How to Win at Losing Weight
We combed the latest research studies and picked the minds of leading obesity experts to get the skinny on how you can keep those pounds off for good
Watch Your Portions
“Eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch, and a pauper at dinner.” Turns out this old adage has some science behind it. A study published in the journal Obesity looked at the eating habits of overweight and obese women with a cluster of conditions (such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol) that raise the risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Those who ate a big breakfast, average lunch, and small dinner lost more weight and had lower blood glucose levels than those who ate a small breakfast, average lunch, and large dinner.
When eating, start with your nonstarchy vegetables and protein, then finish up with your grains and starchy veggies. This pattern leads to a lower-than-expected rise in blood glucose after a meal compared with the same foods eaten in the opposite order. It also lowers levels of hunger-increasing hormones such as ghrelin, according to a study published in February in the journal Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism.
Hit the Brakes
Slow down your eating. People with type 2 diabetes who do so are 42 percent less likely to be obese than those who scarf down their food, according to a Japanese study published last year in the medical journal BMJ Open. Bonus points if you eat dinner at least two hours before bedtime and skip the after-dinner snacks—both were linked to a reduced risk of obesity.
Ditch the Booze
The added calories can sabotage your weight-loss goals, according to a study published in 2018 in the medical journal Obesity. Overweight or obese people with type 2 diabetes who abstained from alcohol completely lost more weight over a four-year period than those who drank any amount.
Pulse It Up
People who eat a serving a day (around 3/4 of a cup) of pulses—foods such as beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils—can have modest weight loss, even without any other changes to their eating plans, according to a 2016 review of research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Another bonus: Pulses have been shown to help regulate blood glucose levels and lower cholesterol.
Boost Your Bacteria
If you exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet but still can’t shed pounds, new research suggests your gut may be to blame. When researchers at the Mayo Clinic collected and analyzed the gut bacteria of 26 weight-loss patients, they found specific bacteria linked to weight-loss success and failure. To up the good bacteria in your gut, focus on foods rich in prebiotics, plant fibers that feed healthy gut bacteria. They’re found in foods such as leeks, onions, garlic, asparagus, whole wheat, spinach, beans, bananas, oats, and soybeans. And get plenty of probiotics, live bacteria found in foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi, and kefir.
Strike a Pose
Yoga helps with weight loss and prevents weight gain, according to a 2013 review of research published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. One study included in the review, for example, found that middle-aged overweight men and women who practiced yoga for at least a half hour once a week were much less likely to gain weight over a 10-year period. Participants who did yoga lost about 5 pounds, while those who didn’t gained 14 pounds, on average. Researchers believe yoga’s weight-busting effects are due in part to increased body awareness, which helps prevent overeating. An added bonus: Practicing yoga can help with balance and flexibility, which are key for independence in older age.
Be a HIIT Maker
People who do high-intensity interval training (HIIT)—bursts of all-out exercise with short breaks in between—lose about 29 percent more weight than those who exercise at a continuous moderate intensity, according to a review published in February in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Another, smaller study of people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes found that HIIT can help the muscles take up glucose. Ready to try it? First, get the okay from your doctor, especially if you have complications of diabetes. Once you get the green light, make sure you can do 20 to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking. Next, add brief intervals. Start with a five-minute warm-up, then move on to one minute of slow jogging followed by two minutes of walking. Repeat three times.
Adults in their 60s on a low-calorie eating plan who did resistance training for 45 minutes a day, four days a week, lost more fat and less muscle than those who followed a low-calorie diet and walked four days a week or relied on diet alone, according to a study published in 2017 in the medical journal Obesity.
To combat the negative effects of sitting for long stretches, the American Diabetes Association’s 2019 Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes recommends getting out of your seat every 30 minutes. Doing so can help you lose weight, too, according to a review of research published in 2018 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. The researchers examined 46 studies with over 1,100 participants and concluded that a 143-pound person whose time standing totaled six hours over the course of a day would burn an extra 54 calories a day—the equivalent of 5.5 pounds over an entire year—without making any other eating or exercise changes.
Weigh Yourself Daily
People who step on the scale every day lose more weight than those who do so less frequently. In a study published in 2015 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, overweight people who weighed themselves daily as part of a weight-loss plan lost an additional 13.5 pounds, on average, over a six-month period. This is most likely because frequent weigh-ins force you to hold yourself accountable. Keep in mind that your weight can fluctuate day to day; it’s the general downward (or upward) trend that’s important. Try weighing yourself at about the same time each day.
Take a Break
Pulling the plug on dieting for a week or two may be just what you need to turbocharge your weight loss. In a study published in 2017 in the International Journal of Obesity, 51 obese men were randomly assigned to either diet continuously for 16 weeks or spend two weeks on the diet and two weeks off, for a total of 30 weeks. The intermittent group lost about 17 pounds more than the nonstop dieters. This may be because the on-again, off-again approach helps prevent your metabolism from slowing down, which often happens when your body realizes you’re cutting calories.
People who blog or share their weight-loss journey through social media are more likely to stick to and achieve their weight-loss goals, according to a study published in 2017 in the Journal of Interactive Marketing. Online communities provide accountability and much-needed support, especially when you’re sharing both your successes and setbacks.
Overweight people who tracked what they put into their mouths using a free smartphone app lost 5 to 7 pounds, on average, over a three-month period—even though they didn’t follow a specific diet, found a study published in February in the journal JMIR mHealth and uHealth. While the study participants used the MyFitnessPal app, there are plenty of free food-tracking apps to choose from.
Get Sufficient Shut-Eye
Cut back on sleep and you may hinder your weight-loss goals. In a study, when dieters got about 7 1/2 hours of sleep, more than half of the weight they lost was fat, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. But when they got a little over five hours, only a quarter of the pounds they shed came from fat. Even worse, they produced higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger.
Diabetes After Weight Loss
Sources: Avigdor Arad, PhD, RDN, CDN, director of the Mount Sinai PhysioLab; Louis Aronne, MD, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Medicine; Chris Gagliardi, lifestyle and weight-management coach with the American Council on Exercise; Melissa Matteo, RD, CDE, certified diabetes educator at the Cleveland Clinic; Kristen Smith, MS, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; Reshmi Srinath, MD, director of the Mount Sinai Weight and Metabolism Management Program