Doc’s Corner

8 Top Tips to Lose Weight, According to Science

These proven secrets to slimming down are backed by real research.

Many of us made at least some resolutions as we started the New Year. Now the task is to execute those challenges. Losing some weight is one of the most common resolutions.

In theory, losing weight is simple: burn more calories than you consume. But, anyone who’s tried to slim down can tell you, it’s harder than it sounds. And commercial diets, ever-evolving recommendations and conflicting information don’t help.

Fortunately, science has your back. Reliable research and thorough studies have established some concrete facts about slimming down.

SAY “NO” TO ELIMINATION DIETS

In a world of low-fat, low-carb and high-protein diets, it can be tough to determine the best way to lose weight. Diets like Atkins don’t promote long-term weight loss. Instead, eating a healthy balance of fruits, veggies, healthy fats, whole grains and proteins is a more sustainable approach.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest elimination diets limit your nutritional intake and aren’t usually successful for weight loss in the long run. Instead of banning food groups from your diet, make better choices:

  • Load half your plate with non-starchy veggies, like broccoli and asparagus.
  • Add a three-ounce serving of lean protein, like chicken or salmon, to your meal.
  • Pile on a half-cup serving of whole grains, like brown rice or quinoa.
  • Sweeten your meal with low-sugar fruits, like berries.
  • Enjoy moderate amounts of healthy fats, like olive oil and avocado.

KEEP A FOOD JOURNAL

Weight loss itself really comes down to simple math—calories in versus calories out. To lose weight, you must be in a calorie deficit, meaning you’re burning off more calories than you’re consuming. An old rule of thumb: dropping one pound means   torching about 3,500 calories. To do this in a week, you would consume 500 fewer calories a day—or burn that much during exercise.

Keeping track of your calories—in and out—can be harder than you think. Food journaling is an important tool so you can really understand what you’re putting in your body.

Research supports this recommendation. Results from one study of 1,700 people suggest those who kept a food diary lost twice as much weight as those that did not. Make your own food journal by taking handwritten notes on the foods you eat throughout the day, or download an app, like MyFitnessPal, to help you keep track. This and numerous other apps are available for free. They make keeping track much easier and offer tracking calories burned as well.

EAT WHOLE FOODS

When you’re looking to drop a dress size or reduce your girth, you may be inclined to reach for the low-fat, low-carb or reduced-calorie options in your supermarket. These may not be best for shedding pounds, since typical “weight loss” options often contain additives, like artificial sweeteners. Instead, reach for whole foods, like fruits, veggies, lean protein and whole grains, which research suggests are best for weight loss.

When compared to refined grains like white rice and pasta, less-refined whole grains like quinoa and brown rice digest more slowly, keeping you fuller, longer. This makes whole grains better for dropping pounds.

Despite its caloric load, a moderate portion of nuts also helps with weight management. Research suggests noshing can sate hunger and help you eat less. Just keep it to one serving—24 almonds, 14 walnut halves or 35 peanuts, (non sweetened and low salt).

MOVE MORE THROUGHOUT THE DAY

Diet is the main driver of actually losing weight, but exercise is important in keeping pounds off for the long-term. If you attempt to lose weight strictly by diet alone, without incorporating exercise, you’re typically not going to be successful. It really is a total package—you have to be committed to ”Life-style” change.

A 2014 systemic review that included eight studies and more than 1,000 participants supports this. Researchers found, over a 12-month period, diet and exercise were more effective for weight loss and maintenance than either diet or exercise alone.

There are many ways to incorporate exercise into a daily routine. The coaches at Elite Fitness Plus provide excellent encouragement to improve fitness. In addition  to regular exercise routines, it is best to remain active throughout the day. Don’t waste time waiting for a closer parking space, walk more. Take the stairs up (down may be hard on your knees) rather than waiting for the elevator. Find activities you enjoy. That way, being active becomes less of a chore.

In 30 minutes, a 155-pound person can burn:

  • 165 calories dancing
  • 165 calories doing yard work
  • 90 calories stretching
  • 255 calories swimming

PLAN HEALTHY SNACKS

No one wants to feel hungry, especially when you’re dieting. Healthy, well-planned snacks can keep you satisfied and help you lose weight. If you eat when you’re hungry, often you will tend to eat more than prudent.  Consider eating between four and six smaller strategic meals throughout the day and not allow yourself to become hungry.

Snacking between meals can help sate hunger and prevent bingeing at your next meal. In fact, some research suggests people who eat more than three times per day actually weigh less than those who don’t. Mid-afternoon bites may also boost energy and give you the push you need to power through an activity. Always have some caloric intake prior to your workouts.

Research on just how much meal frequency affects weight is conflicting, however, and snacking throughout the day may not be for everyone. If all-day eating is too much effort or you find yourself reaching for unhealthy snacks, stick to eating fewer meals a day.

One thing’s for sure: if you’re looking to slim down, meals, regardless of how frequently you eat them, should be moderately low in calories. Don’t blow your calorie goals by gorging at every meal. Diet-friendly snacks should be around 100 calories, contain fiber, protein and carbohydrates and be free of added sugar, salt and unhealthy fat.

Healthy snack options include:

  • 2 tablespoons of hummus and 1 cup of carrots
  • Fruit smoothie with 1 cup of berries and 1/2 cup nonfat milk
  • 1 small apple and low-fat string cheese
  • celery with peanut butter

DRINK MORE WATER

If you’re looking to slim down, H2O may be just what your body needs. We get some hydration from the foods we eat, but drinking water is the best way to replenish the fluid we lose throughout the day. The exact amount of water your body needs depends on gender, activity level, climate and overall health, but most people need a minimum of 64 ounces of water daily. Drink enough so that your urine remains very pale yellow.

One 2011 systemic review found that those who drank a sugar-sweetened beverage, like soda, before a meal consumed more calories than those who drank water. There’s a possible explanation: Calories from beverages—like the 140 calories in a 12-ounce can of cola—tend to be less satisfying than those from foods. Even after you’ve guzzled a glass of your favorite drink, you’ll likely still consume a full meal.

It’s also common to mistake a feeling of thirst for that of hunger, which makes us eat when we’re not actually hungry. Some, but not all, research suggests water actually fills your stomach, causing you to eat less at your next feeding. If you’re looking to slim down, before you reach for your next meal, drink a glass of water.

TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR

Age, medication and health conditions can influence your ability to slim down.

  • After about age 30, lean tissue is gradually replaced by fat, making weight loss more difficult, especially for those that do not regularly exercise.
  • Certain prescription drugs, like beta-blockers and antidepressants, can alter your metabolism, change the way your body absorbs nutrients and increase your appetite.
  • Diseases like polycystic ovary syndrome, a disorder that causes an imbalance of hormones, can make shedding pounds harder.
  • Too much stress and too little sleep can boost your cravings for unhealthy eats.

There is no quick fix or miracle diet for weight loss, but these science-backed tips can help put you on the right track. A nutritious diet, regular physical activity, proper sleep and management of stress are key components to slimming down.

 

Paul R. Block, MD, FACP,FCCP


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