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I’ve been writing about weight loss for years. Also, I have counseled real people for decades, and here’s what I know: What makes headlines, generates buzz, or becomes trendy doesn’t always pan out in everyday life.
While I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to losing weight, the reality is that there are a few truths that apply to nearly everyone. For one, if your weight-loss method leaves you feeling hungry, cranky, run-down, or socially isolated, it may not be healthy or sustainable.
And losing weight should enhance your health and not come at the expense of your health. If your weight loss approach doesn’t become a lifestyle, you may go back to old habits. Any lost weight might come back.
So, what does work? Here are 12 strategies that truly hold up in my experience. Each has the power to sustainably support healthy weight loss while also boosting health.
How much food you eat matters when it comes to fullness, not the number of calories. Foods with a lot of water and fiber are great choices to make you feel full. Those include whole foods like:
- Whole grains
Besides being nutritious, whole foods are satiating and energizing. Whole foods can have positive effects on insulin, digestion, and metabolism.
So, it’s always a great idea to upgrade the quality of what you eat and make that goal the foundation of your weight loss and maintenance plan.
Just 10% of adults eat the minimum recommended daily intake of two to three cups of vegetables. But for both weight loss and optimal health, consistently eating more veggies is one of the most important habits you can foster.
Vegetables To Consider
In general, vegetables are good to have in your diet. Still, non-starchy vegetables specifically can come with added benefits. For example, diets that help reduce inflammation, which links to obesity, include non-starchy vegetables. What’s more, non-starchy vegetables are incredibly filling and nutrient-rich.
Examples of non-starchy vegetables include:
- Leafy greens
- Brussels sprouts
How To Add More Vegetables to Your Diet
Try building your meals around vegetables. A good place to start is eating one cup (about the size of a tennis ball) at breakfast, two cups at lunch, and two cups at dinner. Just make sure to measure those portions before cooking. Some vegetables, such as spinach, shrink when you cook them.
For example, try some of the following options at breakfast:
- Whipping greens into a smoothie
- Folding shredded zucchini into oats
- Adding vegetables to an egg or chickpea scramble
- Eating them on the side, like sliced cucumbers or red bell peppers
At lunch, instead of sandwiches and wraps, salads and bowls can offer a large base of vegetables. However, if you stick with sandwiches or wraps, consider swapping some of your other ingredients for options like lettuce or tomatoes.
For dinner, you can sauté, oven-roast, grill, or stir-fry vegetables. But overall, consider making vegetables the biggest part of your meal.
Your body needs water for many different processes, like regulating temperature and removing waste. In other words, staying hydrated is crucial for your health.
Drinking water also helps prevent eating too much at a time, which inhibits weight loss. Research has found that drinking water before meals can help a person feel fuller than average.
How much water a person needs depends on factors like age or sex. Also, different foods and drinks can meet a person’s water needs.
Even if you’re not a fan of plain water, you can spruce it up with healthy add-ins like citrus, cucumber, or basil leaves.
One study published in 2019 in Nutrients found that the timing of different meals can affect your risk of obesity. For example, the researchers found that skipping breakfast and eating two hours before bedtime increases obesity risk.
Instead, since schedules can vary from person to person, finding an eating schedule that works for you is key. Getting into a groove with meal timing allows your body to respond with hunger cues at expected meal or snack times and crave balance. In other words, your body will drive you to stop eating when it’s full.
When it comes to the time you spend awake and asleep, meal timing is especially important. Eating beyond a person’s circadian rhythm might reduce fullness, as light and darkness cues control hunger hormones like ghrelin and leptin.
Beyond helping with weight loss, a consistent eating schedule can also benefit your overall health. Specifically, eating regularly might result in health benefits, such as:
- Lowered inflammation
- Improved circadian rhythm
- Increased resistance to stress on the body
Part of reaching a healthy weight comes from healthy, balanced eating. I based the bulk of my last weight loss book, “Slim Down Now,” on building your meals like you build your outfits.
Foundations of a Healthy Meal
Often, you need a top, bottoms, and footwear when you get dressed. You can get away without wearing socks. However, you wouldn’t wear two pairs of pants and no top, and you can’t wear two pairs of shoes at the same time.
In the same way, three core pieces make up the foundation of a healthy meal, which includes:
- Non-starchy vegetables (think: top)
- Lean proteins (think: bottoms)
- Healthy fats (think: shoes)
Those foundation foods provide some key benefits for your body. For example, protein helps with the ongoing maintenance of cells in your body, from immune cells to hormones to red blood cells.
Accessories to a Healthy Meal
To the core trio, you can add what I refer to as an “energy accessory,” or a healthy carbohydrate. Like putting on a jacket over your top, carrying a bag, or wearing a hat or scarf, the healthy carbohydrate is an add-on to your meal.
Healthy carbohydrates provide energy to fuel the activity of your cells and help them perform their roles. Those carbohydrates include:
- Whole grains
- Starchy vegetables
- Pulses, like beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas
But over-accessorizing with too many carbohydrates can result in weight gain. So, to strike the right balance, match your portions to your body’s energy demands. The Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate tool can help you figure out what and how much to eat to maintain balance among different foods and food groups.
Takeout and restaurant meals are notorious for oversized portions. In those cases, not eating too much can be hard, whether due to the tastiness or not wanting to waste food.
Instead, if you want to start cooking meals at home, select a few staple meals and make a list of the ingredients you need. Once you have everything you need, plan for low-calorie meals throughout the week. Don’t forget to find a few meals you enjoy that will also leave you feeling full, satisfied, and energized.
Then, once you get used to meal planning, you’ll find ways to shorten meal prep time and have healthy meals regularly.
When considering planned meals, don’t forget to find a few meals you enjoy that will leave you feeling full, satisfied, and energized too.
Also, you’ll save a lot of money by eating at home. One study published in 2017 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that cooking at home links to spending less money on food. Plus, if you cook at home, you can use your cooking time to unwind, listen to a podcast, or catch up with family, friends, or partners.
Alcohol can be a culprit for weight gain. Without providing any nutrients, the calories in some alcoholic drinks can equal those in a meal. Alcohol also tends to lower inhibitions and stimulate appetite, which can lead you to eat less healthy foods.
You might choose to give up alcohol altogether for weight loss. Even if you don’t, the next best thing to do is monitor the following:
- How much you drink
- The types of alcohol you drink
- How you eat when you drink
Also, eating before you drink, drinking slowly, and having a plan for drinking, like setting a limit, can limit your alcohol intake.
Going without ever having treats, including both sweet and savory favorites, can be difficult. So, see if you can enjoy your favorite goodies in a balanced way.
For example, if French fries are your thing, combine them with a lettuce-wrapped vegetable or turkey burger, along with salad, vegetables, or slaw.
Or, if you’re craving a decadent cupcake, eat a generous portion of vegetables and some lean protein for dinner. Then, savor every morsel of your dessert.
But leaving room for your favorite foods is about balance. Some people encourage others to live in the all-or-nothing. In contrast, the in-between is a much happier, healthier place.
As a healthcare provider, I aim to help people lose weight in a way that feels good, optimizes wellness, and reduces the risk of immediate and long-term health problems.
But depriving yourself of food is not the safest or most sustainable way to lose weight. Restrictive diets for calories or foods may offer only temporary weight loss. Plus, you may miss out on any necessary nutrients to keep your body in tip-top shape.
Physical body hunger triggers, like a slightly growling tummy, are a need for fuel. However, habits, emotions, or environmental cues may drive your hunger if you are not physically hungry. For example, people may think they’re hungry if they’re bored or anxious.
Delving into your relationship with food and eating choices can provide knowledge. If you keep a food journal, add your thoughts and feelings to it, including what you chose to eat and why, when and what you did, and what body signals you experienced.
If you often mistake hunger for emotional eating, test out some alternative coping mechanisms, like deep breathing and meditation, to address your feelings. You can alter your eating by replacing food with other ways of meeting your emotional needs.
These tips focus on forming different habits, letting go of approaches that haven’t served you well, and developing a new normal. However, having people in your life who are unsupportive or disruptive to your goals is bound to happen whenever you go public with any lifestyle change.
So, finding support from somewhere is key. Safe and successful weight loss programs will have some way of offering support in person, online, or by phone.
That support could also come from the following:
- Healthcare providers
- Friends or neighbors
- Like-minded people who you’ve connected with through social media
The most supportive people will be those who listen, allow you to vent, support your healthy choices, and even gently interject if your choices don’t align with your goals. Healthy weight loss is a journey, but it doesn’t have to be a solo expedition.
There are many ways to start and maintain your weight loss journey. Making sure you drink enough water, finding support, and cooking meals at home are just some things you can do to stay on track.
However, before you start on the path to weight loss, consult a healthcare provider to figure out the best ways to lose weight safely.