Weight loss is possible through a multitude of different strategies, one of the most effective being adjustments to your diet. But keeping that weight off once you lose it is especially challenging. 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 the participants was regained within two years, and 80% was regained within five years. But don’t give up hope just yet: Experts say it’s entirely possible to maintain that fitter physique, as long as you adopt sustainable habits that you know you can stick with.
According to Nataly Georgieva, RDJM Nutrition dietitian, fad diets often involve restrictive eating habits that just aren’t realistic (or healthy) to keep up with in the long run.
“Such deprivation can result in feelings of ‘missing out’, possible frustration and irritability, and eventual abandonment of the fad diet,” he explains. “As a result, you can gain the weight back soon after.”
Not only that, but Samantha McKinney, DR, a Life Time dietitian points out that a pronounced caloric deficit can shift hormones in an unfavorable direction. Basically, your body doesn’t know that the caloric deficit was intentional, so as a coping mechanism, it’s prepared to gain weight as soon as you return to your normal eating habits.
There are no real shortcuts when it comes to losing weight, so experts say you’ll need to be patient with your body as you make 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 information on how to eat healthy, don’t miss Eating Habits to Lose Belly Fat as You Age, Dietitians Say.
Weighing and measuring each ingredient in your meals can help with portion control when you first start dieting, but the reality is that it takes too long to do it forever. That’s why Kitty Broihier, MS, RDa registered dietitian and creator of the Eating Habits Lab, advises visually portioning out your meal components using the MyPlate Guidelines instead.
According to these guidelines, designed 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 ounce). 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 with low-fat or fat-free options. Using these guidelines as you prepare your meals will ensure that your body gets all the satiating nutrients it needs.
Georgieva adds that it’s helpful to educate yourself on recommended serving sizes and feel comfortable reading Nutrition Facts labels.
If you’ve ever had 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 salt-laden bag of chips from a nearby store. But that’s why Georgieva recommends keeping healthy snacks with you at all times: in her desk drawer, lunch bag, office fridge or glove compartment.
“Humans follow the path of least resistance,” says Georgieva. “It’s important to make nutritious food easily accessible when you’re most vulnerable.”
Keep in mind that snacks with protein, fiber, and healthy fats will keep you full longer. For example, an apple with string cheese, whole grain crackers with turkey and hummus, or yogurt with flaxseed and blueberries are filling combos.
Here’s an easy habit to try: Start lunch and dinner by eating a high-fiber salad and drinking a glass of water. That way, you’re less likely to overindulge with the rest of your meal.
“This can help you eat fewer calories overall without leaving you hungry,” he 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 older adults who drank two glasses of water before breakfast consumed 13% fewer calories during the meal than those who drank no water before. Additionally, a 2011 study in Obesity found that dieters who drank water before three meals for 12 weeks lost about five more pounds than dieters who didn’t increase their water intake.
Dr. Hunnes recommends having a salad that consists of two cups of vegetables and a light vinaigrette with about a tablespoon of olive oil.
If there’s one macronutrient you should definitely prioritize for weight loss, it’s protein.
“Protein can make you feel fuller and more satisfied than carbohydrates and fats,” says McKinney. “Often, the more protein you eat at meals, the fewer cravings you’ll experience. 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 intake of starches, sugars, and mindless snacking. It also stabilizes blood sugar and energy levels, helps support detoxification, and is necessary for recovery from workouts.”
As a general rule of thumb, Broihier recommends aiming for about 20 grams at each meal and 10 grams at each snack. But if it’s helpful to have a visual guide to follow, McKinney says a palm-sized serving of protein is plenty. For example, this might look like a chicken breast or salmon fillet, two eggs, or a clenched fist of chickpeas.
One of the main causes of overeating is not being present during meals. When you browse your phone or watch TV, you can gobble down your food so fat that it doesn’t give your body a chance to register when you’re really full.
That’s why Dr. Hunnes advises making it a point to practice 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 eating, so he can more easily recognize his fullness cues.
“Pause for a minute or two midway 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 thought. Many times we finish automatically and without thinking about what is on our plates.”