Suspect you have a sluggish metabolism? You might have hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland, which afflicts about 25 percent of American women — many of whom don't know they have the condition, according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. "The thyroid gland controls your body's metabolism, so one of the first signs that it may be off is an inability to lose weight," explains Pamela Peeke, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and author of Fight Fat After Forty. Your doctor can determine if you're suffering from hypothyroidism by running a blood test. If you do have an underactive thyroid, you'll be treated with a synthetic thyroid supplement, which you will need to take for the rest of your life (it will return your metabolism to normal, so it should be easier to drop unwanted pounds).
Whole foods include fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, eggs, seafood, chicken and so on. Food philosophies may differ around which of these foods to emphasize, but that’s okay, since the evidence shows that there isn’t a single best way to lose weight. The goal is to select an approach that feels sustainable to you. If you can easily live without pasta, perhaps a low-carb method centered around veggies and quality proteins, like seafood, chicken, and lean beef would be a good fit. Vegans and vegetarians can lose weight by choosing fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant proteins. Nut lovers may do well shedding pounds with a Mediterranean-style menu. Whatever diet appeals to your appetite and way of life, focusing on whole foods is something that all plans promote.
When you want to turn your diet around, don’t focus on the idea of restriction, Zeratsky says. Instead, think about the foods you can eat and how you can manage your hunger. “Eat foods that are more filling and have more water, like fruits and veggies, which will help your stomach respond to the weight to food,” she says. Plus, they’re low-cal and you still need that calorie deficit to drop belly 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.)
"About a year ago, I went to the doctor for my annual exam. I had just turned 30, and the number on the scale was the highest it had ever been, and my cholesterol was high," says Lauren Zarzour, 31. "I joined Weight Watchers and ClassPass. I'm now 30 pounds lighter and have developed a better understanding of nutrition and a passion for the gym. I've learned how much more you value food when every day isn't an indulgence, and how amazing it is to be strong. I wish I would have known how easy it could be, but I don't think it would have been easy if I hadn't had that epiphany." (Related: How to Rekindle Your Weight-Loss Motivation)
Making a smoothie and ordering a smoothie at a shop are two very different things. When you make a smoothie yourself, you can measure the exact amount of fruit, swap water or almond milk for juice, and avoid any additional sweeteners. But many pre-made smoothies contain between 600 to 1,000 calories, on average, and are loaded with sugar. “An average height woman who is trying to lose weight is probably on a 1,200 to 1,400 calorie diet,” Amidor says. “So consuming one smoothie with 1,000 calories can easily sabotage any weight loss efforts.”
Good sleep hygiene can help. “Our ancestors needed to sleep when it was dark, quiet, and cool, Gillespie says. “That meant it was safe.” Despite technological advancements like heat and air conditioning, our bodies still crave those cave-like conditions. Draw the blinds, use a white noise generator, and keep the thermostat set between 63 and 68 degrees.
There are a variety of definitions of what moderate-intensity exercise is, but it typically falls between about 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, which would be a level 4 to 6 on a 10-point perceived exertion scale. That means you are breathing harder than normal but can carry on a conversation without much difficulty and you feel pretty comfortable with what you're doing. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) often recommends this level of intensity in its exercise guidelines. The lower end of this range usually incorporates the fat burning zone.
Foods rich in the amino acid leucine can help build the lean muscle mass that’s needed to trim excess fat from your frame. Leucine is one of the most important amino acids to consume to develop lean muscle mass, says McDaniel. It literally jumpstarts the process. Great sources of the nutrient include beef, chicken, pork, tuna, milk, peanuts, lentils and eggs.
While 1,200 may be the right number for some, it can be super restrictive for others, says Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Nutrition Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute. Try basing your meals and snacks off this plan and double up on veggies at any opportunity — more fruit at snack time works too! You can also add an extra ounce or two of protein at all meals if you find yourself feeling hungry. The combo of fiber from produce and lean protein makes this an adaptable strategy that’ll help you lose weight safely — one meal (and snack) at a time!
Sure, ketchup is tasty, but it’s also a serious saboteur when it comes your weight loss efforts. Ketchup is loaded with sugar — up to four grams per tablespoon — and bears little nutritional resemblance to the fruit from which it’s derived. Luckily, swapping out your ketchup for salsa can help you shave off that belly fat fast. Fresh tomatoes, like those used in salsa, are loaded with lycopene, which a study conducted at China Medical University in Taiwan links to reductions in both overall fat and waist circumference. If you like your salsa spicy, all the better; the capsaicin in hot peppers, like jalapeños and chipotles, can boost your metabolism, too.
If you’re logging just a few hours of sleep a night, you may actually find yourself gaining weight. Researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center found that subjects who slept just four hours had a harder time processing carbs. "When you're exhausted, your body lacks the energy to do its normal day-to-day functions, which includes burning calories efficiently," says Talbott.
Cinnamon contains powerful antioxidants called polyphenols that are proven to alter body composition and improve insulin sensitivity. A Metabolism journal study showed that the addition of dietary cinnamon can activate thermogenesis and potentially help you burn fat. Add it to your overnight oats or sprinkle some in your coffee to reap the benefits.
The study began with 609 relatively healthy overweight and obese people, and 481 completed the whole year. For the first month, everyone did what they usually did. Then, for the next eight weeks, the low-fat group reduced their total fat intake to 20 grams per day, and the low-carb group reduced their total carbohydrate intake to 20 grams per day. These are incredibly restricted amounts, considering that there are 26 grams of carbs in the yogurt drink I’m enjoying as I write this, and 21 grams of fat in my half of the dark chocolate bar my husband and I split for dessert last night.
Get all that? Basically, the differences between groups were minimal. Yes, the low-fat group dropped their daily fat intake and the low-carb group dropped their daily carb intake. But both groups ended up taking in 500 to 600 calories less per day than they had before, and both lost the same average amount of weight (12 pounds) over the course of a year. Those genetic and physical makeups didn’t result in any differences either. The only measure that was different was that the LDL (low density lipoprotein) was significantly lower in the low-fat group, and the HDL (high density lipoprotein) was significantly higher in the low-carb group.
A $70 billion industry has grown fat off answering the question of what is the best way to lose weight. Scientists at the University of Toronto studied 59 weight-loss research articles and clinical studies from 48 randomized control trials to answer this question, and their conclusion was simple: The best diet is whatever you can stick to. The scientists found that each diet program produced similar weight loss on average. The success of the diet was based on how well the participants were able to adhere to it. Ultimately it doesn't matter if the diet is low-carb, high-fat, paleo, vegan or a point system like Weight Watchers; the most effective weight-loss diet is the one you’re able to stick to in the long term.
DASH stands for "dietary approach to stop hypertension" and was created by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a way to help reverse national trends of obesity and heart disease. Scientists combed through decades of research to come up with an expert-backed list of diet tips, along with a prescription for exercise. And it worked: The DASH diet has topped nearly every diet list for nearly a decade. Doctors particularly recommend it for people looking to lower high blood pressure, reverse diabetes, and lower their risk of heart disease. (Here's the basic list of DASH diet-approved foods.)
Weight training is the ultimate way to burn calories fast. "A pound of muscle burns up to nine times the calories of a pound of fat," explains Richard Cotton, M.A., chief exercise physiologist for myexerciseplan.com. Weight training increases your resting metabolic rate, which is the number of calories you burn while sitting on your butt. What's more, it gives your metabolism an added boost after you exercise, staying in overdrive for up to two hours after the last bench press, according to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Strapped for time? Try these quick moves: squats, bench step-ups, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups and planks. In a pinch, just do single sets of 10 for each exercise — you'll get optimal results for the time invested.
Listen up: Skipping meals will not make you lose weight faster. If a hectic day makes a sit-down meal impossible, stash an energy bar or a piece of fruit in your car or tote, keep snacks in your office desk drawer, and make a point of getting up to grab a nosh — anything that will keep you from going hungry! Going long periods of time without food does double-duty harm on our healthy eating efforts by both slowing down your metabolism, and priming you for another binge later in the day. (Think: You've skipped breakfast and lunch, so you're ready to takedown a whole turkey by dinner!) Make it your mission to eat three meals and two snacks every day, and don't wait longer than three to four hours without eating. Set a "snack alarm" on your phone if needed.
This may explain why the fat-burning effects of eating more protein were confirmed in a study published in the American Journal of Physiology. One group was fed a high-protein diet (just over 1 gram per pound of body weight per day) while the second group consumed an amount closer to the lower recommendation of the RDA (recommended dietary allowance). The group eating the higher-protein diet burned the most fat.
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.
Fruits like berries, cherries, apples, and oranges are high in quercetin, a natural compound that reduces inflammation in the belly. And if you put a bowl of the good stuff right where you can see it in your kitchen, you’re more likely to reach for it when you want a snack. These are the 10 reasons why apple cider vinegar is brilliant for slimming down.