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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 thisWhy?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
CoffeeResearch shows it can increase your metabolic rate.1-4 cups per day, depending on caffeine level (100-400 mg per day)
MCT oilMedium-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)
EggsAccording 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 teaSome teas have thermogenic properties that promote fat burning, especially in the belly area.Up to 4 cups daily
Whey proteinShown to promote weight loss in some people.Varies significantly by brand and type
Apple cider vinegarResearch on animals has found that acetic acid boosts fat burning and reduces belly fat storage.1-2 teaspoons per day, diluted in water
Chili peppersCapsaicin content helps burn more calories, speeding up fat loss.Dice whole chiles or use powdered cayenne pepper several times a week
Full fat Greek yogurtStudies 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 oilA 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 contentGrams of proteinCalories
Peanuts (1 oz)16%7 g159
Shrimp (3 oz)90%18 g84
Brussels sprouts (½ cup)17%2 g28
Pumpkin seeds (1 oz)14%5 g125
Turkey breast (3 oz)70%24 g146
Salmon (3 oz)46%19 g175
Ezekiel bread (1 slice)20%4 g80
Lentils (1 cup)27%18 g230
Whey protein powder (1 scoop)90%20-50 gVaries widely by brand
Tuna, canned in water (1 cup)94%39 g179
Quinoa (1 cup)15%8 g222
Lean beef, 10% fat (3 oz)53%22 g184
Milk, whole (1 cup)21%8 g149
Broccoli (1 cup)20%3 g31
1 egg35%6 g78
Greek yogurt (6 oz)48%17 g100
Oats (½ cup)15%13 g303
2% fat cottage cheese (1 cup)59%27 g194
Almonds (1 oz)13%6 g161
Chicken breast, skinless80%53 g284

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.

FoodNet carb count
Mussels7
Broccoli2
Cheddar cheese3
Avocado3
Poultry or grass-fed meat3
Eggs0
Coconut oil0
Cottage cheese6
Flaxseeds2
Blueberries9
Butter0
Shirataki noodles1
Olives0
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 eatTotal fiber contentNutritional note
Apple, 1 medium or large4-5 gVitamin C, potassium
Green beans, 1 cup4 gVitamin C
Sweet potato, 1 medium with skin5 gVitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, magnesium, potassium, iron
Raspberries, 1 cup8 gVitamin C
Strawberries, 1 cup3 gVitamin C
Chickpeas, ¾ cup8 gVitamin B-6, folate
Pumpkin, 1 cup3 gVitamin 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 thisServing sizeCaloriesWhy it’s good
Riced Cauliflower Stuffing1 cup60Veggie-focused rather than carb-loaded
Roasted Garlic Hummus2 tablespoons60Heart healthy
Slivered Dry-Toasted Almonds¼ cup180Heart healthy, low carb
Toscano with Black Pepper1 oz121No carbs, 7 g protein
Matcha Green Tea1 packet5No fat, no cholesterol
Unsweetened Almond Cashew & Macadamia Nut Beverage1 cup30Vegan, kosher, and dairy/gluten/lactose/soy-free milk substitute
Tuna Burgers1 burger150High protein
Heirloom Popcorn2 cups180Heart 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.

FoodWhy it’s not the bestHave this instead
French fries, potato chipsVery high in calories and starches (carbs)Boiled sweet potatoes with a sprinkle of feta cheese
Sugary drinksSugar can mess with your overall health; it also provides empty calories that can lead to overeating.Flavor-infused sparkling water
White breadOverly processed, which strips away the good stuff (like fiber); contains added sugarsWhole wheat or Ezekiel bread
Candy barsLow in nutrients; high in calories and sugarA 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 diseaseA piece of dark chocolate
AlcoholEmpty calories (especially beer), which your body will burn before fat, slowing weight lossIf you absolutely must, then wine is your best choice (in moderation).
Frozen pizzaMost are overly processed with refined flour and added sugars.Make it yourself — homemade versions can be much healthier.
Ice creamHigh in calories and loaded with sugarOK, have some ice cream (or frozen yogurt), but stick to a serving about the size of 2 golf balls.
Elaborate coffee drinksArtificial syrups and other flavorings can add a lot of calories.Stick to black coffee (or add just a splash of milk).
Added sugarSugar 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

FoodServing sizeCompared objectCalories
Fruit1 servingTennis ball130
Vegetables1 cupFist20-50
Carbs½ cupHalf fist150
Protein3 ozPalm150
Fats1 tablespoonThumb tip120

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.

Monday

  • Breakfast: Avocado toast with scrambled eggs
  • Lunch: Shrimp and pineapple skewers
  • Dinner: Pork chops with brussels sprouts

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with blueberries
  • Lunch: Tuna salad
  • Dinner: Chicken breast with sweet potato mash

Wednesday

  • Breakfast: Greek yogurt
  • Lunch: Charcuterie platter with meat, cheese, olives
  • Dinner: Salmon with micro greens and apple cider vinaigrette

Thursday

  • Breakfast: Banana smoothie with whey protein powder
  • Lunch: Diced turkey with cottage cheese and peas
  • Dinner: Coconut oil beef stir-fry

Friday

  • Breakfast: Savory oats with boiled egg and avocado
  • Lunch: Grown-up Lunchable — ham and cheese slices, almonds
  • Dinner: Steak and broccoli and cheese potatoes

Saturday

  • Breakfast: Fried eggs with Ezekiel toast
  • Lunch: Lentil soup
  • Dinner: Trader Joe’s Black Bean Quinoa Burgers with salsa and guac

Sunday

  • 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.