Diet fads are not only confusing but can be dangerous, especially if you are constantly switching from one to another. According to Psychology Today, weight loss is a 60-billion-dollar industry!
Unfortunately, over two-thirds of all dieters regain their lost weight. So how do you lose weight and keep it off? These tried-and-true methods are backed by both researchers and doctors — and they also helped me lose 40 lbs and maintain that weight loss for over two years! Here’s what the research has to say:
Focus on your diet
The idea that you can eat pretty much whatever you want as long as you exercise is false. While you can lose weight by exercising, you will lose more weight more quickly if you also reduce your daily caloric intake.
According to Samuel Klein, M.D. of Washington University’s School of Medicine, “Decreasing food intake is much more effective than increasing physical activity to achieve weight loss. If you want to achieve a 300 kcal energy deficit, you can run in the park for 3 miles or not eat 2 ounces of potato chips.”
The Obesity Society in Maryland conducted a study on overweight and obese postmenopausal women to see whether diet, exercise or a combination would be most conducive to weight loss. They found that diet trumps exercise when trying to reduce body weight. Not surprisingly, participants had the best results when diet and exercise were combined.
According to Dr. Klein, the reason is that exercise promotes hunger shortly after your workout. If you, like many, decide to compensate for the calories burned by eating more or eating a higher-calorie meal, then you will negate the calories lost from your exercise.
Dr. Klein also explained in his interview with Forbes that if you overdo your exercise, you can become exhausted and are more likely to be sedentary for the remainder of your day, which would cancel out the benefits of your workout. It is better, therefore, to exercise some, focus on your calories, and remain active throughout the day.
Eat more during the day
A study by the National Institutes of Health observed over 2,300 girls for ten years, beginning in 1985, and found that the adolescent girls who ate fewer meals had a higher body mass index than those who ate more frequently throughout the day
Not only does the amount of food you eat contribute to weight loss, but also the time of day. A study conducted on over 3,600 Swedish men and women concluded that obesity was most prevalent in those who ate the most toward the end of the day. I suppose the saying “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, sup like a pauper” might have some merit after all.
Reduce your calorie intake
One of the most effective ways to lose weight is to reduce your intake of calories. According to Marion Nestle, PhD, of New York University, you can gain weight eating healthily as well as by eating unhealthily if you overeat. A calorie is a calorie regardless of where you got it.
To prove this point, Mark Haub, a nutrition professor at Kansas State University consumed only junk food for every meal, including snack cakes, Doritos chips, Oreo cookies and sugary cereals.
He also reduced his calorie intake by only eating one snack cake for a meal, for instance. He wanted to demonstrate to his students that nutritional value doesn’t cause weight loss, but the amount of calories you eat each day does.
Within only two months, Mark lost 27 lbs. Marion Nestle, in an interview with Forbes, explained, “From the standpoint of health, it’s better to eat your veggies. It’s just a lot easier to overeat calories from junk food than healthy food, but it can be done.”
Boost your metabolism with exercise
Although exercise is not as important as calorie restriction for weight loss, James Hill, a professor at the University of Colorado, recommends exercising to repair a slow metabolism. A 2009 study published by the American Journal of Physiology also suggests that exercising regularly can help boost your metabolism.
A 2012 study published in the same journal revealed that exercising for only 30 minutes can be just as effective, and more efficient, than working out for an hour each day with regards to fat loss.
Tasneem Bhatia, M.D. recommends moving every day regardless of the level of exercise you pursue. She says this one habit can help you lose more weight because it will encourage you to make healthier food choices and will promote more restful sleep.
Stop emotional eating
When people are stressed, they tend to overeat. Stress eating can undermine any diet and exercise regimen, which can cause you to become even more stressed, thus continuing the vicious cycle. If you do it often enough, your brain can become wired to associate food with alleviating emotional pain and stress.
According to Dr. Bhatia, not only does stress make food appear more enticing than normal, but it also affects where fat is stored. Stress causes your body to store fat in the abdominal region, an area where excess fat can increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
To encourage yourself to stop emotional eating, try taking a few deep breaths, repeat positive affirmations, write down your feelings, or exercise to release endorphins. Learning how to better handle stressful situations and learning to cope with loss or heartache can help you lose weight by not leaning on your bad eating habits.
Eat more mindfully
Rushing through large meals and still feel hungry? Take your time and savor each bite. When you eat slowly, you become more aware of your body and signs of fullness. This is a double-whammy because eating at a leisurely pace can also help you eat less when you do cave into cravings.
If you focus on the texture and flavor of each bite, you will enjoy your food more and will require less food to achieve the same level of satisfaction.
The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior released a study in 2012 where women were separated into two groups. One received guidance on eating behavior modification and mindfulness meditations, while the other did not. The results showed that the group practicing mindfulness while eating lost significantly more weight and consumed fewer calories and fat than the control group.
Rewire your brain with good habits
Although we all slip up on our diets from time to time, repeated bad habits can actually alter the way our brain interprets hunger and satiety. By repeating poor eating patterns, you lay the neural framework to continue those bad habits. In fact, the way you eat can eventually cause brain tissue damage.
Research by the Obesity Society has discovered a reduction in white matter in the brain of otherwise healthy adults who are obese. Neuroimage, a neuroscience professional journal, released a study in 2006 that suggests becoming overweight can cause damage to several tissues and even increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The good news is, you can rewire the way your brain perceives food and reduce your risk of brain tissue damage. It’s called “neuroplasticity,” which means that your brain can physically change by encountering new experiences. What needs to be done? Reinforce good behaviors and be consistent.
Your neural network is full of neurons and receptors. When you become addicted to food or eat emotionally, your receptors receive information that associates those feelings to the urge to eat. When you change your diet, your brain rewires itself, allowing you to make healthy choices more easily. The same is true with sleeping habits and exercise. Once you get into a routine, your brain will adapt.
Pick a diet and stick with it
Speaking of consistency, it doesn’t matter what diet you choose, as long as you continue it. Diets should really be considered lifestyle changes if you want to keep the weight off.
According to Jensen, M.D. at the Mayo Clinic, “The big myth out there is that there’s a magical combination of foods — be it protein, vegetarian, and what have you — that’s going to be unique because of its unique interaction with your metabolism.” He says, “There’s no magic diet. The truth is that all diets will work if you follow them.”
According to a 2011 publication by the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Israeli researchers took the Atkins diet, Mediterranean diet, low-fat, and high-carb diets and broke them into twelve food categories to find the common factor in weight loss. They determined that the greatest factor of weight loss in these diets was the increased consumption of vegetables, which are high in fiber and low in calories, and the decreased consumption of sweets and cakes.
Dr. Melina Jampolis says that she insists her patients look at menus ahead of time before eating out for an occasion to help them stay on track. By planning ahead, she says, you can make smarter decisions and feel less pressured upon arrival at your social gathering.
You are also less likely to eat and drink mindlessly when socializing if you plan ahead. Melina also recommends coming up with a plan B in case you are too busy to prepare what you had set aside for the day.
Creating options will prevent you from falling off the wagon or giving in to temptation. She notes that it is good to be flexible and come up with healthy options for both diet and exercise in the event of changes, as the real world can be full of surprises.
Don’t give up
Although exercise can help boost your metabolism, if you have been struggling with your weight for a long time, you may have to try harder than others to lose weight. Not only is your metabolism slower, but you may also have years of damage to repair.
According to James Hill, PhD at the University of Colorado, your body may not return to its exact previous dimensions. Although building muscle kick-starts the metabolism, people who were previously overweight have to work harder aerobically in the long run, when compared with those who were never overweight.
How I used these tips to lose 40 lbs and keep it off
In 2011, I was the heaviest I have ever been. With my small frame of 5 ft 0 in, I clocked in at 143 lbs. I thought I ate relatively healthy food. I told myself I didn’t have time to make meals, so I bought “healthy” fast food, which consisted of smoothies, salads, chicken wraps, yogurt parfaits and oatmeal.
I was in a job I hated and was stressed to the point that my doctor recommended I quit my job due to health concerns. I did, and began to practice meditation and mindfulness. I also began cooking, and although my cooking wasn’t healthy, it was certainly more natural. I lost my first 5 lbs through mindfulness, reducing stress and impulsive eating, and learning how to cook.
I had been reading about plant-based lifestyles and felt drawn to it for personal reasons. As a result, I began eating more vegetables and naturally reducing the amount of trans fats and saturated fats in my diet.
I became vegetarian, then vegan and eventually adopted a whole food diet. I also began adding light cardio and toning to my lifestyle, exercising three days a week. I lost 30 additional pounds from these changes: choosing a diet and sticking with it, exercising to boost my metabolism, and eating more vegetables.
The last few pounds I lost were due to dietary changes I made because of bodily inflammation. You see, initially, as I shifted to more vegetarian options, I ate more dairy and bread products to feel more full and to satisfy my emotional food attachments. However, once I realized this was causing inflammation, I changed my diet overnight. I didn’t look back, and as a result I became more consistent in all of my dietary changes.
I now exercise every weekday for at least thirty minutes and burn some calories over the weekend with house chores. My exercises are more intense and I can finally notice distinct muscular definition, which will help me keep the weight off. I have remained at around 100 lbs. for over two years now and feel amazing. Despite being medically overweight for years, I did it and you can too!
My weight loss is due to a culmination of all the lifestyle changes I have made, and the consistency and determination that followed. I eat fruits and vegetables in every single meal, and I workout regularly but focus on my diet.
I restrict calories and stick with it, and I have options for life’s unexpected moments. I look at menus before going out to eat, and I treat my diet and exercise regimen as a permanent lifestyle choice, not a temporary quick fix.
I am one of many for whom these tips have worked. Diet fads come and go, but these tips are tried and true. Out of all these tips, the most important ones are consistency and determination to never give up. Everyone’s body is different and there is no quick fix. If you are truly committed to your health goals, you will eventually see results. Never give up on yourself. You are worth the effort.
-Nicole Manuel, CPC
Nicole Manuel, CPC is a certified life coach with a degree in economics and over five years of professional writing experience. Her goal is to help others discover ways to incorporate sustainable solutions that can improve their health and well-being on a budget.