Even tiny changes in how and when you eat can add extra pounds or shut down the weight loss process. Did you start skipping breakfast or other meals? Did you try to lose weight by cutting out all sugar but now you’re bingeing on sweets ? Are you eating too many dairy foods to get extra calcium for bone health? If you’ve eliminated meals or changed your diet for what you thought were health reasons, your weight can go up.
People often cut out dairy when dieting, but cow’s milk has a lot of the nutrients that are essential to fat burning, including vitamin D and calcium. It’s also a great source of protein, which you need to build lean muscle, which is why experts say milk is a better post-workout drink than other beverages. Some research suggests that chugging moo juice after exercise results in more muscle gain and fat loss than drinking energy drinks. Find out more calcium-rich foods that are natural fat-burners.
You know that recording what you consume is a good way to keep your weight in check, but Brittany Hicks, who dropped 110 pounds in college, didn't only write down what she ate—she also wrote down why she was eating it. "I realized I'd been using food to cope with stress," she says. "Just noticing that helped me do it less." Make sure you're not making these food journal mistakes so you can reap the rewards of eating and jotting, too.
When you restrict your caloric intake, or cut out specific food groups, you do run the risk of having nutritional deficiencies, especially when it comes to micronutrients. Cutting out fatty foods, for example, could have the inadvertent effect of causing your omega-3 fatty acid intake to plummet, which could increase your long-term risk for cardiovascular disease (8).
"Any competitor who drastically cuts calories to try to get leaner for a show learns that that's not the best way to diet," says IFBB fitness competitor Laurie Vaniman. "You end up looking flat and depleted." The same holds true for noncompetitors; aim for a modest decrease in calories instead. Smaller bodybuilders shouldn't cut more than 200-300 calories per day, and larger bodybuilders shouldn't cut more than 500, says Aceto.
You see, the exercise techniques that work best are universal to men and women. And yet most women wouldn’t dare approach the gym like a guy. How do I know? Because the 10 women at my wife’s book club told me so last night, and it’s the same thing I’ve heard for the last 10 years in the fitness industry. The reality is that training “like a man” will actually make you leaner, sexier, and have your friends dying to know your secret.
Eating less does more for weight loss than exercising more. Consider putting the money you’d spend on a gym membership toward healthy groceries, instead. “Trying to exercise your way out of your weight problem is very difficult (because) it’s very hard to exercise that much,” explained Dr. Aronne. Burning about 3,500 calories equals one pound; someone weighing 150 pounds walking for an hour would burn around 250 calories. “You really need to cut down on calorie intake to lose the weight. Exercise is better at preventing weight gain.” The recommended daily diet is around 2,000 calories, but if you want to lose weight, Dr. Avigdor Arad, the director of the Mount Sinai Physiolab, suggests that women consume between 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day on average, and men between 1,500 and 1,800 calories. But visit your doctor to see how your own metabolism, family history and any medications you’re taking could be influencing how easily you gain and lose weight, and what your nutritional needs are. “There is a lot of variation,” he said.
Weight loss occurs when the body is expending more energy in work and metabolism than it is absorbing from food or other nutrients. It will then use stored reserves from fat or muscle, gradually leading to weight loss. For athletes seeking to improve performance or to meet required weight classification for participation in a sport, it is not uncommon to seek additional weight loss even if they are already at their ideal body weight. Others may be driven to lose weight to achieve an appearance they consider more attractive. However, being underweight is associated with health risks such as difficulty fighting off infection, osteoporosis, decreased muscle strength, trouble regulating body temperature and even increased risk of death.
Even if you do meet your goal, it's nearly impossible to keep off the weight over the long term: "The amount of restriction required [to maintain that number] will make you so hungry that you’ll eat everything in sight—it’s survival instinct," Dr. Seltzer says. And since calorie restriction gradually slows your metabolism, your body will be less prepared to burn the foods you binge on, he adds. That could mean gaining more pounds than you lost in the first place.
Another thing that messes with circadian rhythms? The blue light of digital devices. “We have seen increasing scientific evidence that the more you use devices, the higher your risk of obesity,” says Gillespie. The reason is twofold: One, the more time you spend in front of a screen, the less time you’re running around and playing. But also, experts believe, the blue light these devices emit can disrupt your internal clock. One study found that using a blue light-emitting device before bed delayed the release of melatonin, a hormone responsible for sleep, and the effect carried over to the following night as well.
While meal prep is considered a tedious task, sticking to homemade, wholesome meals are key to fat loss success says John Rowley, Certified Personal Trainer and International Sports Sciences Association Director of Wellness. John suggests organizing your grocery list on the weekend and planning each meal out for the week so that when it comes time to cook, you’re ready to roll—and less tempted to indulge in a quick fix on the way home. No time to cook? “Invest in a crockpot. Just add the ingredients in before heading out for the day, and come home to a healthy masterpiece.”
You can blame biology for your sweet tooth. We’re hardwired to have a preference for sweets, and this drive is universal and begins early on, according to research on the subject. Sugar makes food taste good, so food companies add it to everything from breads to soups to salad dressings to cereals, yogurts and more. This adds up to way too much sugar!
Regardless of where you stand, the fact is that the Paleo way of eating is becoming increasingly popular, as are "nutritional reset" programs based upon Paleo, such as the Primal Blueprint 21-day Challenge hosted by Marks Daily Apple, or the Whole30 program, popularized by the New York Times bestseller, It Starts with Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways (Est. $15).
TOPS also recommends that you get a diet recommendation from your doctor or follow the USDA's MyPlate tool, which focuses on filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables and the other half with lean meats and whole grains. TOPS is low-cost, nutritionally sound, provides plenty of support and is very affordable. However, it's not as structured as some other commercial weight loss programs, so those who prefer a diet that offers more specific meal guidelines may find it more difficult to follow.
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.