If you’ve been eating fast food for years, get real about your approach: You’re probably not going to stick to an organic, gluten-free, paleo overhaul for very long. "You want to change as little as possible to create calorie deficit," says Dr. Seltzer, who insists the best way to support sustainable weight loss is to incorporate small changes into existing habits. So instead of giving up your daily BLT bagels in favor of an egg-white wrap, try ordering your sandwich on a lighter English muffin. Or say you eat a snack bar every afternoon: Swap your 300-calorie bar for a 150-calorie alternative. "Your brain will feel the same way about it, so you won’t feel deprived," he says.
Skimp on fluids, and your body will release an antidiuretic hormone that leads to water retention that could affect the scale, Dr. Setlzer says. While this sneaky effect is one reason why the scale is a poor measure of body mass loss, you can outsmart it by drinking more—particularly if you fill your glass with water or non-calorie alternatives like unsweetened coffee and tea.
The easier it is to seamlessly fit a diet plan into your life without major lifestyle changes, the better. After all, by focusing on holistic long-term results rather than trendy short-term solutions, sustainability becomes the number one enemy of the feared “yo-yo” effect. During our investigative process, we asked ourselves: What makes a diet plan sustainable? After long hours of research, we decided that the following factors can determine a plan’s sustainability, and thus its odds of success:
Consequently, researchers have widely discredited the hCG diet, which involves using hCG injections, pellets, sprays, or drops, and consuming as few as 500 calories daily. The diet is problematic not only because there’s a lack of research on hCG supplements, but also because the calorie requirement is dangerously low, potentially leading to nutrient deficiencies, fatigue, hormone imbalances, blood clots, and other issues. Thus, most experts agree the hCG diet is not safe for anyone, the Mayo Clinic notes. (35)
Getting enough protein every day, whether you’re in a quick-fix or long-term mindset is important for keeping your muscles and metabolism healthy throughout weight loss. Make sure you’re having some chicken breast, lean ground turkey, fish, seafood or tempeh that’s the size of a deck of cards at every meal. When snacking, have 2 eggs, 1/4 cup of nuts, or 3/4 cup of Greek yogurt or cottage cheese to meet your protein needs and stay full and feel slim.
Interested in following a more historical approach to eating? The Primal Blueprint is similar to the Paleo diet, which has roots in how our long-ago ancestors supposedly ate. This plan ditches grain, sugars, and processed foods while focusing on clean eating with plenty of protein (both animal- and plant-based), lots of vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats. The Primal Blueprint acknowledges other health factors too, advocating for lots of low-intensity activity, some high-intensity exercise, strength training, and plenty of sleep.
The TLC approach, contained in the 80-page manual “Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol with TLC,” recommends less than 7% of daily calories from saturated fat, less than 200mg of cholesterol, 30 minutes of daily exercise, and drug treatment when necessary. However, critics of the low-fat plan point to its shunning of healthy high-fat plants and its ignoring of the fact that it's calories, and not fat, what determines whether or not a person loses weight.
Sure, you certainly need to drink plenty of water to help combat bloating, you can (and should!) also consume high-water content foods. Reach for cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, asparagus, grapes, celery, artichokes, pineapple, and cranberries — all of which contain diuretic properties that will also help you stay full due to their higher fiber content.
"Whether it's an app or paper food logs, tracking what you eat will certainly be eye-opening. Almost everyone consumes more than they think. Write everything down as soon as you're done eating so you don't forget anything. The simple act of recording what you eat will make you eat less. When the calories are in your face, it makes you think twice!" — Martha McKittrick, RD, CDE
Even if you suffer from obesity, you don’t have to reach a “normal” BMI (more on this concept later) to reap the benefits that come with shedding some pounds. According to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention study, even a moderate weight loss ranging from 5 to 10 percent of the initial body weight can help you curb and prevent obesity-related illnesses.
“This is a great way of eating that I highly recommend to many clients, and I even model in my own life,” says Elizabeth Shaw, RDN, who is in private practice in San Diego and is the co-author of Fertility Foods Cookbook. “Since the premise of the diet is designed to help people who have high blood pressure, low-sodium foods are recommended. But considering that most Americans exceed their daily sodium levels anyway, it’s not surprising that dietitians recommend this style of eating for treating many different conditions, such as heart disease and obesity.”
If you have more than a week to lose 10 pounds, Dr. Huether recommends trying intermittent fasting. "For longer-term weight loss and maintenance, I like to use intermittent fasting where I choose an 8-hour window to eat (for me its 1 pm to 9 pm). By doing this your body learns to use fat as fuel (instead of glucose), so it becomes easier and sustainable over time."
According to its fervent proponents, humans were not made to be eating constantly; rather, we were designed to eat for short periods of time followed by hours (and sometimes days) of fasting. Much like vegetarianism, intermittent fasting is practiced for two main reasons: health and religion/spirituality. There are no food or caloric restrictions, but rather a restriction on WHEN to eat. The most popular methods include the 16/8 (8 hours of eating followed by 16 hours of fasting), the “Eat-Stop-Eat” method (two 24-hour fasts per week on non-consecutive days); and the 5/2 method (only 500 calories for 2 non-consecutive days, and 5 days of normal eating per week). While it's generally considered a healthy approach to eating when done moderately, some studies suggest extreme fasting may lead to hair loss and anxiety.
Weight loss ultimately comes back to the concept of calories in, calories out: Eat less than you burn and you’ll lose weight. And while it’s possible to lose water weight quickly on a low-carb diet, I certainly wouldn’t advocate for it. The diet itself can trick you into thinking that this eating style is working — when really, you might gain back what you lost as soon as you eat carbs again. That can feel incredibly dispiriting if you want results that last longer than a week.
"It's no big surprise, but my go-to weight loss tip is to eat more vegetables. They are the most low-calorie food you can consume, and they're filled with health-boosting, satiating nutrients. From smoothies and eggs to soups, main and side dishes, they can fit in anywhere and boost volume and nutrition. If you want to eat more while still losing weight, veggies are your answer. —Laura Burak, RD, CDN
Similar to the CICO diet, the Body Reset has gained popularity via social media, and there isn’t any definitive research that suggests the approach is safe and effective. Celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak created the plan, which is essentially a three-phase liquid diet comprised of smoothies and moderate exercise. While U.S. News notes you may lose weight on the diet, it may be tough to stick with, and isn’t safe for people with diabetes and heart disease. (38)
While 1,200 may be the right number for some people, it can be super restrictive for others, says Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Nutrition Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute. That’s why we’re using 1,200 as our base, and encourage you to build upon these meal and snack ideas by doubling (or tripling, quadrupling …you get the point!) up on veggies at any opportunity — and adding more fruit at snack time, too. You can also add 1-5 ounces of protein at all meals if at any point you’re feeling like it’s just not enough food to keep you satisfied. The combo of fiber from produce and lean protein makes this an adaptable strategy that’ll help you lose weight safely — one meal (and snack) at a time!
Popularized by the documentary Forks Over Knives, the Ornish diet is a low-fat, plant-based diet plan based on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes. It's based on a lacto-ovo style of vegetarianism, allowing only egg whites and nonfat dairy products. It's packed with vitamins, fiber, and lots of filling plants to keep you satiated. Some studies have shown it can reverse heart disease and have beneficial effects on other chronic health conditions. (BTW, there is a difference between a vegan diet and a plant-based diet.)
With this eating style, you’re looking at a lot of menu planning and preparation. A review published in August 2017 in Nutrients suggests the diet could lead to weight loss, but the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics warns the plan could also cause certain nutrient deficiencies, such as in calcium and vitamin D. (3,4) And, therefore, according to an article published in the January–February 2016 issue of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, anyone at risk for osteoporosis should avoid it. (5)