The secret to lasting weight loss is that weight loss starts…before you eat a thing. “The idea that you just have to eat less or exercise more to lose weight isn’t helpful,” says Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, NYC-based nutrition and wellness expert and co-author of Sugar Shock. “Healthy weight loss involves developing a set of skills that help you make decisions about which foods to eat and your lifestyle habits.”
There are so many factors that come into play, she says, “like which foods are most filling and promote better appetite-regulation, how well you’re sleeping, and how much stress you’re under. Losing weight is challenging, but it can happen! However, it may involve redefining your idea of weight loss.” With that in mind, we reached out to three top registered dieticians to ask them their secrets to lasting weight loss, and here they share 15 with you—read on.
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“Focusing on the scale can actually slow down the rate of weight loss,” says Sarah Krieger, MPH, RDN. “The number on the scale is usually not what a person wants to see, which can lead to either eating more (of the wrong foods), or restricting even more or just giving up any behavior changes already established. Go by how your clothes fit or take measurements to gauge weight loss instead.”
Many people think they need to eat less often. But eating every three to five hours—typically three meals and one to two snacks—can help you not get to the point of being hangry and where you end up going completely overboard. I recommend making sure to include sources of protein, healthy fat, and fiber with each meal—and at least one or two of those with a snack. An example of this would be to pair whole-grain crackers with berries for a snack,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a plant-based registered dietitian and owner of Plant-Based Eats in Stamford, CT.
“If you’re in the habit of having a bowl of cereal or oatmeal or another carb-rich breakfast (say, a muffin, bagel, or toast), you may want to re-think this meal,” says Cassetty. “For healthy weight loss, it’s more helpful to eat a balanced breakfast that’s rich in protein. A protein-rich breakfast can help reduce cravings, and that can help you avoid unintentional snacking that can add hundreds of calories to your diet. Also, as part of the body’s routine maintenance, you break down muscle tissue at night.”
“You really can lose weight eating anything,” says Krieger. “Typically, when a person eliminates a favorite food in an attempt to lose weight (chocolate is a common one), it’s temporary. Of course a person will over indulge at some point. It’s better to include a small portion of a favorite high-sugar food with a meal (not on an empty stomach, which can lead to over consumption) at least every few days.”
Eat This, Not That! Tip: “Getting sufficient protein in the morning is critical for repairing that tissue and preventing muscle loss over time,” says Cassetty. “That means that consuming protein in the morning helps keep your metabolism operating at peak performance, helping you lose weight and keep it off. Most adults would benefit from about 20 to 25 grams of protein in the morning, which is the amount in a cup of Greek yogurt.”
“Breakfast skipping is a common habit, and it’s widespread among those who are practicing intermittent fasting,” says Cassetty. “But this may not be helping your weight loss journey. We know that among people who have maintained their weight loss for at least a year, 78% reported eating breakfast. Also, research suggests that your body is more efficient at burning calories in the morning. Scientists showed this by comparing the calorie burn after eating a large dinner or a large breakfast of equal calories, with the same number of calories consumed over the day. After breakfast, study participants burned 2.5 times the calories as when they had eaten a bigger dinner. They also reported fewer sugary cravings.”
“Staying hydrated can be so helpful both for weight loss and for weight-loss maintenance! In a study in Obesity, people with obesity who drank about two cups of water before eating each of their daily meals lost more than 9 pounds in about a three-month period!” says Gorin.
“Studies show that nighttime eating may make it more challenging to lose weight, and this habit may make you more likely to gain weight, so it’s helpful to reduce unnecessary eating at night,” says Cassetty. “Often, nighttime snacking is a habit, rather than a necessity to reduce hunger. Plus, eating too close to bedtime or being overfull at night can interfere with sleep, and in turn, mess up your appetite-regulating hormones. The result is you feel hungrier, and your feelings of fullness are delayed. That’s why I recommend social distancing from your kitchen at night.”
Eat This, Not That! Tip: “Our environment can influence our eating habits, so if you’re spending time in your kitchen or even just strolling back and forth, it might encourage overeating at night, even if you aren’t hungry,” says Cassetty. “Once you’ve had enough to eat and feel content, clean the kitchen and turn off the lights to signal that it’s closed. Then find a replacement for this habit, such as crafting or working on a puzzle.”
“Yes, you can still eat dessert and lose weight!” says Gorin. “I recommend desserts that are whole-foods based and that contain little or no added sugar. So for instance, a nice chocolate cream made with bananas and unsweetened cocoa powder—or a chocolate pudding made with bananas, powdered peanut butter, and coconut.”
“We all learned to eat as children of course, but we also may have picked up some poor habits as children (drinking soda, cleaning the plate, food as reward, etc.),” says Krieger. “If you work with a mental health counselor or psychologist to address old habits (why we eat the way we do), you’d be surprised how quickly you start to lose weight once old habits are understood in a therapy session!”
“If you aren’t sleeping seven to nine hours each night, it will be hard to manage your appetite and cravings and feel content after eating,” says Cassetty. “That means it will be hard to manage your weight.”
Eat This, Not That! Tip: “There are plenty of things you can do to support better sleep. For example, eat a balanced breakfast,” says Cassetty. “Studies indicate that skipping breakfast is tied to poor sleep quality, but eating breakfast can help you fall asleep faster and improve your sleep quality. After mid-day, limit coffee and tea and stay within the appropriate alcohol guidelines, which specify no more than a drink a day for women and two a day for men. Even though alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, it can cause sleep disturbances, like less restorative sleep and more disruptions. Also, eating healthfully—getting enough fiber from whole, plant foods, and reducing the amount of added sugars and refined grains you eat—can help you sleep better.”
“Eat protein, vegetables with a little fat first as part of a meal. When we eat sugar or carbs first, it can be harder to limit the portion,” says Krieger.
“Studies show that regularly eating the staples of a plant-based diet, such as chickpeas, white beans, and black beans, can help with weight loss. In fact, a study found that eating these foods daily can lead to a weight loss of close to a pound in about a six-week period. This can add up significantly over time!” says Gorin.
“About half of adults drink soda every day, and cutting this one thing from your diet will help you lose weight,” diet will help you lose weight,” says Cassetty. “Plenty of research ties soda drinking with weight gain, and there’s also evidence that exercise doesn’t counter this effect. That’s because the calories in soda don’t contribute to fullness, so we drink them on top of the foods we eat to fill up, and they promote a calorie surplus.”
Drink This, Not That! Tip: “If you’re drinking soda, the best thing you can do is to cut back on it,” says Cassetty. A sugar-free seltzer or tea would be best. Or: “If you like a sweeter drink, try one glass of 100% orange juice in place of your soda. You might be surprised to learn that it has no added sugars, and it counts toward your fruit requirements. Plus, one study found that 100% OJ doesn’t interfere with weight loss when part of a calorie-controlled diet, but instead, contributes to other health benefits. In the study, participants who drank OJ as part of their reduced-calorie diet experienced improvements in insulin and cholesterol levels and a marker of inflammation compared to dieters who skipped it.”
“Hypnosis is a wonderful tool to lose weight. It can help address habits, barriers a person may have (eating at night while watching a movie, for example), body image and helping with portion control,” says Krieger, who is a hypnotist.
“I see people jumping on board with things like juice cleanses,” says Gorin. “These types of diets aren’t sustainable and they don’t provide you with a healthy, balanced diet. Eat balanced meals, practice mindful eating–so limit background noise and distractions while you eat–and eat every three to five hours, and you’re on your way to being healthier and to weight control.”
“Instead of pursuing thinness or an arbitrary ideal weight or BMI number,” says Cassetty, “try to find a sane and sustainable weight where you can enjoy all the things in life you want to enjoy—such as having a glass of wine or a slice of pizza sometimes, while also being able to climb up the stairs comfortably, for example.” She goes on: “Instead of focusing on a goal weight or size, focus on the things you can control, like developing sustainable health behaviors. Start slowly by deciding on one change you could reasonably make. Once you successfully make that change, take on another one. Ultimately, these behavior changes are the key to lasting weight loss and better health.” As for exactly what to eat now that you’ve got these great tips, don’t miss these 19 Weight Loss Foods That Really Work, Say Experts.