You can lose pounds in days
Don't follow any diet with a number in the title—"The 7-Day Diet," or "The 48-Hour Diet," for instance. "That implies there's an endpoint," says Philadelphia medical weight loss expert Charlie Seltzer, MD. The problem with those quick fixes? "You're not addressing the things that have made you overweight in the first place," he says. Uncovering the behaviors and making a plan to overcome them is what creates lasting change.
You need a jumpstart diet
Some people say that jumpstarts (like going on a severely restrictive two- or three-day diet, for instance) often help them see immediate results, which can parlay into motivation to keep going. However, as Dr. Seltzer points out, it's very difficult to change ingrained habits. Jumpstarts ask you to change your habits once, and then you have to try to change your habits again for the second- and/or third-phases of the diet. "Anything that you plan on doing for the rest of your life should be done as part of your weight loss plan," he says. That said, there are ways to get the ball rolling quickly on your new healthy lifestyle.
It's all about calories
Of course calories matter, but lowering the number won't always get you the results you want. That's because when you lose weight you lose both fat and muscle, which is not ideal. "Muscle is the machine that burns calories," says Osama Hamdy, MD, PhD, medical director of the Obesity Clinical Program at Joslin Clinic and author of The Diabetes Breakthrough. Lose too much muscle, and you'll easily regain weight. However, you can maintain muscle mass by doing strength workouts and eating protein with meals and snacks, says Dr. Hamdy. These gym hacks will make your workout less of a chore.
Cut back on carbs
You've heard for a long time that the way to lose fat fast is to say no to bread and pasta. But quinoa lovers everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief: You can eat carbs. In a study in 2015, calorie-for-calorie, restricting dietary fat helped people lose more body fat over a six-day period compared to cutting carbs. That's not to say that you need to stop loving avocado and almond butter, either. The differences were relatively small. You're better off following the healthy eating plan that works for your lifestyle and makes you feel your best, whether that includes carb-rich foods or not. For starters, these are the foods that will shift your body into fat-burning mode.
Work out an hour a day
Actually, if you were to ask Dr. Hamdy, that's a waste of your time. "We find the people who are most successful are those who do 10-minute bouts spread out during the day," he says. Stretch for 10 minutes in the morning, speed walk during lunch, and then do weights in front of the TV at night. On the weekend, plan fun things that are naturally active, like hiking or a nice bike ride. The problem with planning hour-long trips to the gym? Life happens and that's a habit that's hard to stick with. Simply trying to be more active, on the other hand, can become a part of your lifestyle. These 60-second exercises can help, too!
Many celebs have credited going "g-free" (gluten is the protein found in wheat) with their slim physique. But it's probably not eliminating gluten that does the trick, but rather forgoing entire food groups (like grains) altogether. (It goes without saying that if you have a sensitivity to gluten or have celiac disease, then eliminating gluten is smart.) For the majority of us, going gluten-free only "replaces carbs with another carb," explains Dr. Hamdy. For instance, you don't eat regular pasta, you eat rice (or gluten-free pasta). "You end up eating the same amount of carbs, and sometimes more," he says. And remember: Potato chips are gluten-free—and no one would tell you to eat those to lose weight. Skip the gluten if you have a medical reason to, but don't skip it in hopes that it's a magic bullet to slim. Find out if gluten sensitivity is behind your tummy trouble.
Eat low-fat foods
The idea is that if you buy foods with less fat, they should contain fewer calories, right? That's only what companies are hoping you'll think. Turns out, that only about 60 percent of low-fat foods actually contain significantly fewer calories than regular versions, per 2016 research in the journal Appetite. If you're concerned about calories, read the nutrition label to see exactly how much a low-fat food saves calorie-wise. You may be better off choosing the full-fat version, like full-fat yogurt, as some research shows that these can make you feel more satiated and satisfied.
The right snacks can help keep you from getting ravenous, so you don't end up overeating at your next meal. However, we're a country of snackers. "Most people gain weight because of snacks, not meals," says Dr. Hamdy. That's because we tend to be unconscious about what we're putting in our mouths when nibbling (like snack mix in front of the TV), and that piles on the calories. If you like to snack, go ahead and do it, but do it mindfully: Sit down and pay attention to what you're eating, and include a source of protein (like a hard boiled egg or cottage cheese) for staying power. Here's how to load up on lean protein.
Look for health claims on food labels
It's a good idea to flip the package over and take a peek at the ingredients, but forget the health claims listed on the front. In a study in the International Journal of Obesity, people served themselves larger portions of foods with nutrition claims (like "reduced-fat") on the front, and estimated that these foods contained fewer calories. The lesson? The main label is all marketing—it's what's on back that counts. Here's how to decode the trickiest terms on food labels.
Don't eat at night
Although some research shows that calories ingested at night are more likely to end up padding your thighs than powering your activities, the results are inconclusive. This one is really about reframing your eating habits to be healthier—but still work with your natural tendencies. So if you like to eat at night, and you're willing to save calories during the day to accommodate p.m. noshing, go for it. You're more likely to be successful if you take a more practical approach and work with your body rather than against it, says Dr. Seltzer. "If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight no matter what time those calories were consumed," he says. Here are more weight-loss secrets that experts won't tell you.