Weight loss—especially rapid weight loss—is big business. With many people looking for a magic pill to help them take control of weight quickly, there are so many dubious products out in the market that claim to be miracle workers. But deep down, we all know that there is no real substitute for good old-fashioned hard work: eating right and exercising regularly. It’s the usual advice but can seem pretty vague or intimidating. Not to worry—these concrete tips to take control of your weight in a healthy way are a good place to start:
1 Count your calories—and make your calories count! It’s only logical: A calorie deficit (burning more calories than you take in) will certainly help you drop pounds. But while the number of calories you consume matters, research has shown that the quality of the calories is also important. For example, an apple and half a glass of soda have a comparable number of calories, but an apple offers more nutrients and will keep you feeling full for longer than soda. In fact, soda (and other sugary drinks) can be considered empty calories that don’t offer much in terms of nutrition and, as studies have shown, can contribute to long-term weight gain.
2 Eat clean. The essence of eating clean is simply cutting out junk food. Go for whole foods over packaged and processed foods, and definitely cut back on added sugar and sodium, both of which can be behind a lot of excess water weight.
Some processed foods can be deceiving—you may think “low fat” food products are a surefire way to lose fat, but science has shown that fat in food isn’t exactly the bad guy, as long as you’re getting the good kind from sources like fatty fish and avocadoes. In fact, low-fat foods may have additives like sugar to make them more flavorful, so low-fat doesn’t necessarily mean low-calorie.
3 Go for something sustainable. The ketogenic diet has been used as a way to take control of weight quickly. It may be an option for those having a hard time losing weight through other means, according to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSP). Just make sure you consult a physician and a dietician to find out the exact ratios of protein, carbs, and fat your body needs and focus on good, lean sources of protein and healthy fats. Do note that while the limited research on the ketogenic diet so far has shown that the diet provides “short-term benefits in some people including weight loss and improvements in total cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure,” the HSP adds that “these effects after one year when compared with effects of conventional weight loss diets are not significantly different.”
The best option, therefore, is to focus on sustainability: Is this a diet that you can adopt as a lifestyle in the long-term? If not, you’ll likely just gain everything back as soon as you reintroduce the things you eliminated (e.g., carbs) for a while.
4 Remember: Carbs are not the enemy. Just make sure you get more of the good carbs—unrefined options like whole-grain bread, brown rice, fruits, and vegetables. Refined carbs like white rice, white bread, and sugary drinks cause a spike in blood sugar and make you hungry sooner, which may lead to weight gain in the long run. Unrefined carbs provide a slower energy burn, have more nutrients, and keep you full for longer.
5 Try interval training. While you can’t outrun your fork, you can certainly help take control of your weight through exercises. One of the best workouts for weight loss is interval training. It is a kind of workout wherein you go hard for a set amount of time (or interval) then rest for a little while before going hard again.
If interval training isn’t your thing, explore other types of exercise, whether it’s a group class, a recreational sport, or using a jump rope at home. The key to workouts is consistency: You can’t just do one workout a week and expect to see results. Make it part of your routine.
6 Consider supplements but only in conjunction with a balanced diet and regular exercise. While some foods like pepper, ginger, and saffron come in supplement form that can help suppress appetites, the best option is still to put in the work. No shortcut can beat having a balanced diet of whole foods plus regular physical activity. If you do decide to take a supplement, be sure to run it by your doctor first.