Want to lose a little—or a lot—of weight? Forget the get-slim-quick gimmicks and magic bullets and follow the advice of these weight loss pros instead. We asked four experts in different fields to explain their research into what really works when it comes to losing the weight and keeping it off. Their full-proof strategies will help anyone win at losing.
Go to bed
No, you’re not dreaming! Getting your Zz’s is proving to be one of the most important behaviors to achieve—and maintain—a healthy weight. Studies show that adults who report sleeping less than five to six hours per night gain more weight over time, have bigger waistlines, and are more likely to be obese compared to those who get sufficient sleep, says Andrea Spaeth, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of kinesiology and health at Rutgers University.
The reason: When you skimp on shut-eye, your hunger hormones get thrown out of whack, which can drive you to eat more calories, often in the form of sugary or fatty foods. It’s much easier to stick to healthy eating habits when you give your body the sleep it requires. If you snooze, you lose!
Since one in three adults are getting insufficient sleep, Spaeth recommends planning your sleep schedule a week at a time in order to ensure at least seven hours of slumber each night. She also suggests creating a healthy sleep environment by limiting light and setting the temperature to around 67 degrees, as well as establishing a nighttime ritual that includes powering down electronic devices and engaging in more relaxing activities instead.
When obesity researcher Courtney Peterson, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, wanted to shed 30 extra pounds and keep it off, she used time-restricted eating, one of her areas of research. Time-restricted feeding involves eating in a defined time period (say eight to 10 hours per day), followed by an extended fast of 14 to 16 hours. According to Peterson, research shows that time-restricted feeding reduces appetite, increases fat burn, and aids weight loss.
Eating during a more defined timeframe helps guarantee that you get the majority of your calories earlier in the day. In one study of 420 dieters, those who ate most of their calories before 3:00 p.m. lost more weight (22 pounds) compared to participants who ate most of their calories later in the day (17 pounds), despite both groups following the same 1,400-calorie diet and sticking with an exercise program. To start a time-restricted eating plan, try dining within a 10-hour window, say 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Then, fast overnight. If you want to get more aggressive, switch to an eight-hour eating window.
Step on the scale
Your bathroom scale may be the best tool to help you lose weight and keep it off, explains Dori Steinberg, PhD, RD, associate director at Duke Global Health Science Center. After completing a series of studies, her research team discovered that overweight and obese adults who stepped on the scale each day lost an average of 13.5 pounds, with some volunteers dropping up to 20. Those who weighed themselves less frequently lost an average of 7 pounds.
“Contrary to popular belief, our research didn’t reveal any downsides of daily weigh-ins, like feeling depressed or displaying signs of disordered eating,” Steinberg says. Weighing yourself daily provides immediate feedback about your typical behaviors, she adds, which explains why it has been shown to motivate individuals to adopt healthier habits, such as eating fewer sweets and getting enough exercise. In other words, it provides additional accountability to help you stay on track.
Commit to a new lifestyle
Weight loss experts often say: Don’t diet, change your lifestyle. Making the commitment to change your life for the long haul is the key when it comes to lasting weight loss, explains Lisa Zucker, MS, RD, who worked with weight loss clients for nearly a decade at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado.
When people come to the understanding that their behaviors have to change forever, great things can happen. But if the resolve to stick with it isn’t there, weight loss will be only temporary. Participants in the National Weight Control Registry–a collection of more than 10,000 successful dieters who lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off–are noted for their resolve compared to less successful dieters. These folks haven’t gone back to where they were, no matter what barriers they faced. Analysis of their results shows that even when these dieters faced challenges and slipped, they quickly got back on track with their healthier habits.
To get new healthy habits to stick–forever–make your goals specific and concrete, focus on the positive behaviors you’re going to start rather than the negative ones you want to stop, and enlist close friends and family members to help support you and keep you accountable along the way.