Every year brings its crop of fad diets that promise fast and easy weight loss, along with supplements and meal replacement plans. They all claim to help you lose weight, but most aren’t backed up by scientific evidence.
You end up being frustrated and irritable because you feel deprived, and eventually you’ll cave in and blow your diet completely as it’s just not sustainable.
Take heart, though, as there are science-backed ways to manage your weight out there, and they include exercise, tracking calories, intermittent fasting, and reducing carbohydrates.
Here are the weight-loss strategies that are backed up by scientific evidence:
1. Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a way of eating that involves regular short-term fasts and eating meals within a shorter time period during the day.
Several studies have shown that doing IF short-term (up to 24 weeks at a time), leads to weight loss in those who are overweight.
There are many different ways to do IF, but the most common methods include:
Alternate day fasting (ADF) – when you follow this plan, you fast every other day and eat normally on non-fasting days. You would typically eat only 25-30 percent of the body’s energy needs on fasting days. The 5:2 Diet – On this plan, you fast on 2 days out of every 7. On your fasting days you will eat 500 to 600 calories, although there is a less severe version now where you eat up to 800 calories on your fasting days as long as you fast for 14 hours before or after you eat. The 16/8 method – You fast for 16 hours, then eat only during an 8-hour window of time, which for most people is from around noon to 8pm.
On your non-fasting days, you need to adopt a sensible, healthy eating pattern to avoid over-eating.
2. Diet and Exercise Tracking
An effective way to lose weight is to be aware of everything that you eat and drink each day. An easy way to do this is to log every item in a journal, or in a food-tracking app which often allow you to scan the barcode on food packaging to tell you the nutritional value of what you’re eating.
Physical activity trackers are also a good way of managing weight and providing motivation. One study found that consistently tracking exercise helped with weight loss, and even a simple pedometer can be a useful tool for weight loss.
3. Mindful Eating
This is a practice where people consciously pay attention to how and where they eat their food, and it can help you savor the food you eat as well as help maintain a healthy weight.
Most of us these days are busy, and as a result we tend to eat quickly, eat while we work, or while watching TV. This makes us far less aware of the foods we are eating, and makes it too easy to overeat.
Mindful eating strategies include:
Sitting down to eat – This makes you pay attention to the food and enjoy eating it. If you can sit at a table, all the better. Avoid distractions – Turn off the TV, and step away from the phone or computer. Eat slowly – You should take time to chew and enjoy the taste of the food. This gives your brain enough time to recognize the signals that you are full, which can help to prevent overeating. Considered food choices – You should choose foods that are nutrient-rich and will satisfy you until your next meal.
4. Have Protein for Breakfast
Protein helps to regulate the appetite hormones to make you feel full. This is mostly down to a decrease in the hunger hormone ghrelin, and a rise in the hormones that make you feel satisfied.
Research has also shown that the hormonal effects of a high-protein breakfast can last for several hours. Good choices for breakfast include eggs, oats, nut and seed butters, quinoa porridge, sardines, and chia seed pudding.
5. Cut Down on Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates
Sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates are heavily processed, meaning they no longer contain fiber and other nutrients. White rice, white bread and pasta are common examples.
The reason they contribute to weight gain is because they are quickly digested, and convert rapidly to glucose. When the excess glucose enters the blood, it encourages insulin production, which promotes fat storage.
Try swapping processed and sugary food and drinks for minimally processed and raw foods. Good swaps could be whole-grain rice, bread and pasta, fruit, nuts, and seeds for snacks, as well as herbal teas and fruit-infused water instead of sugar-filled soda.
6. Eat More Fiber
Dietary fiber is plant-based carbohydrates that can’t be digested in the small intestine, unlike sugar and starch. Eating fiber can increase feelings of fullness, which can lead to weight loss.
Eat fiber-rich foods like whole-grain cereals, pasta and breads, oats, barley, rye, fruit, vegetables, peas, beans, pulses, nuts, and seeds.
7. Encourage Good Gut Bacteria
Every person has different amounts and varieties of bacteria in their gut, and some types can increase the amount of energy a person gets from their food, which leads to fat deposits and weight gain.
To balance these gut bacteria, you should try to increase the number of helpful gut bacteria. These are found in certain foods:
Plants – if you increase the amount of fruits, veggies, and grains you eat, you will increase your fiber consumption and increase a diverse set of gut bacteria. Vegetables and other plant foods should ideally make up 75 percent of your meal. Fermented foods – These foods help good bacteria to flourish, while slowing down the growth of bad bacteria in the gut. Sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, tempeh, and miso all contain probiotics for a healthy gut. Prebiotics – These foods stimulate growth of some weight-controlling good bacteria. Prebiotic fibers are present in certain fruits and vegetables, including chicory root, artichoke, onion, garlic, asparagus, leeks, banana and avocado. Oats and barley also contain prebiotic fiber.
8. Get Enough Sleep
Studies have found that sleeping less than 5-6 hours per night is linked with increased evidence of obesity. This may be because lack of sleep slows the metabolism, which may make the body store unused energy as fat. Poor sleep may also promote the production of insulin and cortisol, hormones that prompt fat storage.
The length of sleep also affects the regulation of appetite hormones ghrelin and leptin.
9. Manage Stress Levels
When stressed, the body triggers the release of hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, which actually decrease the appetite as part of the body’s fear response.
However, when the body is under constant stress, cortisol remains in the bloodstream for longer, which increases the appetite. It signals the need to replenish the body’s nutritional stores from carbohydrates, and insulin then transports sugar from carbs to the muscles and brain. If the sugar isn’t used up in fight or flight, the body stores it as fat.
There are many ways to manage stress, and some of them include yoga, meditation, tai chi, breathing techniques, relaxation, or just spending time outdoors doing the garden or going for a walk.