The best diet and exercise for weight loss boils down to one simple thing: burning more calories than you consume.
There are plenty of ways to do this, but they all ultimately come down to a simple equation: calories in vs. calories out. If you want to lose weight, you need to make sure that the number of calories you eat is less than what your body burns each day.
But if you’re like most people who are trying to lose weight, this is easier said than done. That’s because there are so many factors that influence how many calories your body burns each day—your age, height, gender, activity level, even stress levels!
The good news is that finding the right diet for your needs is much simpler than it sounds. And once you’ve found a plan that works for you and your lifestyle, it’s easy to stick with it long-term.
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Best Diet And Exercise For Weight Loss
With so many “get ripped yesterday” and “lose 50 pounds by tomorrow” schemes out there, it’s tempting to keep looking for that easy way to lean out. But, even extreme plans that seem to work for a while are fraught with trouble.
The reality: If you really want to be a slimmer you, you’ll be making some habit changes in terms of how you eat and move.
“Lifestyle changes are the best way to improve health and manage weight long term,” says Donald Hensrud, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program and editor of The Mayo Clinic Diet Book and The Mayo Clinic Cookbook Here are some of the most effective tips and tricks for changing your lifestyle and droppping those extra pounds.
1. Stop “dieting”
The good news: If you really want to succeed, you won’t be going on a diet. “When someone undertakes a program with the typical approach to diet, they do something that’s very restrictive and drudgery but they think, ‘If I can just do this until I lose the weight, I’ll be fine.’” Hensrud says. “But if it’s negative and restrictive, it’s temporary.” The potentially less-good news (if you’re resistant to change): You will likely have to modify what you eat, how much you eat, or (probably) both.
2. Think quality
“Accept that calories count.” Hensrud says. “This is basic, but there are many fads out there that say they don’t.” By the numbers, one pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. So in order to lose a pound per week, you’d have to reduce your calorie intake by 500 calories a day. This doesn’t mean that you need to count every morsel that goes into your mouth (though if you’re into that sort of thing, feel free).
Rather, you need to understand calorie density versus nutrient density. Foods that are calorie-dense tend to be high in fat (after all, there are 9 calories per gram of it) and/or full of “empty” calories—as in, ones that don’t provide much nutrition (sorry, French fries, candy bars, and soda). On the other hand, nutrient-dense foods have lots of good vitamins and minerals for their calorie load. The best ones also have fiber, protein, and/or “good” fat content, which will keep you fuller longer (which is another reason that sugar-laden juice should probably be limited). Hello, veggies, fruits, whole grains, lean fish, chicken, beans, and nuts.
3. Eat the best foods for weight loss
Vegetables are particularly nutrient dense, especially those that are vividly colored, like dark greens and bright red tomatoes. Greens like kale and cruciferous veggies like broccoli and Brussels sprouts are high in fiber, which will fill you up.
Fruit is a great choice, too, and though it is higher in sugar, the fiber content tends to offset that in terms of preventing a blood sugar spike. The color rule applies here, too, with brilliant berries leading the pack in terms of nutrient density. Still, watch your portions if your main goal is weight loss.
Whole grains are fiber-rich and provide necessary nutrients such as B vitamins and magnesium, and yes, even protein. Wheat, oats, and brown rice may be most common, but get creative with quinoa (a particularly good source of protein), amaranth, buckwheat, and teff.
Lean fish, such as wild-caught salmon, rainbow trout, and sardines are low in mercury and high in Omega 3s and, of course, protein.
Boneless, skinless chicken breast is one of the best bangs for your buck in terms of protein content, with 27 grams in a 4-ounce serving.
Beans are both low in calories yet very filling, being high in fiber and protein (how’s that for nutrient-dense?). Top choices include black beans, kidney beans, lentils, and chickpeas—but really any are worth your while.
Nuts are best enjoyed in moderation on account of their relatively high fat content, which makes them more caloric ounce for ounce than other healthy picks. Stick to the serving sizes (usually an ounce) and you’ll reap the benefits of their wide array of nutrients and their satiating abilities. Especially good picks are almonds, cashews, and pistachios.
4. Re-think quantity
OK, so you’re not dieting. That means that, yes, you can actually have those French fries. Just probably not every day. Consider quantity as a sliding scale, from limited fries and candy to unlimited veggies, and fill in from there with moderate portions of meat and beans (for protein), whole grains, and low-fat dairy. (The government is onto something with that whole MyPlate thing.) “An extreme example: If someone ate only 600 calories of jelly beans a day, yes, they’d lose weight, but not support their health,” says Hensrud. But they’d be pretty hungry and unsatisfied once the 60 or so jelly beans (or 150 smaller Jelly Bellys) were gone. (Note: We’re also not suggesting 600 as your target calorie count, but you get what we’re saying.)
5. Don’t eat these diet-busting foods:
Candy. Kinda a no-brainer, since it’s either all sugar or sugar and fat. Still need your sweet fix? Get down with fun size—and stick to one at a time.
Pastries. A combo of sugar, fat, and refined flour—yeah, not so great for the waistline. And, unfortunately, that danish containing apples or the pie made of blueberries aren’t any better.
Deep-fried…anything. Oil soaking into those potatoes and breadings might taste great… but it’s not filling and certainly won’t help you towards your weight loss goals.
Chips. Ones that are fried or cheese-powder-coated certainly don’t scream good for you, but even the ones that purport to be “healthy” by being baked or made of, say, sweet potatoes, still are mostly empty calories.
White bread. The grains have been de-germed, rendering white bread fairly nutrient-sparse. Many are fortified (for that reason), but it’s generally better to get your nutrients from their natural, original source.
6. Try 80-20
As noted, deprivation doesn’t work long term. That’s why Nathane Jackson, C.S.C.S., R.H.N,, a health and wellness coach and founder of Nathane Jackson Fitness, recommends his clients follow the 80-20 rule: 80% of your calories should come from fresh, whole “single-ingredient” foods that you eat in largely the form in which they grow in nature (produce, meat, nuts, etc.). The other 20% can be of the more “processed” variety, in which he includes foods that have a place in a healthy diet, such as whole-grain bread. Of that 20, he says 5 to 10% can be from the junk food column. But “don’t have chocolate or ice cream in the house,” he says. “Rig the game so you can win, rather that relying on willpower. If you want it, you can go get it, but make it an effort to do so.”
7. Look at the big picture
After reading all that, you may still think you have some major dietary changes to make. Before you freak out, start by taking inventory of exactly what you’re eating, including portion size. An app like MyFitnessPal can make logging easier, with its extensive database, barcode scanner, and “memory” of most-used foods (we’re creatures of habit, after all). If you’re not good at estimating how much you ate (and studies show that most people aren’t), measure your food until you’re better at eyeballing it. And don’t ignore the calories you drink (soda, juice, beer), which Jackson says are easy ones to cut down on right off the bat. Once you know where you’re starting, you can make changes—slowly. “Try adding one more serving of fruit and one more of veggies, and one less of meat each day,” suggest Hensrud. Gradually, the goal is to have the nutrient-dense foods you add crowd out the calorie-dense ones you should limit, so you can eat plenty of food and feel full but consume fewer overall calories.
8. Move more
When it comes to weight loss, what you eat (and don’t eat) is far more important than your exercise plan. However, the more you move, the more calories you’ll burn, which will set you up for greater success. Also, you’ll develop fitness habits that will be essential for maintaining that weight loss once you reach your goal. If you’ve been totally sedentary, that means starting by getting up off your duff more. Set a timer to go off every 50 minutes and stand up, walk around, move a little. Studies have shown time and again that people who are naturally thinner move more—up to two hours a day. This timer deal will get you there.
9. Add in exercise
Just like you won’t overhaul your diet, you don’t need to suddenly become a gym rat. We’re aiming for sustainable activity here, so if you go from zero to five days a week at the gym, eventually you’re going to burn out. A more manageable goal, Jackson says, is to ramp up your activity slowly, starting with a half-hour walk every day. Then, he suggests some strength training two to three times per week to retain muscle as you lose fat. Choose multi-joint movements like squats, pushups, overhead presses, and rows—”your biceps are a small muscle, so they don’t burn a ton of calories,” Jackson says—and allow yourself plenty of rest between sets at first. “Working out too intensely at first can affect your appetite and energy, so finding a balance is key,” he says. A great circuit could include two or three sets, with 8-12 reps each and a few minutes rest between, of the following exercises:
– Supported Rows
– Overhead Presses
– Glute Bridges
– Incline Pushups
10. Ramp up the cardio
Once some of the weight is gone and you’re feeling stronger, you can increase your strength-training intensity, taking shorter breaks between the exercises, which will increase the aerobic benefits. You may also add in one or two higher-impact cardio days, such as incline walking or running, cycling, or rowing. Start with steady-state workouts, where you go at the same pace for a half hour to 45 minutes, then play with intervals of exertion and recovery, which are higher intensity and have more calorie-burning benefits. Keep the higher-impact portion shorter than the recovery at first—say 30 seconds or a minute on, 1 to 3 minutes off—and then gradually decrease the recovery. When you’re ready, you can then increase the push until you’re at even time.
11. Get your zzzs
Chronic sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your weight-loss efforts. “Your hunger hormones reset when you sleep, too, so if you’re deprived of quality and quantity sleep, you’re behind the eight ball when you first wake up, and more likely to crave junk food and carbs,” Jackson says. Sleep is also when your muscles repair post-workout, so it’s even more important to get enough once you’ve started your workout routine. “Quantity is good, but quality is also important,” Jackson says. “Sleep hormones are naturally released around 8 or 9pm, so by going to bed at 10 or so, you’ll feel more replenished because you’ll have slept during the window for best quality.”
12. Chill out
Stress is another factor that can adversely affect your weight-loss efforts. “When under stress, your body also releases cortisol,” says Jackson. When stress is chronic, you’re fighting an uphill battle to lose weight. Further, “exercise itself is actually stress on the body, which is why it’s also important to have a balance of different intensities of training.” He recommends meditation, conceding that at first most of his clients roll their eyes. “But you don’t have to be a monk sitting on a mountain in Tibet. Take 20 minutes a day to relax and breathe and focus.”
Best Exercises for Weight Loss
When you’re working hard to get fit and lose weight, you want a regular routine that provides strong results. Good news: You don’t even need to become a gym rat; studies show that shorter periods of exercise are more effective for fat loss. But what kind of exercise burns the most calories? These exercises for weight loss will guide you in the right direction.
Cardio exercises, of course, will crush cals. Running on a treadmill will burn 25-39% more calories than doing kettlebell exercises at the same level of exertion, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. But your best bet for weight loss is a routine that combines cardio and strength.
If you’re walking or running like mad without the results you’re looking for, building muscle may be key to moving the scale. Why? Because muscles are metabolically active, so they burn calories even when you’re not exercising. To fit cardio workouts and strength training into your workout, consider interval training, which experts say is one of the best ways to burn fat.
The benefits of interval training
Working out in intervals is one way to reap the benefits of cardio and strength, while maximizing your calorie burn in a short amount of time. Interval workouts involve alternating between short bursts of intense effort and periods of lower intensity or rest. The intensity resets your metabolism to a higher rate during your workout, so it takes hours for your body to cool down again. This is what’s known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). That means you burn calories long after you’ve finished your workout compared to doing a workout at a continuous moderate pace (a.k.a. LISS), according to a 2017 study from the European Journal of Applied Physiology.
“Intervals are a great way to promote weight loss beyond just the EPOC effect. A lot of weight loss comes from the mental side of the spectrum too,” says Chris Ryan, one of MIRROR’s founding trainers. “Intervals offer a great way to harness individual victories after each rep or round of exercise—and not simply looking at the workout as a whole.”
To help you find the a calorie-burning workout that fits your lifestyle and goals, we rounded up the best exercises for weight loss here. If you’re working out in intervals, do the exercise for 30 seconds every minute and rest for the remaining 30 seconds. As you progress, you can increase your time to 45 seconds of activity and 15 seconds of rest. Remember, you want to be working at your maximum—leaving you out of breath by the end of that interval.
So if you want to implement interval training into your fitness routine to rev up your metabolism, here are the best exercises for weight loss.
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Whether you love or hate it, running is one of the best and simplest ways to burn calories—and you don’t need a treadmill to do it. Just lace up your shoes and hit the road. Running in intervals—speeding up and slowing down your pace—will help make the minutes and miles go by quickly. Run in fartleks, which means speedplay in Swedish, where you pick up the pace every other street lamp or water hydrant you hit, and then slow down after you pass the next one.
“The best way to burn calories while running is to vary your workouts,” says Natalie Dorset, a running coach in New York. “If you’re doing the same workout week after week, your body won’t have anything to adapt to. Vary the speed within a workout, do some bursts of faster running, but also mix up the types of runs you do. Whether it’s slow and steady, comfortable and hard, or intervals, variety is the key to constant adaptation.”
“Sprinting helps engage the core and offers shorter durations of runs at higher intensities,” Ryan adds. He also notes that running slow is relatively easy on your body as far as exertion is perceived, but running fast at 80% of your capability is even harder, pushing your body even more to its limits. This conditions your body to get used to this kind of stress. “There is definitely something to be said about getting comfortable being uncomfortable on your runs, so skip the road and head to a track or soccer field for some sprints next time,” he says.
TRY a Fartlek sprinting routine: Start out with a 5-minute jog. Then alternate between 10-second sprint intervals and 50-second moderately-paced jogs. Use that jog to catch your breath, then hit the next sprint hard. Perform these intervals for 15 minutes, then end with a 5-minute jog. When you start feeling stronger in your runs, try upping the sprint effort to 20 seconds with 40 seconds of jogging.
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If the last time you held a jump rope was in grade school, it’s time to get back into the swing of things. This calorie-busting workout can burn up to 318 calories (for a 140-pound woman) every 30 minutes—and your heart isn’t the only muscle that’s working hard.
Jumping rope is a full-body workout. It fires up your quads and glutes to help you explode from the ground, and engages your core to keep you upright and stable as you land back down. Jumping rope also involves a little arm and shoulder action, as they remain tight while the rope movement comes from the wrists.
“Jumping rope is a great way to burn calories while improving cardiovascular health, all-over-toning, and coordination, and it will help build power while lowering your risk of injury,” Dorset says.
TRY this Crossrope routine: Start with 60 seconds of freestyle jump roping. You can jump with two feet, one foot, alternate, skip, or twist your hips. You can have some fun with this one. Next, put down your rope and do 30 seconds of mountain climbers. Return for 60 seconds of freestyle jump roping. End with 30 seconds in a plank. Rest for 2 minutes and repeat the cycle. Complete 3 rounds.
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Strength training can help you build lean muscle mass and rev up your metabolism, which starts to slow down once you hit your 30s. “The more muscle you have, the less fat you have since your metabolism runs higher,” Ryan says. “A higher metabolism leads to more calories burned and more fat lost.”
Resistance training also helps prevent osteoporosis. According to Wolff’s law, bone grows in response to the forces that are placed upon it. So if you lift heavier, your bones grow stronger as a response. “It also works on force production to maintain shoulder, hip, and spine strength, which enables your whole body to lead to a healthier life long into your later years,” Ryan says. Deadlifts, anyone?
TRY a basic dumbbell circuit: Pick up one dumbbell and complete 10 squats, 10 dumbbell rows per arm, and 10 of any push-up variation of your choice. Move right into the next exercise as you finish the reps. Do 3 rounds. Rest for 1-2 minutes in between each round. To make it more challenging, increase the weight of the dumbbell or use two.
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Kickboxing is a great way to burn calories, sculpt muscles, and get in some serious stress relief! By driving power from your legs, your arms are able to throw major jabs, crosses, hooks and uppercuts, making it a full-body exercise. It will also test your coordination and endurance—all essential things that make you a better athlete in and out of the ring.
“Kickboxing works your core, legs, and specifically your obliques to newfound glory by pumping up your heart and lungs,” Ryan says. “But it also helps you work on balance, coordination, and proprioception. It truly is a mind meets muscle exercise if there ever was one.”
TRY five kicking combos from the DailyBurn: Take these combos and perform 8 reps of each as long as you can for 30 minutes. Rest as needed. Play your favorite fight music and stay strong!
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Spinning, whether it’s on an actual bike or a stationary one, is one of the best ways to burn calories and build endurance. “Spinning is a great weight-loss activity that is relatively low impact and targets the biggest, strongest muscles in the body,” Ryan says of the glutes and hamstrings. “When you engage your biggest muscles, you set off hormones to produce more muscles, similar to strength training, which helps to burn fat across your whole body,” he adds.
If you don’t like running, spinning is a low-impact alternative that’ll crank up your heart rate.
But there’s more to pushing the pedal than speed. By practicing good form and engaging your core as well as your thighs and glutes, spinning can be a full-body workout. Whether you’re doing a heavy climb in first position or sprinting in second, your core is the key to spinning efficiently and quickly. And as you drive your foot down with each stroke, it’s all about squeezing your inner thighs.
TRY a spinning interval routine: Warm up on the bike for 10 minutes. Go as hard as you can for 30 seconds; pedal easy for 60 seconds. Repeat four times except after the fourth work interval, pedal easy for four minutes. Repeat the whole cycle three more times for a total of 37 minutes of exercise.
HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)
HIIT workouts are, by far, one of the most effective ways to burn calories and hike up your metabolism. The best part is, these workouts don’t have to last very long. Some HIIT workouts can last for only 10 minutes, but it’s only effective if you push your body to its limits with all-out energy. Research has shown that HIIT can help burn belly fat.
Throughout, form is key. “Even though you are moving through movements at high intensities, you still need to make form paramount to avoid injury,” Ryan says. “Think less about the load/tension or weight intensity and focus more on completing the reps and sets in a sound manner and building load safely.”
TRY a 10-minute, total-body workout to rev up your metabolism.
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If you haven’t used your gym’s rowing machine, you’re missing out on one of the best pieces of cardio and strength equipment. Working your quads, glutes, hamstrings, core, arms, and back, you get a total-body workout that’ll have you pouring sweat. Contrary to what most people think, the power of rowing mostly comes from your legs—not your arms. Engaging your quads and glutes, you drive your legs back to pull the handle toward your chest.
“Rowing is a great weight-loss tool because it incorporates the best out of the cardio and strength worlds, with a focus on pulling and opening up the hips and shoulders. At the same time, you’re working your heart and lungs,” Ryan says. Because many people have desk jobs, our backs tend to be rounded. Rowing helps correct this by opening your spine, hips, and shoulders, Ryan says.
TRY a 15-minute rowing routine: Start with a 5-minute warm up, rowing at a slow, consistent pace. Then move up to a moderate pace (about 22 strokes per minute) for 5 minutes. End the workout with a 5-minute cool down.
Don’t be fooled by the elliptical! It might look an easy machine, casually spinning your legs while watching TV or reading a magazine. But if you crank up the resistance and work at a hard pace, it’ll leave you breathless. “Riding the elliptical at an easy clip will not do much, but magic happens when the lungs start working and the blood starts pumping,” Ryan says. Be sure to stand up straight to lengthen your abs and engage your upper-body muscles. Making use of the handles and swinging your arms will help you burn more calories.
Dorset adds that machines like the elliptical are a good option to keep the weight loss going while protecting your body from extra stress: “The elliptical is great for providing lower impact while maintaining fitness,” Dorset says. “It’s particularly good for helping precent injury at the onset of for coming back to running when recovering from an injury.”
TRY working out like Jennifer Aniston: As reported by Vogue in 2017, the Friends star likes to hit the elliptical for 20 or more minutes. She’ll raise the incline, then alternate between walking for 1 minute and running for 2 minutes.
No matter how fit you are, climbing up a flight of stairs is always a challenge. That’s because steps are designed to be short so that you have to engage additional muscles, like your glutes, quads, and calves, to bring your entire body up.
“The StairMaster offers a great way to strengthen the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Working the biggest, strongest muscles in the body keep your metabolic rate high, and your body strong and toned,” Ryan says. So, climb a set of stairs or try out a StairMaster machine next time you’re at the gym.
TRY a HIIT StairMaster workout. In this interval circuit, you’ll work your way from a comfortable, moderate pace to an all-out effort.
Battle ropes are an excellent, no-fuss way to get a full-body strength training and cardio workout. Working at a high intensity, battle ropes will increase your heart rate in seconds.
“There is something extremely fun and satisfying about slamming heavy ropes repeatedly,” Ryan says. “It not only burns the lungs and muscles in the best way possible, but it also offers a sense of accomplishment by taking out anything that has been bothering you throughout the day.”
To use them properly: Hold one end of the rope with each hand and stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart. Bend your knees slightly and keep your chest up as you alternate whipping your arms to send waves down to the rope anchor. Experiment with different tempos and movement, whipping faster with one arm while slamming the rope hard with the other.
TRY this 15-minute routine: Start with making alternating waves with each arm. For the next 5 minutes, try to maintain these waves. Don’t worry about speed or intensity. Just try to endure. Try this for another 2 rounds. Rest 1 minute in between rounds.
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Good news if you don’t enjoy the pounding effects of running on your body: Swimming is an excellent workout that combines cardio with strength training in one low-impact workout. Water adds an element of resistance, forcing you to recruit more muscles to move efficiently and use oxygen wisely. Need more motivation to hit the pool? “Simply being in water around 78 degrees for your workout helps to burn even more calories than on land because your body’s natural temperature is 98.6 degrees. It fights to keep itself warm in water by burning calories and fat,” Ryan says.
You’re also using your legs, arms, and core to help you stay afloat, making swimming a great total-body exercise for building strength and endurance.
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Yoga is an ideal low-impact exercise for weight loss. High cortisol levels can lead to weight gain, and research shows that yoga can help decrease stress. Plus, yoga increases flexibility, strength, and coordination. If you’re on a mission to lose weight, a consistent practice can help you slim down when paired with a clean diet. And if you’re looking for an extra way to burn calories during your yoga practice, take up a power yoga class in a hot studio: Not only will you burn more calories while you sweat, but power moves and faster vinyasas will help you get tone.
Diets for Weight Loss
Deciding to go on a diet is a big deal. You’ll revamp your eating habits, introduce new foods, and likely ditch some current ones. But, if dropping pounds is your goal, of course you want to go on the best diet to lose weight
“Eating a nutrient-rich diet can make us feel better and more energized, and it lets us know we are taking steps towards a healthier life,” says dietitian Amanda Beaver, R.D.N, of Houston Methodist Wellness Services. But when you start researching the best ways to lose weight, your head can start spinning with all the different “miracle” diets out there—keto! paleo! 5-2 fasting! And of course each of these has an army of true believers, who post all over Instagram about how awesome they feel giving up carbs/sugar/meat/dinner. It can be impossible to know which one to try.
How to choose a new diet
Deciding on a new diet is a big deal, and it can be tricky to select the right one for you. “One must remember that healthy weight loss is a commitment that takes time,” says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D., author of The Small Change Diet. “There is no silver bullet. When choosing a diet, opt for one that is an all-food inclusive and not one that is about eliminating foods, especially those you love.”
Amanda Holtzer, M.S., R.D., a dietitian at Culina Health, suggests asking yourself the following question before settling on a new diet:
● Is this diet sustainable for you? “Meaning, can you do it seven days a week, forever?” she says. “Because if not, the second you stop doing it, chances are you’ll gain the weight back.”
● Is this diet overly restrictive? If you’re going to feel deprived, Holtzer says it will be tough to stick with a particular diet. “Eventually, those cravings will take over,” she says. “Oftentimes, this kind of situation leads to overindulgences or even binges.”
● Will you be able to live your life while on it? If you like to eat out with friends, grab ice cream on occasion, and enjoy mimosas at brunch, it’s important to consider if your diet will allow this, Holtzer says. “If you think you’ll have to put your life on hold to execute this diet properly, it ain’t the one,” she says.
● Will you be adequately nourished? Holtzer says this is “the most important” question to ask yourself. “Any diet that prescribes intensely low calories is not the one,” she says, citing diets that want to you to restrict yourself to 1,200 calories. “Remember, the second you stop eating that way, you’ll gain the weight back,” Holtzer says.
Ultimately, Gans says, “a good fit will have many parts to it that become part of your lifestyle, not something that you will be counting the days ‘til it is over.”
How long should you give a diet before trying something new?
Sure, it’s possible to choose a diet the first time that may not be right for you. So, how long should you give it? Holtzer says “not very long.” She recommends doing daily check-ins with yourself to see how you’re feeling on a new diet. A few things to consider, per Holtzer:
- How well you’ve been able to stick to the diet
- What you did well
- What you could have improved on
- Whether you feel satisfied from your meals and snacks
- How much you’re thinking about food on the diet
- How much the diet is impacting other areas of your life
“Even if you finish day one of a diet, and the answers to some of these questions indicate that this diet may not be right, I would say it’s time to call it,” Holtzer says. “Life is too short to be on a diet that takes away from it.” (But, she adds, if you feel like daily check-ins are too much, you can reevaluate every week.)
Gans agrees that you shouldn’t stick with something that doesn’t feel right. “If you are losing one to two pounds a week, then you are on the road to success,” she says. “However, if you are losing weight, but feel you cannot continue for long because it is so darn hard, the time to switch is immediate.”
Overall, Gans recommends keeping this in mind: “The best diet is the one that doesn’t feel like a diet. The plan incorporates all foods groups, teaches you about portion sizes, provides healthy cooking tips, includes dining out strategies, suggest regular physical activity and adequate sleep. The best diet is actually not a diet, but a lifestyle.”
We asked a panel of dietitians to sort through some of the most buzzed-about diets, and discuss the good, the bad, and the hungry. Here are their recommendations of the top 11 to consider—and 4 to forget about.
1 Mediterranean Diet
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This is a repeat favorite from last year. Based on the heart-healthy lifestyle of Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, Mediterranean-style diets include healthy fats such as avocados, olive oil, nuts, and fish at least twice a week, plenty of beans, fruit, leafy greens, and whole grains, and even a daily glass of red wine. You can eat cheese in moderation, but limit the red meat to once or twice a week.
How it works for weight loss: Though this diet’s primary appeal is in its numerous health benefits—it can lower your risk of both chronic disease and cognitive decline—it can also lead to weight loss if you limit your calorie intake to 1,500 a day or less. Studies have found that following either a traditional Mediterranean diet or a low-carb version of it can result in weight loss of about 5-10% of body weight over 12 months. And that weight stays off—a recent British study found that for people who had lost large amounts of weight, those who consumed a Mediterranean-style diet were twice as likely to keep it off. “This diet is easy to maintain, because the food is delicious!” says Beaver.
2 DASH Diet
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The low-sodium Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet was designed as a way to help people control their blood pressure without using drugs, though a few books have used it as a basis for a weight-loss diet. DASH emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or nonfat dairy and limits saturated fat and dietary cholesterol.
How it works for weight loss: You will certainly improve your health with this diet, and if you restrict calories while following DASH’s heart-healthy rules, you can lose weight and lower your blood pressure. A recent study found of obese older adults found that those who followed the DASH diet lost weight and decreased body fat, along with many other health benefits. “DASH is one of my favorite diets,” says Meridan Zerner, R.D., a dietitian at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. “You’re getting the anti-inflammatory, high fiber, heart-healthy benefits, and if you use a personalized, calorie-limited plan, you can absolutely lose weight.”
3 WW (formerly Weight Watchers)
Formerly known as Weight Watchers, this diet company has been around so long, your Grandma probably tried it when she was trying to take off the baby weight. With the newest version, myWW+, you get sorted into a color-coded program that assigns you a certain number of points per day (foods are given points based on calories, saturated fat, sugar, and protein)—you can eat whatever you want within that range. You can also eat an unlimited amount of 0-point foods (most fruits and veggies and lean proteins such as fish, tofu, beans, eggs, and chicken breast fall into this category). Memberships start at $3.22 a week for a point-tracking app and digital support; $12.69 a week gets you unlimited access to meetings and a personal coach.
How it works for weight loss: Research has consistently found that WW is effective at safely taking off the pounds. A 2013 study found that dieters assigned to WW were more than eight times more likely to lose 10% of their body weight over 6 months than those trying to diet on their own. “There is a lot of evidence that using a tracking app can help you lose weight,” says Zerner. She adds that even if you stop tracking every meal, it is easy to maintain weight loss once you internalize which healthy foods are low or 0 points.
4 Vegan Diet
Going a step further than the traditional vegetarian diet, vegans shun all animal products, including dairy, eggs, and honey. While many choose this lifestyle for ethical or environmental reasons, some people look to the vegan diet for weight loss as well. And with the new era of plant-based meats, going vegan is easier than ever.
How it works for weight loss: Just going vegan won’t necessary help you drop the weight. After all, candy, pasta, and potato chips can all fall under the vegan label without being particularly healthy or low-cal. “If you eat high-quality vegan food, like leafy greens and plant-based proteins, you can lose more weight than either vegetarians or omnivores,” says Beaver; studies confirm that those on a plant-based diet have a lower average BMI than those who eat animal products. A 2020 Australian study came to the interesting conclusion that vegans and vegetarians are more likely to stick with the diet over the long run than those on plans such as paleo, because they were motivated by ethical and moral beliefs rather than just weight-loss.
5 Flexitarian Diet
Whereas the vegan diet goes one step beyond vegetarianism, the Flexitarian diet takes it one step back, explains Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., nutritionist and author of The Flexitarian Diet. “This is a very pro-plant diet, but it gives you the flexibility to have a hot dog at a ballpark, or to eat some turkey at Thanksgiving,” she says. There are no strict calorie limitations, though Blatner’s book provides a 5-week plan that provides around 1,500 calories a day.
How it works for weight loss: By filling your plate with more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and plant proteins, and sticking with the low-cal plan, you can lose weight and improve your health. A recent review found that people who followed a flexitarian diet had lower BMIs and lower rates of metabolic syndrome than people who regularly ate meat.
6 Intermittent Fasting
There are a few different ways to do the intermittent fasting plan: Some people eat whatever they want 5 days a week, then consume a very low calorie diet (usually around 500 calories) on the other 2 days; others restrict their eating to an 8-hour window every day. Say, eating unlimited food between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., and fasting for the other 16 hours.
How it works for weight loss: By limiting your overall calories consumption, you’ll take off the pounds, says Zerner, who points out that there is some evidence that this diet can also increase your metabolism rate and have other positive health effects. A 2015 meta-study found that people who did intermittent fasting lost about the same amount of weight as those who did a regular calorie-restricted diet.
7 Volumetrics DIet
Consistently rated as one of the best diets by U.S. News & World Report, Volumetrics was created by Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at Penn State University. The strategy here is simple: Fill up on foods that provide the most nutrition for the least amount of calories. Foods are divided into four categories, from least energy-dense (fruits, non-starchy vegetables, broth-based soups) to most energy-dense (crackers, cookies, chocolate, nuts, and butter); dieters plan their meals to include as many of the lower-density foods as possible.
How it works for weight loss: The math here is simple—the fewer calories consumed, the more weight you’ll drop. A 2016 study found a significant association between low-energy-density diets and weight loss.
8 Plant-Based Diet
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Similar to a Flexitarian diet, a plant-based diet doesn’t have any super-strict rules: You just focus on eating whole foods derived from plants most of the time, with wiggle room for the occasional piece of chicken or scrambled egg. You’re basically taking the standard American diet—which features a big hunk of meat in the center of the plate, with a few vegetables scattered on the side—and flipping that around, so vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and whole grains, are the star of the show, and beef, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy only make small, cameo appearances when you have a true craving.
How it works for weight loss: Plant-based foods tend to be higher in fiber and lower in fat than animal products, keeping you filled up for fewer calories. According to one large study, overweight and obese adults who followed a plant-based diet for six months lost an average of 26 pounds.
9 The New Mayo Clinic Diet
The Mayo Clinic Diet was created by the highly esteemed medical organization of the same name, and it’s specially designed to be a lifestyle change—not a quick fix. The diet centers around an easy-to-follow food pyramid that stresses the importance of loading up on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while minimizing sweets and certain fats.
The diet happens in two phases. First, there’s a two-week phase that’s designed to jump-start your weight loss by introducing five healthy habits and teaching you to break five common habits. The second phase is designed to be followed for life and helps you learn more about healthy food choices and portion sizes, along with being physically active.
How it works for weight loss: Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet says the focus on lifestyle changes is important, both for weight loss and weight maintenance. “It teaches you about portion sizes and food choices, while not excluding any food groups, as well as including daily physical activity, all of which may play a huge role in weight loss,” she says. Worth noting: The Mayo Clinic says you may lose up to 10 pounds during the first two weeks, and one to two pounds during the second phase, depending on what your lifestyle was like before you went on the diet.
Noom is a subscription-based app that tracks a person’s food intake and exercise habits. It helps categorize foods as potentially being helpful or detrimental to a person’s weight-loss goals and also offers up daily calorie goals. Users of the app are synched up with coaches to help guide them through their weight loss process. “It has one-on-one support, and the tech is very convenient,” says Jessica Cording, R.D., author of The Little Book of Game-Changers.
How it works for weight loss: The accountability aspect is “really helpful,” Cording says. Gans agrees. “If you are truthful and log everything you eat and drink via the Noom app, it will help guide you to stay within your daily calorie allotment,” she says. “It also focuses on low-calorie nutrient foods and provides a one-on-one coach via messaging, all valuable for tools for weight loss.”
11 Pescatarian diet
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The Pescatarian diet is a mostly plant-based diet that still allows room for fish and other seafood. “It’s a mostly vegetarian diet, but with some fish,” Cording says. The emphasis is on eating whole, unprocessed foods, along with grilled or seared seafood for an overall healthy diet.
How it works for weight loss: “Fish is a pretty lean protein source,” Cording says. “When you compare that to somebody who was eating heavy amounts of red meat, you would expect to see some weight loss.” Gans stresses the importance of eating plenty of fruits, veggies, and 100% whole grains, along with “watching portion sizes and preparing your fish in a healthy way, i.e. broiled, grilled, or steamed.”
12 Skip It: Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet is still getting a lot of buzz, even though it’s nearly impossible for modern-day humans to stick with this diet over the long-term. Based on the eating patterns of our Paleolithic ancestors, this diet requires a strict adherence to foods that would have been hunted and gathered, including lean meat, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables. While it cuts out processed foods, it also eliminates dairy, grains, beans and legumes. “Any diet that has a glaring list of what’s not allowed is going to be very hard to maintain,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., creator of BetterThanDieting.com, author of Read It Before You Eat It. “You want a diet that makes you feel balanced both emotionally and physically.” While the elimination of processed food is a good thing, the complete elimination of healthy whole grains can leave you with a shortage of important vitamins and minerals, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
13 Skip It: Keto Diet
Sure, you can lose weight initially on this high-fat, low-carb diet, which puts your body into a state of ketosis—with no carbs to burn off for energy, your cells start burning off stored fat. But keeping your body in what is basically a crisis state is not a viable long-term plan, says Kristine Clark, Ph.D., a sports nutritionist at Penn State University, who also points out that the diet can lead to side effects such as headaches, muscle soreness, constipation, and fatigue.
14 Skip It: Sirtfood Diet
Kale smoothies are suddenly hot, thanks to Adele’s recent weight loss, which newspapers have linked to the strict Sirtfood diet. The diet focuses on the powers of foods that contain a group of proteins called sirtuins, including kale, red wine, strawberries, onions, soy, parsley, matcha tea, and oily fish such as salmon and mackerel. The first phase of the diet involves a lot of green juices and restricted calories, before you move into the maintenance phase. Restricting calories will always result in short-term weight loss, but there have been no independent studies backing up this diet.
15 Skip It: The Mayr Diet
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Speaking of celebrity weight loss, no one has shown off a more dramatic change this year than Rebel Wilson, who says she’s slimmed down with a combination of exercise and the Mayr Method, developed a century ago by an Austrian doctor. What we know about the diet seems legit—it involves reducing gluten and dairy, eating high-alkaline foods such as fish and vegetables, and eating slowly and mindfully (including chewing each bite of food at least 40 times!). To get the full Mayr experience, you have to visit a pricey clinic in Austria, so it’s best to simply stick with a plant-based diet and remember to eat without distractions, says dietitian Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N.