An estimated 75 million Americans are trying to lose weight by “dieting,” and 80 percent are doing it on their own, without the support of weight loss programs or health care professionals. But amid the mountain of diet books, fads, supplements, and websites, it’s tough to spot the most effective way to lose weight. Researchers have studied weight loss for decades, helping to find the most effective ways to shed pounds.
1. Don’t look for a magic formula
While some fad diets recommend avoiding entire food groups or restricting protein, carbs, and fat to target a “magic” sweet spot for weight loss, there is no evidence that a secret formula exists, according to Joanne Haire, RD, CDE, a New York City-based dietitian. “There is no scientific proof that eating more or less of certain foods will result in weight loss.” Haire explains that if you severely restrict one group of nutrients such as carbs, protein, or fat in your diet, you may not be getting enough of the essential nutrients you need to maintain health. The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends the following nutrient range for adults in order to meet your nutritional needs: 45 to 65 percent of total calories from carbohydrates, 10 to 35 percent from protein, and 20 to 35 percent from fat.
2. Balance calories in vs. calories out
Your body performs its own unique metabolic balancing act every day, balancing out the number of calories (or energy) you fuel your body with against how much energy you burn in order to support normal functions and activities. If you take in more fuel than you need, your body stores it as fat; if you take in less than you need, you lose weight. Yet recent surveys show that most people do not understand this energy balance. (If you want to find out how many calories you need, check out MyPlate.gov.) Haire suggests that in order to lose weight, you should consume about 500 calories per day less than your estimated needs, without going under 1,200 calories per day.
3. Spread out those calories over the day
Skipping meals, especially breakfast, is linked with higher calorie intake and weight. To promote healthy weight loss without hunger pangs and cravings, Haire suggests, “Your goal is to eat three main meals per day – breakfast, lunch and dinner – and possibly one to two snacks in between. You should space out your meals and snacks and eat every three to four hours.” Just remember that those snacks should be nutrient-rich such as fruit, low-fat yogurt, or a handful of nuts, and fit into your daily calorie plan.
4. Boost high-volume, low-energy foods
Research suggests that these foods, which provide low calorie levels in relatively large portions, can help promote weight loss by filling you up yet reducing your overall calorie intake. Ruth Frechman, MS, RD, dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, suggests that broccoli is a perfect example of a high-volume, low-energy food. “Broccoli doesn’t have many calories, yet it’s packed with nutrients. The volume of the broccoli adds volume to your stomach, making you feel full, and it will take a while to eat. Focus on eating more fruits and vegetables for snacks instead of high-calorie foods like cakes and cookies.”
5. Follow the nutrient-rich approach
Choosing foods based on their nutrient density is an optimal strategy for weight loss, as it boosts important nutrients for health while reducing overall calorie intake to support weight loss, according to several studies. “Nutrient-rich foods are foods that contain the most nutrients per calorie,” explains Haire. “Examples are lean meats, low-fat yogurt and milk, raw fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. If you eat a combination of these foods at every meal, you will be able to cut back on your calories and continue to meet your nutritional requirements.”
6. Increase your physical activity
Studies continue to support the importance of regular exercise in combination with diet for weight loss. “Exercise makes it possible to create a calorie deficit and lose weight without starving yourself and slowing metabolism. It is very important to exercise regularly; those who do lose weight more effectively and are more successful in keeping it off,” says Haire. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week and muscle strengthening activities at least twice per week.
7. Push fiber intake
Fiber may be one of the most important hunger-controlling nutrients we know of. “Fiber is a great aid for losing weight, because it can make you feel full,” says Frechman, who suggests increasing your intake of vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains to increase your fiber intake. High-fiber foods take longer to chew, thus increasing saliva and gastric juices and expanding your stomach, as well as improving blood glucose control, which also aids in hunger control.
8. Cut down on solid Fats and sugars
The Dietary Guidelines recommend that you cut back on solid fats, including saturated fats found in meat and full-fat dairy products, trans fats added to processed foods, and added sugars found in beverages, snack foods, and desserts to reduce weight and lower disease risk. Frechman explains that sugary and fatty, highly processed foods “don’t provide much bang for the buck. They contain a lot of calories and very few nutrients.” Switch out these foods for whole, minimally processed foods such as lean meats, low-fat dairy, whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
9. Don’t drink your calories
Study after study suggests that sugary beverages may be a culprit for obesity. At about 150 calories a pop, a can of soda can add unwanted calories to your diet without offering any sense of fullness. When you consume calories in their liquid form without any chewing required you’re not likely to cut back on your calories at meal time. This same rule applies to drinking fruit juice – it’s easy to drink the calorie equivalent of two or more servings of fruit in a few sips. And remember to keep alcoholic beverages to a moderate intake (no more than one drink per day for women, two drinks for men) as well.
10. Portion size counts
Our portions in supermarkets, restaurants, and home cooking have grown dramatically over the past few decades, according to research. For example, restaurants may serve five to six times the recommended serving size (1/2 cup) of spaghetti. And as our portions have expanded, so have the calories we consume and our waistlines. Frechman suggests that you follow the suggested portion sizes indicated by MyPlate (www.myplate.gov) to reduce the amount of calories you consume.
11. Turn to MyPlate
Over the past five years, a team of top nutrition scientists evaluated the current body of nutrition science in order to develop MyPlate, a visual icon that shows you how to eat to promote optimal weight. Frechman suggests that MyPlate offers you the best plan for weight loss. “Your plate should have a small amount of protein and a small amount of carbohydrate. The rest of the plate can be filled with fruits and vegetables. Don’t forget to include a source of fat-free or low-fat food containing calcium, such as fat-free milk.” Visit MyPlate.gov and use the “SuperTracker” to create your own individual weight loss meal plan and track your success.
This article was first published in Environmental Nutrition, June 2012. It was re-published with permission by the author.
Sharon Palmer, RD is a Registered Dietitian and writer covering health, wellness, nutrition, cooking, wine, restaurant reviews and entertainment. She is passionate about environmental issues, eco-friendly culinary practices, sustainability, food safety, humane animal practices and food security. Sharon’s features have been published in a variety of publications, including Better Homes and Gardens, Prevention, Oxygen, LA Times, Cooking Smart, Delicious Living, Food Product Design, Today’s Dietitian, and CULINOLOGY. She has contributed to several books, including Food & Cultural Issues for the Culinary, Hospitality and Nutrition Professions.
Her upcoming book The Plant-Powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan for Achieving Optimal Health, Beginning Today is due to hit bookshelves on July 17, 2012. For more information, please visit http://www.sharonpalmer.com.
The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.