Losing weight and keeping it off is a matter of cutting back what you eat and increasing your amount of exercise. “The simplest equation in the world, calories in and calories out, determines your weight loss,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, of Sarasota, Fla., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
But if that’s all you do, you may find yourself ultimately regaining the weight you worked so hard to lose. The reason: Weight loss is a matter of lifestyle and, if you don’t adopt the healthy habits necessary to sustain your weight loss, you could backslide into overweight and obesity.
Here are some tips aimed at helping you create a healthy lifestyle that will improve your chances for successful weight loss. They might seem like common sense, but many people committed to losing weight neglect these healthy habits and end up struggling to succeed.
1. Watch Your Portions
Portion control is a key challenge to Americans pursuing weight loss. “The best way to control the calories is to go with portion control,” says Dr. Gerbstadt. Piling food onto your plate can make you feel pressured to eat it all. Start with small portions, and go back for (a little) more if you’re still hungry. Keep in mind that your stomach will grumble early on, until it has shrunk to adapt to the smaller meals you’re now eating.
Portion control is doubly important when eating out. “Most people are catching on to the fact that when you eat out at a restaurant, the calories are two to three times what you really need for that meal,” says Gerbstadt. “You might get a salad and an appetizer and call it a meal, rather than get a salad and an entrée.”
2. Eat Slowly
It takes a little while for your body to realize that you’ve eaten and to stop sending signals of hunger. If you slow down and savor your food, you probably will eat less before your body acknowledges that you’re full.
3. Eat Your Vegetables First
Vegetables contain plenty of fiber and bulk but few calories. By eating them first, you might eat less of any fatty or high-calorie items on your plate.
4. Don’t Skip Meals
Skipping meals sounds like a good idea, but it actually undermines your weight-loss plan. Your body thinks it is being starved and starts building body fat in an attempt to store energy away for later. On top of that, you’re likely to be even hungrier for your next meal and eat far more than you would have otherwise. The best course is to eat three small meals, with two or three small snacks in between.
5. Drink Plenty of Water
Water helps you feel full throughout your day, aiding your weight-loss efforts. Water also provides innumerable health benefits to your skin and your digestive and circulatory systems.
6. Switch to Healthy Snacks
Swap out the high-calorie or high-fat snacks in your diet for healthier alternatives. Fruits, low-fat string cheese, peanut butter, and whole-grain crackers are some good options. Create snacks that combine carbohydrates and proteins, like peanut butter on apple slices, as they will make you feel full longer.
7. Exercise as Often as You Can
Burning calories through physical activity is essential to weight loss. If you don’t burn more calories than you eat, you won’t lose weight. “People think they’re too busy to walk 20 minutes a day or do a little weight training or ride a bike, and then they wonder why they can’t lose weight,” Gerbstadt says. “If you try to diet without exercise, it just takes that much more effort.” Any physical activity, even long walks, will help.
8. Keep a Record
Food diaries are a proven aid to people pursing weight loss. Keep track of what you’ve eaten and how many calories the food contained. If you also keep a record of your exercise, you can compare how many calories you’re burning to how many calories you’re consuming.
Healthy and sustainable weight loss does not occur overnight, despite the promises of fad diets. Losing a pound or two a week is normal, and shows that you are adopting weight-loss habits as a part of your lifestyle.