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Quick weight loss can sound pretty enticing. That’s especially true when fad diets and social media make it seem more realistic than it really is to drop 10 pounds in 10 days. In fact, “yo-yo dieting” or “weight cycling” is associated with an increased risk of death. The truth is, for many people, it’s not easy to lose weight for a myriad of reasons, including life-stage, body composition, physical activity, genetics and hormones, among other factors. Plus, weight is not the end all be all and is only one of several factors that impact our overall health.
Extreme calorie restriction and excessive exercising is something our nutrition and fitness experts would never recommend for health reasons, but they also note that you’ll likely gain all of your weight back faster than you lost it if you try those approaches. Losing weight by improving your overall diet and lifestyle is without a doubt the healthiest way to go.
If you’re looking for sustainable weight loss, there are a few healthy tips that hold true for almost all of us across the board — and they’re concepts that we can put into practice beginning right now.
Editor’s note: Weight loss, health and body image are complex subjects — before deciding to go on a diet, we invite you to gain a broader perspective by reading our exploration into the hazards of diet culture.
10 Expert-Backed Tips for Safe Weight Loss
1. Up your veggie intake.
Instead of restricting different foods and food groups, focus on incorporating an abundance of nourishing foods that you can add into your diet to promote overall health and weight management. The water and fiber in produce adds volume to dishes and are naturally low in fat and calories but nutrient-dense and filling. You can create lower-calorie versions of delicious dishes by swapping out higher calorie ingredients for fruits and veggies. Think cauliflower rice in place of starchy white rice or doing 50/50. If you think about making any meal mostly veggies (at least 50% of anything that you’re having), you’re on the right track to better health.
2. Build a better breakfast.
A balanced breakfast — one that is stacked with fiber, protein, healthy fats, coming together in a delicious dish — will revolutionize your day, especially if you are currently skipping it and still find yourself struggling to prioritize a healthy lifestyle. Skipping breakfast may influence your hunger hormones later in the day, leading to you feeling “hangry” in the afternoon which makes it harder to refrain from oversized portions or cravings for sugary and refined carbohydrate foods. The best, heartiest breakfasts are ones that will fill you up, keep you satisfied, and stave off cravings later in the day. Aim to eat anywhere between 350 and 500 calories for your morning meal, and make sure you’re including a source of lean protein plus filling fat (think eggs, unsweetened Greek yogurt, nuts, or nut butters) and fiber (veggies, fruit, or 100% whole grains). Starting your day with a blood sugar-stabilizing blend of nutrients will help you slim down.
3. Skip sugary beverages.
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 just isn’t as satisfying as eating a bowl of veggie- and protein-packed stir-fry. Skipping sugary beverages is often the easiest way to lose weight faster, and bonus, it’s good for things like heart health and diabetes prevention too. 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.)
4. Get moving.
Movement of any type can be a very useful weight management tool. Walking is a great, inexpensive option that doesn’t require any extra gym equipment except for a good pair of kicks. A recent study showed that people who walked 8,200 steps per day were less likely to become obese, suffer from major depressive disorder and others chronic health related conditions. Therefore, consider walking for weight loss and better overall health.
Additionally, strength training builds lean muscle tissue, which burns more calories — at work or at rest — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The more lean muscle you have, the faster you’ll slim down.
How do you start strength training? Try some planks or push-ups on your knees or a few squats or lunges. Use your free weights to perform simple bicep curls or tricep extensions right in your home or office. Mix in some new ab, arm, back and leg moves if you like. Strength training just three to four times per week can lead to rapid improvement in not only weight loss, but also range of motion, stability, and posture.
5. Eat mindfully.
Slowing down to focus on things like the taste, textures, temperature and smells of what you’re eating can help with portion control. But mindful eating also means really focusing on what you’re eating and when—this can help you identify unnecessary munching moments you may not realize you’re engaging in throughout the day that may be tacking on extra calories. More importantly, try to avoid eating foods that you don’t choose for yourself. Mindful eating can help shift the focus of control from external authorities and cues to your body’s own inner wisdom. Noticing where your extra calories actually come from is another step to making better choices in the short and long term.
6. Spice up your life.
Spicy foods can actually help you cut back on calories. That’s because capsaicin, a compound found in jalapeño and cayenne peppers, may (slightly) increase your body’s release of stress hormones such as adrenaline, which can speed up your ability to burn calories. What’s more, eating hot peppers may help you eat more slowly and avoid overeating. You’re more likely to stay more mindful of when you’re full. Some great choices besides hot peppers are ginger and turmeric.
7. Go to bed earlier.
There’s a ton of research that demonstrates getting less than the desired amount — about seven hours — of sleep per night can slow down your metabolism. Chronic sleep deprivation may even alter hormones that control hunger, and some studies show that there is a connection between poor quality food choices and less sleep. Good sleep has a ton of other benefits too, like boosting alertness, improving mood and overall quality of life. So don’t skimp on your ZZZ’s, and you’ll be rewarded with an extra edge when it comes to overall health and losing weight. Start small with just pushing up bedtime by 15 to 30 minutes, every minute counts!
8. Keep a food journal.
People who log everything they eat — especially those who log while they’re eating — are more likely to lose weight and keep it off for the long haul, studies consistently indicate. The habit also takes less than 15 minutes per day on average when you do it regularly, according to a study published in the journal Obesity.
Start tracking on an app like MyFitnessPal or use a regular notebook. It’ll help you stay accountable for what you’ve eaten. Plus, you can easily identify areas that could use a little improvement when it’s written out in front of you.
9. Resist the urge to skip a meal.
Our nutrition experts stress that skipping meals will not make you lose weight faster. If a hectic day makes a sit-down meal impossible, stash a piece of fruit and pack of nut butter in your car or purse and keep snacks in your desk drawer — anything that will keep you from going hungry!
Going long periods of time without food does double-duty harm on our healthy eating efforts by both slowing down your metabolism, and priming you for a binge later in the day. Make it your mission to eat three meals and two snacks every day, and don’t wait longer than three to four hours without eating. Set a “snack alarm” on your phone if needed.
10. Munch on mineral-rich foods.
Potassium, magnesium and calcium can help to serve as a counter-balance for bloat-inducing 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.
A registered dietitian with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northwestern University and a Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University, Jaclyn “Jackie” London handled all of Good Housekeeping’s nutrition-related content, testing, and evaluation from 2014 to 2019. Prior to joining GH, she was a clinical dietitian at Mount Sinai Hospital. Jackie has also appeared as an expert guest on The Dr. Oz Show and The Today Show. She is also author of the book Dressing on the Side (and Other Diet Myths Debunked).
Amy (she/her) is a registered dietitian with the Nutrition Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute, covering nutrition- and health-related content and product testing. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Miami University of Ohio and a master’s degree in clinical nutrition from NYU. Prior to Good Housekeeping, she worked at one of the largest teaching hospitals in New York City as a cardiac transplant dietitian. She has authored numerous chapters in clinical nutrition textbooks and has also worked in PR and marketing for food company start-ups.