Eat a grape, lose weight. It would be awesome if weight loss were that simple. But, alas, no one food can magically deliver all of your weight-loss goals on a silver platter. (Shucks.)
Instead, healthy weight loss is all about making a lot of small changes to your nutrition habits—boosting your intake of certain foods, cutting back on how much you eat others, and learning how to balance out everything in a way that works for you and your lifestyle. It’s those sorts of changes that lead to sustainable results. And, over time, as you feel better and more energetic, it’s those same changes that may actually help you learn to love healthy eating.
But, still, when it comes to the best foods for weight loss, there is a sort of fat-loss hierarchy going on. After all, some foods will get you far closer to your weight-loss goals—helping you to build more metabolism-boosting muscle, eat healthy on-the-go, or just hit your daily fiber quota—than will others.
So, to help ID the absolute best of the best, we tapped six women who have successfully lost weight with healthy eating and a revamped relationship with food. We asked each of them one simple question: “What was the number-one food that helped you lose weight?”
Read on to hear what they had to say about the best foods for weight loss, and the single food that made the biggest impact on their weight-loss success. Then, you might want to make a run to the supermarket to stock up.
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“I would have to say shrimp. It's high in protein and low in calories and carbohydrates. I love shrimp and its pretty filling. It took away that hunger feeling and helped fuel my workouts!
“I had it once per day for the whole five months of my weight-loss journey. I just prepared it in different ways. I mixed it with vegetables (with a little olive oil), mixed it with spaghetti squash and garlic and crushed red pepper, ate it plain, made it with lemon juice and pepper, etc. I never got tired of it!” — Janelle Gallagher, 32, lost 92 pounds
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"I love bacon, not the turkey kind, the real bacon in all of its crispy goodness. Eating bacon for most people seems like a 'cheat,' and I used to feel that way too until I realized that every food decision I was making was fear-based and this no longer felt like a way I could live a healthy life.
“For me, bacon is emblematic of how I’ve worked to create a healthy relationship with food and my body. And that’s what resulted in body-composition changes. When I learned how to break up with dieting, it allowed me to stop fearing food, and stop the binge-restrict pattern that I knew all too well. By learning how to feel normal around food and normal in my body, I became able to eat bacon, and really anything I wanted, without fear or stress. And as a bonus, my body started to change too." — Rachel Turner, 24, lost 15 pounds
“Vegetables are nutrient-dense, meaning they are high in nutrients, but low in calories. They provide tons of volume, which means you can load up your plate and your stomach without hitting the calorie bank too hard, leaving room for treats! I eat them every day, multiple times per day! I add them in whenever possible.
“I love making an egg and veggie scramble for breakfast or a big-volume salad for lunch, full of different leafy, green vegetables with bell pepper, carrots, cucumber, and any vegetable I can add to it. I also love roasting vegetables, especially if I am going to reheat them for meal-prepped lunches. They keep their texture and flavor well when roasted.
“If you never eat vegetables, set a goal to add a serving of vegetables into one meal a day. Once you've mastered that habit, increase it to two meals a day. This will lead to more long-term success.” — Hilary Downey, 27, lost 75 pounds
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“I was introduced to the Icelandic-style yogurt by a friend and I was instantly hooked. It's creamier and less tart than Greek yogurt and contains a little over 20 grams of protein per three-quarters cup.
It kept me full so I wasn't reaching for a snack by 9 a.m. I eat it every morning with locally-made low-sugar granola. If I want something lower in carb but that tastes more like a dessert, instead of granola, I add a half cup of frozen blueberries. It's so good!” — Cassandra Gordon, 33, lost 55 pounds
“If I had to pick just one food, it would be bananas that have most helped me to lose weight. As someone with an extreme sweet tooth, and someone who is constantly on the go, bananas have become my best friend! I’ve almost always got one on me, and have one every day! I have them in my oatmeal for breakfast, or with a little almond butter if I need a snack with a little something extra.
“This became especially important as I became active and found a love of running half marathons and marathons. They have become a great and quick fuel source. You want to put premium fuel in a high-quality vehicle, and the same is true about how I now eat.” — Vanessa Wallace, 30, lost 60 pounds
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“By increasing my protein intake, I wasn’t as ‘hangry’ all the time, and I wouldn’t binge and eat junk food when I was bored or ‘thought’ I was hungry. I felt hungry more often, just due to my workouts, but I felt fuller when I would eat, even with smaller portions. I also noticed a difference in how fast I would recover from workouts. My endurance steadily improved, and I had enough energy to work out more consistently.
“After every workout, I’d have protein with water or almond milk always. I like to make morning smoothies with greens, almond milk, Greek yogurt, protein powder, oats, and a fruit.” — Mimi Sandoval, 30, lost 35 pounds
K. Aleisha Fetters, M.S., C.S.C.S., is Chicago-based certified strength and conditioning specialist, training clients both in-person and online.