We all know there is no quick fix or magic pill when it comes to weight loss. There are however practices and habits that can either inhibit it or facilitate it. It is hard, with all the tips and tricks and ‘diet secrets’ out there, to know exactly which practices are helpful, but thankfully we’ve filtered out some of the noise. As with any health advice it is always recommended to consult your doctor to determine what practices are best suited to you. Broadly speaking however, the 8 changes listed here are simple and effective as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.
Monitor Your Calorie Intake Effectively
A calorie deficit is the ultimate key to weight loss; less calories going in through food than calories being expended through bodily activity typically equals a loss in body fat. But ensuring this is sometimes easier said than done. Calories can be sneaky, the effort to expend them compared to the quick and easy act of consuming them feels unfairly disproportionate, and sometimes you’re just plain hungry after the allocated calories. The key is to plan your calorie intake carefully.
Use a calorie counting app like My Fitness Pal. It’s free and has most foods stored, all you have to do is search for and add the food’s calories to your daily food diary. Alternatively, the app has the function to scan barcodes and drop the nutritional value of the food right into the app. This will help you better monitor portion size, evenly plan your meals throughout the day, and reveal those sneaky calories (tip: get rid of those sugary drinks!).
Maintain a High Fibre Diet
There are many benefits to maintaining a diet high in fibre, among them is its assistance with weight-loss. Fibre takes longer to digest, leaving you feel fuller for longer. You’re less likely to reach for snacks if you’re not hungry. You’re also less likely to ditch the workouts, as a high fibre diet will help maintain greater levels of energy.
The UK government’s guideline on fibre intake is 30g a day as part of a balanced diet. This is another reason it’s good to download a calorie counting app, as it will help you track nutrients like fibre.
Adding more fibre to your diet can be as simple as switching from white bread and pasta to wholemeal, from sugary cereals to wholegrain cereals, eating less processed foods and including more plant-based foods in your diet.
Staying hydrated can help with weight-loss in multiple ways. Water is integral to the process the body goes through when metabolising fat so being hydrated can help optimise this process. In addition, hydration assists exercise. Water feeds the muscles and organs in your body, mitigating the risk of fatigue or cramping, allowing you to keep going for longer.
Water also works as an appetite suppressant. Studies have found that drinking 2 cups of water up to 30 minutes before a meal led people to eat less, reducing their daily calorie intake.
Overall, the UK government recommends 6-8 cups of water a day.
Time Your Exercise
Typically, any amount of exercise you are able to do, no matter how quick or low energy, is beneficial for overall health. And again, always consult your doctor if you have health concerns. But generally speaking, if you want to optimise exercise for weight loss there are a couple of tips.
An exhaustive review of studies conducted in the book How Not to Diet found that timing, duration, and volume of exercise can assist with weight loss. An overwhelming number of studies concluded that exercising in a fasted state (having not eaten for at least 6 hours) burned more calories than exercising after meals. In a fasted state your muscles dip into the body’s reserves for energy, instead of exhausting the energy stored from the meal just eaten. The studies found that 90 minutes of moderate intensity or 60 minutes of higher intensity per day to be the most effective duration periods. The key, however, is to do this consistently. Many exercisers feel deserving of a ‘rest’ or ‘reward’ after workouts and undo their hard work by eating more or moving less throughout the days after. Maintaining a consistent workout will help maintain the required calorie deficit for weight loss.
If you don’t have 60 – 90 minutes a day to work out there are other ways to incorporate being active that will assist with weight loss. Small tweaks like taking the stairs instead of the lift, parking further away, or walking on breaks throughout the day, do add up over time. Again, it is the consistency that brings the results.
Don’t Just Focus on Cardio
For those out there who dread endless hours of running you’ll be glad to hear cardio is not the only exercise that assists with weight loss. That’s not to say it’s not important, to optimise weight loss you do need to get the heart rate up but building muscle is also an effective way to lose weight. Increasing your muscle mass increases your resting metabolism (the rate you burn calories when doing nothing).
It’s also important to engage in activities you enjoy. One study found that activities framed as ‘fun’ as opposed to ‘exercise’ garnered more popularity and people were more likely to continue engaging in them. Two groups in the study were given the same walk to complete, one group was told it was exercise, and the other told it was a fun, social event. The exercise group reported higher levels of fatigue and consumed more calories in the wake of it, even though it was the same walk. If you engage in activities you enjoy, like hiking or dancing or doing activities in a social group, you are more likely to enjoy it and not see it as a chore. And more inclined to keep doing it.
You can know all the tricks to losing weight, but life gets busy and it’s very easy to disregard a new practice for an older easier one. Plan your meals ahead and pre-cook healthy meals if you’re going to be too busy later in the week to cook. This will help stop you swinging by the fast-food joint when you’re too tired or busy to cook anything.
Multiple studies have found that people who maintain a system of accountability throughout their weight loss journey are more likely to succeed. This is because people are less likely to cheat or drop out when they have to answer for it. Also, support is a great motivator.
This doesn’t mean you have to join a group and tell everyone your weight or take classes together, if you don’t want to. You can set up a private Instagram or group chat with friends or family, or even just stay accountable to one person.
No one of these tips are the key to losing weight on their own. You drank 8 cups of water and still didn’t lose weight? But were you sticking to your calorie count? It’s also important not to swing the other way and go too extreme. You drank 16 cups of water a day? Drinking too much water can actually be very dangerous. As can eating too few calories, exercising too much, not looking after your mental health, etc. The key is to balance the various strategies as part of an overall approach, be consistent, and not give up.