Experts Weigh in on How to Lose Weight — and Keep It Off
When it comes to weight loss, there really is no "one size fits all" approach to getting to where you want to be — whether you're focused on dropping pounds and trimming inches or simply feeling better in your skin. But there are a few standard tips and tricks that experts generally rely on when helping their patients and clients meet their goals.
At the most basic level, "Weight loss is a reduction of calories in versus calories out," Dr. Lauren Green, assistant professor in neurology at the University of Southern California and registered dietitian, told POPSUGAR. So if we eat less and exercise more, we will lose weight. But there's also a lot more to it than that.
To give you the full picture, we also talked with Dr. Sriram Machineni, director of the Medical Weight Clinic at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and assistant professor at UNC's School of Medicine, and Liz Weinandy, registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, OH, for their insight on the topic.
Read on for what these three medical professionals had to say about what we can all do to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
Make Healthier Food Choices
With all of the specific diets out there right now, it can be tough to know for sure what we should be eating. The focus on these strict programs is not necessarily helpful, according to Dr. Green.
"Always being on one diet or another is a major part of the problem," Dr. Green said. "A healthy approach to weight loss involves changing the way we address eating to focus more on a healthy feeding plan that is sustainable, where we're eating healthy foods we like and allowing for some treats in moderation."
So what are these healthier choices? The basics include lean protein, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. We should be consuming less of high sugar, salty, and processed foods, she said.
Dr. Green said she tells her clients to "eat the rainbow." What she means by this is incorporating lots of different foods from different color groups.
"When you eat orange foods like carrots and sweet potatoes, you're getting beta-Carotene," Dr. Green said. "And when you eat leafy greens, like kale and spinach, or berries, you're getting phytochemicals, which help support the immune system."
Varying your diet in this easy to remember way will help ensure we're taking in lots of different vitamins and nutrients, which help make our bodies more efficiently process what we take in.
Along those same lines, drinking six to eight glasses of water each day is also an easy way to keep things functioning well, Dr. Green said. "But, don't drink too much water," she said, "because our bodies need salt-water balance."
Practice Portion Control
"Portion distortion is a real problem, at least in the United States," Weinandy said. She referenced time she spent abroad, and how individual servings of food almost always seemed smaller overseas than here at home.
"As portion sizes have grown in US, what once was 'supersize' is now 'normal,'" she said. "And people will almost always eat more because of that."
But Weinandy gave one easy tip for being mindful of how much we're eating, when we're consuming foods that are higher in calories, like starches, rice, and pastas.
When you're at home, you can measure out one serving size based on the nutrition facts provided on the packaging of what you're eating, with either measuring cups or a serving bowl.
"In general, a woman's fist is about the same size as one cup," Weinandy said, which can serve as a substitute for determining one serving size on the go.
Get Up and Move
Everyone agreed that no matter what we're eating, we also need to get moving by doing something we enjoy, so it feels like a treat rather than another thing on our endless to-do list.
"If you don't like what you're doing, it's not going to last very long," Weinandy said. Something she feels strongly about, in addition to cardiovascular activities like walking, biking, and dance, is having her clients add in strength training.
"I often seen women in the 40 to 70 age range struggling because they've been gradually losing muscle mass for the past 10 years," she said. Not only is this problematic for every day activity as we age, but having more muscle mass actually burns more fat in our bodies.
"If you have more muscle mass, your resting metabolic rate, which is also referred to as your basal metabolic rate, will kick up," she said.
"We're not talking about huge amounts here, but you might burn an extra 50 to 100 calories per day, and that adds up over time. That's because muscle is metabolically active 24 hours a day, seven says a week, and burns calories even when at rest."
Get More Sleep and Take Time to Relax
Besides what we eat and how much activity we participate in, there are several other surprising factors that can drastically impact our weight, like sleep, stress, and even what kinds of medications we're taking.
"Sleep deprivation is linked to higher levels of stress, both of which are closely associated with weight gain," Dr. Machineni said.
When we get enough sleep of good quality, though, our perception of our health improves and our quality of life is better, he said. "This allows better focus and ability to participate in weight loss strategies."
For help with achieving better quality sleep, Dr. Machineni recommends his patients check out Harvard Medicine's Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep, which include tips like cutting out caffeine, getting into a routine, and perhaps most surprisingly, lightening up on evening meals.
Dr. Machineni also recommends de-stressing at the end of your day with yoga or stretching. "This doesn't always cause weight loss, but a sense of well-being helps people engage in diet or exercise plans much better," he said.
Take Stock of What's Going Into Your Body
One final tip that may surprise you is that what we're taking over the counter, and even what we're prescribed, can have a drastic impact on our bodies.
"Antihistamines found in allergy medicines are not so bad if taken once in a while," Dr. Mahchineni said, "but Zyrtec (Cetirizine), Allegra, and Benadryl have been known to cause weight gain, in ranges of 10 to 20 pounds, and should only be used if absolutely necessary."
The more sedating the medicine, the more likely it is to cause increased appetite and weight gain, he said.
There are also many prescription medicines that may cause weight gain, like those prescribed for sleep like Ambien, as well as for blood pressure, diabetes, and mental health issues.
"I had a patient who came to see me whose initial weight was 130 pounds with a BMI of 22," Dr. Machineni said. "After six years of being on different psychiatric medications, she gained 150 pounds, entirely because of the medicines. While this kind of thing doesn't happen for everyone, it does happen."
Dr. Machineni recommended talking with your doctor if you notice weight gain within three to four months of taking new medications. He noted it's not necessarily common for primary care physicians to be aware of weight gain potential unless they specially look it up for a particular medicine.
Finally, Find What Works For You
Each of the experts we talked with pointed out that what works for one person might not work for the next person.
"Obesity and weight problems have different bases in everyone," Dr. Machineni said. "Ten people with the same weight could have arrived at that weight for 10 different reasons."
Trial and error is key. "When you're fighting your biology, it can work out to be worse for you because you have reduced energy, and you may feel lethargic when you're on a strict diet," he said.
And when you're trying things out on your own, Weinandy said, keep in mind that everything adds up. Our total weight will be a cumulative effect of how we're treating ourselves, including what we put in our bodies, the amount of self-care we're engaging in, and our overall levels of activity.
These medical professionals all said their patients and clients seem to be most successful on individualized programs.
"BMI, ideal body weight, or adjusted body weight need to be calculated out for specific individuals," Dr. Green said. "These are all measurements of body fat based on height and weight that are used to come up with a specific plan to help an individual meet their goals."
Current weight and underlying health diagnoses will be major factors in determining what is best for anyone. The more drastic your weight loss goals might be, the more likely it is that you should seek the help of a medical professional before beginning a new weight loss regimen.