If You're Determined to Lose Body Fat (and Keep It Off!), Follow These 17 Expert Tips
You're ready to get serious about losing body fat, so you can get healthier, have more energy, get leaner, crush your fitness goals, and just feel more confident. Let's do this! We've enlisted the expertise of dietitians, doctors, and fitness trainers, and compiled this list of 17 tips that will absolutely help you lose body fat. Start with a few that will fit your lifestyle and feel sustainable, and follow more tips as you feel ready.
Be Calorie-Conscious and Track
"Caloric needs are based on numerous factors, but the most important ones for a healthy individual include gender, age, weight, height, and activity level," said Stephanie Ferrari, a registered dietitian with Fresh Communications.
In order to determine how many calories you need, meet with a registered dietitian who can assess your lifestyle, goals, and health history to make recommendations (but this formula will give you an idea). Once you have a daily calorie amount in mind, measuring and weighing your food and tracking calories in an app such as MyFitnessPal can help you stay within your range. Keep in mind that even if you're eating healthy foods, the calories can quickly add up.
Eat Enough Food!
You can't eat a few baby carrots and call it lunch! Make sure you eat enough to keep your body and brain functioning properly, explained ACSM-certified personal trainer and registered dietitian Jim White. White, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios, said severely restricting calories can actually slow down your metabolism.
Never dip below 1,200 calories, especially if you're also working out. For reference, the USDA dietary guidelines recommend adult women consume 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day, but that number will vary based on your age, height, weight, and activity level.
Veggie Up Your Day
We asked four registered dietitians for the easiest way to start losing weight, and all four agreed: eat more veggies! Ilana Muhlstein, MS, RDN, cocreator of Beachbody's 2B Mindset nutrition program, told POPSUGAR that vegetables are the food group you want to be filling up on the most. "They are high in volume and weight and fill up our stomachs, which helps us register the feeling of fullness," Ilana said.
Registered dietitian Leslie Langevin, MS, RD, CD, of Whole Health Nutrition added that dinner isn't the only time to get your veggies in. She said to include veggies in every single meal and snack.
Registered dietitians Stephanie Clarke, RD, and Willow Jarosh, RD, of C&J Nutrition agreed and said that veggies are also high in fiber, so they'll satiate your hunger longer, helping you consume fewer daily calories.
Limit the Sugar and Refined Carbs
Downing sugar and refined carbs like white bread and bagels won't help you lose weight, but it's not only because those foods tend to be high in calories — it also has to do with insulin. Jason Fung, MD, a nephrologist (kidney specialist), explained that processed carbs and sugary foods such as ice cream, cookies, crackers, and regular pasta spike your insulin levels, which causes weight gain. Keeping your insulin levels low will help you reduce your overall body fat percentage.
Aside from being high in carbs and calories, eating these foods also doesn't offer your body any nutrition, so you end up feeling hungry, which makes you eat more. Eating sugary foods also increases your cravings for them, which is another contributor to overeating.
It's OK to enjoy sugary treats and processed carbs every once in a while, but if you cut down on these types of food, you'll definitely notice a difference in how you feel, and especially in how your body looks.
Get Your Fill of Protein Each Day
How much should you get in a day? Aim for 0.8 to 1.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, depending on how active you are. A good rule of thumb is to get 20 to 30 grams of lean protein per meal from sources that are low in saturated fats and processed carbohydrates. "This doesn't necessarily mean eat more meat," Vermont-based registered dietitian nutritionist Maddie Kinzly, MS, LD, explained. Choose plant-based protein sources such as whole grains, lentils, tofu, soy milk, nuts, seeds, and veggies.
Build Your Muscles
Don't fear the heavy weights! Many experts like Nicole Aurigemma, a physiologist at the Penn State Muscle Biology Lab, agree that you should focus on strength training to increase your muscle mass to burn more calories and speed up your metabolism.
How many days should you strength train? Aim for at least three sessions a week, include all parts of your body, incorporate different exercises, and use a variety of equipment, including strengthening bodyweight moves.
Do Intermittent Fasting
The age-old myth that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" needs to take a hike. Skipping breakfast can actually help you effortlessly lose weight. It's known as intermittent fasting (IF), and it involves fasting for part of each day or a few times a week (water, black coffee, and unsweetened tea are allowed). One common example of this is known as 16:8, where you skip breakfast, eat from noon until 8 p.m., then fast the rest of the day.
Ferrari and Luiza Petre, MD, a weight-loss specialist and board-certified cardiologist, told POPSUGAR that intermittent fasting raises growth hormone levels and lowers insulin levels, both of which help burn more fat. "Insulin decreases when you fast, and lower levels of insulin results in burning more fat," Ferrari added, especially belly fat.
Eating in a shortened window not only reduces hunger (it's true!), but since you're not eating for long periods of time, there are also fewer opportunities to consume calories, which is why IF helps people eat fewer calories each day. If 16:8 doesn't seem doable for your schedule, experiment with other forms of IF including 5:2, Eat Stop Eat, or alternate day fasting.
Pat yourself on the back for getting up at the crack of dawn to hit that hour-long workout! Unfortunately, you won't burn tons of calories if you sit at a desk the rest of the day. Focus on increasing NEAT (nonexercise activity thermogenesis), or the calories you burn moving around throughout the day (not through exercise). Increasing NEAT will increase your metabolic rate, which will burn more daily calories and help you lose weight.
If you work at a desk, set your alarm once an hour to get up and walk around for a few minutes. Or do some quick bodyweight exercises or stretches. Anna Victoria, a NASM-certified personal trainer and the creator of the Fit Body app, said that taking a 30-minute walk during your lunch break or after dinner can help you see fat-loss progress. It can also help clear your mind, relieve stress, and energize you, so you're less tempted to reach for sugary pick-me-ups.
Wearing a fitness tracker like a FitBit can encourage more moving around. It'll challenge you to get in at least 10,000 steps a day.
Get Your Zzz's Every Night
Sleep is often one of the last things people think about when it comes losing weight, but it's a huge factor. Not getting enough sleep will increase cortisol, the stress hormone, which increases cravings and hunger. Plus, the low energy makes it harder for you to push yourself at the gym (or even motivate to go!).
If you're trying to lose weight, aim for at least seven hours every night. Help promote sleep by turning off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. According to Sujay Kansagra, MD, Mattress Firm sleep health consultant and author of My Child Won't Sleep, "When engaging with content on social media, the brain releases chemicals such as norepinephrine and dopamine. This makes it harder on your body to fall asleep because these chemicals stimulate the 'wake centers' of your brain."
You can also take a hot shower, sip on warm herbal tea, do some yoga, make sure your bed is cozy, or read in bed to get you into snooze zone. Or have sex! Having an orgasm will help you fall asleep faster because it produces oxytocin (the cuddle or love hormone), Robert Glatter, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwell Health Department of Emergency Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said, which inhibits cortisol.
Skip the Fast Food and Cook at Home
Meals prepared away from home tend to have more calories, fat, and sodium compared to home-cooked meals. So eating out just once per day can equal several pounds gained in a year. According to dietitian Julie Upton, MS, RD, of Appetite For Health, you can trim 134 calories from each meal if you make it at home instead of eating out or getting takeout. Save money and eat healthier by cooking at home so you can control the ingredients in your meals and how much you eat.
Meal Prep Meals and Snacks
Being prepared with healthy food options is key in helping you stay on track, Upton said. Meal prep breakfasts like a week of overnight oats, make lunches like these high-protein mason jar salads, assemble baggies or containers of nuts for snacks, freeze a bag of soup ingredients or whole grains for dinners, and keep a freezer treat for dessert cravings, like this vegan cookie dough fudge.
If You Do Cardio, Do HIIT
Although strength training is more effective, cardio still has a place in helping burn body fat. Skip the grueling hours of steady-state cardio and opt for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts instead. It not only works (and is proven to target belly fat), but also saves you time at the gym. "The whole workout, including warmup, doesn't need to be more than 45 minutes to be effective," said ACE-certified fitness instructor John Kersbergen. He added that three to four times a week is enough.
Here are some HIIT workouts you can try:
Get your fill of daily fiber! According to the American Heart Association, adults should aim for 25 grams of fiber per day for a 2,000-calorie diet. Are you getting enough? Fiber fills you up so you eat less and feel satisfied longer, preventing noshing between meals.
The type of fiber you eat matters, too, especially if you want to lose belly fat. Dietitian Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, MS, RD, recommends people eat more soluble fiber to burn more belly fat. "This gel that forms slows digestion in the body, which keeps you feeling full for longer," she said. "Research supports that soluble fiber leads to a decrease in the amount of fat in the abdominal region."
Focus on eating foods like lentils and other legumes, barley, and some fruits and veggies such as cauliflower, apples, and citrus fruits.
Alleviate Stress Every Day
In times of stress, our bodies release cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. It's actually an appetite stimulant, Charlie Seltzer, MD, a physician board-certified in obesity medicine, said. This explains why when you're stressed, you just want to eat and you can have a harder time saying no to carb-heavy, fatty junk foods.
"Gaining weight due to stress is very common, and there are actually physiological reasons we tend to eat more and crave more unhealthy foods when we are stressed," Amanda Barnes, MS, RDN, owner of Amanda Barnes Fitness, said. When you eat these kinds of foods, your brain releases dopamine, which activates the reward and pleasure centers in our brains. "This is a continuous loop leading to increased appetite and cravings, which in turn can lead to weight gain," she explained.
Find healthy ways to relax each day and fuel your happiness. Take 10 minutes alone to meditate, listen to music or an uplifting podcast, walk in nature, read your favorite book, or do this tension-melting yoga sequence.
Pass on the Booze
"We say that alcohol is empty calories for a reason; with 80 to 150 calories per drink, these can add up quickly," Kinzly said. Alcohol is also high in sugar, which keeps insulin levels high, which Dr. Fung said can actually prevent your body from using fat stores as energy.
Drinking alcohol can also lower your inhibitions and make it easier for you to say yes to foods you wouldn't normally eat and make it harder for you to listen to your body's "I'm full" signals. So if you want to lose body fat, limiting the wine, beer, and cocktails can make a huge difference.
Don't Mistake Thirst For Hunger
Fitness guru Bob Harper revealed he drinks at least a gallon of water a day and said it's "one of the best weight-loss tips in the world." But there's no need to drink that much! Maya Feller, MS, RD, of Maya Feller Nutrition, told POPSUGAR we should aim for 91 ounces a day.
Drinking water throughout the day will fill your belly and satiate your thirst, which is often mistaken for hunger. Staying hydrated will also help you consume fewer daily calories and keep you alert so you're less likely to need sugar or a specialty Starbucks drink to pep you up.
"Rather than food right away, I recommend that each meal start with drinking water first," Muhlstein said. Aim to drink 16 ounces of water before reaching for your first bite of food. To help you remember, when you sit down to eat, make sure you have a big water bottle or two eight-ounce glasses. She said you may find yourself feeling fuller and slimmer in just a few days.
Be Patient and Kind
Probably the most important thing aside from eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep is to be patient on your journey. Staying consistent with your plan in reaching your goals will work, sports dietitian Leanne Ward said, but it won't happen overnight. Enjoy the journey; celebrate every pound lost and every nonscale victory like moving up to a higher dumbbell weight or feeling more energetic to play with your kids.
Speak kindly to yourself — be your own best cheerleader. Believe you can do this, be proud of how far you've come, and love yourself for making the choice to take care of you. You got this!