What Are the Best Ways to Lose Weight Slowly?

Quick weight loss leads to rapid regain.

It’s tempting to try to shed pounds fast. But, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, evidence shows steady, gradual weight loss — about 1 to 2 pounds per week — is your best bet for keeping it off (and really, who wants to yo-yo?). You need to take time to alter what you eat and step up your activity. “Patience is key when you make these changes. If you want weight loss fast, it is going to come back fast,” says Pat Barone, a certified personal trainer and professional health and leadership coach in Madison, Wisconsin, who lost more than 90 pounds slowly, and has kept it off in the 18 years since. Here’s how you can pace yourself for success:

Consider: Can you keep this up for life?

Besides being bad for your health — and in some cases downright dangerous — deprivation diets that severely restrict calories or require you to forgo a whole food group, for example, have another strike against them: They’re unsustainable. “I tell clients — and my No. 1 rule is — don’t make a change that you can’t keep for life,” Barone says. Taken another way, if you want lifestyle changes to last, you have to take your time implementing them. “It’s not about a 30-day this, a 60-day that,” says Andy Bellatti, a registered dietitian in Las Vegas. Rather, experts say, gradually implement changes to your diet and exercise regimen over weeks and months (rather than ASAP for a month-long blitz), so you can maintain it for the long haul.

Quit villainizing macronutrients.

Your body needs carbs, fat and proteins. But many diets lean heavily on what Barone describes as “false restrictions” — usually of a macronutrient like carbs or fat — that cause your body to regain the weight quickly. “It desperately needs that nutrient,” she says. Instead, try a more gradual, nuanced approach. Cut back on breads and cakes that fill you up but don’t provide nutritious sustenance and instead get more of your carbs from whole foods like lentils and beans and fruits, for example. And focus on eating healthy fats from sources like avocados and cold water fish, such as salmon and tuna.

Walk before you run.

Dietary changes aren’t the only thing you need to take your time with. Just because you’re pumped about getting active doesn’t mean you should push your body to its limit — or beyond — like jumping straight from the couch into boot camp. “I see people trying to run when they’re way overweight — that is so bad for your joints,” Barone points out. “If you start out walking, then you get some strength built up.” Just as you might consult a registered dietitian nutritionist about revamping how you eat if you’ve gone off the rails in that regard, consider speaking with a fitness professional if you’re not sure how to tailor your workout regimen to where you’re at physically today, and where you’d like to go — in due time.

Respect the social aspect of eating.

Often people set very strict rules for themselves in regards to what they’ll eat, and they’re able to stick to those rules at home, Bellatti says. But they get tripped up when out with friends or at a social event, and over time they may revert to an anything goes way of eating when out and at home. Instead of trying to rigidly stick to an exacting meal plan, he suggests a 90/10 or 80/20 approach to eating in accordance with weight-loss goals, which also offers flexibility for such social circumstances. “Because what matters is what you do 80, 90 percent of the time,” he says. It’s not about eating mindlessly when options are limited, like while traveling or at a birthday party, but rather sometimes having that piece of cake — and being with your friends, too.

Every day isn’t the same. Eat accordingly.

It’s not wise to drastically cut calories overnight. And the body will quickly adapt to severe calorie restriction and slow down metabolism, so that you burn fewer calories than you normally do, says Dr. Steven Heymsfield, director of the Metabolism & Body Composition Laboratory at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. What’s more, Barone says you shouldn’t try to maintain the same calorie count day in and day out. When you’re active and using more energy, you need more food, while when you’re inactive you burn less and require less. “Don’t try to make every day the same, because every day isn’t the same,” Barone says. “Be responsive to life — and your body.”

Get help from a health professional.

Even for those who lose significant weight gradually, subtle shifts in the body — for example, changes to a person’s metabolism — can stack the deck against them. “You have to recognize that more than likely for the rest of your life those adaptations will be favoring your weight regain,” Heymsfield says. As such, experts say there’s a need for more professional guidance. Recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended clinicians offer so-called multicomponent behavioral interventions to people who are obese. Directed by dietitians and other health professionals, these intensive interventions involve everything from identifying weight-loss barriers to providing peer support, typically over the span of one to two years. Where such programs or insurance coverage is limited, it may still be helpful to seek guidance from a health professional knowledgeable about weight loss.

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