You’re not alone if your skinny jeans have gotten too tight.
Most Americans are looking to shed a few pounds, some more quickly than others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 73% of American adults are considered overweight or obese.
The CDC uses body mass index to determine these figures. BMI is a simple calculation of a person’s weight in pounds divided by the square of their height in inches. A BMI of 25 to 30 is considered overweight, while a BMI higher than 30 is considered obese. The CDC provides a free online BMI index calculator to help you determine your BMI.
Although the BMI scale has some limitations — for example, very muscular athletes sometimes register as overweight when they are perfectly healthy (that’s because the volume of muscle weighs more than the same volume of fat) — it’s a convenient shorthand used by many medical professionals to flag individuals who could be at risk of developing chronic diseases related to carrying excess fat.
Slow and steady is the best way to lose weight.
Given the fact that so many people might benefit from losing some weight, it’s understandable that finding out how to shed pounds quickly has become a hot topic.
While there are endless diets out there that promote super-fast weight loss, many nutritionists and fitness experts agree that slow and steady wins this race. “Losing 1 to 2 pounds per week is a healthy, steady rate (depending on how much weight you’re trying to lose). Losing more than this in one week is usually dangerous,” says Jessica Mazzucco, a New York City-area certified fitness trainer and founder of The Glute Recruit, a personal training service.
Losing weight too quickly can cause you to lose muscle and lower your metabolism. It can also set you up for nutrient deficiencies and other health issues.
However, Dr. Adrienne Youdim, associate clinical professor of medicine at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and a board-certified internist specializing in medical weight loss and nutrition at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, notes that some people can lose weight at a faster rate healthfully, but it depends on the individual — particularly, how much weight you have to lose and how you’re going about losing it. “Early and faster weight loss is a predictor of long-term weight loss,” says Youdim.
Still, she notes “there is no exact number (of pounds that are safe to lose per week) and of course it’s not just a matter of how fast one loses weight but how” that weight loss is achieved.
For example, you need to consider which nutrients are being consumed. “If nutritional intake is inadequate, the rate of weight loss may not be as critical as the duration of the intervention, as the longer one restricts the longer they are potentially depleted from essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients.”
Crash diets might sound appealing, but they can be dangerous.
Crash diets that have you dropping oodles of weight in a week or two are destined to fail because they typically lead to rebound weight gain as soon as you inevitably stop following the severely restrictive diet. Many crash dieters regain all the weight they lost and sometimes pile on more weight after finishing a fad diet.
To lose weight very quickly, you must be super restrictive in how many calories you take in and/or the number of calories you expend, meaning you may be engaging in too much high intensity exercise, Mazzucco adds. “If you lose weight too quickly, you put yourself at risk for problems like nutritional deficiencies, extreme fatigue, gallstones and muscle loss.”
Youdim adds that losing weight too quickly can also lead to:
— Electrolyte imbalances.
— Bone loss.
— Mood instability.
“Some of these complications are a function of inadequate nutrition, not necessarily speed,” she adds. “However if one is restricting enough to lose weight quickly, inadequate nutrition is almost inevitable if adequate attention is not given to intake.”
Beware of the super-low-calorie diet.
Typically, very quick weight-loss results from over-exercising and consuming a very low-calorie diet. “Very low-calorie diets are usually ones that are dangerously low in nutrients and calories,” Mazzucco explains. “Very low-calorie diets can put you at risk for health problems such as weakened bones, lowered immunity and may actually slow down your metabolism.” That’s because “regularly having a calorie intake that’s too low makes the body sense that food is scarce, which lowers the rate at which it burns calories.”
This is the conundrum of dieting. While you need to maintain a calorie deficit — meaning you’re taking in fewer calories than you’re expending each day — to achieve weight loss, “it can be disadvantageous to have a calorie intake that is too low,” Mazzucco explains.
Instead, aim for steady, sustainable weight loss by giving your body what it needs with whole foods, exercise and sleep.
The following are 11 tips to help you achieve sustainable, weight-loss success.
1. Consume protein at each meal.
“Eating enough protein will help you stay satisfied and resist the temptation to snack excessively between meals,” says Mitzi Dulan, a registered dietitian and team nutritionist for the Kansas City Royals. She recommends calculating about 0.7 grams of protein for each pound of your current body weight to determine how much protein you should eat each day.
“Protein also helps boost your metabolism, since it takes more calories to metabolize compared to fat and carbohydrates,” she adds. High-quality protein sources include:
— Lean beef.
— Chicken breast.
— Greek yogurt.
— Lentils and beans.
— Other plant-based proteins such as tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds.
Mazzucco adds that “protein preserves muscle mass and is an important nutrient for weight loss. Eating enough protein helps reduce appetite and helps you lose body fat without losing muscle. It also supports a healthy metabolism and may help you avoid regaining weight.”
2. Don’t neglect other nutrients.
In addition to ensuring that you’re taking in adequate amounts of protein, getting enough fiber, iron and fat is also important, Mazzucco says.
Fiber helps support a healthy metabolism, and the good news is “vegetables have a lot of fiber.” They also “help improve metabolism due to their iron content. Iron is essential for metabolism and development. Healthy fats are critical because they can help prevent overeating and control your appetite.”
3. Don’t drink your calories.
“You’ve heard it many times before, but drinking your calories, with sugary drinks, juice or alcohol, is an easy way to sabotage your diet,” Dulan says.
But that said, staying well hydrated is important to weight loss, as sometimes the body mistakes thirst for hunger, so drinking water can help you feel fuller.
“To calculate your water needs, take your body weight and divide by two,” Dulan says. “This is the number of ounces of water you need to drink every day.”
If you’re not into the taste of plain water, you can add fresh fruit or vegetable slices to add some flavor with minimal calories.
4. Write everything down.
“Writing down your food and beverage intake is critical to weight-loss success, because it keeps you accountable,” Dulan says. “My clients often tell me their eating habits get worse when they stop logging their food intake.”
These days, you don’t have to tote around a notebook either; there are dozens of apps available for your smartphone that help you track your diet. Some popular ones include:
— Calories Counter & Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal.
— MyPlate Calories Counter.
— Fitocracy Macros.
— Diet Assistant.
5. Skip the late-night snack.
Dulan recommends avoiding eating any additional food after dinner. This adds calories, but it also keeps your body from burning the stored calories it already has on board while you sleep.
“Late-night snacking is a problem for many people, especially when it’s done mindlessly while watching TV or browsing the Internet.” But stopping this habit can help you shed more weight more quickly.
6. Eat three meals per day, not five or six small ones.
Dulan recommends avoiding the common diet advice of eating five or six small meals and instead sticking to a more conventional three-squares-a-day approach.
“I have seen many people who are trying to lose weight graze all day long and never stop eating. Shifting to a three-meals-per-day mentality helps them to focus on eating a good source of protein and a whole grain along with fruits and vegetables at mealtime.”
In addition to teaching you to avoid eating outside of meal times, stopping snacking can also help create the calorie deficit you need to lose weight. Just watch your portion sizes during those meals so that you don’t overeat.
“To sustain weight loss, exercise often and switch up your workout routine around every four weeks,” Mazzucco says.
It’s often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. This turns out to be especially true when it comes to exercise. Mix up the types of exercises and workouts you do to keep on a steady weight-loss trajectory.
But remember that you must stay consistent in getting regular workouts in. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes per day, four to five times per week.
8. Feel the burn of high-intensity exercise.
Boosting your workout intensity and increasing the rate at which you burn fat may help you reach your goals faster.
“Weight and resistance training and high intensity interval training (or HIIT) burn the greatest amount of fat,” Mazzucco says. Plus, “HIIT leaves your metabolism burning an increase in calories for up to 24 hours post-exercise. It’s the most effective way to burn fat and it constantly spikes your heart rate for a brief period, which leaves your metabolism humming all day long.”
“If you want change, you must try high-intensity interval training (or HIIT), which is an excellent way to help you lose fat,” Dulan says.
9. Add in strength training.
“Since people seem so focused on their cardio, they often forget about weight training — my favorite part of the gym,” Dulan says. Strength training offers a variety of benefits for health and weight loss, such as toning and defining muscles and boosting your metabolism long after you leave the gym.
Dulan adds that if you’re short on time, “focus on your upper body. Your arms can show definition faster than larger muscle groups.” And she also recommends aiming for three to four, 30-minute weight-lifting sessions per week to help speed up results.
10. Don’t neglect cardio either.
While strength training helps preserve muscle mass and can help your body stay in a higher fat-burning mode long after you leave the gym, cardio should have a place in your routine too. “Cardio burns a high number of calories, helps condition the lungs and heart, and supports muscle-building goals,” Mazzucco says.
11. Get some rest.
Sleep is also a key component of sustainable weight loss. Not sleeping enough can encourage you to make less-healthy food choices, engage in late-night snacking and result in a spike in cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that can encourage the body to preserve its fat reserves. Because sleep is so critical to health as well as weight loss, aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.
Slow and steady wins the race.
Lastly, Youdim notes that “fast weight loss is often not durable weight loss because the strategies necessary to lose weight quickly are not sustainable. But, here’s a plug for slow and steady wins the race: 2 pounds per week equals 8 pounds per month, which equals nearly 25 pounds in 3 months and 50 pounds in 6 months. Not too shabby, right?”
Make smart, sustainable changes and you may be surprised just how quickly the pounds drop off.
11 tips for quicker weight loss:
— Consume protein at each meal.
— Don’t neglect other nutrients.
— Don’t drink your calories.
— Write everything down.
— Skip the late-night snack.
— Eat three meals per day, not five or six small ones.
— Feel the burn of high-intensity exercise.
— Add in strength training.
— Add in cardio. Get some rest.
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Update 01/20/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.