If you’re only getting a minimal amount of sleep each night, that leaves more time for you to snack and make otherwise unhealthy decisions that could affect your weight loss. Although it will vary from person to person on how much sleep you actually need to be most effective (and therefore make progress toward your weight loss goals), the ideal number is typically 7 or 8 hours, says Dr. Cheskin. (Struggling to get that shut-eye? This doctor-approved breathing exercise will help you fall asleep fast.)
So it’s no wonder that losing weight and getting in shape are among the most popular resolutions year over year, because so many people can’t keep them; 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. So Moneyish spoke with several leaders in the field of obesity research and prevention who have reviewed the science surrounding weight gain and loss to explain what to eat and avoid; how much exercise you need and which workouts work best; as well as their tips for making these moves a part of your new, well-balanced life in the New Year.
Needless to say, not getting enough rest leaves you feeling exhausted and hinders physical performance. What you may not realize is that nervous function, hormone production, and metabolism are also crippled due to lack of quality sleep. If your nervous system can’t function at full capacity, you’re far more likely to work slower, stress more, exercise less, and eat things that you shouldn’t because you’re in a hurry. Furthermore, inadequate rest can impair the production of key hormones responsible for the metabolism of fat cells.
Moving isn’t just for the gym. Americans tend to sit too much in general. You can combat that, finds research, by engaging in “spontaneous physical activity”—fidgeting, tapping, and getting up from your desk or the couch frequently. Make moving a habit by standing when you take calls, for instance, using the stairs when possible, or bouncing your legs when you’re seated. Every calorie burned helps.
When a client is looking to shed fat, registered dietitian and personal train Jim White will often suggest that they keep a food journal. “This really makes a person more aware of what and how much they’re eating and prevents mindless munching,” says White. “Food diaries also help people identify areas where they can make changes that will help them lose weight and inches. Food diaries can also help people discover patterns that lead to overeating.”
After dinner, wash all the dishes, wipe down the counters, turn out the light, and, if necessary, tape closed the cabinets and refrigerator. Late-evening eating significantly increases the overall number of calories you eat, a University of Texas study found. Learning how to stop late-night snacking can save 300 or more calories a day, or 31 pounds a year.
One of the biggest differentiating factors of Weight Watchers is their famous claim that you can eat whatever you want. A points-based system allows members to select which indulgences they want to spend their calories on, and that’s also one of the secrets to its success. When people feel that they aren’t being restricted, psychologically, it is easier for them to follow a diet plan. This is part of what you’ll get from a Weight Watchers membership:
If you have Celiac disease, of course you can and should eat gluten-free foods. But for those who choose gluten-free options because they think it’s healthier, think again. “As alternative grains are more bitter than their wheat-, barley-, and rye- gluten-containing counterparts, the most common means to mask bitterness is…wait for it…by adding high levels of sugar,” says Alvin Berger, MS, PhD, nutritionist, lipid biochemist and co-founder of Life Sense Products. “The sugar is added in its plethora of alternative forms and names, to provide cover. The bottom line is that many gluten-free foods are higher in total sugars and high glycemic-carbs than their gluten-containing counterparts.”
Consuming too many starchy foods, such as potatoes, rice, pasta, and breads (especially at one sitting), provides your body with more than it needs for energy and glycogen stores; anything left over will be stored as fat. "You don't have to eliminate starchy carbs completely," says IFBB pro Mike Matarazzo. "But you should really cut back on them when trying to shed body fat." Limit total starch servings per day to 3-5, where a serving size is one cup of pasta, rice, or sliced potatoes.
“When you want to burn fat from your midsection it’s so important to first look at what you’re eating,” says Kit Rich, celebrity trainer and co-owner of SHIFT by Dana Perri. “Before anything else, decrease the amount of sugar, alcohol and processed, starchy foods in your diet. Then replace these foods with high-protein foods and healthy fats like butter, ghee and coconut oil. Not only will this strategy boost satiety, which aids weight loss, it will also help the body burn fat.”
And that’s not just the junk food sabotaging your diet, or the time suckers keeping you from working out. We’re also talking about the fad diets, fitness trends and questionable studies that have made reaching and maintaining a healthy weight more confusing than ever by promising this superfood or that super intense workout is the quick fix to tip the scale in your favor. (They’ve also spawned a $66 billion weight loss market.)
This is hardly surprising when you consider just how successful (or not) quick-fix diet solutions have proven to be. Research indicates that not only do nearly 70% of fad diets fail due to people neglecting to couple them an appropriate exercise regime, but 65% of people who successfully complete a fad diet will end up gaining all of their weight back within a matter of months.
Due to a lack of supporting research, it's too soon to recommend alternative medicine as the primary method to lose weight. Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get tips on using supplements, but if you're considering the use of alternative medicine, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.
"Healthy fats are totally underutilized by individuals trying to shed body fat," says Matarazzo. "You have to reduce calories to get rid of body fat, but you don't want to cut out healthy fats completely." Fats take longer to break down in your stomach and help control blood-sugar levels, leaving you more satisfied and reducing your cravings. Include avocados, fatty fish, olives, nuts and seeds, and oils such as olive, flaxseed, and canola in your diet.
When it comes to food, there is evidence that men and women’s brains are wired differently. In a study published in the January 2009 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, even though women said they weren’t hungry when asked to smell, taste, and observe treats such as pizza, cinnamon buns and chocolate cake, brain scans showed activity in the regions that control the drive to eat (not the case for men).
The plan is simple: Commit to two weeks of restricted dieting, then transfer to a sustainable regime. Phase one: Cut out restaurant food, added sugar, eating while watching TV, snacking on anything other than fruits and veggies, and limit meat and dairy. You’re also asked to add four healthy habits, simple tweaks like having a good breakfast every morning.
The support of others can play a vital role in losing weight and maintaining your health. Look for an online weight loss program that boasts a vibrant, active community you can participate in. Elements that mark a strong community include message boards, member blogs and weight loss challenges sponsored by the service to encourage and energize members. Online weight loss support can come from the service as well as fellow dieters facing the same challenge.
The equation is simple: Protein builds muscle. More muscle = more fat burning. And fish is one of the healthiest sources of lean protein—especially wild salmon, says dietitian Lauren Minchen. It’s a rich source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, which fuel fat burning, block fat storage and aid weight loss, she explains. But that’s not all: “Getting enough protein and healthy fat also helps to reduce cravings and has been shown to help keep weight off for longer,” adds Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Alissa Rumsey. Just make sure you’re buying the right kind of fish by reading this special report: 8 Mistakes You’re Making When Buying Salmon!
There’s also the impact fiber has on your gut health. By now you’ve likely heard of the microbiome—the trillions of bacteria that live in your digestive tract. It turns out that a predominance of certain strains of bacteria may encourage inflammation and weight gain, and eating fiber-rich foods can favorably shift this balance. While it’s too soon to say that changing your microbial makeup will prompt weight loss, it’s likely to send a “hey, stop gaining weight,” message.
Want to lose that belly fat? In your dreams! Seriously, though: a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to get rid of that extra fat around your waist for good. Among the 60,000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study, those who snoozed for fewer than five hours a night were at the greatest risk of becoming obese and gaining 30 or more pounds over the course of the 16-year study period when compared to those who slept for seven or more hours.
Sometimes, to whip your body into shape, you have to get a little nutty. While nuts are high in fat, it’s that very fat that makes them such powerful weapons in the war against a ballooning belly. In fact, research from Reina Sofia University Hospital reveals that study participants who consumed a diet rich in monounsaturated fats, like those in nuts, over a 28-day period gained less belly fat than their saturated fat-consuming counterparts while improving their insulin sensitivity.
And as people get older they tend to become less active, which means you burn fewer calories all day long. Plus, you naturally lose muscle mass due to hormonal changes, which further drops your daily calorie-burn rate. Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue, so a body with less lean tissue has a lower metabolism and is prone to weight gain.
Many diet plans rely on meal-replacement shakes, bars or other snack type foods, while others rely on frozen entrees as a major part of your diet, like Medifast and Nutrisystem. Ask yourself if you want the bulk of your diet relying on prepackaged snacks, shakes or frozen meals, or if you prefer the flexibility of cooking your own meals or eating out frequently.
Eat Breakfast Every Day. One habit that's common to many people who have lost weight and kept it off is eating breakfast every day. "Many people think skipping breakfast is a great way to cut calories, but they usually end up eating more throughout the day, says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author of The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the New Food Pyramids. "Studies show people who eat breakfast have lower BMIs than breakfast-skippers and perform better, whether at school or in the boardroom." Try a bowl of whole-grain cereal topped with fruit and low-fat dairy for a quick and nutritious start to your day.
After an intense weight workout, your body needs carbs and starches to replenish blood-sugar levels and stop the breakdown of muscle. This is also the time when your insulin sensitivity and metabolism are at their highest. Enjoying your biggest meal when your body is craving energy and cutting back on the rest of your meals throughout the day will minimize any unwanted fat gains.
Obviously, it’s still possible to lose weight on any diet – just eat fewer calories than you burn, right? The problem with this simplistic advice is that it ignores the elephant in the room: Hunger. Most people don’t like to “just eat less”, i.e. being hungry forever. That’s dieting for masochists. Sooner or later, a normal person will give up and eat, hence the prevalence of “yo-yo dieting”.
Fennel, peppermint, and ginger have all been shown in research studies to have calming effects on the belly. They work by enhancing digestive enzymes so your food gets moved through your system faster. And faster-moving food means a flatter tummy. In addition, peppermint reduces cramping and gas, ginger helps with nausea and inflammation, and fennel is a diuretic to help you stop retaining water.