You want to drop pounds, now. And you want to do it safely. But how?
First, keep in mind that many experts say it’s best to lose weight gradually. It’s more likely to stay off. If you shed pounds too fast, you’ll lose muscle, bone, and water instead of fat, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The academy’s advice: Aim to lose 1-2 pounds per week, and avoid fad diets or products that make promises that sound too good to be true. It’s best to base your weight loss on changes you can stick with over time.
For faster results, you’ll need to work with a doctor, to make sure that you stay healthy and get the nutrients that you need.
Make a Plan
You’ve probably heard the saying, “calories in, calories out”; as in, you just need to burn more calories than you eat and drink.
But it’s not that simple, as many people can tell you from their own experience.
Your metabolism -- how well your body turns calories into fuel -- also matters. And if you cut too many calories, it’s bad for you. You slow down your metabolism, and that can make you fall short on some nutrients.
There are many ways you can do this, without cutting calories too much. You could:
Cut back on portions.
Figure out how many calories you get in a usual day, and trim back a bit.
Read food labels to know how many calories are in each serving.
Drink more water, so you’re not so hungry.
Whatever method you use, you’ll need to favor good-for-you foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein so you keep up good nutrition. Working with a dietitian is a good idea, so you make a plan that covers those needs.
Get Accountability and Support
Many apps can help you track your eating. Since you probably have your smartphone with you all the time, you can use it to keep up with your plan. Or keep a pen-and-paper food journal of what you ate and when.
You’ll also want to have people on your side to help you stay motivated and to cheer you on. So ask your family and friends to support your efforts to lose weight.
You might also want to join a weight loss group where you can talk about how it’s going with people who can relate. Or talk with someone you know who’s lost weight in a healthy way. Their encouragement is “contagious,” in a good way!
Find Out What Drives You to Eat
At the most basic level, food is fuel. It gives you energy to do things. But very few people eat just for that reason. It’s at every social gathering. And it’s where a lot of us turn when we have a rough day.
You’ll need to know what makes you want to eat when you’re not hungry, and have a plan for those moments.
The first step is finding out what your triggers are. Is it stress, anger, anxiety, or depression in a certain part of your life? Or is food your main reward when something good happens?
Next, try to notice when those feelings come up, and have a plan ready to do something else instead of eating. Could you take a walk? Text a friend?
Lastly, reward yourself for making a different choice. Just don’t use food as the reward.
Reset What and When You Eat
You don’t have to go vegan, gluten-free, or quit any particular food group to lose weight. In fact, you’re more likely to keep the pounds off for good if it’s something you can live with for the long term.
But it does make sense to cut way down on, or totally cut out, empty calories.
Limit added sugars. These are the sugars in cookies, cakes, sugar-sweetened drinks, and other items -- not the sugars that are naturally in fruits, for instance. Sugary foods often have a lot of calories but few nutrients. Aim to spend less than 10% of your daily calories on added sugars.
Be choosy about carbs. You can decide which ones you eat, and how much. Look for those that are low on the glycemic index (for instance, asparagus is lower on the glycemic index than a potato) or lower in carbs per serving than others. Whole grains are better choices than processed items, because processing removes key nutrients such as fiber, iron, and B vitamins. They may be added back, such as in “enriched” bread.
Include protein. It’s satisfying and will help keep up your muscles. There are vegetarian and vegan sources (nuts, beans, and soy are a few), as well as lean meat, poultry, fish, and dairy.
Most Americans get enough protein but could choose to get it from leaner sources, so you may already have plenty in your diet. Your exact protein needs depend on your age, gender, and how active you are.
Make friends with good fats. Small amounts of fat can help you feel full and less like you’re on a diet. The better choices are those in fish, nuts and seeds, and olive oil. Those have unsaturated fats -- polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats, specifically.
Fill up on fiber. You can get that from vegetables, whole grains, fruits -- any plant food will have fiber. Some have more than others. Top sources include artichokes, green peas, broccoli, lentils, and lima beans. Among fruits, raspberries lead the list.
Eat more often. If you eat 5-6 times a day, it could keep hunger at bay. You could split your calories equally across all of those mini-meals, or make some bigger than others. You will need to plan portions so that you don’t end up eating more than you bargained for.
What About Meal Replacements? These products will control your calories. They’re convenient and take the guesswork out of dieting.
Again, though, you’ll need to change your eating habits to keep the weight off if you go off the meal replacements.
Watch your drinks. One easy way to lose weight quickly is to cut out liquid calories, such as soda, juice, and alcohol. Replace them with zero-calorie drinks like lemon water, unsweetened tea, or black coffee.
Diet drinks will save you calories, compared with sugary beverages. But if you then reach for a cookie or other treat because you’re still hungry or you think you saved enough calories for it, that plan backfires.
Should You Fast?
You might think that fasting is a quick way to drop pounds. But experts don’t recommend it, because it’s not a long-term solution. It’s better to have an eating plan that you can stick to over time and fits into your lifestyle.
All fasts aren’t the same. Some involve skipping all food. There are also fasts where you eat every other day. There hasn’t been a lot of research on how well off-and-on fasting works in the long run.
During the first days of your fast, you may feel hungry and grumpy. You may also get constipated. And you won’t have the energy to do much, physically. Drink lots of water and take a daily multivitamin. You should also tell your doctor, especially if you take medications that will probably need to be adjusted.
Remember that if you do fast, you’ll still need to change your eating habits once your fast ends.
No matter how you kick-start your weight loss, the best way to keep it off is with long-lasting lifestyle changes, like a healthy eating plan and physical activity. If you’re not sure where to start, how many calories to cut, or how to do it safely, you might want to consult a registered dietitian.