Weight Watchers is still the best choice for both short-term weight loss and long-term healthy eating, while Jenny Craig rules in the prepackaged convenience category. But if neither of those works for you, we also review the top diet books, low carb diets, the Paleo diet and more. We even recommend less-expensive alternatives to the top commercial diets.
Your parents weren’t kidding about how important veggies are for a healthy body. What they probably didn’t tell you, however, was that snacking on veggies is also one of the easiest ways to shed unwanted belly fat, too. According to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, opting for non-starchy veggies, like cauliflower, broccoli, and cucumber, as snacks helped overweight kids shed 17 percent of their visceral fat while improving their insulin sensitivity over a five-year period. Think snacking on veggies will leave you hungry? The 20 Most Filling Fruits and Veggies will have your belly satisfied in no time.
When you have the option to choose between dried fruit and fresh fruit, always opt for the fresh variety. “Dried fruits have a lot of calories and added sugar for very little volume,” says Summer Yule, MS, RDN. “For instance, one cup of raisins (not packed) contains 434 calories and 86 grams of added sugar. By comparison, a cup of grapes contains only 62 calories and 15 grams of sugar. This means that you could eat 7 cups of grapes for the same amount of calories as 1 cup of unpacked raisins.”
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.
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.
Instead, we've evaluated expert reviews, most notably those published annually at U.S. News and World Report. That publication consults medical professionals who, in turn, consult clinical studies as well as utilizing their own experience and expertise to make their recommendations. We then work our way down to dieter opinions posted on survey sites -- to identify the most nutritionally sound and sustainable weight loss programs. That includes diets, meal-delivery plans, diet books and free, online resources that will help you lose weight and keep it off over the long-term.
If you like the idea of an actually useful app, but aren’t interested in tons of interaction or paying a large membership fee, we suggest MyFitnessPal. There are lots of nearly identical apps on the market, but this one provides the easiest, quickest food tracking we experienced, plus advanced options like goal setting and nutrition analysis. For education and support, you’ll have to turn to outside sources.
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.
To drop serious lbs, you need the one-two punch of aerobic exercise plus strength training. Resistance helps build and preserve metabolism-boosting lean muscle while burning fat and is especially key when you hit a plateau. Amanda Green lost 15 pounds in two months doing hour-long cardio DVDs, but it wasn't until she started running outside and lifting weights three times a week that she was able to ditch the last 15 of her 30-pound goal.
Nontraditional pastas, like those made from beans, rice, and soy products, have become increasingly popular as a healthier option for pasta fans. However, that doesn’t mean you can load up on veggie noodles with no consequences. “We would be wise to remember that these pastas, while more nutrient dense than traditional white pasta, still have calories and carbohydrates,” says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition. “Portions are still set at a measly 1/2 cup cooked; most of us do 2-3 cups of cooked pasta at a time. Try going ‘half and half’ with pasta alternatives and a vegetable pasta substitute.” Check out these weight-loss breakthroughs doctors wish you knew.
Potassium, magnesium, and calcium can help to serve as a counter-balance for sodium. Foods that are rich in potassium include leafy greens, most "orange" foods (oranges, sweet potatoes, carrots, melon) bananas, tomatoes, and cruciferous veggies — especially cauliflower. Low-fat dairy, plus nuts, and seeds can also help give you a bloat-busting boost. They've also been linked to a whole host of additional health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, controlling blood sugar, and reducing risk of chronic disease overall.
Both Weight Watchers and Noom provide lots of guidance. If you’re more of a self-starter — someone who just needs to be pointed in the right direction — The Mayo Clinic Diet provides pure resources. Picking up the entertaining, densely informative book is the only associated cost. You can also get the app for about half the cost of WW Mobile, but we didn’t find it as useful.
There’s a large spectrum of where people can fall on a vegetarian diet: For example, vegans consume no animal products, whereas ovo-lacto vegetarians eat both dairy and eggs. The eating style may help with weight loss, suggests a review published in August 2017 in Nutrients, but some vegans and vegetarians may become deficient in specific nutrients, such as calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, according to an article published in December 2017 in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. (23,24)
Popularized by the documentary Forks Over Knives, the Ornish diet is a low-fat, plant-based diet plan based on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes. It's based on a lacto-ovo style of vegetarianism, allowing only egg whites and nonfat dairy products. It's packed with vitamins, fiber, and lots of filling plants to keep you satiated. Some studies have shown it can reverse heart disease and have beneficial effects on other chronic health conditions. (BTW, there is a difference between a vegan diet and a plant-based diet.)
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.
Whereas many beverages can increase your waistline (see above), there is one that is guaranteed to trim your tummy: water. Drinking plain ol’ H2O works because staying fully hydrated tells your body it’s okay to release any extra water it’s retaining, decreasing the accompanying bloat. Plus, drinking water has been proven to reduce cravings for sweets, lower your appetite, and help you feel satiated faster. Here 9 more ways to bust belly fat in a single day!
But just because belly fat comes off a bit more easily doesn’t make it less dangerous. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. “Belly fat is unfortunately the most dangerous location to store fat,” says Dr. Cheskin. Because belly fat—also known as visceral fat, or the deep abdominal fat that surrounds your organs—is more temporary, it’s more active in terms of circulating in the bloodstream. That means it’s likely to raise the amount of fat in your blood (known as blood lipid levels) and increase your blood sugar levels, which as a result raises your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
So what can we do with all this knowledge? Tempting as it is to get discouraged, we can actually find it encouraging. Biology is not destiny, after all. “Lifestyle choices are immensely powerful,” Peeke says. And on the heels of any tidal wave of new research is sure to come a trickle of weight-loss advice that can be more customized and more effective to help men and women with their weight-loss obstacles, no matter what they are.
Plain and simple: We just don't feel full by liquid calories in quite the same way as we do real food. Drinking a juice or caramel coffee drink, for instance, won't make you feel full the way eating a bowl of veggie- and protein-packed stir-fry will. So monitor your intake of juice, soda, sweetened coffee and tea, and alcoholic beverages. If you consume each of those beverages during the day, you'll have taken in at least 800 extra calories by nighttime — and you'll still be hungry. (Incidentally, alcohol may suppress the metabolism of fat, making it tougher for you to burn those calories.) Some other ways to skip sugar? Check 'em out here.
In what is perhaps the biggest buzzkill of all time, sex doesn’t quite count as cardio or burn a significant amount of calories: Women burn about 3.6 per minute. "It’s still a good idea," Dr. Seltzer says, citing the activity’s other benefits, like increasing the output of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which naturally reduce food cravings.
Real talk: It could take weeks or months to see the metabolic effects of exercise on the scale, and even then, building muscle, which is denser than body fat, could lead to weight gain. "Do what you like because it’s good for you," Dr. Seltzer says, noting the way exercise is awesome for your heart, mental health, and more—and that not all measure of progress can be seen on the scale.
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."
The plan promotes long-lasting, sustainable changes, and undoubtedly a bounty of research backs this up. In fact, one December 2013 study in the American Journal of Medicine shows that people following Weight Watchers were close to nine times more likely to lose 10 percent of their body weight, compared to people following a self-help diet plan. (20)
“I learned how to cook from scratch and experiment with flavors. The biggest change my husband Mark and I made was planning our meals for the week on Sundays. We also rely on food optimizing—using vegetables to bulk up our meals but still keep them low-calorie. It helped me lose 52 pounds and 8 dress sizes, while Mark lost 110 pounds.” —Amanda Gibbon, 46
Eating patterns that restrict certain food groups can certainly help you lose weight, but many people find it hard to continue to eat that way forever. If you want to think of your diet like a relationship, you don’t want to be in an “it’s complicated” or “on-again, off-again” situation. You want to find your match — a meal plan you can feel content with for the long haul. That doesn’t mean you have to ditch all of your favorite foods for eternity. It’s okay to flirt with the foods that make you swoon, but you don’t want to settle down with them. When your healthy habits are solid, enjoying your favorite foods sometimes is no big deal.
You have to sign up, and they come at a cost -- some higher than others depending upon the program -- but commercial diet programs offer a lot of tools for the dieter. These may include in-person and online support, smartphone and tablet apps, journaling and record-keeping programs specific to the diet, pre-calculated calorie counts, guides for eating out and plenty of proven recipes for any cooking skill level. They also provide the most support, both in person and online.
Your New Year's resolution diet should be based on a well-balanced eating plan that fits your lifestyle, rather than a weird fad replete with food restrictions. That's according to U.S. News & World Report's best diet rankings for 2018. The two diets that tied for the top spot -- the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet -- fit that bill because they feature real food and reasonable, flexible guidelines, experts said.
Klein, S., Burke, L.E., Bray, G.A., Blair, S., Allison, D.B., Pi-Sunyer, X., et al. (2004). Clinical Implications of Obesity With Specific Focus on Cardiovascular Disease: A Statement for Professionals From the American Heart Association Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism: Endorsed by the American College of Cardiology Foundation. Circulation; 110(18): 2952-2967.
For some, this is the hardest part of life after a diet. Working out how much of each component make up a healthy, well-portioned and flavorsome meal can be tricky and takes a bit of practice. Nonetheless, it’s crucial if you’re going to maintain your optimum weight. If this aspect worries you, why not consider a meal delivery service where each ingredient comes pre-portioned? After a month or so, you’ll probably feel a lot more confident about how much you should be eating at any given meal.
Grains get a bad rap when it comes to weight loss, but that's because refined grains (read: processed foods!) are linked to wider waists. 100% whole grains are bloat-busting superstars, however, as they're packed with minerals and de-puff by counter-balancing salt. Stick to brown rice, quinoa, wheat, barley, millet, farro, sorghum, and amaranth for the biggest benefits.
The Mayo Clinic Diet is the official diet developed by Mayo Clinic, based on research and clinical experience. It focuses on eating healthy foods that taste great and increasing physical activity. It emphasizes that the best way to keep weight off for good is to change your lifestyle and adopt new health habits. This diet can be tailored to your own individual needs and health history — it isn't a one-size-fits-all approach.
"It’s easy to become impatient and frustrated when you’re trying to lose weight and haven’t seen the results yet. But be realistic – you won’t see the affect overnight. Your brain’s wiring plays a huge part in resisting changes in lifestyle, and it takes time to establish new habits – up to 12 weeks. Stick with it for at least eight weeks and you should notice a change."
There’s a reason why protein takes center stage in many popular diet plans: it helps you feel full and stokes your metabolism enough to help you avoid the typical one or two pounds most adults gain each year. Your body burns slightly more calories after eating protein compared with fats or carbs, and protein from food also helps keep your muscles from deteriorating as you age. (Strength-building exercise is another important part of this process.) In order to get these benefits, you need to include protein at each meal, and getting adequate amounts of protein at breakfast — about 20 grams — is especially important. Making a beeline for the bagels or cereal means your body misses a key opportunity to rebuild muscle tissue, which naturally breaks down as you sleep. If this is your morning routine, your muscle mass will start to decline, and that means your metabolism will slow down. So skip the AM pastries and other carb-rich fare, and opt for an omelet or smoothie made with Greek yogurt or protein powder, instead.
I love this study because it examined a realistic lifestyle change rather than just a fad diet. Both groups, after all, were labeled as healthy diets, and they were, because study investigators encouraged eating high-quality, nutritious whole foods, unlimited vegetables, and avoiding flours, sugars, bad fats, and processed foods. Everyone was encouraged to be physically active at a level most Americans are not. And — this is a big one — everyone had access to basic behavioral counseling aimed at reducing emotional eating.
So, obviously, what is going to work for each person is different, and that’s OK. If your weight-loss practices help you identify areas for behavioral change and give you tools on how to make that happen, or just help keep your motivation up or feeling good, great. “But if you are not losing weight, then the tools you are using aren't working for you,” Fear says. “Many people keep doing the same monitoring even though it's actually not helping them. A sense of control and organization are not to be confused with efficacy.” Use this as an opportunity to try something else.
Similar to the CICO diet, the Body Reset has gained popularity via social media, and there isn’t any definitive research that suggests the approach is safe and effective. Celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak created the plan, which is essentially a three-phase liquid diet comprised of smoothies and moderate exercise. While U.S. News notes you may lose weight on the diet, it may be tough to stick with, and isn’t safe for people with diabetes and heart disease. (38)
While you may be tempted to eat as few calories as possible to lose weight more quickly, as mentioned above, it’s important that you don’t cut more than 1,000 calories from your daily diet or eat fewer than 1,200 calories a day — even if that means your energy deficit is smaller than 1,000 calories. Eat too little and you’ll slow down your metabolism and put yourself on track to regain the weight — often with a few extra pounds.
Stay motivated. Often times, people lose motivation to stick with a diet or an exercise routine. Finding a reason to stay motivated beyond belly fat goals, like overcoming a genetic predisposition to excess body weight or working toward fitting into your favorite article of clothing again, can help you stay motivated to meet your fitness and lifestyle goals.
"With all the different tips out there, it can be tricky to understand exactly which exercises work the best. HIIT is great for fat burning and will get your heart rate up, but I’d also recommend including strength (resistance) exercises too. Try lifting weights, using resistance bands or using the weight machines at the gym as these will increase your metabolism to help with weight loss, and increase your muscle strength. It’s important to mix-up your whole-body workouts so you don’t get bored."
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.