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.
We’re continuing to learn that shortchanging our sleep — even for just one night — can lead to less healthy food choices the next day. The latest study took a look at subjects’ MRI scans after a night of sound sleep and again after a night of sleep deprivation. The MRI scans showed that sleep deprivation activates an area of the brain that makes you view food as more desirable. In other words, it prompts cravings. This adds to other evidence showing that insufficient sleep increases hunger while also making us less likely to stay active. Taken all together, it means that a healthier sleep situation can encourage a healthier weight.

Sorry keto -- the Mediterranean diet is king. Endurance athletes and celebrities like LeBron James and the Kardashians have raved about the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet -- which was among Google’s most-searched terms this year. But Dr. Louis Aronne, an endocrinologist at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine who runs the Comprehensive Weight Control Center, noted that the Mediterranean diet “is the only diet that has been proven in trials to promote weight loss and reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.” This meal plan includes using olive oil rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids as your main cooking oil, and loading your plate with fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein like fish and chicken, with the occasional piece of red meat. The American Heart Association recommends a similar diet that emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods, particularly fruits, veggies and whole grains, as well as low-fat dairy products, nuts and legumes, and non-tropical vegetable oils, while reducing salt, sugar and trans fats.
"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.
The best diet for losing weight is Weight Watchers, according to the experts who rated the diets below for U.S. News. Volumetrics came in second, and the Flexitarian Diet, Jenny Craig and the vegan diet were third on this overall weight loss ranking list, which takes into account short-term and long-term weight loss scores. Some other diets performed as well or better in our rankings for enabling fast weight loss, but long-term weight loss is more important for your health.
Replace the negative voice in your head that's telling you to quit with a motivational saying that will inspire you to keep going even when it gets tough. "I powered through workouts telling myself, 'I can do hard things!'" says Megen Karlinsey, who kept off 150 pounds. Her mantra helped her accomplish a triathlon, which she signed up for to blast a weight loss plateau.
Weight Watchers has been around for more than 50 years, and has always been a point-based system -- currently known as SmartPoints. Those points are calculated from a formula that takes into account the food's fat, sugar, protein and carbohydrate count. You're given a specific number of points each day that you track and log, as well as weekly bonus points for snacks or additional food items. Fitness is also a bigger component, and you're encouraged to set fitness goals when you set up your profile, then track them and, if you wish, exchange FitPoints for food.
“We try not to vilify any food, except sugar,” added Dr. Aronne. “Having it as a treat is what sugar is for; it’s not meant to be the main part of your meal.” Yet added sugars in the form of sweeteners and syrups to flavor processed foods sees the average adult eating 20 teaspoons of hidden added sugar every day, or an extra 320 calories, according to the USDA’s recent nationwide food consumption survey. And then there’s sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, sports drinks, juices and flavored coffees and teas stirred with empty calories. “The typical glass of orange juice has three oranges in it; that’s the calories of three oranges. But it’s easy to drink a glass of orange juice and still eat a number of other things,” added Dr. Aronne. “You’re better off just eating a single orange and feeling full.”
Satisfying your sweet tooth doesn't require a refined sugar-packed snack. The key is retraining your taste buds to recognize naturally sweet foods, like fruit. "To curb my hankering for treats, I eat mangoes," says Tamyala Ezell, who lost 105 pounds by making over her eating habits and working out three times a week. "They have a natural sweetness that does the trick. Plus, they're low in calories and high in fiber." Another example? "I top berries, nectarines, and cherries with homemade whipped cream, nuts, and dark chocolate," says Goetke.
Fiber expands in your stomach and also takes time to digest, both of which help keep you feeling full for longer. Good sources include whole grains, veggies, and whole fruit (not juiced). Healthy fats like olive and nut oils—in moderation—improve flavor, give you energy, and help your body use certain nutrients. Alexandra Shipper added healthy fats, such as avocado, to protein sources like eggs and fish on her way to dropping 55 pounds.
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.
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).
Packaged meal programs: Many diet plans rely on meal-replacement bars, shakes, or other snack type foods. Still others rely on frozen entrees as a major part of your diet. Ask yourself if you are okay with a bulk of your diet relying on prepackaged snacks, shakes, or frozen meals, or if you prefer the flexibility of cooking your own meals or eating out frequently.
The customized support and abundant resources come at a price. This varies based on the intensity of your weight loss goals; we paid $60 per month. (We made an account before purchasing and received a 50% off offer by email to incentivize our membership. Tease them in the same way and see if you get the same deal.) If you want to get a look at all these perks before you purchase, you can try Noom free for 14 days.
The plan is simple: Commit to two weeks of restricted dieting, then transfer to a sustainable regime. Phase one: Cut out restaurant food, added sugar, eating while watching TV, snacking on anything other than fruits and veggies, and limit meat and dairy. You’re also asked to add four healthy habits, simple tweaks like having a good breakfast every morning.
DASH stands for "dietary approach to stop hypertension" and was created by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a way to help reverse national trends of obesity and heart disease. Scientists combed through decades of research to come up with an expert-backed list of diet tips, along with a prescription for exercise. And it worked: The DASH diet has topped nearly every diet list for nearly a decade. Doctors particularly recommend it for people looking to lower high blood pressure, reverse diabetes, and lower their risk of heart disease. (Here's the basic list of DASH diet-approved foods.)
Consider them “good carbs”. Their bulk takes up space in your stomach, helping you feel full and eat less. The top fiber food: beans, which contain 8g per 1/2 cup. Research shows that guys who added 12g of fiber a day to their diet lost a quarter of an inch from their love handles, without otherwise modifying their diet. Here are some of the best sources.

DO IT: Assume a pushup position with your hands below your shoulders and your body forming a straight line from your head to your heels. This is the starting position. Lifting your right foot off of the floor, drive your right knee towards your chest. Tap the floor with your right foot and then return to the starting position. Alternate legs with each repetition.


The most important thing when it comes to weight-loss plans is to view them as a tool rather than a set of restrictions. If you don’t like one of the exercises or want to substitute one ingredient for another, go for it. As soon as a weight-loss plan becomes a weight around your neck, your motivation and dedication will take some serious knocks, so making sure the plan suits you is your best chance of success.


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.

The MIND—a mix of DASH and the Mediterranean diet—is supposed to help protect the brain and prevent Alzheimer’s disease, though much more research is needed to determine whether it really helps curb brain decline. People are encouraged to eat from 10 brain-healthy food groups: green leafy vegetables, all other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. They are also told to avoid foods from five food groups: red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, sweets and fried or fast food.

Similarly, just because snacks like blue chips don’t look like the greasy potato chips you know to avoid, don’t assume they’re a healthier option. “Yes, blue corn contains the antioxidant anthocyanin,” explains certified culinary nutritionist Trudy Stone. “However, much of the good stuff gets baked away during the process of creating the chips that very little nutritional value is left—leaving them not much healthier than your typical tortilla chip.”


5. Start with one small change. "I realized that a lot of sugar and calories that I consumed came from drinks, so I challenged myself to drink only water—no sugary drinks!—for 30 days. After just one successful week, I decided to add another challenge: to cut back on the carbs I was eating. When I did eat bread, I switched to wheat bread and when I wanted rice, I used brown rice."
Use a calorie-needs calculator like LIVESTRONG.COM’s MyPlate app to figure out your daily calorie needs, then subtract calories to create your energy deficit. With an app like MyPlate, you can factor in your weight-loss goal, and it will tell you the exact number of calories (as well has how much fat, protein and carbohydrates) you need to reach that goal.
Experts say that Weight Watchers is one of the easiest programs to follow. There are hundreds of Weight Watchers recipes available, both in cookbook form and online, with pre-calculated points values for each recipe. Weight Watchers has its own line of frozen entrees, and Weight Watchers points values are often pre-calculated on other brands of frozen entrees. There are many other Weight Watchers-branded prepared foods available as well. Food preparation-wise, the program can be as easy or as difficult as your skill level in the kitchen.
Plus, a 2015 study from the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that for those who have a hard time following a strict diet, simplifying the weight loss approach by just increasing fiber intake can still lead to weight loss. Women should aim for at least 25 grams of fiber per day (based on a 2,000-calorie) diet, according to the most recent U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Not sure where to start? Check out our step-by-step guide to increasing your fiber intake.
Weight Watchers, The Mayo Clinic Diet, and especially Noom provide a lot of behavior-based support to integrate these good habits. These include learning portions, logging food, and both giving and receiving external support. Nutrisystem doesn’t ask for any behavior changes save for subsisting almost entirely off their pre-packaged, pre-portioned meals.
"If your diet consists of lots of sports drinks, sugar-sweetened drinks like fizzy pop and flavoured waters, or sugary foods like chocolate and cakes, it will make losing weight harder. While whole fruits and vegetables are undoubtedly good for you, they can also sometimes cause weight gain if you eat too much, as they have high levels of natural sugars in them. Low-fat food options might have high amounts of added sugar in there too, so make sure to check the food label.

At any given time, there are dozens of weight-loss hypes in the marketplace that claim to take off 10 pounds in 10 days, or whatever. Desperation can tempt us to try anything — from "clean eating" to cutting out food groups entirely. Keep in mind: Just because an avocado-walnut-"crunchy"-kale-salad dripping in coconut oil is deemed "clean" by a so-called "expert" on your Instagram feed does not make it an unlimited food. Moral of the story? Avoid fads, eat real food, watch some Netflix, and unwind (perhaps with a glass of wine in hand). Now that's my kind of detox.
A diet that’s low in fat and carbohydrates can improve artery function, according to a 2012 study by Johns Hopkins researchers. After six months, those on the low-carb diet had lost more weight, and at a faster pace. But in both groups, when weight was lost—and especially when belly fat shrank—the arteries were able to expand better, allowing blood to travel more freely. The study shows that you don’t have to cut out all dietary fat to shrink belly fat. For heart health, simply losing weight and exercising seems to be key. 
Mason, A. E., Epel, E. S., Aschbacher, K., Lustig, R. H., Acree, M., Kristeller, J., … Daubenmier, J. (2016, May 1). Reduced reward-driven eating accounts for the impact of a mindfulness-based diet and exercise intervention on weight loss: Data from the SHINE randomized controlled trial. Appetite , 100, 86–93. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4799744/

We’re continuing to learn that shortchanging our sleep — even for just one night — can lead to less healthy food choices the next day. The latest study took a look at subjects’ MRI scans after a night of sound sleep and again after a night of sleep deprivation. The MRI scans showed that sleep deprivation activates an area of the brain that makes you view food as more desirable. In other words, it prompts cravings. This adds to other evidence showing that insufficient sleep increases hunger while also making us less likely to stay active. Taken all together, it means that a healthier sleep situation can encourage a healthier weight.


Research shows your body also unleashes human growth hormone, which helps you burn fat and maintain muscle, after just 10 to 30 seconds of high-intensity exercise. High-intensity exercise also appears to help curb your appetite and trigger hormones that regulate feelings of hunger and fullness better than lower-intensity exercise, so you’re less likely to overeat.

For even more impressive effects on body composition: aim for exercise forms which elicit a positive hormonal response. This means lifting really heavy things (strength training), or interval training. Such exercise increases levels of the sex hormone testosterone (primarily in men) as well as growth hormone. Not only do greater levels of these hormones increase your muscle mass, but they also decrease your visceral fat (belly fat) in the long term.
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