I wrote this article because articles like this normally suck.
Most collections of “weight loss tips” are random assortments of cliches like “eat healthily, don’t diet,” “eat less sugar,” “eat less carbohydrate,” and “detox your body.”
It’s all a bunch of nonsense.
The key to reliable, healthy weight loss isn’t finding and following the right combination of “tips” or “tricks.”
You can lose weight eating junk food, including sugar, carbohydrates aren’t the enemy, and fasts and “cleanses” help you lose weight because you’re essentially starving yourself, not because you’re “resetting your hormones” or “unclogging your system.”
In this article, I want to share with you a handful of evidence-based weight loss tips, but I also want you to understand them in the context of the fundamental physiology weight loss so you can better judge all the other weight loss advice coming your way.
You see, when you understand and use these laws to your advantage and you can benefit from the right weight loss “tips.” Remain ignorant of the laws, however, and you can waste years chasing shortcuts and never get anywhere.
Table of Contents
The very first thing you must understand about weight loss is the basic physiological mechanism that governs it: energy balance.
Energy balance refers to the relationship between calories (potential energy in food) eaten and calories burned. A fitting metaphor for how energy balance works is a checking account.
If you put your more calories into the account (through eating) than you spend (expend through exercise), you’ve created what is known as a “positive energy balance,” and your body will store a portion of the surplus energy (calories) as body fat.
If you put less calories into the account than you spend, however, you’ve now created a “negative energy balance” and presented your body with a problem. The trillions of cells that comprise it still need energy to function, but you’re underfeeding them. And if they had no other way to get the energy they need, you would simply die.
Fortunately, our bodies have a rich source of “backup energy” for surviving periods of energy deficit: body fat. The energy our bodies don’t get from food can be obtained by breaking down and burning body fat.
The longer we remain a calorie deficit, the smaller our fat stores become as they are continually being tapped.
This is weight loss and gain in a nutshell. Weight gain requires feeding your body more energy than it expends and weight loss requires feeding it less.
This is why calorie counting, when properly done, works so well. And why so many mainstream diets that try to skirt the realities of energy balance fail for so many people.
Now, what does all that have to do with this weight loss tip of meal planning?
Well, a good meal plan for losing weight does several things.
- It ensures you’re keeping your body in a state of negative energy balance so it has to continually tap into and reduce body fat stores.
- It ensures your diet is well balanced in terms of macronutrient intake (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) so as to preserve muscle and health while losing fat.
- It ensures you’re eating foods you like on a schedule that works for you, which is vital for long-term dietary compliance and success.
- It teaches you to play down the importance of eating and maintain a healthy relationship with food. Many people strongly associate food with pleasure and reward seeking and struggle immensely with food “addiction,” binge eating, and the like.
If you’re curious as to what a well-designed meal plan looks like, here are two of mine that I’ve used in the past:
As you can see, it’s simple but structured.
It’s also a “living document” in that I can change the foods at any time so long as I stick to my numbers. I don’t tired of foods easily so I don’t make many changes in actual practice, but it’s comforting to know that I can revise any meal and continue losing fat.
If you’re struggling to lose weight, an effective meal plan may be all you need to get the scale moving.
I seem to be running into more and more people these days that don’t weigh or measure themselves while trying to lose weight. Instead, it seems, they’d rather just hope for the best.
This is silly and counter-productive.
I know, I know, they’re trying to avoid becoming too obsessed with short-term results and the disappointment of nothing changing, but it’s still silly and counter-productive.
You see, losing weight isn’t a religious experience. No leap of faith is necessary. It’s a cold, secular science that operates in accordance to physical laws as absolute as gravity.
Thus, if you’re not losing fat, something very tangible (and often very simple) is wrong. You need to find out what and remedy it.
And the only way to know whether you’re doing it right or wrong, and whether you should carry on or change course, is self-monitoring. This is why research confirms that self-monitoring is indeed a powerful weight loss tool.
Regularly facing the scale and measuring helps you achieve your weight loss goals in two ways:
- It makes you think twice about committing dietary sins and thus improves program compliance.
- It gives you vital feedback that shows your efforts are paying off or that you need to make a change.
You see, if your weight or waist measurement (a reliable indicator of changes in total fat mass) remain unchanged for 7 to 10 days, this isn’t reason for despair. It just means you need to find the leak and plug it. Maybe you’re passively overeating. Maybe you’re not burning as much energy as you think you are. Maybe your metabolism has slowed too much and you need to reverse diet.
Now, my telling you to simply track your numbers isn’t quite enough because there are two big pitfalls to watch out for:
Unreal weight loss expectations.
1 month to abs this, 10 pounds in 10 days that…many people expect fat loss to be much faster than it actually is.
Here’s the truth:
If you’re extremely overweight, healthy weight loss is a reduction of about 2 to 3 pounds per week.
If you’re slightly to moderately overweight, healthy weight loss is a reduction of about 1 to 2 pounds per week.
If you’re not overweight but are dieting to get very lean, health weight loss is a reduction of about 0.5 to 1 pounds per week.
Misleading weigh-ins and measurements.
If you weigh and measure yourself once per week, you can be dismayed by the results without realizing that you’ve actually lost fat since your last check-in.
For example, increased water retention can throw off both weight and waistline measurements.
Weighing and measuring yourself every day isn’t necessarily the answer, either. This will likely drive you mad as you see numbers fluctuate up and down every day.
The most reliable way to monitor your numbers is to weigh and measure every day and then calculate an average every 7 to 10 days.
So long as the average is moving down over time, you’re on track.
If reading that made you cringe and brace yourself for a litany of all the yummy foods you “shouldn’t” eat if you want to lose weight…you can rest easy. I’m not that kind of guy.
The truth is there is no such thing as a “weight loss food.” You can, theoretically, lose weight eating whatever you want.
That said, certain foods are more conducive to weight loss than others.
The reason why some foods are “better” for weight loss than others boils down to the amount of calories they contain and how those calories break down into protein, carbohydrate, and fat.
Generally speaking, the best foods for weight loss are those that provide an abundance of micronutrients and are filling while also being relatively light in calories and in dietary fat and added sugar in particular.
When you focus on eating these types of foods, you’re much less likely to struggle with hunger issues and overeat.
For example, my favorite “weight loss foods” are…
- Low-fat varieties of protein like lean types of meat (chicken, lean beef, fish, and so forth), low-fat dairy products, egg whites, and even grains and vegetables. While protein powder is convenient, it can leave you hungry if you have satiety issues.
- Whole grains like wheat, brown rice, oats, and barley.
- Vegetables like green beans, carrots, broccoli, and artichoke.
- Legumes like green peas and beans.
- Tubers like white potato, which is incredibly satiating, and sweet potato.
- As you can see, a bunch of high-fiber, unprocessed foods that taste great, provide your body with plenty of micronutrients, and keep you full.
The foods you want to avoid when dieting to lose weight are those that are very calorie dense, high in dietary fat and added sugar, but which aren’t all that filling.
Highly processed junk food like chips, candy, cookies, and other “goodies” and caloric beverages fit this bill, of course, but there are quite a few healthy foods that do as well.
For instance, I love nuts, oils, and butter, but have to limit my intake of them while dieting because they pack a ton of calories and dietary fat without doing much of anything to fill me up. The same goes for foods like dried fruit, chocolate, avocado, and whole-fat dairy–all foods I love, but that I avoid while dieting.
Coffee supports your weight loss efforts by supplying caffeine, which accelerates fat loss by increasing fat cell mobilization and raising basal metabolic rate (which is the amount of energy your body burns at rest).
Green tea supports your weight loss efforts by supplying chemicals known as catechins, which help you lose fat faster in two ways:
- They can increase total daily energy expenditure, although they seem to be unreliable in this mechanism.
- They accelerate exercise-induced fat oxidation (the breaking down of fat molecules into usable energy), by inhibiting an enzyme that degrades adrenaline (and the longer adrenaline is in your system, the more fat you burn).
Interestingly, research has also shown that the catechins in green tea can help reduce abdominal fat in particular.
And, like coffee, regular tea drinking is associated with several other health benefits including a reduced risk of various types of disease, improved cognitive performance and immunity, and more.
One of the most common weight loss mistakes I see people making is drinking calories.
Unfortunately, if you can’t give up the caloric beverages, you’ll probably stay fat forever.
The major problem with caloric beverages, ranging from soda to sports and energy drinks to fruit juices, is they don’t trigger satiety like food.
Here’s a quote from researchers from Purdue University, who investigated the influence of meal timing and food form on daily energy intake:
“Based on the appetitive findings, consumption of an energy-yielding beverage either with a meal or as a snack poses a greater risk for promoting positive energy than macronutrient-matched semisolid or solid foods consumed at these times.”
That is, people that drink calories are much more likely to overeat than those that don’t. This is why research shows a clear association between greater intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain, in both adults and children.
So, ditch the caloric beverages and opt for water or naturally sweetened zero-calorie alternatives instead.
Exercise isn’t necessary for weight loss–a calorie deficit is and you can accomplish that through regulating food intake–but exercise and diet deliver far superior results than diet alone.
This probably isn’t news to you, but what you may not know is that not all exercise is equal when it comes to fat loss.
For example, most people associate “weight loss exercise” with some sort of low-intensity cardio like walking or jogging, but don’t know that the body adapts to this exercise over time to increase efficiency and conserve energy. The result is a “diminishing returns” as far as weight loss goes as your body decreases the energy cost of the exercise, which in turn decreases the amount of fat you lose from it.
This is why I highly recommend high-intensity interval cardio for supporting your weight loss efforts.
This style of cardio, which has you alternate between high and low periods of all-out and recovery effort, beats low-intensity cardio in every way: it burns more fat in less time while preserving more muscle.
Many people also don’t realize how important resistance training is when dieting to lose weight.
Training your muscles regularly not only helps you lose fat faster, it also preserves your muscle mass and ensures you lose fat instead.
This latter point is extremely important because when it comes to losing weight, preserving muscle is equally important as losing fat. The goal isn’t to just “lose weight” but to lose fat.
This point isn’t nearly as important as the others but sleep deprivation, even if mild, is prevalent these days so I thought I’d include it.
A large amount of fat loss occurs while you sleep for two reasons.
- Your body burns quite a few calories while you sleep. A 160-lb. person burns about 70 calories per hour and much of it must come from fat stores because you haven’t eaten any food in several hours.
- Much of your body’s growth hormone is produced while you’re sleeping, further stimulating fat loss.
Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised that research shows the amount people sleep has a marked effect on weight loss.
In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, 10 overweight adults followed a weight-loss diet (calorie restriction) for 2 weeks. One group slept 8.5 hours per night and the other 5.5 hour.
The result: the 5.5-hour group lost 55% less fat and 60% more muscle than the 8.5-hour group and, on top of that, experienced increased hunger throughout the day.
This correlation has been observed elsewhere as well. Research conducted by scientists at the National Center for Global Health and Medicine associated shorter sleep duration with increased levels of body fat.
There’s also evidence that acute sleep loss causes insulin resistance to a level similar to someone with type 2 diabetes, which can increase the rate at which your body stores carbohydrates as fat.
Sleep needs vary from individual to individual, but according to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need 7–9 hours of sleep per night to avoid the negative effects of sleep deprivation.
Since genetics and age affect how much sleep your body optimally needs, a simple way to determine what’s optimal for you is to pick a two-week period such as a vacation and go to bed at the same time each night without an alarm set.
Chances are you’ll sleep longer than usual at first if you have “sleep debt” to cancel out, but toward the end of the second week, your body will establish a pattern of sleeping about the same amount every night. And it’s trying to tell you something: That’s exactly how much sleep it needs.
As I said in the beginning of this article, I wrote this article to both warn and educate you.
The vast majority of “weight loss tips” you’ll find in Google searches, magazines, books, podcasts, and the like, are absolute tripe.
They choose to ignore the “boring” realities of energy balance and the “mundane” strategies relating to regulating food intake, getting the most from exercise, and managing hunger and cravings and, instead, try to sell you on “weird tricks,” specious pseudo-science, and other bullshit.
I hope this article has given you some actionable insights on how to best go about losing weight as well as a healthy “immunization” against the more virulent forms of weight loss quackery.
What are your thoughts on these weight loss tips? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!