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.
A 2014 Harvard study found that men who did twenty minutes of daily weight training had less of an increase in age-related abdominal fat compared with men who spent the same amount of time doing aerobic activities, and other studies have shown similar levels of success when guys hit the gym to cut down on fat. The implication: Guys can cut belly fat most efficiently with weight training.
Many diet plans rely on meal-replacement shakes, bars or other snack type foods, while others rely on frozen entrees as a major part of your diet, like Medifast and Nutrisystem. Ask yourself if you want the 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.
Invest in single-serving containers. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says that a serving size on a food label may be more or less than the amount of food you should eat, depending on your age, height, sex, and weight. Once you're done cooking, place the excess servings in the containers to eat for lunch or dinner tomorrow. That way, you won't polish off everything in one sitting.
Whole foods include fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, eggs, seafood, chicken and so on. Food philosophies may differ around which of these foods to emphasize, but that’s okay, since the evidence shows that there isn’t a single best way to lose weight. The goal is to select an approach that feels sustainable to you. If you can easily live without pasta, perhaps a low-carb method centered around veggies and quality proteins, like seafood, chicken, and lean beef would be a good fit. Vegans and vegetarians can lose weight by choosing fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant proteins. Nut lovers may do well shedding pounds with a Mediterranean-style menu. Whatever diet appeals to your appetite and way of life, focusing on whole foods is something that all plans promote.
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.
Want to lose that belly fat? In your dreams! Seriously, though: a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to get rid of that extra fat around your waist for good. Among the 60,000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study, those who snoozed for fewer than five hours a night were at the greatest risk of becoming obese and gaining 30 or more pounds over the course of the 16-year study period when compared to those who slept for seven or more hours.
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.
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).
When you eat foods that are low- or no-fat, other ingredients are added in so that the food tastes like its full-fat counterpart. Those extra ingredients don’t add in the nutrients that have been stripped away, however, so you end up craving more because, despite the fact that you just ate, your body is still lacking in the vital nutrients it needs. You end up eating more calories than you would have if you’d just eaten the full-fat product.
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.
Sometimes, to whip your body into shape, you have to get a little nutty. While nuts are high in fat, it’s that very fat that makes them such powerful weapons in the war against a ballooning belly. In fact, research from Reina Sofia University Hospital reveals that study participants who consumed a diet rich in monounsaturated fats, like those in nuts, over a 28-day period gained less belly fat than their saturated fat-consuming counterparts while improving their insulin sensitivity.
HCG, or Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, is a hormone produced during pregnancy by the placenta after implantation, and doctors sometimes prescribe it for fertility issues. But this hormone has also gained popularity as a weight-loss supplement — and using it as such can be dangerous. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against purchasing over-the-counter hCG, as these supplement products are illegal. (34)
Many television ads are now pitching devices that supposedly stimulate muscles to contract repeatedly without exercise. I even saw an infomercial for an "ab belt" that claimed it does the work of 700 sit-ups in 10 minutes! The ad shows people doing various abdominal exercises the wrong way, hating every second of it, versus smiling men and women going about their days with "Ab-whatevers" strapped around them. How enticing!
Nuts, the second food to watch, contain a fair amount of carbohydrate, and it’s very easy to unwittingly scarf down large quantities. Cashew nuts are among the worst carb-wise – you’ll find that they contain around 20% carbohydrate by weight. For someone following a strict keto diet with a 20 grams of carbs per day allowance, this means that consuming 100 grams (which happens in a flash!) will have filled their daily quota. Peanuts tend to be around 10-15% carbohydrate – not putting them in the clear either.
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.
Too much variety in your diet can mess with your satiety cues and make you overeat, so add some (tasty) monotony to your routine. One easy way: Eat the same healthy breakfast and/or lunch each day during the week, and savor new tastes on the weekend. The best thing about that plan, says 69-pound-loser (er, winner?) Melanie Kitchen: "I didn't have to keep coming up with new recipes!"
Counseling and community: In-person group meetings typically meet at a community center or business on regular basis. Participants might engage in a group discussion, breakaway groups or one-on-one sessions with other members or program counselors. Some weight loss programs rely on internet-based forums and communities or mobile applications for meal planning, counseling, group interaction and support.
Blood vessels (veh-suls): The system of flexible tubes—arteries, capillaries and veins—that carries blood through the body. Oxygen and nutrients are delivered by arteries to tiny, thin-walled capillaries that feed them to cells and pick up waste material, including carbon dioxide. Capillaries pass the waste to veins, which take the blood back to the heart and lungs, where carbon dioxide is let out through your breath as you exhale.
After a cancer diagnosis sent her normally healthy lifestyle off-course, flight attendant Tracey Z. Dickson was heavier than she had ever been. When she was declared cancer-free, she hopped back on the treadmill and got her diet in order—and went from 158 pounds to 117. One of her diet secrets? "Instead of dessert, I'll have a baked sweet potato sprinkled with cinnamon," she says. "It tastes like I'm eating sweet potato pie, but for a ton less calories." For more healthy ideas on how to get your sugar fix, check out these desserts with 150 calories (or less).
Chronic migraines were what first inspired Amanda Tagge to start exercising. “I was hoping to find some relief from my headaches and working out did help but I realized that if I really wanted to feel better I needed to revamp my health habits overall and lose weight,” she says. The more she changed, the better her headaches got and she lost 70 pounds in the process which helped her feel even better. Focusing on all the ways her health was improving kept her going even when the scale wasn’t moving.
Lose It! This two-week phase is designed to jump-start your weight loss, so you may lose up to 6 to 10 pounds (2.7 to 4.5 kilograms) in a safe and healthy way. In this phase, you focus on lifestyle habits that are associated with weight. You learn how to add five healthy habits, break five unhealthy habits and adopt another five bonus healthy habits. This phase can help you see some quick results — a psychological boost — and start practicing important habits that you'll carry into the next phase of the diet.
Actively support your thyroid with food, vitamins and minerals. This small change can make a huge difference to your weight in a fairly short time. It’s smart to have your thyroid checked though many conventional tests come back “normal” even when you may have low thyroid. But you can still add daily thyroid support safely to see if it helps. If you suspect you have a low-thyroid issue, you can get a handle on your weight issues by making small diet changes and supplementing with the right herbs and minerals.
Illescas-Zarate, D., Espinosa-Montero, J., Flores, M., & Barquera, S. (2015, April 19). Plain water consumption is associated with lower intake of caloric beverage: Cross-sectional study in Mexican adults with low socioeconomic status. BMC Public Health, 15, 405. Retrieved from https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-015-1699-0
There’s a reason everyone harps on about protein: Not only does it help keep you full, but it’s also responsible for repairing the tiny tears caused by strength training in your muscles. This helps them grow bigger and stronger, nudging out body fat in the process. As a general rule of thumb, aim to get at least 70 grams of protein throughout the day, says Dr. Cheskin. (These high-protein foods can help you reach that goal.)
Identifying and resolving typical weight loss hurdles — like flagging enthusiasm — is something Noom excels at. The initial questions that set up your profile, match you with a coach, and place you with a group, all intend to diagnose your learning style and what flavor of support you need. What kicks you into high gear, tough love or words of affirmation? How do you like to show support? How do you feel about goal setting?
“Under normal conditions, humans absorb only about 80% of the nutrients from the food they eat,” says A. Roberto Frisancho, Ph.D., a weight-loss researcher at the University of Michigan. But, he says, when the body is deprived of nourishment, it becomes a super-efficient machine, pulling what nutrients it can from whatever food is consumed. Start eating again normally and your body may not catch up; instead it will continue to store food as fat.
Stress skyrockets your levels of cortisol, often called “the belly fat” hormone because it signals to the body to store fat around your waist. Add the daily stressors of living our modern lifestyle and you can see how cortisol can be constantly coursing through your veins. This perma-stress mode isn’t good for a lot of healthy reasons, your tummy being just one of them, so it’s important to take time every day to de-stress. Yoga, meditation, walking, journaling, doing a hands-on hobby, or playing a musical instrument are all great time-tested methods. (Hint: Know what isn’t? Watching television. The boob tube actually increases your levels of cortisol!)
To prep his patients for success, Dr. Seltzer tells them to plan around a large evening meal by eating a lighter breakfast and lunch—NBD since most people who eat a meal before bed tend to wake up feeling relatively full, he says. Research suggests balanced bedtime meals may also promote steady next-day blood sugar levels, which also helps with appetite regulation.
Since we can’t spot reduce fat, the only way to ever get those flat abs is to burn body fat overall. For this reason, HIIT workouts, exercises that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously (like push ups, squat thrusters etc.), and weight lifting are going to be the most effective fitness strategies for bringing out your six pack because they are the most metabolic. Hours of cardio and tons of crunches are not the way forward here.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body can't digest, and it helps regulate the body's use of sugar as it slowly passes through your digestive system. Increasing your daily fiber intake can result in greater satisfaction after meals, less blood-sugar spiking and crashing, and subsequent reductions in the amount of calories eaten for the rest of the day. When trying to trim belly fat, aim to get at least 25 grams of fiber in your diet each day. Foods that are rich in fiber include pulses, like lentils and beans; apples and pears, with the skin; nuts and seeds; and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Try this recipe for Tabbouleh with Chickpeas for a fiber-packed side dish or a one-dish dinner!
After 30 days on the diet, you’ll slowly add in one of the restricted foods — one at a time and for a few days only — to see how your body reacts. At this point, you can continue just avoiding the ingredients you suspect you’re sensitive to, or go to an allergy specialist to receive confirmation and see if there’s anything else you might be allergic to.
"Only doing abdominal-focused workouts, like crunches, won’t help you banish the bulge. Belly fat is simply where your body stores energy, so you need to take a whole-body approach to tackle it. HIIT training (high intensity interval training) is a great way to burn fat and get your heart rate up. Squats, burpees and treadmill sprints are all examples to try."
One of the biggest mistakes women make when trying to figure out how to lose belly fat: too many crunches, too little cardio. No matter how toned your abs are, your belly won't look flat until you get rid of the layer of fat on top of them, says Jessica Smith, a certified personal trainer and star of fitness DVDs. For that, you need to rev your calorie burn. Interval training, in which you alternate high-intensity bursts of activity with easier bouts, has been shown to zap more belly fat than steady-paced moderate workouts.
"One of the hardest parts of losing weight is maintaining the lifestyle changes you’ve made. It’s difficult to stay motivated all the time, especially if you’ve slipped up along the way. But don’t let this affect your end goal. If you’re feeling particularly unmotivated, ask a friend to join you for your workout and then afterwards cook something healthy for dinner together."
If you’re allergic or sensitive to a certain ingredient and continue eating it, you’re likely to struggle with losing weight. The food is triggers inflammation, as your body fights against it. As you continue eating the same food that’s making you ill, the inflammation continues, making you a lot more susceptible to extra pounds and other health issues.
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.