Women’s challenge with weight loss also comes down to nature. Nature wants to preserve a woman’s ability to bear children. When you’re in a calorie deficit, it can interfere with your fertility, so your body fights weight loss to prevent jeopardizing your reproductive capacity. So don’t cut more than 1,000 calories a day or eat fewer than 1,200 calories daily.
Swapping out unhealthy foods for nutritious ones gives you benefits beyond just losing weight. "I cleaned up my diet, swapping deli sandwiches with high-sodium meat and mayo for Tupperware containers or big butter-lettuce salads topped with carrots, walnuts, feta, and homemade dressing," says Jennifer Lasher, who lost 75 pounds. "I found that ditching processed foods left me with more energy, a clear head, and better skin, too."
On the physiological side of things, it’s important to realize that the vast majority of your daily caloric burn comes down to just basic functions like breathing and keeping your heart beating, Moore says. Called your basal metabolic rate (BMR), your muscle does play a role in setting it, but extra muscle isn’t going to turn you into a supercharged calorie-torching machine. And even though exercise does burn calories, that total is often significantly less than what we expect and would need to create a large daily caloric deficit, he says.
Gym memberships can be expensive, and some days you just can't make it into the gym. Or maybe, you might not feel comfortable in a gym quite yet. At the start of her weight loss journey, Suheily Rodriguez says he was too embarrassed to go to a gym. "So I built a home one," she says, "where I exercised an hour a day, six days a week." She credits this to her 96-pound weight loss.
You may think you're vigilant about watching what you eat, but research shows that stolen bites and tastes can rack up a few hundred uncounted calories, which can put on pounds fast. Eating while distracted can cause mindless eating, too. When women who normally watched their portions had lunch in different situations, they ate 15% more (72 additional calories) while listening to a detective story, compared with when they ate alone and free of any distractions, found a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
When you want something sweet, all those fat-free, sugar-free options seem like a smart choice for weight loss. But researchers at Cornell University found that overweight people who choose low-fat versions of snack foods rather than the regular kinds consume, on average, twice as many calories. "The terms 'fat-free' or 'sugar-free' can create a green light effect, triggering people to eat more," says dietitian Cynthia Sass, RD. But many fat-free foods have about the same number of calories (or more) as their full-fat counterparts.
And as people get older they tend to become less active, which means you burn fewer calories all day long. Plus, you naturally lose muscle mass due to hormonal changes, which further drops your daily calorie-burn rate. Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue, so a body with less lean tissue has a lower metabolism and is prone to weight gain.
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.”
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).
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.
Work your core. When many people think of core strengthening, they think of stomach crunches. Crunches are helpful for building abdominal muscles, but contrary to popular belief, crunches won't do much to lose the layer of fat stored in your belly, and can actually cause significant damage to the spine. Instead, try a workout routine that strengthens your whole core, like yoga, or try abdominal presses and planking.
“Do what works for you,” Langer says. “And if something doesn’t, change it. There’s a million other ways to go about it. There are no absolutes in nutrition.” Case in point: In a 2018 JAMA study, when more 600 adults who were classified as overweight followed a low-fat or low-carb eating plan over the course of 12 months, everyone lost about the same amount of weight.
If you want to lose weight you should start by avoiding sugar and starch (like bread, pasta and potatoes). This is an old idea: For 150 years or more there have been a huge number of weight-loss diets based on eating fewer carbs. What’s new is that dozens of modern scientific studies have proven that, yes, low carb is the most effective way to lose weight.