Type the words “weight loss” into a Google search and you’ll find web page after web page offering the secret to winning the weight-loss game. Should you cut carbs or fat? Is exercise helpful or will it just make you hungrier? Do all foods really fit? Moderation – what the heck does that even mean?
We’ve chewed through the science and digested the data and have come up with our secrets to winning the battle of the bulge. No counting calories – or becoming a slave to your Fitbit – required.
1. Clean up your environment.
To be successful in achieving your weight-loss goals, your environment needs to be supportive. Think about where you spend your time – home, work, the car – and imagine all the changes that could be made to each of these environments to make it easier to eat right, get active, sleep better and reduce stress. For example, at work, replace the jar of candy with a bowl of tangerines. Ask your co-workers for their support by not bringing treats to work. Pack a cooler full of meals and snacks to bring with you so you are nourished throughout the day. At home, place a bowl of fresh fruit on the table or counter because when you're hungry, you usually eat the first thing you see. Hide, or better yet, get rid of all of your trigger foods (foods such as chips that may trigger you to eat uncontrollably) as well as all refined, processed foods. No one in the family needs to be eating them! Lastly, get your family on board – a family that works together to reach a common goal (such as eating more nutritious food to improve health and weight) will be more successful in attaining that goal.
Eat clean and get lean with our dietitians, Erin Macdonald and Tiffani Bachus. Their new online course, A Whole-Life Guide to Lasting Weight Loss, is available now.
2. Dump the sugar.
Oh, sugar, how sweet you are, but how much damage you cause! Over the last few decades, the amount of sugar in the American diet has steadily increased, and so have the rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Sugar is not only found in the obvious places – desserts, soda, lemonade, sports beverages – but it’s also hidden in many items, like yogurt, cereal and condiments such as salad dressing and barbecue sauce. If you were to keep track of how much sugar you consumed in a day, you might be surprised to see your daily total is a whopping 22 teaspoons (the average amount Americans eat; keep in mind the recommendation is no more than 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons for men). Sugar causes the hormone insulin to be produced. Insulin’s main role is to escort sugar from the bloodstream into the cells, where it is burned for energy. High levels of blood sugar call for more insulin to be produced, and often, not enough cells are available to take it in. Instead, it packages that excess sugar into fat cells for storage. Sugar also hijacks your brain and gives you a high – the so-called sugar rush. On brain scans, sugar consumption lights up the reward centers of the brain by releasing dopamine, the pleasure hormone. And when we come down from that high, we crave more sugar to achieve that feeling again. Stop the sugar and stop the vicious cycle.
See also Make Your Own Clean Condiments.
3. Find balance.
Carbohydrates, protein and fat are the three macronutrients that make up the food you eat. They provide fuel for your body and brain, nutrients to repair and build tissue, and storage fuel for times of fasting or exercise. The Standard American Diet is too high in carbohydrate and too low in protein – take a typical breakfast of waffles with syrup and orange juice, or a bowl of cereal with fruit. Both are low-fiber, low-protein and high-carbohydrate meals. Gone are the days of “low-fat” and “fat-free” eating, as we now have a better understanding of the satiating power of healthy fats. Every meal and snack should have a balance of carbs, protein and fat so that you feel full and satisfied. Your meals should give you enough energy to power through 2 to 4 hours of school, work or play. Fill up your plate with veggies, seeds, whole grains, fish, beans, eggs and chicken.
Get started now with our Slimming 1-Day Meal Plan + Lifestyle Hacks for Weight Loss.
4. Get real.
Stop buying food from a box, a bag or a can, and look to real food to fuel your body. Real carbs include fresh, seasonal and local fruits and vegetables, and whole (unprocessed) grains. Real proteins include wild-caught fish, organic poultry (no hormones or antibiotics), grass-fed beef, eggs, organic dairy, beans and legumes. Real fats include virgin coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and grass-fed butter and ghee (clarified butter). Most packaged food contains sugar and sodium that will hijack the pleasure center of your brain (see #2) and chemicals, artificial sugars and preservatives, which can disrupt hormones, overstimulate your brain and even cause cancer. The best foods don’t come with a food label (have you ever seen a label on broccoli?).
See also The Best Cooking Oils for Healthy Fat.
5. Nourish the little buggers in your gut.
There are more than 100 trillion microbes living inside your intestinal tract, some of them good and some of them bad. Research has discovered two strains that are associated with obesity and being lean. Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found there was a higher proportion of the Firmicutes strain to the Bacteroidetes strain in obese individuals. They found the opposite was true in lean folks. Other bacteria are involved in inflammation, vitamin production and overall immunity. What you eat feeds the bacteria in your gut. The good bacteria, aka probiotics, thrive on dietary fiber and prebiotics (indigestible carbohydrates) allowing them to produce compounds that help regulate immune function and weight control. A recent study in the journal Obesity found that lean men given probiotics gained less weight than the placebo group when fed a high-fat, high-calorie diet. Probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, miso, kefir and sauerkraut. Prebiotic foods include oatmeal, bananas, asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes.