Weight loss is possible through a multitude of different strategies, one of the most effective being adjustments to your diet. But it’s keeping that weight off once you lose it that’s particularly difficult. In fact, a meta-analysis of 29 studies in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that more than half of the weight lost by participants was recovered within two years and 80% within five years. But don’t give up hope just yet: experts say it’s entirely possible to maintain that healthier physique, as long as you build lasting habits that you know you can stick to.
According Nataly Georgieva, Dt.P.Registered Dietitian at JM Nutrition, fad diets often involve restrictive eating habits that just aren’t realistic (or healthy) to follow long-term.
“Such deprivation can lead to feelings of ‘missing out’, potential frustration and irritability, and eventual abandonment of the fad diet,” she explains. “As a result, you can regain weight soon after.”
Not only that, but Samantha McKinney, Dt.P., a Life Time dietitian notes that a severe calorie deficit can shift hormones in an unfavorable direction. Basically, your body doesn’t know the calorie deficit was intentional, so as a survival mechanism, it’s primed to gain weight as soon as you return to your normal eating habits.
There are no real shortcuts to weight loss, so experts say you’ll have to be patient with your body when making changes to your diet. With that in mind, here are the best eating habits you can adopt to lose a few pounds for good. Read on and for more on how to eat healthy, don’t miss eating habits to lose belly fat as you age, dietitians say.
Weighing and measuring every ingredient in your meals can help with portion control when you start dieting, but the reality is that it takes too long to do forever. That is why Kitty Broihier, MS, RDregistered dietitian and creator of the Eating Habits Lab, advises visually breaking down the components of your meals using the MyPlate guidelines instead.
According to these guidelines, developed by the United States Department of Agriculture, you should fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits, and the other half with a mixture of 60% grains and about 40 % protein (about 5 ½ ounces). Ideally, you should aim for a diverse mix of whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and a variety of protein sources. Limit yourself to three cups of dairy products and try to stick to low-fat or fat-free options. Using these guidelines as you prepare your meals will ensure that your body is getting all the satiating nutrients it needs.
Georgieva adds that it’s helpful to educate yourself on recommended serving sizes and familiarize yourself with nutrition facts labels.
If you’ve ever been hit with hunger pangs at the office or in the car, you know how tempting it can be to grab a sugary energy bar from the vending machine or a bag of salt-laden chips from a nearby convenience store. But that’s why Georgieva recommends keeping healthy snacks on you at all times, in your desk drawer, lunch bag, office fridge or glove box.
“Humans follow the path of least resistance,” says Georgieva. “It’s important to make nutritious foods readily available when you’re most vulnerable.”
Keep in mind that snacks with protein, fiber and healthy fats will keep you full the longest. For example, an apple with string cheese, whole grain crackers with turkey and hummus, or yogurt with flax seeds and blueberries are all filling combos.
Here’s an easy habit to try: start lunch and dinner with a high-fiber salad and a glass of water. This way you are less likely to overdo the rest of your meal.
“It can help you eat fewer calories overall without leaving you hungry,” says Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, RDsenior clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center and author of Recipe for survival.
A 2008 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that obese seniors who drank two cups of water before breakfast consumed 13% fewer calories during their meal than those who drank no water before. Furthermore, a 2011 study in Obesity found that dieters who drank water before all three meals for 12 weeks lost about five pounds more than dieters who did not increase their water intake.
Dr. Hunnes recommends having a salad consisting of two cups of greens and a light dressing with about a tablespoon of olive oil.
If there’s one macronutrient you should definitely prioritize for weight loss purposes, it’s protein.
“Protein can make you feel fuller and more satisfied than carbohydrates and fats,” McKinney says. “Often the more protein you eat at meals, the less cravings you’ll have. It’s the best-kept secret to losing weight without feeling deprived. Most of the time, those who increase their protein intake will inadvertently reduce their consumption of starches, sugars, and mindless snacking.It also stabilizes blood sugar and energy levels, helps support detoxification, and is needed for recovery from workouts.
As a general rule, Broihier recommends aiming for about 20 grams at each meal and 10 grams at each snack. But while it helps to have a visual guideline to follow, McKinney says a palm-sized serving of protein is enough. For example, it might look like a chicken breast or a fillet of salmon, two eggs, or a closed fist of chickpeas.
One of the main causes of overeating is not being present during meals. When you’re scrolling through your phone or watching TV, you can gobble up your food so greasy that you don’t give your body a chance to register when it’s actually full.
That’s why Dr. Hunnes advises making a point of practicing mindful eating. This involves slowing down and really tuning in to all of your senses while eating a meal or snack. It’s also a good idea to try to eliminate distractions while you eat, so that you can more easily recognize your signals of satiety.
“Pause for a minute or two halfway through to check your hunger level,” says Broihier. “People who practice this are often surprised to learn that they actually feel satisfied with less food than they expected. Often we automatically and without thinking finish what’s on our plates.”