You’re not alone if your skinny jeans have gotten too tight. Most Americans are looking to lose fat, some more…
You’re not alone if your skinny jeans have gotten too tight.
Most Americans are looking to lose fat, some more quickly than others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 73% of American adults are considered overweight or obese.
The CDC uses body mass index, or BMI, to determine these figures. BMI is a calculation of a person’s weight in pounds divided by the square of their height in inches and multiplied by 703. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, while a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. The CDC provides a free online BMI index calculator to help you determine your BMI.
The BMI scale has some limitations. For example, very muscular athletes sometimes register as overweight when they are perfectly healthy; this happens because the volume of muscle weighs more than the same volume of fat. However, the BMI scale is a convenient shorthand used by many medical professionals to flag individuals who could be at risk of developing chronic diseases related to carrying excess fat.
Slow and steady is the best way to lose weight.
Given that so many people may benefit from losing some weight, it’s understandable why finding out how to shed pounds quickly has become a hot topic.
While there are endless diets out there promoting super-fast weight loss, many nutritionists and fitness experts agree that slow and steady wins this race. “Losing 1 to 2 pounds per week is a healthy, steady rate depending on how much weight you’re trying to lose. Losing more than this in one week is usually dangerous,” says Jessica Brown, a New York City-area certified fitness trainer and founder of The Glute Recruit, a personal training service.
Some people can lose weight at a faster rate healthily, but it depends on the individual, says Dr. Adrienne Youdim. She serves as associate clinical professor of medicine at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and is a board-certified internist specializing in medical weight loss and nutrition at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Specifically, this rate depends on how much weight you have to lose and how you’re going about losing it.
The real key to weight loss is consistency, says Sparta, New Jersey-based registered dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade, author of “2 Day Diabetes Diet.” “The best approach is to adopt lifestyle habits that you can stick with long term. Small changes over time lead to the biggest results.”
Avoid crash diets.
Crash diets or fad diets might sound appealing to help you get skinny fast, but they can be dangerous.
Crash diets that have you dropping oodles of weight in a week or two are most often destined to fail. This is because they typically lead to rebound weight gain as soon as you inevitably stop following the severely restrictive diet. Many crash dieters regain all the weight they lost and sometimes put on more weight after finishing a fad diet.
To lose weight quickly, you must be extremely restrictive with how many calories you take in and/or the number of calories you expend.
“If you lose weight too quickly, you put yourself at risk for problems like nutritional deficiencies, extreme fatigue, gallstones and muscle loss,” Brown says.
Losing weight too quickly can also lead to:
— Electrolyte imbalances.
— Bone loss.
— Mood instability.
— Hair loss.
“Some of these complications are a function of inadequate nutrition, not necessarily speed,” Youdim adds. “However, if one is restricting enough to lose weight quickly, inadequate nutrition is almost inevitable if adequate attention is not given to intake.”
It’s always important to talk with a health provider before embarking on a weight-loss plan to make sure you do it sustainably without affecting your health.
Beware of the very low-calorie diet.
Typically, quick weight loss results from overexercising and consuming a very low-calorie diet. “Very low-calorie diets are usually ones that are dangerously low in nutrients and calories,” Brown explains. “Very low-calorie diets can put you at risk for health problems such as weakened bones, lowered immunity and may actually slow down your metabolism.” That’s because “regularly having a calorie intake that’s too low makes the body sense that food is scarce, which lowers the rate at which it burns calories.”
This is the conundrum of dieting. While you need to maintain a calorie deficit — meaning you’re taking in fewer calories than you’re expending each day — to achieve weight loss, “it can be disadvantageous to have a calorie intake that is too low,” Brown explains.
Instead, aim for steady, sustainable weight loss by giving your body what it needs with whole foods, exercise and sleep.
Here are 11 tips to help you achieve sustainable weight-loss success:
1. Consume protein at each meal.
“Eating enough protein will help you stay satisfied and resist the temptation to snack excessively between meals,” says Mitzi Dulan, a registered dietitian and team nutritionist for the Kansas City Royals. She recommends calculating about 0.7 grams of protein for each pound of your current body weight to determine how much protein you should eat each day.
“Protein also helps boost your metabolism, since it takes more calories to metabolize compared to fat and carbohydrates,” she adds.
High-quality protein sources include:
— Lean beef.
— Chicken breast.
— Greek yogurt.
— Lentils and beans.
— Other plant-based proteins, such as tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds.
Brown adds that “protein preserves muscle mass and is an important nutrient for weight loss. Eating enough protein may even help you avoid regaining weight.”
2. Don’t neglect other nutrients.
In addition to ensuring that you’re taking in adequate amounts of protein, getting enough fiber, iron and fat is also important, Brown says. Healthy fats are critical because they can help prevent overeating and control your appetite, and iron is essential for metabolism and development.
Fiber slows down how quickly food is digested, and that keeps you full for longer, Palinski-Wade says. Aim for 25 to 30 grams of fiber daily. Some foods high in fiber include:
— Fruits, such as prunes, which Palinski-Wade says have 3 grams of fiber per serving.
— Pistachios, which provide both protein as well as 3 grams of fiber per serving.
— Vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts and asparagus.
— Whole-grain bread, such as 100% whole-wheat bread.
3. Don’t drink your calories.
“I always discuss liquid calories with my patients,” says Sarah Lutz, a nurse practitioner with the University of Michigan Health West in Grand Rapids. That’s because many drinks pack on calories without any nutritional value. Lutz advises those looking to lose weight to avoid calorie-packed drinks, such as:
— Coffee drinks with extra sugar.
Staying hydrated is important to weight loss, as sometimes the body mistakes thirst for hunger, so drinking water can help you feel fuller.
“To calculate your water needs, take your body weight and divide by two,” Dulan says. “This is the number of ounces of water you need to drink every day.”
If plain water isn’t flavorful enough, you can add fresh fruit or vegetable slices for some extra flavor with minimal calories.
If you’re in a situation where a special drink is called for, then limit yourself to one serving, Lutz says. A few lower-calorie, healthier drink options for special occasions include:
— A 12-ounce beer.
— A 5-ounce glass of wine.
— A 1-ounce serving of vodka or gin with club soda and lime.
— Sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice.
— A mocktail. Palinski-Wade recommends combining 100% prune juice, sparkling water and a pinch of ginger. This refreshing combo has no added sugar and provides fiber.
4. Write everything down.
“Writing down your food and beverage intake is critical to weight-loss success because it keeps you accountable,” Dulan says. “My clients often tell me their eating habits get worse when they stop logging their food intake.”
These days, you don’t have to tote around a notebook; there are dozens of apps available for your smartphone that can help you track your diet. Some popular options include:
— MyFitnessPal: Calorie Counter.
— MyPlate Calorie Counter.
— Fitocracy Macros.
5. Skip the late-night snack.
Dulan recommends avoiding eating any additional food after dinner. This adds calories, and it also keeps your body from burning the stored calories while you sleep.
“Late-night snacking is a problem for many people, especially when it’s done mindlessly while watching TV or browsing the internet,” she says. Mindless eating tends to lead people to eat more. But stopping this habit can help you shed more weight more quickly.
If you’re truly hungry versus just craving something out of boredom or to accompany binge-watching your favorite show, then aim for whole foods that aren’t processed and that are rich in protein and fiber to fill you up and keep your blood sugar stable throughout the night, recommends Ashley Bannister, a registered dietitian and coach with the nutrition app Noom in New York City.
Some healthy snack choices include:
— Air-popped popcorn.
— Apple slices with peanut butter.
— A cheese stick.
— A hard-boiled egg.
— One-fourth cup of pistachios. The amount you think you should eat is usually larger than what you should be eating, Lutz says.
— Listen to your body to know when you’re full.
6. Eat three meals per day, not five or six small ones.
Dulan recommends avoiding the common diet advice of eating five or six small meals daily and instead sticking to a more conventional three-squares-a-day approach.
“I find that patients consuming six small meals per day often end up overeating and don’t have a good weight-loss effect,” Lutz says.
In addition to teaching yourself to avoid eating outside of meal times, stopping snacking can also help create the calorie deficit you need to lose weight. Just watch your portion sizes during those meals so you don’t overeat.
Whether you’re in the habit of eating three or six meals, the important thing is to plan ahead, Bannister says. Planning ahead will help you always have healthy choices within reach so you can do better at achieving your weight-loss goals.
7. Exercise regularly.
“To sustain weight loss, exercise often and switch up your workout routine around every four weeks,” Brown says.
It’s often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. This turns out to be especially true when it comes to exercise. Mix up the types of exercises and workouts you do to work all of your muscles and keep on a steady weight-loss trajectory.
But remember, you must stay consistent in getting regular workouts in. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes at moderate intensity per day, five times per week, per the U.S. federal guidelines for physical activity.
8. Feel the burn of high-intensity exercise.
For two to three days a week, boosting your workout intensity and increasing the rate at which you burn fat may help you reach your goals faster.
“Weight and resistance training and high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, burn the greatest amount of fat,” Brown says, adding that HIIT can help your metabolism burn more calories for up to 24 hours post-exercise. “It’s the most effective way to burn fat, and it constantly spikes your heart rate for a brief period, which leaves your metabolism humming all day long.”
Dulan agrees: “If you want change, you must try HIIT, which is an excellent way to help you lose fat.”
If you only associate HIIT with high-impact jumping, think again. “There are low-impact exercise options that can still increase your heart rate and be easy on your joints and body,” Bannister says. For instance, you can do brief, faster intervals on an elliptical, stationary bike or while walking. Follow your regular pace for five minutes, and then go faster for one minute. Repeat this pattern three times. Aim for 20- to 30-minute workouts per HIIT session.
If you struggle with joint pain or injuries, check in with a health care provider before trying HIIT, Palinski-Wade recommends.
9. Add in strength training.
“Since people seem so focused on their cardio, they often forget about weight training — my favorite part of the gym,” Dulan says. Strength training offers a variety of benefits for overall health and weight loss, such as toning and defining muscles and boosting your metabolism long after you leave the gym.
Dulan adds that if you’re short on time, “focus on your upper body. Your arms can show definition faster than larger muscle groups.” She also recommends aiming for three to four 30-minute weight-lifting sessions per week to help speed up results.
10. Don’t neglect cardio.
While strength training helps preserve muscle mass and can help your body stay in a higher fat-burning mode long after you leave the gym, cardio should also have a place in your routine. “Cardio burns a high number of calories, helps condition the lungs and heart and supports muscle-building goals,” Brown says.
Some good cardio exercises include:
— Biking, either outdoors or on a stationary bike.
— Jumping rope.
— Walking. If you’re new to walking, you can start with a 10-minute walk after each meal, aiming for 30 minutes total by the end of the day, Lutz says.
— Water aerobics. This one is easier on the joints.
Ultimately, you want to do exercise that you enjoy. That will motivate you to do it more.
11. Get some rest.
Sleep is another key component of sustainable weight loss. Not sleeping enough can encourage you to make less-healthy food choices and engage in late-night snacking. This can lead to a spike in cortisol, or stress, levels. Cortisol is a hormone that can encourage the body to preserve its fat reserves. Because sleep is so critical to health as well as weight loss, aim for seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
Slow and steady wins the race.
Youdim notes that “fast weight loss is often not durable weight loss because the strategies necessary to lose weight quickly are not sustainable. But, here’s a plug for slow and steady wins the race: 2 pounds per week equals 8 pounds per month, which equals nearly 25 pounds in three months and 50 pounds in six months. Not too shabby, right?”
Make smart, sustainable changes, and you may be surprised just how quickly the pounds drop off.
11 tips for quicker weight loss:
— Consume protein at each meal.
— Don’t neglect other nutrients.
— Don’t drink your calories.
— Write everything down.
— Skip the late-night snack.
— Eat three meals per day, not five or six small ones.
— Exercise regularly.
— Feel the burn of high-intensity exercise.
— Add in strength training.
— Don’t neglect cardio.
— Get some rest.
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Update 11/18/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.