What is the best diet to healthy weight loss?
Choose any diet book and you will claim to have all the answers to successfully lose all the weight you want and keep it off. Some claim that the key is to eat less and exercise more, others that low fat is the only way to go, while others prescribe reducing carbohydrates. So what should you believe?
The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for permanent healthy weight loss. What works for one person may not work for you, as our bodies respond differently to different foods, depending on genetics and other health factors. To find the right weight loss method for you will probably take time and will require patience, commitment, and some experimentation with different foods and diets.
While some people respond well to calorie counting or similar restrictive methods, others respond better to having more freedom to plan their weight loss programs. Being free to simply avoid fried foods or cut down on refined carbohydrates can set you up for success. So, don’t be too discouraged if a diet that worked for someone else doesn’t work for you. And don’t give up if a diet is too restrictive for you to follow. Ultimately, a diet is only right for you if you can follow it over time.
Remember: while there is no easy solution to losing weight, there are many steps you can take to develop a healthier relationship with food, curb emotional triggers for overeating, and achieve a healthy weight.
Four popular strategies to lose weight
1. Cut calories
Some experts believe that managing your weight successfully comes down to a simple equation: If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you lose weight. It sounds easy right? So why is losing weight so difficult?
- Weight loss is not a linear event over time. When you cut calories, you can lose weight for the first few weeks, for example, and then something changes. You eat the same amount of calories but lose less or no weight. This is because when you lose weight you lose water, lean tissue, and fat, your metabolism slows down, and your body changes in other ways. So in order to keep losing weight every week, you must continue to cut calories.
- A calorie is not always a calorie. Eating 100 calories of high-fructose corn syrup, for example, can have a different effect on your body than eating 100 calories of broccoli. The trick to sustained weight loss is to get rid of foods that are full of calories but don’t make you feel full (like candy) and replace them with foods that fill you up without being full of calories (like vegetables).
- Many of us do not always eat simply to satisfy hunger. We also turn to food for comfort or stress relief, which can quickly derail any weight loss plan.
2. Cut carbohydrates
A different way of looking at weight loss identifies the problem as not consuming too many calories, but rather the way the body accumulates fat after consuming carbohydrates, in particular the role of the hormone insulin. When you eat a meal, carbohydrates from food enter the bloodstream as glucose. To keep your blood sugar levels under control, your body always burns this glucose before burning fat from a meal.
If you eat a carbohydrate-rich meal (lots of pasta, rice, bread, or French fries, for example), your body releases insulin to help with the entry of all this glucose into the blood. In addition to regulating blood sugar levels, insulin does two things: it prevents fat cells from releasing fats for the body to burn as fuel (because its priority is to burn glucose) and it creates more fat cells to store everything The body cannot be burned. The result is that you gain weight and your body now needs more fuel to burn, so you eat more. Since insulin only burns carbohydrates, you crave carbohydrates and thus begins a vicious cycle of carbohydrate consumption and weight gain. To lose weight, according to reasoning, you must break this cycle by reducing carbohydrates.
Most low carbohydrate diets recommend replacing carbohydrates with protein and fat, which could have some long-term negative effects on your health. If you try a low-carb diet, you can reduce your risks and limit your intake of saturated and trans fats by choosing lean meats, fish and vegetarian sources of protein, low-fat dairy products, and eating plenty of leafy greens and non-veggies with starch.
3. Cut the fat
It is the mainstay of many diets: if you don’t want to get fat, don’t eat fat. Walk down the aisle of any grocery store and you’ll be bombarded with snacks, dairy, and low-fat packaged meals. But while our low-fat options have exploded, so have obesity rates. So why didn’t low-fat diets work for more of us?
- Not all fat is bad. Healthy or “good” fats can actually help control your weight, as well as control your mood and combat fatigue. The unsaturated fats found in avocado, nuts, seeds, soy milk, tofu, and fatty fish can help you fill it up, while adding a little bit of tasty olive oil to a vegetable dish, for example. For example, it can facilitate the consumption of healthy foods and improve the general quality of your diet.
- We often make the wrong trade-offs. Many of us make the mistake of exchanging fat for empty calories from sugar and refined carbohydrates. Instead of eating whole fat yogurt, for example, we eat low-fat or fat-free versions that are full of sugar to compensate for the loss of flavor. Or we trade our fatty breakfast bacon for a bagel or donut that causes rapid spikes in blood sugar.
4. Follow the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes the consumption of good fats and good carbohydrates along with large amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, and olive oil, and only modest amounts of meat and cheese. However, the Mediterranean diet is more than just food. Regular physical activity and sharing meals with others are also important components.
Regardless of the weight loss strategy you are trying, it is important to stay motivated and avoid common diet problems like emotional eating.
Control emotional eating
We don’t always eat simply to satisfy hunger. Too often, we turn to food when we’re stressed or anxious, which can ruin any diet and put on weight. Do you eat when you are worried, bored or alone? Do you eat snacks in front of the TV at the end of a stressful day? Recognizing your emotional eating triggers can make a difference in your weight loss efforts. If you eat when you are:
Stressed: Find healthier ways to calm down. Try practicing yoga, meditation, or soaking in a warm bath.
Low energy: find other stimuli in the middle of the afternoon. Try walking around the block, listening to energizing music, or taking a short nap.
Lonely or boring: communicate with others instead of reaching for the fridge. Call a friend to make you laugh, take your dog for a walk, or go to the library, mall, or park, wherever there are people.
Practice conscious eating
Avoid distractions while you eat. Try not to eat while working, watching TV, or driving. It is too easy to overeat without thinking.
Pay attention. Eat slowly, savoring the smells and textures of your food. If your mind wanders, gently turn your attention back to your food and its taste.
Mix things up to focus on the eating experience. Try using chopsticks instead of a fork, or use your utensils with your nondominant hand.
Stop eating before you’re full. It takes time for the signal to reach your brain that has had enough. Don’t feel compelled to always clean your plate.
Permanent weight loss requires making healthy changes to your lifestyle and food choices. To stay motivated:
Find a cheering section. Social support means a lot. Programs like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers use group support to impact weight loss and healthy eating for life. Seek support, whether in the form of family, friends, or a support group, to get the encouragement you need.
Slow and steady wins the race. Losing weight too quickly can affect your mind and body, making you feel slow, exhausted, and sick. Try to lose one or two pounds a week so that you are losing fat instead of water and muscle.
Set goals to stay motivated. Short-term goals, like wanting to wear a bikini for the summer, generally don’t work as well as wanting to feel safer or healthier for the good of your children. When temptation hits, focus on the benefits you will get from being healthier.
Use tools to track your progress. Smartphone apps, fitness trackers, or just keeping a journal can help you keep track of the foods you eat, the calories you burn, and the weight you lose. Seeing the results in black and white can help you stay motivated.
Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep stimulates your appetite, so you want more food than normal; at the same time, it keeps you from feeling satisfied and makes you want to keep eating. Lack of sleep can also affect your motivation, so seek eight hours of quality sleep per night.
Reduces sugar and refined carbohydrates
Regardless of whether your goal is to cut carbs, most of us consume unhealthy amounts of sugar and refined carbs, like white bread, pizza dough, pasta, cakes, white flour, white rice, and sweetened breakfast cereals. However, replacing refined carbohydrates with their whole grain counterparts and eliminating sweets and desserts is only part of the solution. Sugar is hidden in foods as diverse as canned soups and vegetables, pasta sauce, margarine, and many low-fat foods. Since your body gets everything it needs from sugar naturally found in food, all this added sugar equals many empty calories and unhealthy spikes in blood glucose.
Fill with fruits, vegetables, and fiber
Even if you’re cutting calories, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to eat less food. Foods high in fiber such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains are higher in volume and take longer to digest, making them full, and excellent for weight loss.
In general, it’s okay to eat as much fresh fruit and non-starchy vegetables as you like; you will feel full before consuming too many calories.
Eat raw or steamed vegetables, not fried or breaded, and dress them with herbs and spices or a little olive oil for flavor.
Add fruit to low-sugar cereal: blueberries, strawberries, sliced bananas. You’ll still enjoy plenty of sweetness, but with fewer calories, less sugar, and more fiber.
Group your sandwiches by adding healthy vegetarian options like lettuce, tomato, sprouts, cucumber, and avocado.
Eat carrots or celery with hummus instead of high-calorie fries, and dip it.
Add more vegetables to your favorite main dishes to make your plate more substantial. Even pasta and stir fries can be diet friendly if you use less noodles and more vegetables.
Start your meal with salad or vegetable soup to help you fill up and eat less of your main course.
Take charge of your food environment
Prepare to be successful in losing weight by taking charge of your eating environment: when you eat, how much you eat, and what foods you easily prepare.
Cook your own meals at home. This allows you to control both the portion size and what goes into the food. Restaurants and packaged foods generally contain much more sugar, unhealthy fats, and calories than home-cooked foods, and portion sizes tend to be larger.
Serve smaller portions. Use small plates, bowls, and cups to make your portions appear larger. Don’t eat in large bowls or directly from food containers, making it difficult to assess how much you’ve eaten.
Eating early Studies suggest that consuming more of your daily calories for breakfast and less for dinner may help you lose more pounds. Eating a bigger, healthier breakfast can speed up your metabolism, keep you from getting hungry throughout the day, and give you more time to burn calories.
Fast for 14 hours a day. Try to dine earlier in the day and then fast until breakfast the next morning. Eating only when you are most active and giving your digestion a long rest can help you lose weight.
Plan your meals and snacks in advance. You can create your own snacks in small portions in plastic bags or containers. Eating on a schedule will help you avoid eating when you are not really hungry.
Drink more water. Thirst can often be confused with hunger, so drinking water can avoid additional calories.
Limit the amount of tempting foods you have at home. If you share a kitchen with non-dieters, keep indulgent foods out of sight.
The extent to which exercise helps you lose weight is open to debate, but the benefits go beyond burning calories. Exercise can boost your metabolism and improve your outlook, and it’s something you can benefit from right now. Take a walk, stretch, move, and you will have more energy and motivation to tackle the other steps in your weight loss program.
Running out of time for a long workout? Three 10-minute exercise sessions per day can be as good as a 30-minute exercise.
Remember: anything is better than nothing. Start slowly with small amounts of physical activity each day. Then, as you begin to lose weight and have more energy, you will find it easier to do more physical activity.
Find exercise that you enjoy. Try walking with a friend, dancing, walking, biking, playing frisbee with a dog, enjoying a game of basketball, or playing activity-based video games with your children.
Keeping the weight off
You may have heard the widely cited statistic that 95% of people who lose weight on a diet will gain it back within a few years, or even months. While there isn’t much solid evidence to back up that claim, it’s true that many weight loss plans fail in the long run. Often that’s simply because diets that are too restrictive are very difficult to maintain over time. However, that does not mean that your weight loss attempts are doomed to failure. Far from there.
Since its inception in 1994, the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) in the United States has tracked more than 10,000 people who have lost significant amounts of weight and held it for long periods of time. The study found that participants who have been successful in maintaining their weight loss share some common strategies. Any diet you use to lose weight in the first place, adopting these habits can help you stay:
- Be physically active. People who successfully diet in the NWCR study exercise for about 60 minutes, usually walking.
- Keep a food log. Recording what you eat every day helps keep you responsible and motivated.
- Eat breakfast every day. Most often in the study, they are cereals and fruits. Eating breakfast increases metabolism and prevents hunger later in the day.
- Eat more fiber and fewer unhealthy fats than the typical American diet.
- Regularly check the scale. Weighing yourself weekly can help you spot any small weight gains, allowing you to take corrective action immediately before the problem escalates.
- Watch less television. Reducing the time you spend sitting in front of a screen can be a key part of adopting a more active lifestyle and preventing weight gain.