Here it is! The most badass, comprehensive guide you will ever need for quick weight loss. No gimmicks, no false advertising, just solid, fact based information backed by the latest science we could dig up. Whether you are trying to lose 50 pounds or more or just burn off those last 5 pounds of belly fat, we got you. In fact, if you still have questions that aren't answered here, let us know in the comments below and we will get them added.
- Ways to Lose Weight Naturally
- How Many Calories to Eat a Day
- How Many Calories Should I Burn a Day to Lose Weight?
- How Fast Can You Lose Weight?
- Best Foods for Weight Loss
- Foods to Avoid to Lose Weight
- Drinks that Help You Lose Weight
- How to Count Macros for Weight Loss
- Weight Loss Meal Plan 101
- How to Meal Prep for Weight Loss
- How to Get Motivated to Lose Weight and Keep it Off
- How to Boost Your Metabolism
- Do Men Lose Weight Faster Than Women?
- How to Lose Weight Fast Infographic
Ways to Lose Weight Naturally
Natural weight loss is about more than skipping the fad diets and diet pills, it's about learning the basics of weight reduction and what works best for your unique body. It's also about discovering how to get results safely. While some popular health trends have some merit, others may not be worth your time. And understanding how dieting works in general is one of the easiest way to filter through the noise.
What is the Best Way to Lose Weight?
Whether you are trying to lose weight, gain weight or just manage your weight, the amount of food you eat is the most important thing to consider. It may seem like a no brainer, but many of us get this part wrong. It’s easy to get caught up in the overwhelming amount of diet advice and quick-fix solutions on the internet, but weight loss doesn’t have to be complicated.
Mind blowing, I know, but it really is that simple. The amount of food you eat directly affects your weight. Though we don't recommend it, you can even lose weight eating junk food, as long as you maintain a calorie control. If you don't believe me, take it from a professor who wanted to prove this theory by losing weight on a soda, cookie and chip diet. (1). Or this guy who lost 27 pounds eating Twinkies.
Best Diet to Lose Weight
Pretty much every single diet that works uses some form of calorie control by eliminating major food groups, processed foods or restricting certain macronutrient intakes (by the way, counting macros is just a fancy way of organizing all of your calories into three major food types, but we will get to that in a little bit).
Low carb diet plans, like paleo and keto diet, cut out the majority of high carbohydrate foods and processed foods, which can eliminate a lot of food options - most notably high sugar and high calorie foods like cookies, cakes, donuts, candy and many convenient snack choices. Even though it is entirely possible to gain weight on these diets, strictly adhering to the diet standards and concentrating on choosing healthier options, like the whole foods and fresh produce they emphasize, will help you cut a significant amount of unnecessary calories. Especially if you had a terrible looking diet to begin with.
Vegan diets and plant-based eating, while typically high in carbs, are also lower in calories from eliminating dairy and meat - which can both be a source of high fat foods. Again, french fries and soda are also vegan, so the quality of your choices matters. And weight loss on this plan is still only achieved through a calorie deficit.
Clean eating and lifestyle approaches, like Whole 30, the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet, are also a way to eliminate calories by cutting out processed foods and convenience options. When you are eating more home cooked meals and choosing fresh foods to snack on, you are removing a lot of quick energy sources from your day - like vending machine options, fast foods and restaurant take-out. And if you're not overeating, this can help you drop pounds.
Ultra restrictive plans like the Dukan Diet, Master Cleanse and Tom Brady diet, eliminate multiple foods and, you guessed it, by default help restrict calories.
And finally some diets, like gluten-free and FODMAP, are not actually meant for weight loss. These are meal plans designed to support special dietary needs and medical conditions that require a certain way of eating. Even if following these diets causes weight loss, it's likely due to you paying more attention to what you’re eating rather than the prescribed foods.
So which diet is best for you?
This can really depend on the person - nutrition needs can differ based on age, gender, fitness, genetics, and general health needs. Your best bet is to opt for a diet that includes whole foods you enjoy eating and also allows you to restrict calories.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) a healthy diet consists of limited saturated and trans fatty acids, free sugars, and salt, with adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains (2). And observational data from large cohorts found that higher adherence to the WHO dietary guidelines are associated with increased life expectancy (3).
How Many Calories to Eat a Day
Alright, we've established that calories are the key to weight loss, but how many calories should you be eating?
If you eat the exact number of calories you need each day, you will maintain your current weight. If you eat less than what you need, you will lose weight. And if you eat more calories than you need, you will gain weight. Weight management is a basic formula of calories in versus calories out.
How Many Calories Do I Burn in a Day?
While it's not a perfect science, you can estimate your daily calorie goal for weight loss, by figuring out how many calories you are burning each day. This includes physical activity as well as how much energy is needed to fuel your your organs, tissues and cells, and to support your daily energy needs for moving around, fitness, etc.
To calculate how many calories you burn each day try an online calorie calculator or use these two simple steps below:
Step #1 - Find your minimum energy needs based off your current weight.
Your body requires a certain number of calories for survival, also known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the least amount of calories you would need to consume to keep functioning properly, and does not take into consideration any physical movement or exercise.
You can roughly estimate your BMR using one of the following equations:
Let's see an example:
Meet Joe and Jenny. Joe is a 35 year old male who works a desk job and is looking to lose about 25 pounds this year so he can get back to his college weight. Jenny is a 26 year old female student, who works out occasionally and wants to lose about 20 pounds for her upcoming wedding in 3 months.
Joe weighs 225 pounds and will need a minimum of 2,475 calories per day (225 lbs. x 11 = 2,475)
Jenny weighs 160 pounds and will need a minimum of 1,600 calories per day (160 lbs. X 10 = 1,600)
Step #2 - Multiple your minimum daily needs by your activity factor.
Because you probably move around throughout the day, you will also need to factor daily movement into your total calorie burn.
You can determine your active energy expenditure by estimating how much physical activity you currently get each week and how much you move around in general. Do you stand or walk a lot? Are you super fidgety? All of these factors are import to consider when you estimate how active you are. Based on your self assessment, use the chart below to find the right activity factor for you:
Now you can calculate the total amount of calories you need each day by multiplying your BMR and your activity factor to get your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). This is the amount you would need to eat every day to maintain your current weight.
Let's see an example:
Joe gets very little exercise and sits at a desk all day, giving him an activity factor of 1.2 and a TDEE of 2,970 calories per day to maintain his current weight (2,475 calories x 1.2 activity factor = 2,970)
Jenny is moderately active with an activity factor of 1.375 and has a TDEE of 2,200 calories per day to maintain her current weight (1,600 calories X 1.375 = 2,200)
How Many Calories to Lose Weight?
The way weight loss works is, calories provide the daily energy you need for survival. And when you cut calories below your energy needs, your body starts to compromise certain processes to keep on surviving. One of these compromises is weight loss.
Ideally, your body will continue losing weight until it reaches a new energy homeostasis and a new weight.
For most individuals eating 15-20% less than your recommended daily calorie intake, or TDEE, will promote healthy decrease in weight that is sustainable. And cutting too many calories can end up doing more harm than good. Use one of the following options or somewhere in between the two that works best for:
Sustainable weight loss = TDEE x 0.85
Fast Weight Loss = TDEE x0.8
Back to Joe and Jenny:
Joe is looking to finally shed some pounds and keep it off for good, so he is taking a sustainable approach that he knows he can stick to. Joe has a TDEE of 2,970 and when counting calories should aim to eat 2,525 calories per day to lose weight. (2,970 x 0.85 = 2,525) * 15% calorie decrease
Jenny is looking for a more aggressive approach to weight reduction to get in shape for her upcoming nuptials. With a TDEE of 2,200, she should aim to eat 1,760 calories per day. (2,200 x 0.80 = 1,760) * 20% calorie decrease
How Many Calories to Gain Weight?
Weight gain works in the exact same way as weight loss - eat more calories than you burn and you will gain weight. If you're looking to gain, it is fairly safe to assume you want to build more muscle than fat. If that's the case, you don't want to bulk too quickly.
I know, I know. It sounds great to just be able to eat whatever you want to stack calories, but you really only want to increase your intake by 5 to 10% to promote more lean mass. Fat storage is a fairly simple process in the body, heck, we are designed to store more fat for survival purposes; whereas laying down muscle takes more time and requires more specific approaches, including adequate protein intake and strength training. Research suggests it may be possible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, but this phenomenon is not well understood and success can vary drastically from one person to the next (4,5).
Regardless, intentional or unintentional weight gain ultimately comes down to calories.
Why Am I Gaining Weight?
If you are cutting calories and not losing any weight, a few different factors could be causing this.
- You could be gaining muscle mass. If you are feeling more slim and stronger, or your clothes are fitting better, but the number on the scale won't budge/is increasing, you might be putting on lean mass. This is a good thing! Muscle takes up less space than fat, helping you look lean, even at a higher weight. It is also more metabolic, helping you stay in shape more easily. You can double check this, by measuring your body fat percentage or taking physical measurements using measuring tape. Keep in mind, there are many different ways to measure the success of your diet. The scale is just one of them.
- You aren't tracking all of your calories. Are you tracking all of your food and beverages, every day, including weekends and cheat days? Even if you are tracking most days and staying within your calorie range, you might be doing more damage than you think on off days. Small snacks and caloric beverages, including alcohol, can add up quickly if you aren't accounting for them. Aim to be more diligent and see how close you are to hitting your calorie range on average each week.
- You're gaining water weight. Have you been eating a lot of sodium, increasing your strength training, or perhaps it is that time of the month? Water retention could be one reason why you are gaining weight. Training hard can cause your muscles to swell, partially due to water uptake - this is a normal part of recovery and also a sign you are getting stronger! Eating a high salt diet and hormonal changes can also cause you to hold on to more water. But have no fear, this type of weight gain is different than fat and it's not permanent. To help shed some water weight, consider eating more protein and less carbohydrates and sugar, decreasing your sodium intake and increasing your potassium intake, and staying well hydrated with water.
How Many Calories to Maintain Weight?
Weight maintenance occurs when you are eating the right amount of calories to maintain your existing weight. While your calorie needs may differ from one day to the next with changes in lifestyle, fitness routine, etc., you can easily estimate your average intake needs on a weekly basis.
If your weight is 180 pounds and you don't want to gain or lose weight, you can calculate your TDEE and strive for your average intake to match that amount. If your TDEE is 2,300 calories a day, you should be eating about that much every day - but if sometimes you are eating more, say 3,000 calories on weekend days or heavy training days, you will need to adjust calories on other days accordingly. And don't forget to adjust your TDEE as needed with changes in fitness or calorie burn. If you were previously fairly active and now working a desk job or mostly sedentary, failure to adjust your activity factor and adjust your estimated TDEE may result in weight gain.
How Many Calories Should I burn a Day to Lose Weight?
Cutting calories from your diet is one way to get into a deficit, and increasing your output is another. Depending on your starting calorie needs, it might be a challenge to cut a significant amount to promote fast weight loss - this is where physical activity can help. Exercise can also help you tone up, get lean and make your results that much better.
Losing weight is one thing, but working out means getting in shape and promoting better health in general. In fact, the amount a person exercises has been negatively associated with the development of heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and some cancers. (6).
What Exercise Burns the Most Calories?
It's not just how long you are exercising but also the type of exercise you are doing that can determine your overall calorie burn. The level of intensity, amount of resistance training and duration all impact your total burn, fat burn and overall results.
To quickly estimate your output based on the type of activity you are doing, use a calorie burn calculator. You can also use a fitness tracking device that monitors your heart rate, but a recent study suggests this technology may not be very accurate when it comes to determining calorie output.
VO2 Max Calculator
One way you can maximize your calorie burn, and fat burn specifically, is using your aerobic capacity or VO2 max. VO2 max is your maximum ability to use oxygen during exercise. And as intensity increases, you get closer to this threshold.
Why is this important?
The amount of oxygen your body needs, and how quickly you need it, is closely related to the type of fuel you burn and the amount of calories you are burning in total. As intensity increases, oxygen become less available - think about sprinting up a flight of stairs and running out of breath. And at a higher intensity, your body needs energy faster. So when oxygen is hard to come by and quicker sources of energy are necessary, your body switches its fuel source from fat to carbs.
At rest, when oxygen is readily available, your body relies on fat for energy. At higher intensity, when oxygen is limited and energy is needed more quickly, it relies on carbs. Your body also prefers fat at lower intensities because you have a less limited supply, compared to carbs that are not as efficiently stored in the body for reserve fuel.
High Intensity Training
While it may seem like moderate intensity, commonly referred to as your "fat burning zone", is the optimal level of intensity for fat burn, total calorie burn skyrockets at high intensity and you may actually end up burning more fat overall. Some research even suggests short duration workouts at high intensity can burn as many calories as a much longer moderate training (7,8,9,10). Part of this is due to the after burn effects from increased metabolism that continues well after high intensity training.
If the thought of high intensity internal training (HIIT) scares you, it shouldn't. The intensity can easily be adapted to your individual fitness level - you can go at your own pace!
Weight Training Benefits
Strength training not only promotes more lean mass, but might also assist you in burning more fat all day long (11). Having more muscle slightly increases your energy expenditure, tipping the energy balance equation in the favor of weight loss. And resistance training during a calorie deficit can help prevent muscle loss.
However, sometimes this requires you to put on muscle mass in the first place, which can cause the numbers on the scale to go up initially. It is essential to understand that weight loss and fat loss are different. Weight loss includes the loss of lean tissue and fat, whereas building muscle to promote more fat loss over time can hep you increase definition and look leaner overall - even if you aren't losing weight. This is one of the biggest reasons not to measure your success by the numbers on the scale.
Muscle takes up less space than fatty tissue, and even though your weight may increase or stabilize, you will get leaner and look more toned from increasing and maintaining your lean mass.
How to Lose Weight Fast without Exercise
While the easiest and fastest way to promote healthy weight loss is a combination of exercise and healthy eating, it is entirely possible to lose weight without working out. In fact, fitness is great for burning calories and physical health, but not always great for weight loss in specific. Some studies suggest that increased activity may not be the best solution, because it can be harder to consistently cut large amount of calories through activity, and often times increasing output can increase appetite (12,13). Remember, physical activity, or TEA and NEAT, only accounts for a portion (10 to 30%) of your total daily burn.
Source: Adapted from Frontiers in Physiology
However, movement is still important. Large studies from around the world have associated sedentary behavior with a variety of poor health outcomes, including increased mortality (14,15,16,17,18). And prolonged sitting has also been associated with an increased risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer (19,20). If you physically aren't able to work out, low impact activity like walking, swimming, or light house work can still be of great benefit to your calorie burn and overall health.
How Fast Can You Lose Weight?
Fast weight loss is possible, but it depends on how fast you can lose weight - which is dependent on your individual metabolism, muscle mass, fitness level, starting weight, and genetics.
Often times, quick weight loss goes hand in hand with crash dieting, but this isn't always the best solution to lose faster. Crash dieting and starving yourself only works for a little while. And even if you are successful, you may end up gaining it all back once you go off the diet.
How Long Does it Take to Lose 20 Pounds?
Once you have an idea of how many calories you need to eat to lose weight, you can figure out how much weight you should be losing each week. In order to lose one pound, you need to cut about 3,500 calories from your diet.
Since cutting 3,500 calories in a day or two is not realistic or even possible for most people, it is best to spread out your calorie deficit throughout the week. You can cut 3,500 calories by decreasing your calorie intake each day, or increasing the amount of calories you burn through physical activity. In other words, in order to lose one pound per week you will need to cut 500 calories per day from either food, exercise or both combined. And for two pounds lost per week, you would need to cut 1,000 calories a day.
Depending on your current weight and calorie needs, a loss of 0.5 to 2 pounds per week represents a healthy rate of reduction in weight.
Joe is cutting 445 calories per day and will lose a little less than one pound per week from diet alone. (2,970 TDEE - 2,525 calories for sustainable weight loss = 445 calories cut per day). Joe is doing well on his diet and decides to add 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily, with a calorie burn of 300 calories. His new workout routine would increase his calorie deficit to 745 calories per day, which would equal about one and a half pounds of lost per week. At this rate, Joe can expect to lose 25 pounds and reach his goal weight in a little over 4 months.
Jenny is cutting 440 calories per day and will lose a little less than one pound per week from diet alone. ( 2,200 TDEE - 1,760 calories for weight loss = 440 calories cut per day). Although she is taking a more aggressive approach to calorie cutting than Joe, she is starting at a lower weight and TDEE which can slow down her rate of weight loss in comparison. She decides to add 45 minutes of hard exercise daily, with a calorie burn of 550 calories each time. Her added workout routine would increase her overall calorie burn to 1,000 calories per day, which would equal two pounds of weight lost per week. At this rate, Jenny can expect to reach her goal weight and lose 20 pounds in about 3 months - just in time for the wedding!
What Happens When You Crash Diet?
The popular desire for the fastest weight loss possible will continue to support the continuation and emergence of "crash diets". Crash diets are typically extremely low calorie diets that require drastic measures - like eliminating multiple food groups, drinking only juice or soup for weeks, or fasting for multiple days. And depending on how long these diets persist, they have varying side effects.
We’ve all seen the ads for weight loss programs promising 10 pounds of weight loss in a week or extreme weight loss in a month. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably also seen or heard of television shows, like "The Biggest Loser", where contestants are losing insane amounts of weight quickly and shrinking before your eyes week after week. The thing is, these examples are not realistic for everyone and usually not sustainable in the real world. In fact, most "Biggest Loser" contestants gain the weight back after the show (21).
Still, there are some very low calorie diets out there for obese individuals that require medical supervision. But the success of these diets are still being studied and they may not be the answer long term.
So what exactly is the the harm of crash dieting?
You Get Really Hangry
Losing weight in general can affect your hunger, fullness hormones causing you to feel more hungry. And exercising can increase this even further. While going a little hungry can be helpful for weight reduction, being extremely hungry can be downright painful. If you can get past the constant hunger pains, you may also find that crash dieting is making you obsessed with food. Your body is so hungry that food becomes all you think about (22).
Being hungry all the time is bad enough, but very low calorie diets can cause you to be in a terrible mood as well. Calories, especially carbs, play a major role in regulating your emotions, and being so hungry that you are angry is a real thing. Carbohydrates are linked to your self-control - which is why we cannot control our temper when we have low blood sugar, and we get hangry.
You Get Skinny Fat
If you aren't getting enough protein, and not strength training regularly, extremely restrictive diets may cause you to start burning more lean muscle for energy instead of fat (23). Why does this matter? You are losing precious muscle mass - which is key for keeping your metabolism intact and improves your overall quality of life. In addition, reduced lean muscle mass increases your overall body fat percentage, even though the number on the scale is decreasing.
Muscle is more dense than fat, which can make you look leaner overall. Once you reach your desired weight, you may not feel as fit and toned as you would if you lost more fat and maintained your lean mass throughout the process. In order to decrease your body fat and get toned, you would have to gain muscle mass, essentially gain weight back, and try to lean out by burning fat. It is pretty counter-intuitive to lose weight from losing muscle weight just to try and gain back more muscle weight in the end.
Eating a high protein diet and strength training can help reduce some muscle loss, but opting for a more sustainable approach is your best bet for protecting your lean muscle and promoting more fat loss.
Your Nutrition Suffers
The thing is, your body isn't a calculator. And while it needs a daily dose of energy to keep surviving, it also needs proper nutrition to function properly. It is nearly impossible to get all the nutrients your body needs on a very low calorie diet, even if you're eating only healthy food. Minor deficiencies can create serious complications. Very low calorie diets have been linked to heart problems, dehydration, mental confusion, and decreased immune function (24). And starving yourself over longer periods of time can lead to heart attacks, impaired liver and kidney function, seizures and death (25,26,27).
Is Starvation Mode Real?
Cutting the most amount of calories possible from your diet may seem like the fastest and most effective way to lose weight, but cutting too many calories can often do more harm than good. Because your body requires calories for survival, very low calorie diets can put your body into a state of adaptive thermogenesis, commonly referred to as "starvation mode".
"Starvation mode" is not a scientific term and is often explained as a type of damage to your metabolism that prevents further weight loss, whereas "adaptive thermogenesis" is a well documented phenomenon that helps explain why weight loss can become more difficult for some after losing a large amount of weight or restricting to a very low calorie diet.
Studies have suggested that you can't actually destroy your metabolism from dieting, but your body does compromise for insufficient energy by slowing your metabolism down - you see, your body is smart and knows burning less calories per day ensures you will survive a little longer.
It is important to note that after any type of weight loss you will likely have a lower resting metabolism. This is partially due to having a lower body mass, requiring less calories to maintain. And sometimes due to adaptive thermogenesis, meaning you will need to eat less calories per day to maintain your weight compared to a similar individual at the exact same weight who has never been on a diet (28). But the effects of adaptive thermogenesis are typically short lived, and for most the difference could be as little as a 5% decrease in BMR. However, after crash dieting, your BMR could drop 10 to 15%, which could have a significant impact on your TDEE and weight maintenance efforts (29,30,31).
If you stop losing weight as quickly, it may be time to take a break. Give yourself a couple weeks to maintain your new normal. And then when you're ready to get back at it, recalculate your needs to continue to lean out.
What is the Minimum Calories for Weight Loss?
While calorie needs can vary drastically from one person to the next, most dieters should strive to keep their intake above 1200 calories per day for women and 1500 calories per day for men. This amount will ensure adequate energy for bodily functions like brain, heart, lungs, etc. Eating less than these amounts or cutting more than 25% of your current calorie intake may cause your calorie output to slow.
Stick to your 15-20% decrease from your estimated TDEE. Slow and steady weight loss of 0.5 to 1% body weight per week is much easier to keep off and you will be much happier and more successful with a more measured and sustainable diet plan approach.
Fast Weight Loss Tips
We all want fast results, and we also want it to be as easy and painless as possible. But what you should really be asking yourself is: are you just looking to see the numbers on the scale drop as quickly as possible? Or are you looking to lose body fat, get in shape and get results that won’t disappear more quickly than they came?
Cutting calories will help you drop pounds fast, but there are additional steps you can take to make your efforts feel a little more bearable and improve your chances for success. Sustainable, healthy weight loss is best achieved through small changes in diet and lifestyle. And learning what changes can make the biggest impact for you is key.
Here are 10 easy tips you can consider to lose weight fast without going hungry:
- Track your food intake. Studies suggest those that track their intake may lose up to twice as much weight as those that don't (32). It is also the easiest way to calculate your calorie intake, hold yourself accountable and give yourself daily confirmation that you are sticking to your diet.
- Drink water before meals and all day long. Water is calorie free and will help fill your stomach and keep you hydrated. In fact, hunger can often be a sign of early dehydration, since your body is using up glycogen stores more quickly, and drinking water could help calm your appetite if this is the case (33). Water also plays multiple roles in the body including supporting digestion, nutrient absorption, and aiding in bodily functions.
- Make half your plate non-starchy vegetables. Non starchy veggies - basically all vegetables except peas, corn and potatoes - are very low in calories and very high in nutrition, especially fiber. Loading up on this food group can help keep you satisfied and cut calories without having to sacrifice portion sizes. In addition, some studies suggest eating more nutrient-dense foods like veggies could help calm you appetite (34).
- Eat the same thing every day. Studies suggest that making your eating routine more mundane and including less variety, may cause you to eat less calories overall (35). While this method may not be ideal for long-term nutrition, it could be the habit you need to kick start your weight loss initially.
- Stack habits to trigger healthy behavior. Tying a healthy behavior, like sit-ups, to an existing daily behavior, like waking up in the morning, will not only help you remember to perform your healthy behavior, but could also make it become a more permanent habit. This phenomenon has also been explored using emotional states, locations, timing and people, to help trigger healthy behaviors in individuals. And it works even better if you tie in a healthy reward at the end.
- Lift weights 3 times a week. Lifting weights will not only help increase your calorie burn, but can also help you maintain more precious lean muscle mass while you are losing, helping you feel leaner and more fit in the long run.
- Meditate. If stress is inhibiting your weight loss efforts, try yoga! Or learn to meditate. Research suggests yoga is positively associated with decreased stress, increased fat loss, and improved mood (36, 37, 38). The practice of yoga is centered around controlling your breath and being more conscious of how you react to the word around you, helping you channel your stress in a more positive way.
- Sleep. Not sleeping enough may be causing you to store more body fat (39). Make your rest a priority and dedicate time each night to getting some rest. Remove distractions, like your TV, phone, or pets, and find a dark, quiet place to lay down. Use ear plugs or sleep masks if needed.
- Stick to your plan for at least 21 days. Give yourself time to be consistent and see results. Success doesn't happen overnight. In fact, new research suggests it may even take up to 66 days to form a habit (40). Allow yourself at least three weeks to stick to a goal and then reevaluate whether you need to be pushing it harder, scaling back, or keep on going. And make sure you save any cheats until after you've mastered this window.
- Eat more slowly. Take your time to taste your food and enjoy it. This will not only help you be more mindful of what you are putting in your mouth, but will give you the opportunity to get to know your hunger and fullness cues a little better. Research implies those that take longer to eat - 30 minutes vs. 5 minutes - can reduce feelings of hunger and increase feelings of fullness, regardless of calorie intake and hormonal responses to food (41).
Best Foods for Weight Loss
Okay, we established that a calorie deficit is the easiest way to lose weight quickly, but we also need to talk about diet quality. Food still matters. And what you are actually eating can make sticking to your diet that much harder or easier. And some research even suggests the type of food you eat can help promote more weight loss. In a large, prospective cohort studies, fruits, vegetables, and nuts were associated with weight loss whereas processed meats, potato chips, fried foods, and desserts were associated with weight gain.
Your body needs energy to survive, but you also need good nutrition to live well, and longer. The overall balance and nutrition of your diet, can affect the type of weight you lose, gain or maintain. If your macro balance (amount of carbohydrates, protein and fat) is out of whack, you could be storing more fat or losing muscle mass, which can hinder your overall efforts.
Similar to calorie needs, the amount of each macro you need depends on your age, weight, muscle mass and activity level. You can quickly estimate your macro needs using an online calculator or macro-friendly app like Trifecta.
In addition, eating more nutrient dense foods may promote losing more weight and help control hunger (42). When your body is not getting the nutrition you need or is deficient in key nutrients, it signals to your brain that you need to keep eating, regardless of how many calories you’ve consumed. Make your calories count and choose the most nutrient dense foods for optimal and healthy weight reduction.
Protein for Weight Loss
Your body requires energy to get energy - in other words, you have to burn calories to digest your food to get more calories. And the type of food you eat can effect how energy taxing this process is through something called, the thermic effect of food (TEF).
Protein has a higher TEF than any other macro. Protein requires 20–30% of its energy to be used for metabolism and/or storage, carbohydrates require 5–10%, and fats require ~3% or less (43).
Looking at the TEF of protein, one would assume eating a high protein diet could theoretically boost your metabolism. But keep in mind that TEF is only a small portion (10%) of your TDEE and the effects overall are likely minimal. And these TEF amounts are based on isolated macros - combined meals/foods only require roughly 10% of calories for digestion on average.
However, high protein diets have been linked to increased feeling of satiety (44). And the combination of thermogenesis and improved satiety is why high protein diets are so frequently recommended for weight loss.
But what does the science say?
The effects of a high protein diet are dependent on overall calorie intake and results may be stronger with short-term studies compared to those looking at long-term effects. In one meta-analysis of trials comparing the long-term effects of low-fat diets with either high or low protein content, there were no significant differences in weight loss (45), whereas another meta-analysis of trials evaluating short-term effects suggested modest reductions in weight and body fat, compared to a standard protein diet (46).
In summary, high protein diets may have some merit when it comes to weight maintenance and increasing protein intake might be beneficial for dropping pounds when calories are controlled. In addition, protein is important for building and maintaining lean muscle. Lean muscle is where carbs are stored, so the more muscle you have, the more carbs you can consume. And lean muscle is more metabolic than fat, meaning it can help you burn slightly more calories overall when exercising and at rest.
The best sources of nutrient dense protein comes from lean meats, fish, eggs and some plant-based sources.
To optimize your macros, look for protein options that provide more protein per calorie, without high amounts of saturated fat.
Fiber for Weight Loss
Research points to eating more fiber to help shed pounds (47). Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is not absorbed and used for energy, so eating more high fiber foods can actually help decrease your total carb count. And your inability to absorb most sources of fiber is also why it is so beneficial for keeping your digestive system on track - more fiber tends to keep things moving along. Fiber also helps draw water into your gut which can help you feel fuller longer and promote better blood sugar control.
The top sources of fiber in the diet are plant based foods, like fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains. To keep your appetite in check and gut going strong, you should be eating at least 30g of fiber a day from food.
Best Vegetables for Weight Loss
Vegetables are the gold standard of healthy food choices when it comes to dieting because they are the most nutrient dense food group on the planet. Choosing more nutrient dense foods can help you get more quality nutrition into your diet for less calories. And vegetables give you the most bang per bite, which can make cutting calories a breeze and your overall diet more beneficial. Research suggests that eating more veggies can help control appetite, improve mood, and even give you a natural sexy glow (48,49)!
Vegetables can be broken up into two types: starchy and non-starchy. The starchy vegetables would fall under the carb section of the plate, while non-starchy are not significantly high in carbs, protein or fat, and have their own section. Non-starchy veggies are mostly water. They provide few calories and are the highest in nutrient density, meaning you can eat a lot more for a lot less calories. Eating more veggies will help make sure your micronutrient intake is up to par!
Is Sugar in Fruit Bad for You?
Sugar can wreak havoc on any healthy eating plan. It is a quick source of calories and energy and provides very little nutrition and health benefits. A diet high in sugar has been linked to weight gain, diabetes and many other chronic diseases. And some research backs up the theory that sugar is addictive, making cravings for high calorie sweets difficult to control (50,51).
It is important to note that added sugar and naturally occurring sugars, like fructose in fruit and lactose in milk, are not the same thing. Naturally occurring sugars tend to be packed in whole foods, providing other beneficial nutrients. Whereas added sugar only provides calories from sugar and contributes to negative health effects.
You shouldn't feel the need to discard fruit all together just because of the carb content. Fruit tends to be be high in water and fiber, both of which have beneficial effects on satiety. In addition, fruit consumption has been inversely associated with weight in a number of studies, suggesting that fruit could be included as a part of a healthy, balanced diet for weight loss (52). Some studies even suggest that each type of fruit may offer different health benefits as well as different effects on weight loss (53). Fruit also works wonders as a healthy dessert substitute.
But yes, it is possible to gain weight eating fruit. But any healthy food can cause weight gain if you overdo it and eat too many calories. So enjoy the health benefits of fruit by including it in your diet, but keep your macros and calories in mind.
Melon and strawberries are also mostly water and can help add volume to your plate without throwing off your macros.
Healthy Fat Sources
Fat does not need to be avoided for weight loss. In fact, fat makes your food taste better and may promote better blood sugar control, providing lasting energy (54,55,56). But because fat provides more calories per gram than any other nutrient - 10g of fat provides 90 calories, compared to 10g of protein or carbs that only provides 40 calories- it can add a significant amount of calories to your diet if not accounted for.
Include some fat in your diet to get the nutritional benefits, but be mindful of how much fat you are adding to your meals. If cooking or dressing your own meals, keep oil and butter portions to 1 Tbsp or less per person, and don’t overdo it on high fat toppings and ingredients like cream, cheese, nuts, nut butters and seeds. If eating out, opt for grilled, baked or steamed options over fried, breaded, and heavy sauces.
If your food is cooked with fat or naturally contains fat like from olives, avocado or nuts, you probably do not need to add any additional fat. But if you are eating very lean meats, steamed veggies and plain starches, you may want to add a little fat for flavor and satiety.
If adding fat to your plate, limit your portion to 1 Tablespoon or less per meal, 1 ounce of nuts/nut butter, or 1/3 of an avocado, to help control total calorie intake.
Is Saturated Fat Bad?
While there is still a lot of debate around saturated fat, science shows that fat in general is essential to health and that the right types of fat - unsaturated and omega-3s - may reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes (57).
By rule of thumb, you can assume that fats that come from plant sources, like nuts, seeds, olives and avocados, are typically more beneficial to your health (58). Plant based fats are high in unsaturated oils thought to promote heart health. In addition, plants naturally contain phytochemicals, compounds that work to protect the plants from harm and have similar protective benefits for humans when they consume them. Depending on how plant based oils are produced, different processing techniques can help retain more of these phytochemicals. However, you can also get heart healthy fats from animal sources if you look for quality meat, dairy and seafood options.
The best plant sources of fat for weight loss come from whole foods like seeds, nuts, nut butters, avocado, olives, or extracted from the foods. While whole based fats tend to be packaged along with other key nutrients, like fiber, vitamins and minerals, they can take up more space on your plate compared to their oils and extracted fats. Extracted fat are typically pressed and filtered out of plant based sources. Because only the fat portion is being removed, you will get a concentrated version of the high calorie, plant based fat that’s takes up less space and likely ends up providing more calories overall. You would have to eat ~30 olives to get the same amount of calories from 1 tbsp of olive oil.
Is Coconut Oil Good For You?
Could coconut oil be the exception when it comes to saturated fat? After all, it is a plant-based source. And numerous experts claim that coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) that are thought to be better for weight loss.
Currently there’s no evidence that consuming coconut oil can lower the risk of heart disease. And while there is some research suggesting MCTs are more satiating and may promote more fat loss compared to long chain fatty acids, more research is needed to provide any conclusive evidence that coconut oil is beneficial to weight loss (59,60,61). In reality, it is not one single food that will make or break your diet, and any food, including coconut oil can be included in a healthy weight loss diet when calories are controlled and good nutrition is emphasized overall.
Foods to Avoid to Lose Weight
It's not just what you eat to lose weight, but also what you are not eating. Are you making your calories count with quality, nutrient-dense foods that can promote more weight loss? Or are you only focusing on the amount you are eating?
Eliminating the right foods from your diet, like added sugar and empty calories, can make cutting your intake easier and allow you to lose weight without feeling hungry all the time.
How Many Grams of Sugar Per Day Should You Eat?
Added sugar tops the list for one of the most impactful foods to avoid when trying to shed pounds. Not only are there over 50 different names for added sugar on the ingredients label, but it is found on just about every packaged food you can imagine - even bread and low fat salad dressings can be full of sugar.
Eating more whole, real foods is one way to cut down on added sugar. One study suggests that more than half of the average U.S. diet consists of ultra-processed foods, and that these foods account for over 90% of added sugar intake (62). You can avoid processed foods all together, or learn to check the ingredients labels.
What is Processed Food?
While all foods are processed to some degree, some foods are more heavily processed than others. What is commonly considered a processed food, is any food that has gone through one or more changes in form from how it is found in nature - by either cooking, genetically altering, or adding multiple ingredients, etc. Another common way to determine how processed a food is, is by checking the ingredients label and looking for a shorter list full of more ingredients you recognize as food, and less added sugar, salts and artificial ingredients and preservatives.
Some studies suggest that decreasing your intake of heavily processed may be more beneficial for weight management. With one study reporting your body may even burn twice as many calories digesting less processed foods (63). And growing research continues to suggest that eating a diet consisting of mostly whole foods is associated with more weight loss (64,65).
Instead of choosing more processed foods, look for "real foods". This is the stuff we have been eating for hundreds of years and are biologically designed to consume. Real food is any natural, whole food with ingredients you recognize. If your Great Great Grandparents were here today, would they be able to readily identify the food you are eating? Can you picture these ingredients in your head and visualize you making it at home? Did it grow like that? How much processing and manipulation took place to get the food to where it is now?
Real foods provide real nutrition that keep our bodies running like a well oiled machine. Whereas highly processed foods, high in sugar, sodium and trans fats, might play a role in increased inflammation and counteract weight loss efforts (66).
What are Empty Calories?
Empty calorie foods are simply options that contain little to no nutritional value per calorie, essentially the opposite of nutrient dense foods. Identifying and eliminating empty calories from your diet is a great approach to weight control because you are creating a calorie deficit without decreasing your overall nutrient intake significantly.
Most empty calories will come from refined grains, foods high in added sugar, processed foods, higher fat foods and desserts. Here are some easy examples of empty calories you may want to limit your intake of for faster weight loss:
- Soda and sugar sweetened beverages
- Fried foods
- High sugar, high calorie desserts
- Pretzels and potato chips
- High fat meat like sausage and bacon
- Oils and butter
Drinks that Help You Lose Weight
Take a look at your fluid intake and make sure you are accounting for any additional calories your adding to your day. Many beverages can be high in added sugar and low in nutrition, which adds empty calories and could throw off your macros balance. In addition, liquid calories tend to not activate your fullness cues the same way solid food does, and you may still feel hungry afterwards (67,68). Even further, sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juices ins specific are associated with an increased risk of weight gain (69).
Drinking Water to Lose Weight
While the actual act of drinking water itself doesn't necessarily help you drop pounds, drinking more water helps you eliminate empty calories from your diet and may also help you feel more satisfied.
Water is calorie free and will help fill your stomach and keep you hydrated. In fact, hunger can often be a sign of early dehydration, since your body is using up glycogen stores more quickly, and drinking water could help calm your appetite if this is the case (70). Water also plays multiple roles in the body including supporting digestion, nutrient absorption, and aiding in bodily functions.
Here are a few tips for drinking water to promote more calorie control:
- Aim to drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated.
- Drink a full glass of water before eating to fill your stomach.
- Replace sugar-sweetened beverages with water
Best Alcohol to Drink on a Diet
Alcohol can provide a significant source of calories to the diet. It is almost as calorically dense as fat, providing seven calories per gram. And it can be easy to overdo it.
Alcohol can also affect your blood sugar control and how you metabolize your macros. When you drink heavily, you prioritize metabolizing the alcohol toxins in the drink over anything else you’ve consumed, which could cause you to store more body fat (71). To help control your calories and stay on track with your diet, consider decreasing your alcohol intake all together or only opt for low calorie cocktails in moderation.
Juicing for Weight Loss
Juicing is sometimes celebrated as a great way to detox your system or kick start your diet. After all, drinking nothing but nutrient dense fruits and vegetables can't be bad for you, right? Well, it turns out juicing is not exactly the same as including whole food produce into your diet. The act of juicing removes the fiber from the fruit and veggies leaving you with the liquid-rich extracts that contain mostly water soluble vitamins.
This process also condenses the volume of the produce item, increasing it's caloric density. It is a lot easier to drink four oranges in a 16-ounce cup of juice than eat four oranges in entirety. And the fiber found in whole fruits and veggies is a big part of the reason why.
Currently there is no research showing that juice cleanses or detox diets are beneficial to weight loss or that they should be recommended at all. Even though it is possible to cut a significant amount of calories by only drinking juice, you could also be missing out on some essential nutrition - like protein, fiber and healthy fats. Not to mention, this type of diet is not sustainable and you might end up gaining all the weight back as soon as you start eating again.
But, some juice can be a source of great nutrition and could be an excellent addition to your diet if you are having a hard time getting enough fruits or veggies into your day. Just look for options with more veggies and less calories and sugar overall.
Hint: Ingredients are listed by weight. So whatever appears first on your juice label is likely going to be the bulk of what you are getting.
How to Count Macros for Weight Loss
The calories you get from foods and beverages mainly come from macronutrients or “macros”. These macros include carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Carbohydrates and protein provide roughly four calories per gram - meaning a food or beverage item with 10g of protein will provide 40 calories from protein. Fat is the most calorically dense macro and provides nine calories per gram, so a food or beverage containing 10g of fat will provide 90 calories from fat - more than twice the amount of energy as protein and carbohydrates.
Alcohol also provides a significant amount calories - in fact, each gram of alcohol provides seven calories per gram.
Learning to track your macros can help you manage your calorie intake.
How are different macros used for energy?
Because you aren’t constantly eating and you don’t immediately use all of the calories you eat for energy, your body has an efficient way of storing carbohydrates in your muscles and liver, and fat throughout your body as reserve fuel. Kind of like putting gas in your tank. Your body stores protein a little differently, it gets used for immediate energy, broken down for other really important bodily functions, or stored as fat when calories are in excess.
Whenever your body needs energy on demand, it can use your reserve fuels, getting roughly the same amount of energy you would if you consumed macros. In other words, burning one gram of stored carbohydrates provides four calories of energy, and one gram of bodily fat provides nine calories of energy. Because breaking down fat for energy provides the most calories for the least amount of work, your body naturally prefers to burn fat for energy when you are in a calorie deficit. In other words, cutting the right calories may help you lose fat.
Micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, may also play a role in weight management but do not directly contribute to calorie intake.
How Many Carbs a Day to Lose Weight
It feels like carbohydrate intake has become one of the most controversial topics when it comes to weight reduction diets. For decades, health and nutrition experts and enthusiasts have battled it out over low-fat and low-carb styles of eating for the best results.
According to the US Dietary Guidelines, Carbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of total caloric intake.
But other popular diets recommend intake as low as 20g of carbohydrates per day. So what gives? Is there any proof that cutting carbs is an efficient way to lose weight and how many carbs do we actually need?
Well, there is plenty of research suggesting low-carb diets may be more beneficial than low fat, but there are also large, high-quality studies implying no difference between the two. The truth is, we don't know for sure. But what we can takeaway from the science is that everyone is a little different when it comes to dietary approaches and what works well for some may not work for all. We are in need of more individual approaches to dieting and more research looking at what variables we should be guided by.
They type of carbs you choose is likely more important than the amount for most people.
Carbohydrates come from anything that grows out of the ground, including fruits and vegetables - and carbohydrates contribute fiber to the diet. They are the body's quickest and most efficient source of fuel, and the only macro that is able to readily supply energy to the brain (ketones can also do this, but requires your body to go into a state of ketosis and metabolize fat into usable fuel). They are also important for muscle recovery, endurance and strength building. And they play a role helping regulate our energy, mood, and self-control. Lack of carbs can actually make you "hangry", tried and even create brain fog. And poor blood sugar control from too much added sugar and poor dietary choices can do the same thing.
Depending on your fitness level and personal goals, striving for low carb intake (less than 100g of carbs per day) may not be the best solution. But the less active you are, the less carbs your body needs.
Depending on your calorie level, you will want to eat 30 to 60% of your calories from carbohydrates.
Within the athlete world, carbohydrates are more embraced. Macro timing and balance has been a popular tool for optimizing performance and results and this approach can be applied to the average eater. Understanding how carbs work and adjusting your intake of high quality options to support your daily needs through carb cycling may be an alternative approach to just eliminating carbs all together.
How Much Protein Per Day to Lose Weight
Research continues to suggests that adequate and even higher protein intakes may support more weight loss. But the amount you actually need is still widely debated. US Dietary Guidelines recommend 0.36 to 0.45 grams per pound of body weight. But some argue this amount is based around getting minimum adequate needs for the general population and does not take into account differences in body composition and fitness needs.
Some studies point to 0.45 to 0.55 grams/pound body weight as the minimum intake (72,73,74,75,76). And when looking at weight loss in specific, some studies argue that even higher protein intake at 0.6 to 0.72 grams/pound, and meals providing at least 25 to 30g of protein, are associated with decreases in appetite and better weight management overall (77). Furthermore, studies looking at athletes who are cutting calories, suggest that intakes as high as 1 to 1.4 g/pound to minimize their loss of lean mass (78,79,80,81).
Overall, science suggests that approximately 0.6 to 1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight with sufficient energy intake, can support building lean mass while cutting calories.
And while some research still argues that eating more than 0.8 grams/pound does not results in any additional benefits, additional intake has not shown to be harmful either (82).
Weight Loss Meal Plan 101
Finding the ultimate weight loss meal plan that meets your needs starts with understanding your calorie goals. From there you will want to add balance through adequate macros and learn to portion your food choices accordingly.
Learning to portion your food correctly is one way to get automatic calorie control without having to count or track your intake. Once you know your macro and calorie needs, take the time to stack your plate accordingly. Using a food scale, you can weigh out portions for ultimate accuracy or use your hands to quickly and roughly estimate a serving size that works for your needs.
The size of your hand is unique and also closely aligns with your serving size requirements - the bigger your hand, the more food you likely need. Hold you hand up and look at your palm. One full hand is a single serving of protein for you. Now make a fist, one fist is a single serving of starches, and 2 fists is a standard serving of veggies.
And while your serving sizes may need to be adjusted based on fitness and overall calorie needs, the following examples are a general guideline that works for most.
And be mindful of high fat and high sugar toppings like cheese, oil, dressings, and sauces that can add unwanted calories and shift your macro balance.
Tracking your food intake is the single most important factor in losing weight - period. It is also the easiest way to calculate your calorie intake, hold yourself accountable and give yourself daily confirmation that you are sticking to your diet. And if you’re not on a diet currently, it’s the best way to see where you may want to consider making some changes.
Most tracking apps will calculate your calorie needs with a little bit of key information, like your weight, height, age and activity level. You can also use a “macro-friendly” app, like Trifecta, that allows you to quickly input and track your macros with premium features.
How to Meal Prep for Weight Loss
Meal prepping is simply the art of of planning and preparing some or all of your meals in advance. This could be making your lunch the night before, cooking in batch, or pre-cooking all your food and portioning it out for the week.
Taking control of your diet and the foods your are eating, is one of the best ways to make sure you are successful. Having a plan and food on hand will prevent you from making poor, hunger based decisions when they arise, and can cut down on the amount you are eating out - saving you money in the long run. And with research continuing to suggest that meal planning is associated with better nutrition and more weight loss, it is definitely something worth considering if you are trying to get in shape (83,84,85).
Looking to meal prep but don't feel like cooking? Let us cook for you and get a meal plan that meets your personal dietary needs delivered right to your door each week.
Healthy Meal Prep Ideas for Weight Loss
Cooking your food, especially in large quantities in advance, can seem overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be! There are many tricks of the trade to help you cut your meal prep time down and eliminate the stress that comes along with following a healthy eating plan. Check out these popular meal prep ideas:
- Use batch cooking to create one pot dishes that will last you for days. Whip up a healthy chili, stew or curry in a crockpot and serve over your favorite grains. Keep the grains separate before serving to make it taste extra fresh. Enchiladas, lasagna, casseroles, and pilafs also work wonders for getting more meals out of your recipes.
- Use sheet pans to roast large amounts of fresh veggies, potatoes and proteins at once. Add some healthy cooking oil, seasoning and roast until browned and cooked through. Then portion it out as needed.
- Buy pre-chopped veggies, bagged salads, and frozen and canned produce to minimize prep time.
- Make healthy breakfast or lunch burritos, wrap in foil and freeze for whenever you need them. Then pop them in the oven or microwave for a fast and balanced option.
- If you're getting bored of the same dish each day, change it up with healthy toppings and add-ons.
Best Meal Prep Containers
Food storage solutions have come a long way and companies are continuing to create innovate solutions for meal preppers, including containers that come with their own insulated heat bag, travel bags and add on container for dressings and sides. The selections can seem overwhelming, but here are the top things you'll want to look for:
- It can hold enough food. If you're eating 2 cups of food at each meal, your container will need to be big enough to accommodate that. Find an option that fits your portion needs appropriately.
- It's durable and made with quality material. Choose options that will go the distance and not fall apart after only a few uses.
- It's leak proof. There's nothing worse than spilled lunch inside your bag. Opt for air-tight leak proof lids for sanity and food safety.
- It's user friendly. If you are heating your food in a microwave, you'll need a container that works for that. Containers that can be thrown in the dishwasher and cleaned easily may also be important to you.
At the end of the day, the best meal prep container is the one that meets your personal needs best. If you eat more mixed dishes, a single spaced container works great. But if you want your foods to stay separated, compartments are a must. Look for the size, material, and price point that works for you - there is no one size fits all approach.
How to Get Motivated to Lose Weight and Keep it Off
For many, the hardest part of losing weight is not what to do, but how to do it. Life has a way of constantly getting in the way of our good intentions and can derail us from what we set out for. But with the right mindset not all hope need be lost.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of being more aware and acting with intention. When applied to eating, being more mindful can help you make better decisions, feel less stressed about your diet and promote a more positive outlook in general. It really is just paying attention to what you are putting into your mouth and making a conscious effort to eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full and avoid food situations that lead to guilt and emotional eating.
You can learn mindful eating using a few tricks for slowing down and thinking things through. Stop and ask yourself the following during your next meal or snack:
- Why are you eating? Are you truly hungry or is it just that time of day? Or perhaps, there is just food around that looks good. Take a moment to think about what is driving you to eat at this particular moment and take note of any behavior that is not helping you move towards you goals. There is nothing wrong with eating when you're not hungry, or eating for pleasure, but make sure you are aware of why you are doing it and do your best to make it a positive experience free of guilt and any negative emotions.
- What benefits does this choice bring you? It can be easy to focus on the negative when it comes to dieting and all the things you should be avoiding, but you shouldn't ignore the positives. A great judge of choices that works for you at any given time, could be finding a reason to eat it. Is it a source of protein, fiber or key nutrients you'll benefit from? If you're making a choice, does one item have more benefits than the other, even regardless of calories? This is the practice of eating with intention and making choices that improve your overall diet by adding to it.
- What does the food look like? Smell Like? Feel like? Taste like? Sound like when you eat it? Take note of all your senses involved and try to experience each one. This is the art of savoring every bite and taking your time.
- How does this food make you feel, physically and emotionally? Pay attention to the foods that make you feel great from the inside out. And choose more options that energize you, don't make you feel bloated or weighed down, and make you feel good about the decision you made.
- Did you track your intake? Keeping a food diary or tracking your food is a great way to keep yourself accountable and practice mindful eating just from writing it down.
How to Increase Willpower
The thing about your willpower, is that you also must exercise it to keep it going strong (86). If you’re struggling with your motivation, or feel your self-control slipping often, here are four proven ways to help you strengthen your resolve:
- Believe in Yourself. For years we’ve been told we only have a certain amount of willpower, but more recent studies are showing that may not be the case. The amount of willpower you have depends on your genetic make-up, how often you exercise it, and how much you believe in yourself. Telling yourself that you have an unlimited amount of self-discipline could be the key to mastering your goals (87,88).
- Keep busy. Cutting calories can have you constantly thinking about food. And the fear of temptation can make you want to cut yourself off from social engagements. But studies suggest keeping your mind active, especially while dieting, can strengthen your willpower (89). And stress can affect your mental capacity to hold strong (90). Try to enjoy your days as much as possible and find activities that allow you to be creative, think strategically, or release stress.
- Plan ahead. Studies suggest that having a pre-planned strategy could help double your chance of success (91). Think about how you will deal with temptations before they are in front of you. If you know there is a food related event coming up, make sure there are options on hand that fit your diet - check the menu in advance, pack a healthy option, or eat beforehand. Or if you are planning on indulging, still consider what you are going to have and set limits for yourself in advance.
- Be Yourself. Not surprisingly, pretending to be someone you’re not is exhausting. And research suggests that all the energy going towards acting a certain way is draining your self-discipline, making it harder for you to stick to your goals in other areas of your life (92). This is why some people all of a sudden snap when always trying to put on a happy face. Instead, let your hair down and be your own weird, true self whenever you get the chance. It will not only build your self-confidence but can also strengthen your willpower and help you to be happier and more successful in general.
Can Fitspo and Social Media Increase Weight Loss?
Studies suggest that healthy behavior can be contagious and something as simple as just posting about running on your social media can influence your friends and followers to go for a run (93). But is it possible to have to much of a good thing? Can a constant overload of fitness pictures of ripped abs and physiques flooding your feed wreck your self esteem?
And not all information on the web is good information. There are loads of self proclaimed experts promising you the latest health advice with little to no research backing up their claims. What works for some doesn't always work for everyone, and a few testimonials does not equal evidence based recommendations.
Finding balance with your social media is key. There are ways to get valuable information and tools for success at your finger tips and use fitspo to drive positive inspiration you can actually harness.
Here are a few tips to using social media to your advantage:
- Follow experts with credentials attached to their names, or those who use credible research and references along with their advice.
- Find fitspo that is healthy and attainable for you or only follow those who provide positive health messages and realistic goals.
- Get balanced by following more than one type of health trend. Use social media to learn about all aspects of health and get differing point of views. It will help you get a more well rounded knowledge of the subjects and not get dragged into one way of thinking.
- Share your own story or passions and build your own supportive network of like-minded individuals.
Is it Okay to Have a Cheat Day?
Contrary to popular belief, dieting and deprivation do not need to go hand in hand. It is possible to enjoy a healthy lifestyle and still splurge from time to time. Follow the 80/20 rule and strive to keep 80% of your intake on track, while giving yourself 20% of wiggle room.
This is also commonly referred to as “cheat days”. But remember, it takes 3,500 calories to lose one pound. This also means it takes 3,500 calories to gain a pound – and it is a LOT easier to eat 3,500 calories than to cut the same amount. Having a full-blown cheat day can unravel all your hard work for the week if you’re not careful. Instead, have cheat “events” or cheat meals.
Choose one or two meals a week to enjoy yourself instead of a whole day. Make sure you spread them out, so your cheat events aren’t back to back. And try to wait at least one month before adding in any cheats.
How to Stay Motivated to Lose Weight
What is motivating you to want to lose weight in the first place? Starting with your why is key to keeping you on track and inspiring you to keep going when things get tough. Think about what drives you or inspires you to make a change. Some of us are motivated by family and friends, and others may get more encouragement through rewards and recognition - or maybe it just takes imagining what you will feel like once you reach your goal. Motivation is powerful. And once you find it, keep it close by. Somewhere you can remind yourself when needed.
- Embrace failure. Failure is not all bad. It's an opportunity to learn a little bit about yourself and grow stronger for next time. Imagine what you would say to a friend or co-worker who has recently failed. I bet you are thinking about kind and supportive words of encouragement you could offer. Now think about the things that you would tell yourself. Does it sound different? And if so, why? Try to treat yourself with the same kindness and support you would someone else and know that success is less about perfection as much as it is about consistency. So when you fail, dust yourself off and get back to it. Something that really helps me, is even though I’ve failed a lot, I remind myself that as long as you’re trying, there’s a chance to succeed. If you give up, there’s no chance.
- Reward yourself. Celebrate little victories in non-food ways. Pick a milestone to strive for and treat yourself when you reach it. Whether it’s getting a massage, taking a day off work, posting a personal win on social media, buying a new outfit, etc. Find a few golden carrots you can dangle to incentivize yourself to just keep going.
- Use your support network. Surround yourself with friends and family who support your goals. We are the sum of the people we surround ourselves with, and studies show hanging out with others who make healthy decisions can influence you to make healthier decisions as well, and vice versa (96).
How to Boost Your Metabolism
You can't talk about weight loss without getting into metabolism. After all, our metabolism is the engine that fuels our calorie burn and the driving force behind the entire weight loss calorie equation. But how complex is this system really and can you alter your metabolism to promote faster weight loss?
The truth is your metabolism is not just one function that you can easily manipulate, its a series of bodily functions that exist in all of your cells throughout your body. And it's main function is not to maintain weight, it's to sustain life by converting food and reserved fuel into usable energy you need to breathe, think, pump blood, move, and keep on living.
That being said, there are a few things that can effect the speed of your metabolism including recent weight loss, lean mass, diet, hormones, but the degree to which can vary widely for each.
Muscle vs Fat Weight
It is true that muscle is more metabolic than fat, but exactly how much more? One study suggests that the metabolic rate of muscle is about 4.5 to 7.0 calories a pound per day (97, 98). Compared to fat that supposedly burns only 1 to 3 calories a pound per day. This would mean an extra 5 pounds of muscle would equal an increase of 22 to 35 calories per day - which sounds small but could add up quickly over time.
But this estimate is somewhat flawed and based on small studies. The truth is, gaining any mass would cause metabolism to increase because it takes more energy to fuel and move a larger object. And muscle only contributes a very small percentage to your TDEE, 20%, compared to heart, lungs, kidneys, brain and liver that account for roughly 60%, even though it accounts for almost half of your total mass (99).
Source: Adapted from The Free Obesity ebook
Also, this estimate does not consider the effect on calorie burn during training. Having more muscle might mean you are burning slightly more calories at rest, but it could also mean you are stronger and faster - allowing you to train harder and burn more calories during exercise as well.
In addition, muscle takes up less space than fat. Which is why two individuals who weigh the exact same amount but have different body fat percentages can look drastically different.
And most importantly, gaining muscle and losing fat can sometimes make the number on the scale go up, but this doesn't mean you aren't getting healthier, looking leaner or achieving great results. Taking progress photos, using a tape measure or tracking your body fat percentage might be better suited to show you exactly how well you are doing.
Burning Fat vs Fat Loss
The way your body breaks down fatty tissue for energy is complex and involves a number of hormones and biological processes. The body is constantly in a state of change - meaning you are always breaking down and rebuilding cells, protein, fat, etc. as part of your normal daily function.
At rest and low intensity training, when there aren't an influx of calories from food, the body prefers to use mostly fat stores for energy. And your body is almost always using some fat for energy, and you are also always store some for energy. Which is why "burning fat" and losing fat are not quite the same thing. Oxidizing fat for energy doesn't always mean you are losing fat. Fat loss, just like weight loss is more dependent on calorie control than hormones and fuel utilization.
Fat Burning Foods
We've already discussed the thermic effect of food and how protein and less processed foods require slightly more energy to digest, but is there such a thing as individual foods that can speed up your metabolism and cause you to burn fat more efficiently?
Some popular trends like the apple cider vinegar diet, green tea, coffee or cayenne pepper have been touted as special fat burning superfoods. The mechanisms behind a majority of these claims are not well understood, but typically involve optimizing absorption and digestion rates or increasing RMR temporarily through thermogenesis (100,101). And sometimes the positive effects are due to these foods decreasing appetite.
While there is research to show foods can create a minor uptick in metabolism after eating them, the effects are fairly minimal and short lived. Keep in mind that thermogenesis only represents a small portion of BMR (10%), and even with a large upswing, the effects don't stick for more than a few hours - resulting in only tiny increases in calorie burn over 24 hours.
But this doesn't mean you should discount these foods all together, especially if they can be included as part of a healthy diet. Just don't count on them melting fat away and igniting a fast burning metabolism on their own.
Fat Burning Hormones
The main hormones involved in utilizing fat for energy include insulin, adiponectin, and leptin.
Insulin is released when there is excess glucose or sugar present in the blood, typically after consuming a meal containing carbohydrates. Insulin works to help store glucose in muscles and fat cells for reserved fuel stores that can be used as energy when food is not being eaten, as well as maintain normal blood sugarlevels for immediate energy/bodily functions. Fat is only stored when there is a calorie excess. Having a higher lean mass and controlling blood sugar efficiently will also help ensure more of the food you eat is utilized for energy and not stored as fat.
Adiponectin is released by fatty tissue and is involved in the breakdown of fat for energy. Some studies indicate women and leaner individuals may have higher levels of adiponectin (102). Which is a good thing since high amounts have been associated with increased insulin sensitivity, promoting more efficient carbohydrate use and increased fat burning capabilities.
Your body also has two key hormones it uses to regulate hunger: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is produced by the stomach, and signals to the brain to increase your appetite when the stomach is empty and energy is needed. Leptin is produced by your fat cells and does the opposite, working to increase metabolism for digestion and signaling to the brain that you are full, and no more food is needed.
Ideally, when you are gaining weight, leptin works to naturally decrease appetite and promote weight loss. However, in some cases of excess weight gain, you can become leptin resistant. In other words, your leptin signals are no longer working properly, and your body may constantly feel hungry. In addition, any weight loss achieved may trigger ghrelin to increase, which can increase your appetite further (103,104).
But have no fear, leptin and ghrelin are not the only factors that control your appetite. And understanding you may be hungrier when dieting is half the battle, so hang in there. Here are few lifestyle changes you can try to keep your growling stomach at ease:
- Drink more water. Often appetite can spike when you are slightly dehydrated.
- Eat more fiber. Fiber pulls more water into the gut, making you feel fuller.
- Eat more fish. Omega 3 fatty acids are linked to decreased hunger. (105)
- Get some rest. Lack of sleep can cause you to store more belly fat and may also cause ghrelin to increase and leptin to decrease. (106,107)
Sleep and Weight Loss
Not sleeping enough may actually cause you to store more fat, putting a damper on your weight loss efforts (108). Lack of sleep may also cause you to crave unhealthy foods (109). And fatigue leads to decreased output all day long and less intense workouts, meaning you are burning less calories than when fully energized.
You should be sleeping at least seven hours a night - uninterrupted, quality sleep.
Playing catch-up on the weekends is not going to counteract the lack of sleep you got all week long. Make your rest a priority and dedicate time each night to getting some rest. Remove distractions, like your TV, phone, or pets, and find a dark, quiet place to lay down. Use ear plugs or sleep masks if needed. Your body and your mind will thank you.
Fasting for Weight Loss
Popular fasting diets argue that meal timing or only eating during certain metabolic windows, like intermittent fasting and fasted workouts, can help you drop pounds faster and potentially improve your health, by utilizing your metabolism more efficiently.
While it makes sense to time nutrients around when you are using them, similar to how athletes fuel and recover during training and performance, does this line of thinking expand beyond the gym? Can eating at certain times of day allow you to burn fat and store energy more efficiently?
Not exactly. But restricting your eating window may help you cut more calories overall if done correctly (110). If you are able to avoid the natural urge to binge eat once you get to sit down for a meal, and are still keeping total calorie intake in mind, science suggests it can be an effective way to shed pounds. But the fasting itself doesn't promote more weight loss or fat loss.
There may also be other benefits to fasting including brain health, and longevity, but majority of the research on these effects are only documented in animal studies and not well established in humans (111).
It's also important to consider the dangerous health effects of not eating in certain populations, like those with insulin dependent diabetes. If you are taking insulin and not eating, your body does not have glucose available to utilize and you could become hypoglycemic. If you are considering intermittent fasting as a way to control calories, always speak with your doctor beforehand.
What about fasted workouts?
Once your body runs out of glycogen stores, it is forced to break down protein and fat for energy, pending how much oxygen is available. And it typically takes about 12 hours for this to occur. In theory one would assume working out fasted in the morning - after more than 12 hours without intake - would promote more fat burning. But the science does not support this (112,113). In addition, working out fasted may effect your energy and strength, making your workout a little less intense than if you have fueled prior. These factors could effect your ability to build lean mass and perform.
Do Men Lose Weight Faster than Women?
It is commonly believed that men lose weight faster than women, but just like anything, this really depends on the particular man and woman you're speaking of. There are a number of factors that can effect how quickly one would lose weight including, starting weight, percent lean mass, age, fitness level and genetics. It's not always gender that is the determining factor.
Who Burns More Calories, Men or Women?
Generally speaking, men tend to be heavier than women and have a higher percent lean mass - which grants them a higher resting metabolic rate and allows them to burn more calories during exercise. More muscle mass also means they are able to store carbs more efficiently (translation: they can store more carbs for quick energy over fat compared to women, due to their muscle mass). But this does not mean men burn calories more efficiently, it just takes more calories to fuel and move a larger mass.
Because men can theoretically burn more calories than women, they probably have more room to cut calories from the start. Meaning they could potentially lose weight at a much faster rate. And for the most part, studies support this. But when you adjust for percent weight loss, men don't actually lose weight that much faster than women.
Current research does not support the need for different dietary approaches between sexes (114).
Women are also thought to burn fat and store fat more efficiently than men. Translation, women are more efficient at using fat for energy during exercise and all day long, but they tend to store more body fat than men due to the hormone oestrogen (115). In fact, even though women tend to eat less than men, they have on average 6 to 11% more body fat. But this doesn't mean women are more likely to be overweight than men, it just begins to explain why biologically they tend to carry more weight int he form of fat.
Hormones and Weight Loss
When it comes to hormones, both men and women are effected by estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, in varying amounts and forms. The key difference is that hormones in men tend to remain fairly stable, with some progesterone and testosterone slowly declining with age (115,116). Whereas, women have monthly hormonal fluctuations through menstruation cycles (118).
Hormonal fluctuations may effect food cravings, energy levels and muscle building capabilities, but do not directly impact weight loss or fat burning as often assumed. However, some early studies suggest that more targeted dieting based on hormonal fluctuations may be an important tool for weight reduction in women. Women may benefit from eating more protein on the days leading up to menstruation, and slightly increasing carbs and calories during the first few days of menstruation, due to higher energy demands.
The Ultimate Guide to Quick Weight Loss - Infographic