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.
As with many foods, there are healthy versions and ones that make promises they can’t deliver. Some bars that promise “pure protein” have the same nutritional value as a candy bar, so it’s important to research before purchasing. Rather than just counting calories, check out the actual ingredients; is it made up of real food? Skip protein bars for weight loss that include soy in favor of ones that use proteins that include leucine, valine and isoleucine. The protein, plus the fiber and fat, will be what plays a key role in keeping you full throughout the day.
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.
For strength training, working with a trainer for a session or two can be helpful to acquaint yourself with dumbbells and the types of exercises you can do, but you don’t even need to use extra weight. One of my favorite weight loss tips for women is to add bodyweight exercises like push-ups and lunges to your workouts; they’re super effective and you can do them anywhere. Pilates and more vigorous yoga classes are a great option, too.
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.
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.
It's not just what you eat that can make you pack on pounds—it's also how much. Before dropping 102 pounds, DeGennaro did not have a grip on proper serving sizes. "Sitting down to dinner with my husband and three kids, I'd scarf down mounds of pasta and endless rolls," she says. "Adjusting to smaller portions was tricky at first; I'd round out meals with extra veggies to keep from getting hungry."
The "all meat all the time" low-carb approach or strict veganism can be great options for people who thrive on clear diet rules (and those two are actually the most popular diets out there) but these extremes are not for everyone. If you prefer more of a moderate approach, the Flexitarian diet is the clear winner. The "flexible vegetarian" mindset allows you a healthy balance of plant-based foods, responsibly sourced meats, and quality fats. The best part? It's not super restrictive, so you have plenty of nutritious food options. (Start here: How to Adopt a Flexitarian Diet)
Popcorn is a whole grain, so it’s not unreasonable to include it on your green-light food list. However, even “natural” and “light” microwave popcorn is loaded with artificial ingredients, plus sodium and butter—and a ton of calories. This doesn’t mean you have to give up all popcorn though, as air-popped popcorn is a much better alternative. It only contains 30 calories per cup and you can customize it to your liking.
Eat Breakfast Every Day. One habit that's common to many people who have lost weight and kept it off is eating breakfast every day. "Many people think skipping breakfast is a great way to cut calories, but they usually end up eating more throughout the day, says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author of The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the New Food Pyramids. "Studies show people who eat breakfast have lower BMIs than breakfast-skippers and perform better, whether at school or in the boardroom." Try a bowl of whole-grain cereal topped with fruit and low-fat dairy for a quick and nutritious start to your day.