Shedding pounds is tricky and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. “We all have a certain amount of calories [that] we need each day to function and not gain weight. However, this amount varies greatly from each individual depending on your size, muscle mass, hormones, sex, heredity, etc.,” says Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., Houston-based dietitian and founder of Eat Right Fitness. “One person may lose weight on 1,500 calories per day, [while] another may gain weight.” The good news is that there are plenty of solutions that do work. They ensure that both your health and your quality of life are top notch. We asked top nutrition experts to share their best tips to keep weight off for good.
Try to incorporate whole foods into every meal.
Adding whole, natural, and anti-inflammatory foods to your diet is a great start for better health and to keep weight off. “People who consume natural, whole foods have lower rates of diabetes, obesity, cancer, and heart disease,” says Luiza Petre, M.D., NYC-based cardiologist and weight management specialist. “Anti-inflammatory foods in particular, such as low-fat dairy, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, poultry, and fish, can make a significant difference when trying to shed pounds and belly fat. They are easily digested, keep you satiated, and boost energy levels.”
As an added bonus, your metabolism also gets a nice boost from eating these foods. It takes more energy to burn whole foods. “Avoid starchy, processed high-fat foods that are loaded with toxins that cause a buildup of inflammation. This—combined with stress—creates elevated cortisol levels and promote[s] the storage of fat in the abdomen,” Dr. Petre adds.
Work out first thing in the morning.
You might not be a morning person. But, just like the saying, the early bird gets the worm (even when it comes to weight loss). There’s plenty of research to support the idea that working out in the morning is more effective for weight loss than working out in the afternoon or evening. One study, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, found that women who exercised in the morning had less desire for food than those who’d skipped out on an a.m. workout. Additionally, researchers found that the morning exercisers were more active overall than the group who did not work out. In addition to helping keep the weight off, morning workouts also come with a myriad of health benefits. One of them is reduced the risk of diabetes, according to a study published in the Journal of Physiology.
Count fiber, instead of calories.
It might sound like slashing calories is the easiest way to ensure you will keep weight off. However, this isn’t always the case. In fact, cutting too many calories from your diet, or working out too much, may do the opposite. “Hormonal mechanisms will actually increase your appetite and slow down your metabolism to compensate for the large calorie deficit,” says Dr. Adams. Counting fiber instead of calories may be your key to keep the weight off. “Foods high in fiber are very filling. [They are] often time-consuming to eat and have fewer calories per bite than most other foods,” he says. Try incorporating high-fiber foods, such as the skins of apples, pears, and plums; as well as non-starchy vegetables like peas, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, into your diet. You will feel more satisfied while consuming less food overall.
You’ve probably already heard that drinking water helps you keep weight off. There’s some serious truth to this. “Research suggests that drinking eight to ten glasses of water (eight fluid-ounces each) a day can boost metabolism by 24-30 percent and suppress appetite,” explains Dr. Petre. If you’re not thirsty enough for this amount of H2O, chances are that you’re consuming too many other beverages, such as sugary sodas, juices, and alcohol. “Replacing those fluids with water helps your body stay hydrated. [And] it can save calories, money, and even help protect and clean your teeth,” notes Dr. Petre. Not a fan of the plain water taste? Add a slice of lime or lemon. “A glass of water with lemon is a recipe for successful weight loss because of pectin fiber, which can help reduce hunger,” Dr. Petre adds.
Don’t try to lose 20 pounds at once.
“Suddenly cutting calories or ramping up exercise causes the body to go into famine mode and defend its calories,” explains Robert Herbst, personal trainer, weight loss and wellness coach, and powerlifter. “That’s why people who suddenly start eating only salads on New Year’s Day are starving and miserable a week later—and their resolution diet comes to a crashing halt.” Instead, he recommends that his clients aim to lose one pound every week by cutting out calories here and there, such as snacks or sugary coffees. “The body will feel comfortable and the gradual weight loss will add up.”
Incorporate more protein throughout the day.
“Protein requires your body to work a bit harder during digestion and absorption. And [it] has a higher thermic effect (think calorie burning) than foods high in carbs or fat,” explains Dr. Adams. “Simply stated, increased protein in your diet over time leads to more calories burned during the digestion and absorption process.” While this won’t cause the scale to move quickly, he says that it just may help you keep weight off throughout the year without sacrificing satisfaction in your diet.
Cut out as much sugar as possible.
Even if you’re a sweet tooth, it’s wise to eliminate as much sugar from your diet as you can, especially if you’re trying to keep weight off. “Sugar has been linked to leptin resistance, which is the hormone that tells you when you are full,” explains Dr. Petre. “Bad bacteria also consume sugar and compromise your immune system. [This] causes cell aging and a decline in tissue function and elasticity.” Heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes are just a few additional reasons to avoid it at all costs. She recommends reading food labels closely so that you know just how much sugar you’re really consuming.
Make your last meal of the day your smallest.
You may have heard that the whole “eating late at night causes you to gain weight” thing was just a myth. But there’s actually some truth to it. The bottom line is typically calories in versus calories out. This means when you eat during the course of a day is not as important as how much you eat overall. However, Dr. Adams recommends always eating in relation to the day ahead of you and your activity levels. “Most people are more active, and have more time in the day left, in the morning and noon. So those are the times of day when they should eat the most,” he says. “As the day progresses, your energy demands tend to decrease, so your intake should match that.”
If you’re not already lifting weights, you might want to incorporate some into your exercise routine. You might be worried that weights will only, well, add on weight. But this is not always true when incorporated correctly. In fact, doing the opposite, for example, only partaking in high-cardio exercises, might be causing you to hold on to weight.
“Long bouts of cardio don’t help weight loss. The body sees them as a long and uncertain search for food. [It] slows the metabolism to save calories,” explains Herbst. “Weight training raises the metabolism and builds muscle by causing tiny micro tears that the body works hard to repair over the next 48-72 hours. Additionally, the body builds additional muscle in anticipation of having to lift greater loads in the future.” The best weight-training movements that he recommends are complex multi-joint movements. These include squats, lunges, bench press, and deadlifts which use the major muscle groups.
Give yourself a break.
There’s a reason that most nutritionist and exercise experts warn against strict diets. As Herbst explains, the concept of not allowing yourself to consume so many things that your body wants to consume becomes a burden rather than the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. This inevitably causes you to burn out. “Anything done severely doesn’t work,” he says. “It’s the severity of famine which the body defends against.” Instead, he recommends eating a balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats, and watching the extraneous calories.
Surround yourself with a supportive environment.
It is always easier to stick to your weight-loss goals when you have a support system in place to help motivate you to exercise and encourage you to stick to your diet goals when temptation strikes, explains Dr. Petre. This could mean enlisting the help of a gym buddy, joining a support group, or merely confiding in a close friend who will lend an ear when things get tough. Surrounding yourself with people who will help you from sabotaging your goals will go a long way.