In reality, a never-ending list of factors—including (yes) food and exercise, but also sleep, stress management, hormone health, self-esteem, past weights, and those pesky genetics—influence weight loss as well as the weight your body naturally gravitates toward at a given time in your life, Abby Langer, R.D., a Toronto-based dietitian and nutrition counselor, tells SELF. Of course, maintaining a caloric deficit drives weight loss, but so much more goes into a successful weight-loss effort than the math of calories in and calories out.
Tapsell, L. C., Dunning, A., Warensjo, E., Lyons-Wall, P., & Dehlsen, K. (2014). Effects of vegetable consumption on weight loss: A review of the evidence with implications for design of randomized controlled trials [Abstract]. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 54(12), 1529–1538. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24580555
The benefits of exercise, at least as far as weight loss is concerned, have a lot more to do with building (think: health, energy, confidence, muscle) than burning calories or fat, says Zach Moore, C.S.C.S., a fitness and lifestyle coach at Precision Nutrition, tells SELF. After all, Albers notes that exercise is linked to improved moods, stress reduction, and the “wow, my body’s pretty cool!” attitude that you need to crush your goals.
"Order without looking at the menu. Almost every restaurant has the basics—veggies, grains, and protein. If you go in knowing what you want, I guarantee you'll be able to make a meal. If you're too uncomfortable to ask for what you need, tell a white lie: Say you're allergic. I know it's controversial to suggest this, but women in particular can really have trouble standing up for their own needs. So if you want the broccoli soup puréed without cream, tell the waiter you're lactose intolerant."
There's a pretty dizzying amount of research backing up this regime as a solid option to enhance your health, lower cholesterol, and encourage healthy, lasting weight loss. DASH (the acronym stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has you loading up on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (surprise!) and removing foods high in saturated fat from your diet. Research also shows that this diet may even ward off the onset of type 2 diabetes.
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.
The diversity in tools and strategies that work for people is nicely illustrated by the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), which, since 1994, has collected data on people who have lost 30 pounds or more and kept it off for at least one year. If you take a look at some of their findings, you’ll see some commonalities in various behaviors and strategies (such as increasing eating breakfast every day, watching fewer than 10 hours of TV per week, and weighing themselves regularly). But rather than looking at the NWCR’s data as a how-to guide—after all, these are the behaviors that correlate to weight loss, we can’t know if they’re the ones that caused weight loss—look at it as further evidence that there’s no one right way to live to lose weight and keep it off, and that finding the thing that will work for you is a personal journey, specific to you.
For example, when it comes to hormones, ghrelin makes you hungry, leptin and other hormones keep you feeling full, Nadolsky says. Thyroid, cortisol, insulin, testosterone, and estrogen all influence how you metabolize and store energy. Meanwhile, genetics have a large influence on both basal metabolic rate (how many calories you burn just to live) and hormone health. While all of these things are impacted by our diet, they’re not only controlled by the way we eat. And, in fact, while sleep, stress management, and, when needed, medication can help regulate other hormone levels such as estrogen and thyroid, our hormones and other physiological processes are often out of our control. And by the way, being able to impact our hormone levels and metabolism with our diet doesn’t always work out in favor of weight loss. As a 2016 review notes, one of the reasons weight loss by way of caloric restriction isn’t efficacious is because “this strategy is countered by the body’s natural physiological response to negative energy balance.” In other words: The body fights back against caloric restriction.
When you drink liquid carbs, like the sugar in soda, your body doesn't register them the same way as, say, a piece of bread, according to a review of studies published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care. That means, even though you're taking in calories, your fullness cues aren't likely to signal that you're satisfied once you finish off a can. And that can lead to consuming more overall.
Don't get me wrong — exercising at any time is good for you. But evening activity may be particularly beneficial because many people's metabolism slows down toward the end of the day. Thirty minutes of aerobic activity before dinner increases your metabolic rate and may keep it elevated for another two or three hours, even after you've stopped moving. What that means for you: You're less likely to go back for seconds or thirds. Plus, it'll help you relax post meal so you won't be tempted by stress-induced grazing that can rack up calories, quickly.
Try not to eat when you feel upset or bored — find something else to do instead (a walk around the block or a trip to the gym are good alternatives). Many people find it's helpful to keep a diary of what they eat and when and what they are feeling. When you have to write it down, you might think twice before eating cookies. Reviewing the diary later can also help them identify the emotions they have when they overeat.
Stop treating your kitchen like an all-night diner and you’ll stop seeing those unwanted pounds piling onto your frame, too. The results of a study published in Cell Metabolism found that mice who only had access to food during an eight-hour period stayed slim over the course of the study, while those who ate the same number of calories over a 16-hour period gained significantly more weight, particularly around their middle. When you’re finished with dinner at night, shut the fridge and don’t look back until morning — your belly will thank you. When you do head back to the kitchen in the A.M., make sure the 40 Things Healthy Cooks Always Have in Their Kitchen are there waiting for you.
“Once you decide on the method that you’re going use to lose weight, put the blinders on every well-meaning friend or family member who thinks it’s not a good idea. For me, it was raw juicing. Along with a healthy diet, it helped me lose 48 pounds and keep it off for over a year.” —Jennifer Devlin Waller, 48, founder and CEO of Celtic Complexion Luxury Artisan Skincare
Or skip your favorite early-morning show—whatever it takes to grab a few more minutes of sleep each day. When researchers at the University of Chicago studied men who were sleep-deprived, they found that after just a few days, their bodies had a much harder time processing glucose in the blood—a problem common in overweight diabetics. When the individuals returned to a more normal seven to eight hours of sleep a night, however, their metabolisms returned to normal.
Eating too little can be extremely dangerous for your body. According to Medical News Today, having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of under 18.5 can lead to malnutrition, osteoporosis, developmental problems, a weakened immune system, anemia, and chronic fatigue. Healthline reports that the average woman needs about 2000 calories per day to maintain her weight and about 1500 calories to lose one pound of weight per week, though you should consult with your healthcare provider to see what's best for you.
If figuring out what to put into your body is too overwhelming, start with how much you're serving yourself. The easiest way to do this? Swap out your plates for smaller ones, like mother of two Jeanenne Darden did. With the help of this trick, she managed to lose an amazing 22 percent of her body weight, going from 187 pounds to 146 pounds. "I ate normally," she says. "I just ate less of everything." Pro tip: This trick is even easier with some cute portion-control dishware.
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Work indulgence foods into your calorie plan. If you do want to have something that is a little higher in calories, then make sure that you work it into your overall calorie goal for the day. For example, if you are following an 1,800 calorie plan, and you want to have a brownie that is 300 calories, then you would only have 1,500 calories left for the day.
Luckily, that doesn’t mean you need to dedicate even more time exercising. In fact, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts can slash the time commitment while boosting results. HIIT workouts last about 20 minutes and combine bursts of super-intense exercise with slower recovery phases. This type of workout has been found to help people lose more fat once the workout is over, even though they burn less calories during the workout (since workouts are shorter) and also build muscle, rather than break it down the way conventional cardio does. (3)
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).
If you do buy snacks and other convenience products like salad dressings, read the ingredients list and nutrition facts. Buy brands that are organic and free of pesticides and dyes. Skip the flavored version of foods like yogurt and add your own fresh fruit and honey to it. And when possible, make your own foods. Spend a few hours meal prepping on the weekends to make staples you can eat throughout the week, like sauce, dressings and healthy on-the-go snacks.
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.