67 Science-Backed Ways to Lose Weight
Healthy habits can go out the window when we’ve got no time for the gym and few options besides Seamless. Losing weight isn't easy—and doing it in a healthy, sustainable way can make the task feel even harder.
Making small changes each day is one way to get started, but it’s important to remember that just because a weight-loss strategy works for someone else, it may not work for you. From drinking more water to turning up the music, here are our favorite weight-loss tips.
Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be a comprehensive weight loss guide. Each entry may not be right for every individual. At Greatist, we believe in providing readers with the information to make their own healthy choices based on a variety of weight loss techniques. As always, consult a healthcare professional before starting any weight loss program.
Tips for Eating
Yes, there's a reason restaurants use the plates they do: They want the food to look amazing. And when the food looks better—you guessed it—you eat more. Research says to avoid plates that match the food served on them (think: a deep red plate with a greasy slice of pizza), because there is less of a contrast, which may prompt us to eat more.
Skipping snacktime won’t necessarily lead to weight loss: Low calorie consumption can actually slow metabolism. Eating less than three times a day may benefit those who are obese, but research shows skipping meals throughout the day and eating one large meal at night can lead to some undesirable outcomes (like delayed insulin response) which may increase the risk of diabetes. Instead of forgoing breakfast or lunch, stick to a few meals a day with healthy snacks between them.
Next time you need groceries, circle the perimeter of the store before going up and down every aisle. Why? You'll load up on the healthy stuff first. The edges of grocery stores generally house fresh produce, meat, and fish, while the inner aisles hold more pre-packaged, processed foods. Browsing the perimeter can help control how many unwanted additives are in your basket.
Make an effort to fill your fridge with healthy produce and proteins. And when the crisper is empty, make sure the freezer is stocked with frozen veggie mixes or berries (and don't forget to grab the bags that are sans added sauces or sugar). You may be less apt to order out when you’ve got the makings of a healthy dinner right at home. More good news: Healthy food doesn’t always have to be pricey.
Skipping breakfast in order to “save your appetite” for dinner probably isn’t a safety shield for late-night noshing. While there’s still debate on how important breakfast really is, not eating until the afternoon may lead to binge-eating later (think: a massive dinner because you're starving). Stick to a reasonably-sized breakfast with plenty of protein, so you're not tempted to eat unhealthy snacks mid-morning.
We promise cooking doesn't take long! Your fave Seamless order—or any local restaurant—is likely an oversized portion, which can result in increased caloric intake. Start small by making one of these healthy meals in just 12 minutes or less (we're talking: quesadillas, stir-fry, and burgers).
Take time to toss the junk. If you’ve got favorite not-so-great items you’d like to save as a treat, tuck them in the back of the pantry with healthier items, like whole grain pasta, rice, beans, and nuts up front. We know that just because the bag of lentils are right in front doesn’t mean you’ll forget about the brownie mix, but it can help. Just seeing or smelling food can stimulate cravings, and increase hunger (especially for junk food).
Instead of lining up the breadbasket, casserole, and salad on the table, leave food in the kitchen (out of reach). When you’ve cleaned your plate, take a breather then decide if you really want seconds. Changing up the environment in which your food is served can help reduce intake.
Plate sizes have increased over the past millennium. When it’s time to sit down for dinner, choose a size-appropriate plate or bowl. Using a smaller plate (eight to 10 inches) instead of a tray-like plate (12 inches or more) can make us feel fuller with the same amount of food. How does that work? The brain may associate any white space on your plate with less food. Plus, smaller plates generally lead to smaller portions.
Grabbing an apple or a small cup of yogurt before meeting friends for dinner can help ensure you’ll eat a reasonable amount of that enormous entrée. And be sure to reach for the protein—research shows that an afternoon snack of Greek yogurt can lead to reduced hunger, increased fullness, and less eating come dinner time.
Once meal prep is over, serve yourself a reasonable portion, then package up the rest and immediately stash it in the fridge or freezer for a later date. When the food is out of sight, studies show you’ll be less likely to reach for a second helping.
The quicker we shovel down a meal, the less time we give our bodies to register fullness. Since it takes a little time for the brain to get the message that dinner’s been served, it’s best to go for a walk or get up from the table before dishing up seconds or moving on to dessert.
Eating slowly may not fit into a busy workday, but it pays to pace your chewing: The quicker you eat, the less time your body has to register fullness. So slow down, and take a second to savor.
Eating while watching television is linked to poor food choices and overeating. Getting sucked into the latest episode of "Scandal" can bring on mindless eating—making it easy to lose track of just how many chips you've gone through. It’s not just the mindlessness of watching televsion that’ll get us. Commercials for unhealthy foods and drinks may increase our desire for low-nutrient junk, fast food, and sugary beverages.
Bumping up vegetable consumption has long been recognized as a way to protect against obesity. Add veggies to omlets, baked goods, and of course, pasta dishes (Bonus: Try zucchini ribbons, or spaghetti squash instead or traditional grain pastas). Pump pureed veggies, like pumpkin, into oatmeal or casseroles. Adding a little vegetable action into a meal or snack will increase fiber levels, which helps make us fuller, faster.
The closer we are situated to food that’s in our line of vision, the more likely we are to actually eat it. If we face away from food that might tempt us when we’re not hungry (like an office candy bowl), we may be more likely to listen to cues from our gut rather than our eyes.
When snacktime hits, our brains can be unreliable. It’s tempting to reach for a bag of chips, but instead, grab a handful (or measure out the serving size) then seal the bag and put it away. Odds are, you’ll be more mindful of how much you’re polishing off when you see it right in front of you. Or, try one of these healthy 100-calorie snacks.
Protein can help promote a healthy weight because high protein diets are associated with greater satiety. Plus, protein is important for healthy muscle growth. Animal sources aren’t the only option—try alternatives like quinoa, tempeh, and lentils.
Eating more vegetables and other high-fiber items like legumes can help keep us fuller, longer. Look for at least five grams or more of the stuff per serving. Snack on some of our favorite high-fiber picks like stuffed baked apples or jazzed-up oats.
Cutting butter and oil can slash calories, and it’s easy to swap in foods like applesauce, avocado, banana, or flax for baking. But, it's important to remember that we still need fat in our diets as a source of energy and to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Plus it helps us feel full. Get healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from olive oil, nuts, coconuts, seeds, and fish. Pro tip: Combining fat with fiber has been shown to increase fat’s power to make us feel full.
Simple carbs are the white stuff—white bread, most pastries, refined sugars (the kind in soda and candy). What makes them simple? These foods provide energy, but lack the same nutrients (vitamins, minerals, and fiber) as complex carbohydrates. The body also breaks down simple carbs quickly—meaning your blood sugar will spike, and your tummy might be rumbling sooner than you imagined. Choose whole grains instead, which may reduce potentially dangerous excess abdominal fat buildup (which can lead to diabetes). Switch to whole-wheat pasta, whole grain bread, or try grains like brown rice, quinoa, or millet.
Adding sugar to food may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and obesity. Stick to sugar that comes in its natural form (think: fruits, veggies, and whole grains) and scrap that spoonful on your cereal or in your coffee.
Even healthy food can go bad when it’s been dropped in a fryer. Instead, pan fry or pop a dish in the oven. Use non-stick spray to sauté foods, or rub oil onto a pan with a paper towel for a light coating. You can even whip up a batch of healthier chips.
Juices (which are often not 100 percent fruit) provide some vitamins, but without the same fiber and phytonutrients as a real piece of fruit. Take an apple for instance: The average apple juice box has nearly double the sugar and seven times less fiber than the apple itself.
Popping a piece of sugar-free gum won’t necessarily curb your appetite. But, stick can keep your mouth busy when cooking a meal, or socializing among a sea of party hor d’ouevres. While the long term effects of gum chewing on weight loss are minimal, studies show it can lower cravings for sweet and salty snacks, and decrease hunger between meals. Plus, some studies have shown that minty gum has the ability to wake you up and lower anxiety.
Cayenne pepper can not only boost metabolism, but it can also cut cravings for fatty, sweet, or salty foods. Some studies even suggest the hot stuff can increase fat oxidation, meaning the body can better use fat as fuel. Sprinkle some on scrambled eggs, or spice up a stir-fry.
We love this tip. Cravings are OK! Acknowledge those cravings instead of pushing them away completely (which may lead to binge-eating later). Forbidding a food may only make it more attractive. Still want more of that chocolate cake after a couple of bites? Try thinking of your favorite activity—dancing in the rain, getting a massage, playing with a puppy. Research shows that engaging in imagery can reduce the intensity of food cravings. You can also try smelling something non-food related. One study found that smelling jasmine (still pretty pleasant!) helped to reduce cravings.
Like we've already mentioned, restaurant meal portions are usually heftier than what we cook at home. Make a conscious decision to bag up half of the meal before taking the first bite. The added benefit? You’ve got lunch for tomorrow.
Tips for Drinking
Pregaming a meal with a glass of water has been linked with more weight loss than cutting calories alone. You can also take some mid-meal breaks and guzzle a little water to give the brain time to register fullness.
Drinking green tea is one of the most common tips for shedding a few pounds, and for good reason—green tea is known for its ability to metabolize fat. And in combination with resistance training, green tea increases the potential for fat loss. Add a squeeze of lemon for a little flavor and to amp up antioxidant affects.
Kick the diet beverages and vitamin-enhanced sugar-water, and reach for good old H2O instead. Drinking water helps people feel full, and as a result, consume fewer calories. Drinking water also significantly elevates resting energy expenditure (basically the number of calories we’d burn if we sat around all day) and lower water intake is associated with obesity.
Milk and cookies, orange juice and French toast, wine and cheese—some foods seemingly require a liquid counterpart. But, it’s easy to pour on the pounds by chugging soda, juice, alcohol, and even milk on the regular. Sugar sweetened beverages are associated with increased body fat and blood pressure.
When you simply must have a swig of juice, try watering it down. While it may sound unappealing, gradually adding more water to less juice will keep some of the flavor without all the sugar and calories. Added incentive: Increasing water intake in place of sugar-sweetened beverages or fruit juices is associated with lower long-term weight gain.
We probably don’t have to tell you that heavy boozing will pack on the pounds. And you’ve likely heard the phrase “drink in moderation.” The point is, alcohol houses a lot of sneaky calories and has the ability to inhibit healthy eating decisions (midnight pizza delivery, anyone?). Even after you’ve sobered up, alcohol can have negative impacts on strength and may leave you lagging in the weight room days later.
When you’ve got a hankering you can't ignore for juice or a cocktail, ask for a tall, thin glass, not a short, squatty one. Research shows that people pour less liquid into tall narrow glasses than into their vertically challenged counterparts, meaning you'll (probably) drink less in one sitting. This is especially helpful when it comes to boozing.
Tips for Being Mindful
After dinner, brush your teeth. Getting minty fresh breath not only has obvious oral health benefits, but it can also keep you from mindlessly snacking while watching a pre-bed TV show. Oh, and it's not a bad idea to hit up the floss, too.
It’s easy—especially come New Year’s resolution season—to set unrealistic goals about weight loss (lose 30 pounds in two weeks!). Since impractical goals can slow down long-term weight loss, it’s important to address those goals before making any health and fitness changes.
Many of us demonize certain foods, and even punish ourselves for indulging. Instead, positive messages like “I can control my eating” or “I’m proud that I ate responsibly today” can reframe our relationship with food. Research shows that positive expectations are also associated with weight loss.
Practicing portion control is one of the most reliable ways to lose weight—even if it’s not an easy task. Portion distortion is common, but it may help to use portion visuals. For instance, a serving of chicken (three ounces) is roughly the size of a deck of cards; or holding about a two-inch circle of uncooked pasta, will yield about one cup cooked.
How satiated we feel a few hours after we eat depends not on how much we actually scarfed down, but how much we think we ate. Pay attention to what you eat, and know that it's okay to eat with your eyes.
Emotional eating—eating to make yourself feel better (often when stressed or anxious)—can interfere with weight loss goals. But meditation—using techniques like muscle relaxation, breathing, or achieving self-focus—can help binge eaters become aware of how they turn to food to deal with emotions.
Sometimes we just need a little fire to get motivated. Try out some motivational mantras: "You've got this!" "Yes, you will!" "Every day you're gettting stronger!" Hang up an inspirational poster or write your phrase on a sticky note at work. Bonus: Mantras don’t cost a thing!
Instead of fixating on cutting cookies, cake, and pizza, focus on adding healthy foods. Ditching all the "bad" stuff can feel daunting. Instead, focus on sticking to one good habit at a time (science says it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a habit). Add in as many healthy habits as you’d like—drink more water, eat more fruits and veggies—and reassure yourself that in a few months, your brain may actually start to crave healthier foods.
Stress can trigger increased eating and cravings, especially for sugary carbohydrates. If pressure at work or a family burden has got you feeling overwhelmed, try out one of these ways to reduce stress before pawing at a doughnut.
Time spent visualizing what you would look and feel like with a few less pounds, can help acknowledge the health and fitness changes necessary for successful weight loss. Research suggests that imagining achieving an exercise goal—like running a 5K or increasing the weight during your next workout—can actually enhance performance.
There’s an idea that focusing on less helps us achieve more. Changing a habit is tough, but trying to tackle a handful may seem impossible. Instead, concentrate on changing one behavior at a time. Start small and make clear guidelines. For example, if you’d like to increase your veggie intake, decide to eat three different vegetables each day, or one cup with each meal. And remember, small changes can lead to gradual weight loss.
So you’ve "banned" chocolate cake, but decide to have a small taste. Instead, you polished off two slices. It’s easy to go overboard on an old habit. Instead of beating yourself up if you fell short, think of the big picture. Focus on the change rather than what’s being eliminated (think: it's not about the chocolate cake, it's about not overdoing unhealthy sweets). Live in the moment to successfully make new healthy habits.
Sleep not only reduces stress, helps us heal faster, and prevents depression, it can also help shave off pounds. That's because sleep loss is linked to changes in appetite and the metabolism of glucose (sugar in the blood). Moral of the story: Sleep is associated with less weight gain. Take a look at our guide to sleep positions to optimize those hours spent under the sheets. And try other solutions for extra Zzzs like turning off electronics in the bedroom and avoiding large meals late at night.
Tips to Track
Check out online communities (on Facebook, Twitter, or other forums) that provide support and encouragement. One study showed that overweight adults who listened to weight-loss podcasts and used Twitter in tandem with a diet and physical activity monitoring app lost more weight than those who did not go social. Sharing progress and setbacks on social media can help you feel accountable for your goals.
If using fancy apps seems too daunting, research suggests there’s still merit to the old pen and paper. Monitoring food intake with a food diary can help you lose and maintain weight. In fact people who stick to food diaries are more likely to lose weight than those who don’t. Recording each bite helps you be more aware of the food you eat, plus when and how often you eat them.
A recent study found that using a mobile device was more effective in helping people lose weight than tracking diets on paper. Apps like MyFitnessPal, Sworkit, or FitStar help users track daily activity and food intake. Tracking with the help of apps may help you regulate behavior and be mindful of health and fitness choices.
Writing stuff down may be helpful, but it’s tough to accurately gauge how much you move every day (and not just on the treadmill). Invest in a wearable like a FitBit, Jawbone, or splurge on an Apple Watch to monitor energy burn. You can also track your daily steps with a simple pedometer. Studies show that individuals who walk more tend to be thinner than those who walk less, and pedometer-based walking programs result in weight loss.
You can write down what you ate, but when looking back a week later, it may be tough to visualize exactly what a meal looked like. A quicker, and perhaps more telling, alternative is to take photos of each meal. A small study showed that photographic food diaries could alter attitudes and behaviors associated with food choices more than written diaries. Grab a camera and get snapping.
Tips for Exercising
Pack your playlist with upbeat tunes. Research shows music that has 180 beats per minute—like "Hey Ya," by OutKast—will naturally prompt a quicker pace. Plus, music serves as a distraction, which can help take attention off a grueling gym sesh.
When you’re all gung-ho about hitting the gym, there’s nothing worse than pulled hamstrings or pesky shin splints. Read up on how to avoid the most common yoga injuries (often from over-stretching and misalignment), and running injuries (like stress fractures, pulled muscles, and blisters) to make sure you’re in tip-top shape. Make sure to get in a good warm-up, too. Studies show you perform your best and better avoid injury after warming up.
Strength training on its own is a great idea— but it gets even better when you set yourself free. And by that, we mean squatting with a pair of dumbbells instead of using the leg press. Working out with free weights can activate muscles more effectively, and adding muscle can help torch calories.
Functional exercise has been shown to increase strength and balance and reduce the risk of injury all while working multiple muscle groups at the same time. All that movement promotes muscle gain, which can increase metabolism, which can help shed fat. Added bonus: Functional exercises can make real-life tasks—like hauling groceries up stairs—easier.
Getting a morning jolt from java may be a part of your daily routine, but sipping some coffee before a workout can boost endurance during exercise. How’s it work? Caffeine slows glycogen depletion (the starch our bodies turn to for energy during exercise) by encouraging the body to use fat for fuel first.
A recent study suggests we perform better on aerobic tasks like running and cycling when exercising with a partner. Hitting the gym with a friend, coworker, or family member can also increase accountability, so grab a buddy and try out some of our favorite partner exercises like medicine ball lunge-to-chest passes, and reach-and-touch planks.
Gym machine monitors (often seen on cardio equipment, like treadmills or ellipticals) may not be reliable. They sometimes display higher calorie burns meaning (sorry!) you didn't work as hard as it's telling you.
Pumping iron not only gives us muscles, but it can boost resting metabolism (meaning you burn more calories outside the gym) plus improve mood and confidence. Lifting a little weight can also help you sleep, another factor in effective weight loss. If we haven’t convinced you to take to dumbbells quite yet, there’s also this: Strength training takes just a few weeks to see results.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) combines periods of intense effort with periods of moderate-to-low effort. What’s so great about it? Interval training burns more calories and boosts metabolism significantly longer than a steady workout of even longer length.
It may sound ludacris to peel your tush from a desk chair at work, but sitting all day has been linked to obesity, poor posture, and chromic pain. Try a sit-stand workstation to switch things up and burn more calories.
A simple phrase for losing weight is: Move more and eat less. The secret is that moving doesn’t just mean hitting the track or going to the gym. Make the conscious decision to get more steps into the day by taking the stairs, having a walking meeting, or parking the car far away from a store's entrance.
Originally published February 2013. Updated January 2016.