In women, ghrelin — the “I’m hungry” hormone — spikes after a workout, while leptin — which tells the brain ‘I’m full!’ — plummets, according to a 2009 study in the American Journal of Physiology — Regulatory, Integral and Comparable Physiology. Not so in men. So post-workout, women tend to eat more, which puts them at risk to gain weight. Men don’t experience this same hormonal fluctuation.
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Losing weight is no small feat—it often requires a complete lifestyle overhaul, and with so much information out there, it can be tough to know what strategy might work for you. And to top it all off, all the weight loss myths that just will not die threaten to throw you off track. That's why it's helpful to know what has worked for real people—in their own words. Here, we've gathered advice from 28 women who have lost between 26 and 174 pounds—and kept that weight off for good.
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According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a half-cup of granola has anywhere between 200 and 300 calories, 12 to 16 grams of sugar, 3 to 15 grams of fat (depending on low-fat options), and nearly 40 grams of carbs. Plus, granola is usually mixed with something, like yogurt or fruit, which only increases its caloric value. “Although you may think starting your day with a bowl of granola is the healthy thing to do, the calories can easily add up to over 600 calories, just at breakfast,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD nutrition expert and author of the Greek Yogurt Kitchen.
The researchers hypothesize that participants who abstained from animal products dropped significantly more pounds since plant-based foods include loads of filling fiber and slow-to-digest complex carbs. Though more research is needed to confirm these results, the study authors write, "Vegetarian diets appeared to have significant benefits on weight reduction compared to non-vegetarian diets."
It’s called a “beer belly” for a reason. Boozy bubbles are a major cause of belly bloat, as anyone who’s ever looked in the mirror after a few too many drinks can attest. But it’s not just the carbonation that is the culprit. Alcohol can lead to an overgrowth of bad bacteria in your stomach, leading to gas, not to mention all the empty calories that are going straight to your waistline. Instead, skip the alcohol altogether or limit yourself to one serving per day.
This high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carb fad diet sends the body into a state of ketosis, in which the body uses stored fat for energy. Research published in Clinical Cardiology suggests the ketogenic, or “keto,” diet can be an effective weight loss method, but to be successful, you must follow the plan consistently with no cheat days — otherwise, you’re just eating a high-fat diet that may be high in unhealthy fats for no reason. (1) (A pro tip? If you're planning on doing the diet, consider perusing this complete keto food list and reading up on the healthiest fats for keto diet followers.)
Basically, the effect of exercise on our weight is vastly overrated. That’s why it’s only number 15 on this list. There are other things you need to take care of first. It’s not a good idea to eat bad food, drink sugar water (so-called “sports drinks”) or be on medications which force you to exercise for hours daily just to compensate. Metaphorically that’s like digging a hole, into which you put your ladder, on which you stand and paint the basement-level windows of your house.
“Weighing myself every day helped me track my progress, but what helped the most was comparing myself to photos from before I lost the weight. It was like, 'Oh my goodness; I can't believe the difference from a 50-pound weight loss!' The most memorable moment was when I was out to dinner with a good friend, and he took a selfie of us. When I saw the picture, I was like, ‘Damn! I have lost weight!’ I put that picture next to one from a few months earlier and was so proud of my progress. Looking at those photos daily definitely served as motivation and helped me stick to a healthy lifestyle.” —Jennifer Carroll, 41
“Most people who have been lean their whole lives have a much better understanding of proper portion size than people who are overweight,” says Deborah Riebe, Ph.D., a professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Rhode Island. “If they go out to eat, they’re much more likely to ask for a doggie bag right away or to leave food on their plate rather than cleaning it up.”
Regardless of which of these diets appeals to you, the biggest challenge for any of them is that you have to have at least some ability in the kitchen -- and for some you have to be pretty competent -- because all of them are based, at least in part, upon purchasing and preparing your own, whole foods. That may be a challenge if food prep is not your thing or you're often pressed for time. In that case, Weight Watchers is probably the easiest program for the non-cook to follow. They not only have a complete line of prepared foods, they also have tools to give you the points values for the menus of many popular restaurants. If you really want to make dieting as simple as possible, skip on over to our discussion of the Best Prepackaged Diet Plans for some really convenient weight loss plans.
If you follow food trends, you might think you have to fall in love with cauliflower and kale to reap all the rewards that veggies offer, but that isn’t the case. Be it broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, red peppers, cabbage, spinach, or any other vegetable, the idea is to eat a variety of them and find plenty of ways to enjoy their goodness. So if you just can’t stomach steamed Brussels sprouts, try them roasted, or give sautéed Brussels sprouts a try. If raw zucchini isn’t your thing, see if you like it spiralized into noodles or grilled on a grill pan.
One note about this diet plan before we dive in. A personal trainer by profession, Jillian Michaels’ weight-loss plans are not for the fainthearted. She’ll take you on a journey, transform your body, and make you reach the fitness goals you’ve been craving…but it won’t come easy. Go into this plan with the determination and awareness that you’ll be working hard, and the results will really amaze you.
Long-term weight loss appears to be more of a function of lifestyle choices than specific food choices. One study on people in the National Weight Control Registry, a large group of people who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off for at least five years, found that key weight maintenance behaviors include a consistent diet pattern, not skipping breakfast, and exercising at least an hour per day (5).
Rather than a long and low-intensity cardio workout, try the HIIT method of cardio: intense, fast-paced intervals that leave you completely exhausted after only a 20- to 30-minute session. This form of cardio training increases the afterburn effect, allowing your body to continue burning calories long after your workout is over. You can rotate between 30 seconds of your favorite exercises, with rest in between, as long as they work different muscle groups—such as squats, push-ups and kettlebell swings.
When it comes to food, there is evidence that men and women’s brains are wired differently. In a study published in the January 2009 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, even though women said they weren’t hungry when asked to smell, taste, and observe treats such as pizza, cinnamon buns and chocolate cake, brain scans showed activity in the regions that control the drive to eat (not the case for men).
Verreijen, A. M., Engberink, M. F., Memelink, R. G., van der Plas, S. E., Visser, M., & Weijs, P. J. M. (2017, February 6). Effect of a high protein diet and/or resistance exercise on the preservation of fat free mass during weight loss in overweight and obese older adults: A randomized controlled trial. Nutrition Journal, 16(1), 10. Retrieved from https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12937-017-0229-6
You do have to track everything you eat, which is easy if you're following a Weight Watchers' recipe or eating a prepackaged food with the points pre-calculated. It gets a bit trickier when you prepare your own recipes as you have to break down the ingredients and do the math -- although that's certainly simpler if all you're doing is, for example, grilling a chicken breast and making a salad. And, under the new "Freestyle" program, that's a meal that could be points-free under the current guidelines, depending upon whether or not the salad is dressed.
Additionally, many women have to face one lifestyle change before getting to another, such as overhauling eating habits before taking on exercise. For example, Michelle DeGennaro got a handle on her diet and soon after found that she was more inclined to exercise. "Feeling lighter on my feet was thrilling, and it gave me the confidence to start walking every day," she says. And as Blanca Valdez noticed, "Eating right made my energy soar, which I channeled into exercise." She has kept off 78 pounds.
However, if you’re already on medication and think it could be hampering weight loss efforts, speak with your doctor about your options. It may be possible to transition to a more natural option, like a natural form of birth control, coming up with a plan to transition off medication or simply trying an alternative that’s not known to cause weight gain.
Having a healthy option at your fingertips when you’re starving can make all the difference between sticking to your goals and giving in to temptation. “I keep little containers of hummus and carrots, pickles, nuts and dried apricots, salsa and rice crackers, and other healthy combos in the front of my fridge and pantry so they are literally the first thing I see when I open the door,” says Lita Moreno. “I don’t even give myself a choice to cheat.” This one little change has helped her drop almost 80 pounds.
We see very few downsides to Weight Watchers. Even though it's fee-based, the fees are pretty reasonable. Everyone pays a $20 registration fee (although that's often waived as an incentive to sign up, especially December through March). Then, membership fees are as low as $20 a month for online only. You can even pay-as-you-go if you want to attend meetings just occasionally; it costs about $15 per meeting. There are also pricier plans available that provide you with individual coaching sessions. Regardless of the plan you choose, experts say you get a lot for your money, especially in online tools and support. However, if you're on a tight budget, these fees may still be a bit too steep. The only other complaint we noted is that some people say they feel hungry all the time or often in spite of the plethora of food choices, but we see that with virtually all diets as calorie restriction tends to have that result.
Cruciferous veggies are one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat, but unfortunately they’re also the ones most likely to cause your tummy to inflate. Thanks to raffinose, a compound that produces extra gas as it breaks down, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and the like can seriously increase your waistline. But don’t ditch them forever. Just save them for meals where you can wear loose pants. Here are other surprising foods that cause gas.
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).
The good news is that if you're struggling with your size, reducing your calorie intake and increasing your activity level have been clinically shown to help you lose weight. The bad news is that there are no shortcuts and no short-term fixes. Fad diets, herbal supplements, "fat-burning" pills, and highly restrictive diets don't work for long, if at all, and some may cause more harm than good.
IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, is the most common gastrointestinal disorder. IBS symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, and bloating—So. Much. Bloating. While the causes aren’t all known, it’s thought to be linked to lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, hormones, and stress. Sufferers often find that making changes in these areas eliminates or reduces their IBS (and their stomach circumference!). Here’s how these 10 myths about fat can keep you from losing weight.
If your favorite foods fall into the list of forbidden fruit, you’re even more likely to fall off the wagon. Giancoli gives the example of diets that cut out coffee: “It’s ridiculous. There’s a lot of research that coffee is fine. Coffee’s been redeemed.” The Mayo Clinic goes even further, saying: “Caffeine may slightly boost weight loss or prevent weight gain.”
Sure, you certainly need to drink plenty of water to help expedite the process of ridding your body of excess sodium, you can (and should!) also consume high-water content foods. Reach for cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, asparagus, grapes, celery, artichokes, pineapple, and cranberries — all of which contain diuretic properties that will also help you stay full due to their higher fiber content.
While the American College of Sports Medicine warns that women who eat less than 1,300 calories a day and men who eat less than 1,800 risk slowing down their metabolism over time. But a rev-up stage that only lasts two weeks is approved by doctors and isn’t as difficult as it seems. Our tester found the Mayo Clinic day pretty satisfying, and still had enough energy to hit the gym.