There’s also the impact fiber has on your gut health. By now you’ve likely heard of the microbiome—the trillions of bacteria that live in your digestive tract. It turns out that a predominance of certain strains of bacteria may encourage inflammation and weight gain, and eating fiber-rich foods can favorably shift this balance. While it’s too soon to say that changing your microbial makeup will prompt weight loss, it’s likely to send a “hey, stop gaining weight,” message.
The main advantage of the low-carb diet is that it causes you to want to eat less. Even without counting calories most overweight people eat far fewer calories on low carb. Sugar and starch may increase your hunger, while avoiding them may decrease your appetite to an adequate level. If your body wants to have an appropriate number of calories you don’t need to bother counting them. Thus: Calories count, but you don’t need to count them.
Stress skyrockets your levels of cortisol, often called “the belly fat” hormone because it signals to the body to store fat around your waist. Add the daily stressors of living our modern lifestyle and you can see how cortisol can be constantly coursing through your veins. This perma-stress mode isn’t good for a lot of healthy reasons, your tummy being just one of them, so it’s important to take time every day to de-stress. Yoga, meditation, walking, journaling, doing a hands-on hobby, or playing a musical instrument are all great time-tested methods. (Hint: Know what isn’t? Watching television. The boob tube actually increases your levels of cortisol!)
You may have heard the widely quoted statistic that 95% of people who lose wait on a diet will regain it within a few years—or even months. While there isn’t much hard evidence to support that claim, it is true that many weight-loss plans fail in the long term. Often that’s simply because diets that are too restrictive are very hard to maintain over time. However, that doesn’t mean your weight loss attempts are doomed to failure. Far from it.
The truth is there is no “one size fits all” solution to permanent healthy weight loss. What works for one person may not work for you, since our bodies respond differently to different foods, depending on genetics and other health factors. To find the method of weight loss that’s right for you will likely take time and require patience, commitment, and some experimentation with different foods and diets.
A diet that’s low in fat and carbohydrates can improve artery function, according to a 2012 study by Johns Hopkins researchers. After six months, those on the low-carb diet had lost more weight, and at a faster pace. But in both groups, when weight was lost—and especially when belly fat shrank—the arteries were able to expand better, allowing blood to travel more freely. The study shows that you don’t have to cut out all dietary fat to shrink belly fat. For heart health, simply losing weight and exercising seems to be key.
That’s because strength training helps you build muscle, which will replace body fat. In fact, strength training is one of the few activities you can do to spike the amount of calories you burn, even after you’re done with your workout. Bonus: When your metabolic rate becomes faster due to muscle growth, you’ll have a little more wiggle room in your diet if that’s something you struggle with, says Dr. Cheskin.
But his struggle resonates with lifelong dieters. For most of his life, Stevens, now 41, believed certain foods had the power to make him fat or thin. He went on his first diet at age 10, and for 25 years he counted calories, carbs and fat while on every diet from Atkins to the Zone. He lost hundreds of pounds, but they always returned, and his weight continued to climb.
All meals are important, but breakfast is what helps you start your day on the right track. The best, heartiest breakfasts are ones that will fill you up, keep you satisfied, and stave off cravings later in the day. Aim to eat anywhere between 400 and 500 calories for your morning meal, and make sure you're including a source of lean protein plus filling fat (e.g., eggs, unsweetened Greek yogurt, nuts, or nut butters) and fiber (veggies, fruit, or 100% whole grains). Starting your day with a blood sugar-stabilizing blend of nutrients will help you slim down without sacrifice.
Eating patterns that restrict certain food groups can certainly help you lose weight, but many people find it hard to continue to eat that way forever. If you want to think of your diet like a relationship, you don’t want to be in an “it’s complicated” or “on-again, off-again” situation. You want to find your match — a meal plan you can feel content with for the long haul. That doesn’t mean you have to ditch all of your favorite foods for eternity. It’s okay to flirt with the foods that make you swoon, but you don’t want to settle down with them. When your healthy habits are solid, enjoying your favorite foods sometimes is no big deal.
Carbs aren’t evil -- but sugar might be. “The concept of carbohydrates has really gotten such a bad reputation, and we need to understand that there are complex carbohydrates and ancient grains that can really help us not only lose weight, but increase satiety so we stay full longer and want to eat less. It actually decreases the cholesterol and stabilizes the blood sugar, and all of these things are a really important part of a weight loss program,” said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, an American Heart Association volunteer medical expert. These “good” carbs include whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans; the refined carbs (including refined grains and starches like white bread, white rice, pasta and mashed potatoes) should be consumed in limited amounts. “They are high in simple sugars, and that’s what adds weight,” said Dr. Steinbaum.
Falling short on zzz’s is also a surefire way to put your waistline in jeopardy. That’s because sleep deprivation knocks your hunger hormones out of whack, leading to an increase in ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, and a decrease in leptin, which signals when you are satiated. What’s more, research has shown that when you aren’t well-rested, you’re also more likely to reach for junk food (hello Ben & Jerry’s!)—and it may even become harder for you to build muscle mass.
That doesn't mean that we don't have certain areas where we're predisposed to put on fat. If I gain a few excess pounds, most seem to appear on my stomach. Other people tend to put on pounds in their thighs or rear. They're gaining weight everywhere, of course, but it seems to appear more readily in a certain area. On the flip side, if I lose five or six pounds, my waistline gets noticeably less soft.
When Johns Hopkins researchers compared the effects on the heart of losing weight through a low-carbohydrate diet versus a low-fat diet for six months—each containing the same amount of calories—those on a low-carb diet lost an average of 10 pounds more than those on a low-fat diet—28.9 pounds versus 18.7 pounds. An extra benefit of the low-carb diet is that it produced a higher quality of weight loss, Stewart says. With weight loss, fat is reduced, but there is also often a loss of lean tissue (muscle), which is not desirable. On both diets, there was a loss of about 2 to 3 pounds of good lean tissue along with the fat, which means that the fat loss percentage was much higher on the low-carb diet.
You should already be following a diet to get lean, and should therefore be aware of how much you’re eating. But to remove any guesswork, we’ll give you some numbers to hit for the week: Consume one gram of protein and 10–11 calories for every pound of your body weight; 20% of those daily calories should be from fat, and the remainder from carbs. (Remember to first subtract the protein calories you’re also eating from the total allowed before you calculate the number of carbs.)
Fiber works its weight loss magic in multiple ways. It helps you feel fuller, longer so eating fiber-rich foods is the dieting equivalent of working smarter, not harder. Plus, fiber takes a long time to digest, so fiber-rich foods don’t cause spikes in blood sugar that can send your insulin levels soaring. On the other hand, when you eat the so-called bad carbs (the refined or sugary ones that lack fiber), you may wind up with an insulin response that promotes fat storage. The takeaway: More fiber equals less fat storage.
Switch to Lighter Alternatives. Whenever you can, use the low-fat versions of salad dressings, mayonnaise, dairy products, and other products. "You can trim calories effortlessly if you use low-fat and lighter products, and if the product is mixed in with other ingredients, no one will ever notice," says Magee. More smart substitutions: Use salsa or hummus as a dip; spread sandwiches with mustard instead of mayo; eat plain roasted sweet potatoes instead of loaded white potatoes; use skim milk instead of cream in your coffee; hold the cheese on sandwiches; and use a little vinaigrette on your salad instead of piling on the creamy dressing.