Weight loss is often a part of getting healthier. It can be intentional, such as from dieting and exercise, or it can be unintentional and a result of illness.
The best way to lose weight is slowly and by making small changes that you can stick with for a lifetime.
1. Eat fewer calories than you burn.
While many factors affect body weight, the most basic is energy in versus energy out. Every day, you burn calories through basic functions like breathing, digestion and circulating. These are called your basal metabolic rate (BMR). You also burn calories through everyday activities and planned exercise.
Creating a calorie deficit by eating fewer calories than you burn each day encourages your body to reduce weight over time. However, several factors can interfere with your ability to create that negative calorie balance. These include hormone imbalances, medications and poor sleep (which impacts cortisol levels and your metabolism). Fortunately, you can overcome these obstacles by making small changes to your diet and exercise habits over the long term. This is how you achieve real, lasting results.
2. Move more.
Many people struggle to lose weight because they aren’t moving enough. Whether it’s working more hours, being stuck indoors for work or weather, limited movement can really hold you back. But that doesn’t mean you can’t reach your goals. You just have to find ways to sneak more movement into your day.
For example, try to walk instead of drive when possible – it’s much healthier for your body and the environment. Also, practice movement techniques like tai chi or qigong, which are great for balance and can be very relaxing. And don’t forget that even fidgeting counts as movement! It may not burn as many calories, but it’s still important to move throughout the day. Getting more movement will help keep your metabolism up and create a positive calorie deficit.
3. Eat a healthy breakfast.
Eating a healthy breakfast gives your body the fuel it needs to perform well throughout the day. It also prevents you from getting hungry too early and having to grab high-calorie foods that are likely to be high in sugar, fat or salt.
Opt for whole grain foods such as oatmeal or pancakes, which provide fiber to slow down your digestion, and lean proteins like eggs and low-fat dairy products. Add in some fruit (such as berries, cantaloupe or kiwi) for vitamin C and fiber. Drink a glass of fresh, unsweetened orange juice or opt for a fortified brand that has added vitamins and minerals.
Try adding a sprinkle of ground flaxseed or chia seeds to your morning smoothie for an extra boost of omega-3 fatty acids.
4. Keep a food diary.
Keeping a food journal helps you realize what you’re eating. It can help you find patterns that may make you eat more, such as when you eat with certain people who encourage overeating.
In one study, people who kept a food diary six days a week lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t keep a diary. (2)
Filling in the food and drink you consume is more accurate if you do it right after your meal or snack, experts say. They also recommend measuring your portions at first to get a clear picture of what “normal” looks like. Harvard Health offers a printable food log that allows you to record the time and place of your meals, as well as hunger and mood.
5. Take a break.
Dieting is a high-stress activity and research shows that a diet break can help. This is because a break from calorie restriction can reverse metabolic adaptations and allow hormone levels to return to normal, which can then lead to higher rates of fat loss.
The idea is to take two weeks at a time and increase calories to your new calculated maintenance level (keeping in mind that this shouldn’t be a free-for-all). You might see the scale go up a little during this period, but it’s virtually all water weight and will quickly drop off when you resume dieting again. It also gives you a chance to practice some good habits like eating leafy vegetables, protein and drinking plenty of water. Taking diet breaks regularly can improve long-term adherence and help you reach your goals faster.