There's no single trick that works for everyone
"I wish the diet industry would stop touting that weight loss is simply the result of eating less and exercising more, says New York City-based clinical nutritionist Jennifer Cassetta. "For some people that do eat way more than their bodies need, then yes, this strategy can often lead to weight loss," she says. "However, that is not always the case." In other words, there isn't one perfect solution—and the thing that might work for you may not even be on your radar yet.
To help you make strides toward your goals, we asked top dietitians and nutritionists for the strategies that actually get results. And make sure you avoid the worst diet tips nutritionists have ever heard.
Yup, you read that right. The key to improving your health might just be to focus on healthy behaviors like moving more and eating more fruits and veggies. "Research repeatedly suggests that diets don't work," says Julie Duffy Dillon, RD, an eating disorder specialist based in Greensboro, North Carolina. "Going on diet after diet only promotes something called weight cycling. That's the process of losing weight and regaining it time and time again," she explains. "This may promote long-term health issues like higher cholesterol, higher blood pressure, and more chronic inflammation. The key to health is focusing on behaviors that feel energizing and sustainable to you long term." In other words, think about what you enjoy in terms of exercise and make a list of healthy foods you actually find tasty. Then try to make those things a more prominent part of your life. (Psst! Use this trick to stop dreading your workouts.)
Eliminating one food or avoiding an ingredient won't be enough
"I find that when people are trying to lose weight, they become obsessed with avoiding one thing, like carbs or sugar. But staying away from certain food groups or one specific thing won't help you lose weight," says Tara Collingwood, RDN, CSSD, team dietitian for Orlando Magic and author of Flat Belly Cookbook for Dummies. "Instead, look at your overall diet and caloric balance. Increase your burn a little bit each day with more movement and exercise and skip extra calories you won't miss, like that bite of your husband's meal when you dine out or that handful of candy from the jar at work." For even more diet tips that will help you stay on track, don't miss these 12 perfect food swaps for every craving.
Indulge yourself from time to time
Yes, you have to ignore the office candy bowl, but if you don't loosen the reins once and while you're bound to overdo it when you finally give into your cravings. That's why dietitian and personal trainer Kristin Reisinger, RD, CSSD schedules a weekly cheat meal. "A large cheat meal can actually help you reach your goals faster. It revs the metabolism, helps the body burn fat, and prevents your body from slowing down or acclimating to calorie restriction." Just be sure you enjoy a cheat meal and not an entire cheat day or cheat week. To maintain a healthy diet, you should wholeheartedly enjoy that indulgent meal and then return to eating a balanced diet ASAP. (Learn more about the connection behind cheat meals and weight loss.)
Care for yourself, first
So if you can't diet, what should you do? Kara Lydon, RD, LDN, RYT, intuitive eating counselor and blogger at The Foodie Dietitian, says you must focus on self-care—and you really need to give up on dieting, she stresses. "One research article that reviewed over 30 studies on dieting concluded that dieting is actually a predictor of weight gain," she says. Instead: "Place less focus on the number on the scale and you can spend more time and energy on health-promoting behaviors like engaging in joyful movement and eating foods that are satisfying. Focusing on self-care can help boost self-esteem, which in turn helps people take better care of themselves and sustain improvements in healthy behaviors." If you're not sure how to get started, here are 10 ways to be nicer to yourself.
Portion size matters
VICUSCHKA/Shutterstock"Whether it's carbs, gluten, or white sugar, people will often tell me what they aren't eating, and then ask why giving up that particular thing hasn't helped them lose weight," Collingwood says. "I try to help my clients realize that giving up certain foods isn't the answer. Even 'healthy' food can cause weight gain if you're overeating them!" Having an idea of proper portions can help the scale tip in your favor. While it can be challenging recalling appropriate serving sizes for every single thing, it can help to know what an acceptable serving is for higher-calorie foods you often eat. (Almonds, peanut butter, olive oil, and avocado, for example.) These nine genius portion-control tricks can help you commit proper serving sizes to memory.
Be more mindful
KucherAV/ShutterstockJust because a particular diet worked for your friend or a certain celeb, doesn't mean that same approach will help you look and feel how you'd like to. "Everyone has different nutrient needs and food preferences, so everyone's ideal diet will look different," says Caroline Passerrello, MS, RDN, LDN, a Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For this reason, Passerrello suggests mindful eating—and follows the approach herself. "Rather than trying to eat a certain number of calories or specific nutrients, I focus on how I feel and eat in response to physiological hunger." Studies suggest this approach can help ward off emotional eating and may help people consume fewer calories, which, over time, can lead to weight loss.
Eat protein for breakfast
Julia Sudnitskaya/ShutterstockIf you typically grab a granola bar or a piece of fruit for breakfast, you may be setting yourself up to overeat later in the day. "I eat 20 to 30 grams of protein as part of my breakfast, Collingwood says. "It keeps me satisfied for several hours and helps keep my appetite in check as the day goes on, especially in the evening." Studies confirm that Collingwood's tactic is an effective one. In one study, people who started their days with 30 to 39 grams of protein wound up eating 175 fewer calories at lunchtime, likely because protein stimulates the secretion of a gut hormone that triggers feelings of fullness.
Consider having a hard-boiled egg (6 g protein) with a 5.3-ounce container of plain Greek yogurt (15 g protein). Here are 10 healthy ways to top Greek yogurt. Or enjoy a bowl of oatmeal made with a ¾ cup of oats (7 g protein), a ¾ cup of 2 percent milk (6 g protein), and 3 tablespoons of hemp protein powder (15 g protein). For added flavor, add a drizzle of honey to your bowl.
Keep a food diary
Kiattipong/ShutterstockTechnology gets blamed for keeping us stationary and interfering with activity. But your smartphone could help you lose weight: "Several studies have shown that people who keep food logs are more likely to be successful in losing weight and keeping it off," says Rebecca Ditkoff, MPH, RD, founder of Nutrition by RD. She believes it's especially helpful when you're first getting a handle on what you eat and what you might need to change.
Ditkoff says you can write things down "the old school way" in an actual journal, or you can use an app like MyFitnessPal or MealLogger (this one allows you to track your food by taking pictures of your meals). After you've done this for a few weeks, you'll likely start to see patterns emerge. Maybe you'll notice that you're not eating any fruits or vegetables until the evening, or perhaps your breakfast isn't very filling and you always wind up grabbing something from the office vending machine. Once you make these realizations, you can start strategizing ways on your own or with the help of a nutritionist to make choices that will help you slim down and improve your health.
Brush and floss after you eat
9dream studio/ShutterstockNot only will your dentist love you, your belly will too: "Brushing and flossing right after dinner will reduce cravings for late night eating, and clean teeth help signal that you are finished eating," says Sonya Angelone, RDN, CLT Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
By the way, did you know that you should never flush floss down the toilet?