28 science-backed weight loss tips that work

Photo credit: Drazen Zigic - Getty Images
Photo credit: Drazen Zigic - Getty Images

The health world is awash with contradictory information and it can be hard to find safe and sustainable weight loss tips that work. Shedding timber ultimately boils down to eating healthy food, moving regularly, stressing less and sleeping well. Simple in theory, but often easier said than done.

As a result, many people turn to shady supplements and questionable diets to ditch the pounds, which have little scientific evidence behind them. But sustainable weight loss doesn't have to be expensive or esoteric – you just need a few lifestyle tweaks and little bit of know-how.

Nutritional therapist Victoria Hamilton, Dr Paul Barrington Chell, author of The Diet-Whisperer, and registered nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr share 27 easy-to-implement weight loss tips that actually work:

1. Try intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting has been proven to be effective in several studies. Also known as time-restricted eating, it involves alternating between timed periods of fasting and eating – for example 16:8, which involves a 16-hour fast followed by an eight-hour eating window. 'Time-restricted eating can help to reduce insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity, sending less blood sugar to our fat cells and utilising more energy,' says Lenherr.

2. Aerobic exercise is key

Aerobic training is the best mode of exercise for losing weight and burning fat, according to researchers from Duke University Medical Centre. While the study participants completed 12 miles of walking per week, you could try biking, swimming, or even hula-hooping! In a study by the University of Waterloo, women who used weighted hula-hoops for six weeks lost 3.4cm from their waist and 1.4 cm around their hips.

3. Get enough sleep

Cutting back on sleep limits the effects of dieting, research by the University of Chicago Medical Centre found. When dieters got a full night's kip, more than half of the weight they lost was fat. When they cut back on their sleep, only one quarter of their weight loss came from fat – the rest was mostly muscle. They also felt hungrier, due to higher levels of ghrelin. 'Make your bedroom an electronic-free zone, cool it down, reduce noise and light, and agree with your family on a routine of sleep preparation,' says Dr Barrington Chell.

4. Stand up for your health

It might be time to order that standing desk you've been eyeing up. Simply standing burns 0.15 kcal per minute more than sitting, a study published in the European Society of Cardiology revealed. By standing instead of sitting for six hours a day, a 65kg person would expend an extra 54 calories a day, the researchers wrote – equivalent to to 2.5kg in one year and 10kg in four years.

5. Prioritise protein

Adding more protein to your diet is one of the most effective ways to lose weight. It reduces levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and boosts peptide YY, which is responsible for making you feel full. In a study by the University of Missouri, getting 25 per cent of your daily calories from protein reduced compulsive thoughts about food by 60 per cent, and slashed late-night snacking in half.

6. Switch to small plates

According to studies, when you eat from a large plate it's easier to overeat. Halving the plate size leads to a 30 per cent reduction in amount of food consumed on average, a meta-analysis published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research revealed. To amplify the effectiveness, self-serve your own portions, rather than having someone else do it for you, researchers added.

7. Fill up on fibre

Eating one serving (130 grams) a day of beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils contributes to weight loss, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 'Fibre is not only for bulking out our stool, it keeps us full, energised and contributes to balanced blood sugar levels,' says Lenherr. 'Balanced blood sugar levels and feeling full after meals can help ward off cravings and snacking, which can contribute to weight gain.'

8. Don't just diet

When it comes to losing weight and body fat, diet and exercise are most effective together, compared to either strategy alone, according to research from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre. Participants ate between 1,200 to 2,000 calories a day – depending on their starting weight – consumed 30 per cent of their daily calories from fat, and completed 45 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise per day, five days a week. They lost 11 per cent of their starting weight, on average, over the course of a year.

9. Go plant-based

People shed more weight on a vegan diet compared to an omnivorous diet, even when carbohydrates are included, a study from the University of South Carolina concluded. If you can't quite face making the switch, why not try going veggie instead? Vegetarian diets are almost twice as effective in reducing body weight than conventional low-calorie diets, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found, and are better for boosting your metabolism, too.

Photo credit: Anna Blazhuk - Getty Images
Photo credit: Anna Blazhuk - Getty Images

10. Make it public

Sharing your weight loss journey – the success and the setbacks – with other members of an online virtual support community can play an important role in achieving your goals, according to a study from the University of California. Not only will it hold you accountable, but encouragement from others will keep you motivated.

11. Drink water

Before you eat breakfast, lunch or dinner, drink two glasses of water – 500ml – to lose 44 per cent more weight. That's what participants in a study by the University of Birmingham did to lose an additional 2kg over 12 weeks compared to a control group. It's more likely to be body fat, too – when you're well-hydrated, your body burns more fat and less protein, research shows.

12. Fill up on green veggies

Green veggies like spinach, kale and broccoli contain chlorophyll, which reduces your appetite for palatable foods – like sweets and salty snacks – and boosts fat loss, according to a study from the University of Lund. That's because chlorophyll inhibits the uptake of fat in the gut and boosts the concentration of an appetite-suppressing hormone. Can't stick green veg? Get your chlorophyll quota from a spirulina, chlorella or wheat grass supplements.

13. Incorporate interval training

No need to spend hours on the treadmill – high-intensity explosive exercise is effective for weight loss, a study by the University of New South Wales. Completing just 20 minutes of HIIT cycling – a five-minute warm-up, short sprints of 8 seconds with recovery periods of 12 seconds, followed by a five-minute cool-down – just three times per week helped participants shift 2kg of weight in 12 weeks. While the activity burns less total calories than a longer workout, the high intensity means your body uses greater energy to recover.

14. Eat eggs for breakfast

Tucking into eggs for breakfast makes losing weight easier, a study by Saint Louis University found. When participants ate scrambled eggs for breakfast for eight weeks, they lost 60 per cent more weight, 30 per cent more from their waist measurement, and 16 per cent more body fat than those who ate a bagel for their first meal. Because protein is so satiating, it caused the egg-eaters to eat less at lunch, researchers reckon.

15. Drink coffee...

Not only is a fresh cup of joe loaded with antioxidants, but the caffeine turbo-charges your metabolism by up to 11 per cent and boosts your fat-burning potential by up to 29 per cent, studies have shown. Just be sure to take yours black, or with a dash of milk, to avoid adding empty calories.

16. ...Or green tea

If the bitter flavour of coffee doesn't appeal, go green. Green tea contains antioxidants called catechins, which reinforce caffeine's fat-burning properties. You burn more than 5g of extra fat for every cup of green tea you drink, according to a meta-analysis by Maastricht University. By those calculations, if you drink three cups every day for a year, you'll incinerate 6kg's worth.

17. De-stress

Stress reduces your body's energy burning capacity by as much as 100 calories per day, researchers at Ohio State University found. 'Become stress-resilient by prioritising time for rest and recuperation – the stress hormone cortisol can cause insulin resistance, preventing weight loss,' says Hamilton. Cortisol also breaks down your protein reserves and moves any existing excess body fat towards your abdomen.

Photo credit: galitskaya - Getty Images
Photo credit: galitskaya - Getty Images

18. Cut out refined carbs

Diets with a high glycemic load (GL) from eating refined grains, starches, and sugars are associated with more weight gain, according to researchers from Tufts University, so try to avoid the likes of white breads, pastries, breakfast cereals and sweets. They spike your blood sugar, cranking up cravings and causing you to eat more with in next few hours.

19. Don't eat in front of the telly

Eating while watching TV or listening to music doesn't just cause you to eat more during the meal – it has a detrimental effect on satiety, which makes you more likely to snack later. In a study by the University of Birmingham, participants who watched TV while eating a 400-calorie lunch snacked more than those who ate undistracted. The distraction interfered with memory formation, which meant they had less-vivid recollections of eating.

20. Eat nutrient-dense foods

Nutrient deficiencies cause the metabolism to slow down, says Hamilton, so try to eat a portion of vegetables at every meal, and eat a variety of fruits too. For example, vitamin C deficiency reduces your body's ability to synthesise L-carnitine, which is needed to burn fatty acids. In one study, participants on a weight loss diet who supplemented with vitamin C had lost 1.5kg more than a control group by the end of the six-week trial.

21. Step on the scales

Monitoring your body weight can increase your awareness of how your behaviours affect your weight. People who weigh themselves rarely, or never at all, are less likely to lose weight than those who weigh themselves often, according to research by the American Heart Association. Those who weighed themselves six to seven times a week experienced 'significant' weight loss (1.7 per cent) in 12 months, compared to those who never weighed themselves.

22. Ditch sugary drinks

'Cut out juices that are filled with sugar and even worse, fructose,' says Dr Barrington Chell. This type of sugar can be made into body fat quickly, so limiting your intake may boost weight loss, according to UT Southwestern Medical Centre. Eating fructose at breakfast changes the way your body processes your lunch, researchers found, by storing fats that might've been used for other purposes. It's difficult to get excessive amounts of fructose from whole fruit – so ditch the OJ at breakfast and eat a whole orange instead.

23. Keep moving

The more you move throughout the day, the more calories you'll burn. This doesn't necessarily refer to talking a walk at lunchtime – although that can't hurt, either – but even smaller movements, like fidgeting and changing posture. It's called NEAT, for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. If you aren't a natural fidget, set multiple alarms on your phone. '10 minutes every hour adds up to a lot of movement over the course of a day,' says Hamilton.

24. Blend your protein shake

If you're a protein shake fan, blending your post-workout snack for long enough to thicken it will help you eat less for the rest of the day. When participants drank a 500-calorie shake that had been blended, they consumed 12 per cent fewer calories at lunch, Pennsylvania State University found. Not only did their stomachs feel fuller, but they were more satiated, because the shake took longer to drink.

25. Eat when you're hungry

Try not to use food as a coping mechanism for when you're stressed, anxious or bored. 'Reaching for carbohydrates, sugars, alcohol and snacks when we are feeling a certain emotion can lead to long-term weight gain,' says Lenherr. 'Replace emotional eating with non-food related self-care such as going for a walk, having a bath, or calling a friend.'

Photo credit: Klaus Vedfelt
Photo credit: Klaus Vedfelt

26. Lift weights

Lifting weights provides a signal for muscle to be retained even when you're in a calorie deficit, researchers from McMaster University found, which also helping your body burn more fat. Increasing your muscle mass boosts your metabolic rate, which means you burn more calories at rest.

27. Try a low-carb diet

A high-protein, low-carb diet is the most effective way to reduce hunger and promote weight loss in the short-term, according to an eight-week study by the Rowett Research Institute. Low-carb participants lost 2kg more than their moderate-carb counterparts, without reporting increased hunger. Their bodies switched using to ketone bodies as fuel, the scientists explained, which may have an effect on the appetite centres in the brain.

28. Keep a food diary

The simple act of writing down what you eat – known as food journaling – encourages you to eat fewer calories. In a six-month study by Kaiser Permanente, participants who logged daily food records on MyFitnessPal lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records. Those who were most diligent in tracking each day lost the most weight.

🍎 Any diet that requires you to cut out specific food groups could deprive you of essential nutrients. Always get the go-ahead from your doctor before starting a new diet or healthy eating plan.

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