Losing weight and keeping it off is a long-term challenge and struggle for many people. No wonder quick fixes and products are so alluring. But most people find that lasting change comes from conscious and lasting changes to their lifestyle and eating habits.
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Losing weight and keeping it off isn’t just about what and how much you eat. It’s about finding a balance between healthy eating, exercise, and lifestyle habits that keep you energized and healthy.
“To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in — 500 calories or more each day,” says registered dietitian Annalize Pratt, RD. “But long-term success also means thinking carefully about how and what you eat, and how you can be healthier in all areas of your life, like exercise.”
How many calories do I need to lose weight?
Current dietary guidelines recommend that adults consume between 1,600 and 3,000 calories (energy from food) per day. Active people, especially athletes, need more calories than those who are not. And if you’re younger, you need more calories than an older person whose metabolism has slowed down with age.
To lose about 1 or 2 pounds per week, you need a deficit (more calories burned than consumed) of 500 calories per day. You can do this by limiting your intake of high calorie, less nutritious foods and burning extra calories with physical activity. You can use a heart rate monitor, smartwatch or activity tracker or app to track the calories you burn.
8 tips for losing weight safely
Losing weight and keeping it off can be easier than you think when you focus on developing positive eating and lifestyle habits. Here are a few to try:
1. Find a nutrient balance
To maximize your health while losing weight, cut calories by replacing foods that don’t have much nutritional value with foods that are more nutrient dense.
For example, opt for fewer high-carb snacks like pretzels or canned fruit, and choose an extra serving of vegetables at each meal. For lunch and dinner, try to plan meals that are 50% vegetables, 25% carbs or starch, and 25% lean protein.
“It will help control calories while eating a balanced meal and allowing some flexibility,” says Pratt. “Following a rigid and very restrictive diet will probably work temporarily, but will rarely work in the long term.”
What are the best foods to lose weight?
The best foods for weight loss typically include a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and plenty of water, Pratt says. Your body uses protein to build muscle. Protein-rich foods can therefore help you maintain muscle mass when you lose weight.
Even when trying to cut calories, it’s important to meet your nutrient needs. It is recommended that your diet consist of:
- 45% to 65% carbohydrates.
- 20% to 35% fat.
- 10% to 35% protein.
Fat contains 9 calories per gram, while carbs and protein give you 4 calories per gram. So if you’re on a 2,000 calorie diet, you’ll want:
2. Manage your appetite
Hunger can often get in the way of even the best weight loss plan, and that’s okay. When you cut calories, your body begs for more.
To better satisfy your appetite, replace processed carbs that your body burns quickly with foods that provide longer-lasting energy. Instead of muffins or sugary cereal, try eating eggs or Greek yogurt so you don’t feel hungry right after breakfast. Staying full longer allows you to snack less and save calories.
3. Don’t judge food
Many of us grew up being told that some foods were “good” and some were “bad.” But this state of mind is not useful. When you tell yourself you can’t eat certain foods, it often makes you want to eat more of them, which makes losing weight even more difficult. It also makes you feel guilty when you have a human moment and have dessert.
You can replace that outdated “diet” mindset by focusing on eating mostly healthy foods and adopting other positive lifestyle habits. Instead of feeling guilty for indulging yourself sometimes, you can feel good about the positive actions you take, while experiencing the pleasure of food.
4. Plan your meals in advance
It is difficult to lose weight when you are regularly overwhelmed by hunger and consume food for convenience rather than nutrition. Planning and eating regular meals helps you make healthier choices and control your appetite. Your health care provider, nutritionist, or registered dietitian can help you get personalized nutritional recommendations and help you plan your meals.
“By establishing a daily calorie and nutrient intake, you know you’ll be consuming foods that align with your weight loss goals,” says Pratt.
With professional support, you can also develop a diet plan that includes the foods you want to eat and a fitness plan based on your interests.
5. Drink plenty of water
Sometimes you may think you are hungry and seek extra calories when you are just thirsty. Although more research is needed, water can be a great ally when it comes to weight loss.
Water helps your body get rid of things it doesn’t need, like waste or toxins, which add unwanted weight. It can also help you feel full.
How much water should you drink? At least eight 8-ounce (64-ounce) glasses of water throughout the day. Sparkling water is a fun alternative, available in all kinds of flavors. Or, make your own flavor infusion by adding:
- A dash of fruit juice with no added sugar.
- A squeeze of lemon or lime.
- Pieces of fresh fruit.
6. Exercise regularly
You don’t need to do a triathlon to lose weight. But effective weight loss requires you to find ways to burn more calories than you consume. Eating is part of the equation. Movement (exercise) is the other.
Start small, says Pratt. A minimum goal to aim for is 150 minutes a week (or 30 minutes, five days a week). You can start by walking. Add stretching exercises to build flexibility and strength training to boost your metabolism and keep building muscle.
“When you plan to maintain your weight loss over time, it’s hard to maintain your weight once you lose it,” says Pratt. “Exercising, and even increasing and modifying your exercise, is one way to help keep the weight off.”
7. Set achievable goals
Start with small, realistic specific goals, then build them. For example, if you drink soda every day, says Pratt, a first step might be to drink it only every other day. Or if you’re not active, start walking 10-15 minutes three times a week. Focus on the choices you make versus the pounds you lose. Allow yourself to feel good about every positive step you take or every small goal you achieve.
8. Look for support
You don’t have to start your weight loss journey alone. Ask family members and friends for help, especially when you feel discouraged. If you have a friend with similar goals, try working together to help keep you motivated and on track.
Why losing weight safely is important
Healthy weight loss means you lose about 1-2 pounds per week. It may seem like a small amount at first, but consider this: if you weigh 200 pounds and lose 2 pounds a week, in 10 weeks, you’ll already have lost 20 pounds. That’s 10% of the weight you started at.
Taking it slowly as you lose weight helps you maintain muscle mass and get the nutrients your body needs. Losing too much weight too quickly can lead to nutrient deficiencies (malnutrition), says Pratt. Rapid weight loss can also affect your metabolism, sending your body into conservation mode. This slows down the rate at which you burn calories and can actually make it harder to lose weight.
It’s important to remember that a healthy, balanced diet is only part of successful weight loss. It’s also essential to maintain the positive lifestyle habits you establish so you don’t lose weight.
“Take it one step at a time. Focus on one thing you can do, focus on that, and feel really confident about making that change, and then move on to the next one,” says Pratt. “Of course, it might take a little longer and your weight loss might be a little slower. But in the long run, that’s where people tend to have the most success.
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