There are many different ways to lose weight, but how do you know which ones will help you achieve healthy weight loss and maintain your weight for the long term? Rather than chasing the latest fad, the best approach is to find an eating strategy that’s backed by scientific evidence.
When is a diet not a diet?
When most people think about weight loss, they think in terms of a calorie restricted “diet”. While eating fewer calories is an important part of weight loss, the term diet has come to be associated with a period of deprivation after which you’ll have lost weight. That mindset, while it may result in short term weight loss, often does not lead to a longer term ability to maintain the weight loss, because after the diet ends, people frequently return to their old, less healthy eating patterns.
A better approach is to think in term of an eating plan or strategy. You’re essentially giving your eating habits a makeover so you’ll continue to choose foods and portions that are healthy. It isn’t something you have to suffer through, it’s a nutritional path to better overall health.
What does the research say?
There has not been extensive research on what weight loss strategy is most effective, but the studies that have been conducted suggest that these approaches are more likely to lead to successful weight loss:
- Choose foods that fall lower on the glycemic index. The glycemic index measures the effects that foods have on blood sugar levels. Foods that break down more slowly release glucose more gradually, so they don’t cause spikes in blood sugar. Because processed foods are often high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, they break down quickly, causing blood sugar spikes that can leave you feeling unsatisfied. They’re also calorie dense without providing much nutrition. Low glycemic index foods include fruits, vegetables, lean protein, eggs, milk, whole grains, and nuts. Researchers looked at six controlled studies on weight loss in overweight people and discovered that they were more likely to lose weight on low glycemic index diets compared to other diets. In addition to losing weight, the participants’ cholesterol levels also dropped.
- Exercise makes a difference. While you can lose weight without exercising, studies have found that combining diet changes with exercise not only resulted in more weight loss, it also helped people maintain the weight loss for a longer period of time and was associated with other positive health benefits, including increasing “good” HDL cholesterol, lowering triglyceride levels, lowering blood pressure, and reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes. Check with your doctor before you start exercising and work up to 30 minutes of moderate exercise like brisk walking, biking, or swimming, five days a week.
- Be a mindful eater. One factor that some studies have found contributes to weight gain is focusing on another activity, such as watching T.V. or reading, while eating. A better approach is to give your full attention to your meal so you’ll be aware when your body sends signals that you’re full.
If you’re trying to build your own healthy weight loss strategy, it can be helpful to work with a nutritionist, coach, or health advisor who can provide you with information on evidence-based approaches to weight loss so you can tailor a healthy eating and exercise plan you’ll be able to stick with for the long term.