These days you may feel shamed if you do and shamed if you don’t want to lose weight. No shame here, though, because you’re not alone. According to the CDC, about half of America tries to lose weight each year.
Whatever your reasons for wanting to drop some weight, dieting shouldn’t feel restrictive. After all, nothing tastes better than forbidden fruit, amiright? (Read: Nothing should be off-limits or you’ll just obsess over it.)
Instead, consider how certain foods work for or against you. If your goal is weight loss, there are certain food qualities that will help you. Some foods curb hunger, while others stimulate your metabolism.
But in order to sustainably lose weight, you need to eat enough. That’s right: Eating is good. 🤤
So what are we eatin’?
What makes a food good for fat burning?
- It fills you up for a long time.
- It keeps your digestion regular.
- It takes a lot of energy to digest.
- It reduces cravings.
- It nourishes your body with lots of good stuff (healthy bacteria, antioxidants, minerals, etc.).
FYI: “Fat burning” supplements are unsafe and ineffective — stay 👏🏼 away 👏🏼 from 👏🏼 them.
Crank up your body’s furnace with these instead:
|Eat this||Why?||How much?|
|Fatty fish (like salmon or mackerel)||Reduces cortisol, the stress hormone linked to body fat.||3.5 ounces / 100 grams twice a week|
|Coffee||Research shows it can increase your metabolic rate.||1-4 cups per day, depending on caffeine level (100-400 mg per day)|
|MCT oil||Medium-chain triglycerides are converted to energy rapidly, so they’re less likely to be stored as fat.||2 tablespoons per day (it’s flavorless and can be added to anything)|
|Eggs||According to a 2004 study, high quality protein can boost your metabolic rate for hours after you eat.||3 eggs, 4 times a week|
|Green or oolong tea||Some teas have thermogenic properties that promote fat burning, especially in the belly area.||Up to 4 cups daily|
|Whey protein||Shown to promote weight loss in some people.||Varies significantly by brand and type|
|Apple cider vinegar||Research on animals has found that acetic acid boosts fat burning and reduces belly fat storage.||1-2 teaspoons per day, diluted in water|
|Chili peppers||Capsaicin content helps burn more calories, speeding up fat loss.||Dice whole chiles or use powdered cayenne pepper several times a week|
|Full fat Greek yogurt||Studies show conjugated linoleic acid content promotes weight loss and fat burning in people with obesity.||Often, even daily (choose plain, full-fat versions for best results)|
|Olive oil||A 2009 study found that a diet rich in olive oil was linked to higher levels of antioxidants in the blood as well as weight loss.||Up to 2 tablespoons daily|
A food’s protein content is the No. 1 factor in whether it’s weight loss-friendly.
Research shows that eating high quality protein at every meal helps with weight loss by keeping you full longer and keeping your muscles jacked and strong.
To determine your daily protein needs, you can multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36 or use this online protein calculator.
|What to eat||% protein content||Grams of protein||Calories|
|Peanuts (1 oz)||16%||7 g||159|
|Shrimp (3 oz)||90%||18 g||84|
|Brussels sprouts (½ cup)||17%||2 g||28|
|Pumpkin seeds (1 oz)||14%||5 g||125|
|Turkey breast (3 oz)||70%||24 g||146|
|Salmon (3 oz)||46%||19 g||175|
|Ezekiel bread (1 slice)||20%||4 g||80|
|Lentils (1 cup)||27%||18 g||230|
|Whey protein powder (1 scoop)||90%||20-50 g||Varies widely by brand|
|Tuna, canned in water (1 cup)||94%||39 g||179|
|Quinoa (1 cup)||15%||8 g||222|
|Lean beef, 10% fat (3 oz)||53%||22 g||184|
|Milk, whole (1 cup)||21%||8 g||149|
|Broccoli (1 cup)||20%||3 g||31|
|1 egg||35%||6 g||78|
|Greek yogurt (6 oz)||48%||17 g||100|
|Oats (½ cup)||15%||13 g||303|
|2% fat cottage cheese (1 cup)||59%||27 g||194|
|Almonds (1 oz)||13%||6 g||161|
|Chicken breast, skinless||80%||53 g||284|
Carbs aren’t evil. They’re just another source of energy used to fuel your bod. And just as with everything else, there are healthy sources and less healthy sources.
But for whatever reason, you may decide carbs aren’t your BFF, and that’s cool too. There are health and weight loss benefits to giving them the cold shoulder.
The Atkins Diet and ketogenic (keto) diet are both low carb diets. Eating a low carb, high fat diet has been linked to many health benefits beyond weight loss, including lowering triglyceride levels and increasing HDL cholesterol (the good kind).
How does it work?
On these diets, your carbs are limited to 20 to 50 grams per day. Replacing carbs with fats puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.
Basically that means your body doesn’t have enough sugar to use for energy, so it has to burn stored fat instead.
The skinny on low carb foods
Carbs are divided into three kinds: fiber, starch, and sugar. When counting carbs for keto, you only look at the digestible carbs, or “net” carbs.
Calculate net carbs by subtracting the grams of fiber from the total carb count. Carbs from fiber aren’t counted since they aren’t absorbed into your bloodstream like starch and sugar.
For reference, the carb counts below reflect a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving size.
|Food||Net carb count|
|Poultry or grass-fed meat||3|
|Dark chocolate (100% cocoa)||3|
Curious about other low carb options? You can check carb content and other info here.
Like the infamous sarlacc in the Great Pit of Carkoon (“Star Wars,” anyone?), your body digests fiber slowly. OK, not “over a thousand years” slowly, but slowly enough that you feel full for long periods of time after eating it.
Fiber also slows the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, reducing your risk for type 2 diabetes.
What else can fiber do for you?
- It maintains bowel health.
- It lowers cholesterol.
- It reduces your risk for cardiovascular disease and all cancers.
How much fiber do I need?
The FDA recommends 25 grams a day for folks eating a 2,000-calorie diet.
|What to eat||Total fiber content||Nutritional note|
|Apple, 1 medium or large||4-5 g||Vitamin C, potassium|
|Green beans, 1 cup||4 g||Vitamin C|
|Sweet potato, 1 medium with skin||5 g||Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, magnesium, potassium, iron|
|Raspberries, 1 cup||8 g||Vitamin C|
|Strawberries, 1 cup||3 g||Vitamin C|
|Chickpeas, ¾ cup||8 g||Vitamin B-6, folate|
|Pumpkin, 1 cup||3 g||Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium|
Face it: Hunger strikes when you’re at the grocery store. Trader Joe’s is obviously where it’s at when it comes to affordable prices and creative healthy foods — broccoli and kale pizza crust, anyone?
Special note: Manufacturers’ ingredients and nutritional info can change at any time, so double-check the nutritional label before buying.
Here’s a roundup of some nutritious foods to help you on your weight loss quest.
|Eat this||Serving size||Calories||Why it’s good|
|Riced Cauliflower Stuffing||1 cup||60||Veggie-focused rather than carb-loaded|
|Roasted Garlic Hummus||2 tablespoons||60||Heart healthy|
|Slivered Dry-Toasted Almonds||¼ cup||180||Heart healthy, low carb|
|Toscano with Black Pepper||1 oz||121||No carbs, 7 g protein|
|Matcha Green Tea||1 packet||5||No fat, no cholesterol|
|Unsweetened Almond Cashew & Macadamia Nut Beverage||1 cup||30||Vegan, kosher, and dairy/gluten/lactose/soy-free milk substitute|
|Tuna Burgers||1 burger||150||High protein|
|Heirloom Popcorn||2 cups||180||Heart healthy|
Sometimes spotting healthy foods is easier when you compare them to their not-so-healthy counterparts.
Here’s a look at some healthier swaps that can help you stay on track with your weight loss and health goals.
|Food||Why it’s not the best||Have this instead|
|French fries, potato chips||Very high in calories and starches (carbs)||Boiled sweet potatoes with a sprinkle of feta cheese|
|Sugary drinks||Sugar can mess with your overall health; it also provides empty calories that can lead to overeating.||Flavor-infused sparkling water|
|White bread||Overly processed, which strips away the good stuff (like fiber); contains added sugars||Whole wheat or Ezekiel bread|
|Candy bars||Low in nutrients; high in calories and sugar||A handful of nuts or a piece of fruit|
|Baked goods (pastries, cookies, cakes)||High in sugars and trans fats, which are linked to coronary artery disease||A piece of dark chocolate|
|Alcohol||Empty calories (especially beer), which your body will burn before fat, slowing weight loss||If you absolutely must, then wine is your best choice (in moderation).|
|Frozen pizza||Most are overly processed with refined flour and added sugars.||Make it yourself — homemade versions can be much healthier.|
|Ice cream||High in calories and loaded with sugar||OK, have some ice cream (or frozen yogurt), but stick to a serving about the size of 2 golf balls.|
|Elaborate coffee drinks||Artificial syrups and other flavorings can add a lot of calories.||Stick to black coffee (or add just a splash of milk).|
|Added sugar||Sugar adds calories, spikes your glucose levels, and takes otherwise-healthy foods down a notch.||If you must add a sweetener, try a natural sugar-free option like stevia.|
Eating healthy foods will carry you only so far. There are a few other factors to consider when trying to lose some weight.
Calories, my calories…
The word “calorie” gets a bad rap, but it’s just the way a food’s energy content is measured.
How many calories do I need?
To maintain a moderate weight, nutrition experts agree that:
- Women should take in 2,000 calories a day.
- Men should take in 2,500 calories a day.
The skinny on losing weight basically boils down to the old adage — calories in, calories out. If you eat less than you burn, you’ll lose weight.
That being said, no two Olafs are alike. Your age, height, weight, fitness level, metabolism, and other factors all make a difference in how many calories you burn each day.
Consider consulting a dietitian or using a calorie calculator to determine a caloric range that jives with you and your weight goals.
What does healthy weight loss look like?
Losing 1 pound a week is usually considered a safe and sustainable goal.
If you’re looking to lose weight, the general health guidelines change to:
- 1,500 calories a day for women
- 2,000 calories a day for men
One simple way to slow your calorie roll is to be conscious of portions. Craving chips? Skip the family-size bag and opt for snack-size. Done.
Well, not quite. Even if you do lose weight, you don’t want your body running on 2,000 calories of processed food. The point is that not all calories are created equal.
There’s a calculator for that
Calorie counters like MyFitnessPal help you track calories, nutrients, macros, and who knows what else these days.
Avoid falling into obsessive counting territory. Instead, focus on the qualities mentioned in the food lists above:
- Healthy fats keep you full longer and help your body absorb vitamins.
- Carbs aren’t evil, but complex carbs are better than simple ones. Complex carbs contain not only sugar but also vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
- Fiber isn’t metabolized into glucose like other carbs. It’ll help regulate your blood sugar, and it’s your small intestine’s ride or die if you want to poop like a champ.
- Protein builds muscle, but did you know it’s also what your hair and nails are made of?
- Fats, carbs, sugars, fiber, and protein are all digested differently. That’s why in this guide, we’ve broken down the best weight loss foods by their nutritional offering.
Portion size matters
Sometimes your body’s communication gets out of whack. Your tummy says “One scoop of gelato was great!” but your taste buds say “Finish the pint!”
Sometimes just being mindful of your portions can be enough to help you shed a few Netflix pounds.
Rather than carry around a food scale and measuring spoons, you can use visual cues to determine healthy portion sizes. Your hands are a great way to measure portions (unless you’re “hand blessed” like Hagrid or Fezzik).
👊 of 🥒= good
👊👊👊👊👊👊 of 🥒 = not so good
Portion control visualization guide
|Food||Serving size||Compared object||Calories|
|Fruit||1 serving||Tennis ball||130|
|Carbs||½ cup||Half fist||150|
|Fats||1 tablespoon||Thumb tip||120|
Remember these tips to avoid losing yourself in the quest to “drop a few pounds”:
- Eat to nourish your body.
- Fill your plate with fruits, veggies, and proteins.
- Choose healthy fats and know when to treat yo’self.
- Be confident about portion control — no food scale needed.
- Pick healthy foods that you’ll enjoy for more than a week.
- Adapt your food plan to fit your lifestyle and budget.
- Find fun, safe ways to be active.
- Know that you’re a sexy and empowered soul on your own unique health journey.
As with any goal, planning can make or break your results. Here’s a sample meal plan to get you started. It incorporates healthy fats and high fiber, low carb Trader Joe’s foods from the lists above.
This simple meal plan can be easily adjusted based on your dietary needs and preferences.
- Breakfast: Avocado toast with scrambled eggs
- Lunch: Shrimp and pineapple skewers
- Dinner: Pork chops with brussels sprouts
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with blueberries
- Lunch: Tuna salad
- Dinner: Chicken breast with sweet potato mash
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt
- Lunch: Charcuterie platter with meat, cheese, olives
- Dinner: Salmon with micro greens and apple cider vinaigrette
- Breakfast: Banana smoothie with whey protein powder
- Lunch: Diced turkey with cottage cheese and peas
- Dinner: Coconut oil beef stir-fry
- Breakfast: Savory oats with boiled egg and avocado
- Lunch: Grown-up Lunchable — ham and cheese slices, almonds
- Dinner: Steak and broccoli and cheese potatoes
- Breakfast: Fried eggs with Ezekiel toast
- Lunch: Lentil soup
- Dinner: Trader Joe’s Black Bean Quinoa Burgers with salsa and guac
- Breakfast: Veggie frittata
- Lunch: Homemade sausage pizza on naan
- Dinner: Spicy white fish with chili peppers
There’s not a one-size-fits-all, “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” approach to weight loss. Eating a variety of weight loss-friendly foods from the lists above will set you on a path to success by helping you feel full, nourished, and energized.
But those lists are just a starting point. Make similar swaps until you find foods that work for you, your life, and your goals. And sometimes life calls for a scoop of ice cream (or five). That’s OK too.