“I had pizza last night — I know it’s bad!” As a nutrition coach, I often hear this from my clients. As a food lover myself, I’ve never been a fan of labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” since it can associate emotional negativity with eating. I worry it can also promote impossible expectations — the idea of needing to eat “perfectly” to be successful in weight loss.
Weight loss is defined as a reduction of the total body mass, due to a mean loss of fluid, body fat or adipose tissue and/or lean mass, namely bone mineral deposits, muscle, tendon and other connective tissue. It can occur unintentionally due to an underlying disease or can arise from a conscious effort to improve an actual or perceived overweight or obese state.
For starters, we can forget about finding instant fixes and miracle cures for what are essentially pathological lifestyle habits. “We must stop falling for the myths that keep us fat and perpetuate an endless cycle of weight loss and gain,” says Mark Hyman, MD, best-selling author of The Blood Sugar Solution and other books, and medical director of the Center for Functional Medicine at Cleveland Clinic.
The size of your plates and bowls may also have a lot to do with portion control. If you have large dinner plates, the temptation is there to fill them up. Try dining from a side plate instead, and eat slowly so your body has a chance to register that you're no longer hungry. Measuring cups are also useful. If you want a snack, allow yourself half a cup. Measure it into a bowl and don't refill. It's a lot easier to manage portions when you measure them.
“Anytime you’re stressed, you probably go for food,” Dr. Seltzer says. (Have we met?!) That’s because cortisol, the stress hormone, stokes your appetite for sugary, fatty foods. No wonder it’s associated with higher body weight, according to a 2007 Obesity study that quantified chronic stress exposure by looking at cortisol concentrations in more than 2,000 adults’ hair.
Starchy veggies (like potatoes) and processed whole grains (like whole-wheat bread) are foods I’d normally recommend eating in moderation, since they provide plenty of nutrients, fiber, and healthy carbs. However, high-carb foods aren’t your best friend when you’re looking to drop water weight. Essentially, when your body stores excess carbs, it stores them with water. So replacing carb-heavy foods with non-starchy veggies that still provide filling fiber without as much water retention is the way to go. For a week before your event, you can swap out the starchy carbs for more non-starchy vegetables to lose some water weight. (These are 10 things experts wish you knew about water weight.)
Northwestern Medicine has joined the mix with FoodSwitch, which dubs itself “a nutritionist whispering in your ear.” As you grocery shop, the app allows you to scan an item’s bar code, pull up nutrition facts such as saturated fat, sugar, sodium and energy, and get its health rating based on a five-star scale. Finally, FoodSwitch will suggest healthier alternatives from its database of more than 268,000 products.
“Diet and exercise are a marriage that should never divorce,” said Giancoli, noting that the benefits of exercise aren’t restricted to the sheer number of calories you burn during thirty minutes on a treadmill. (Need one of those, by the way? We have some favorites.) Instead, research shows that muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue, proving that “muscle mass is a key factor in weight loss.”
If you drink regular, go to 2%. If you already drink 2%, go down another notch to 1% or skim milk. Each step downward cuts the calories by about 20 percent. Once you train your taste buds to enjoy skim milk, you’ll have cut the calories in the whole milk by about half and trimmed the fat by more than 95 percent. One disclaimer: There are times when fat-free dairy isn’t the best option.
“One of the keys to long-term and sustainable weight loss is to cut total calorie intake, and there’s no better way to do that than by eating just a little bit less of what you currently eat. Once you get into a habit of reducing portions—especially of sugary, fatty and other nutrient-poor foods—you can fine tune your diet to incorporate more nutrient-rich foods. But paring portions is still the best first step.” — Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN, author of Younger Next Week
Also some research shows that the human body is primed to consume most of its calories during daylight hours. But the lifestyle is problematic for many: Because family meals and dinners with friends often are scheduled for after sunset, “people who try to stop eating after 7pm can’t do it every day for the rest of their lives,” says Dr. Seltzer, who supports an alternative strategy: Eating a hearty meal at your regular dinnertime.