Healthy weight loss is the way to go if you want to not only lose weight but also keep it from coming back.
For 71.6% of American adults who are overweight or obese, weight loss is a healthy goal to strive for, but it is often difficult to maintain. And researchers have found that most people who lose weight regain some, or most, of that weight in two to five years. So, what is the healthiest way to lose weight and keep it off?
Insider spoke with registered dietitian Brian St. Pierre, Precision Nutrition’s Director of Performance Nutrition, about how to lose weight and keep it off through diet and patience.
Healthy Weight Loss is Slow Weight Loss
What is the pace of healthy weight loss? Of course, the amount of weight you lose and how quickly you lose it largely depends on your starting weight.
“Fat loss is often faster when first starting out and when you have more body fat to lose,” St. Pierre says. Adding that “in general, research shows that making some strong initial progress out of the gate leads to increased motivation and then continued loss. However, it’s not all-or-nothing. Slow and steady can win the race too.”
Whether you’re interested in the slow-and-steady method or you’re looking to lose weight more quickly, there’s a point when it becomes too much, too fast. That point is when you’re losing more than 1.5% of your body weight per week, says St. Pierre.
Therefore, a comfortable, slow-and-steady, pace would be if you lost about 0.5% of your body weight per week. Whereas a more rigorous, but still reasonable, pace would be to lose 1% of your body weight.
To put that into perspective, for a 180-pound person trying to lose 40 pounds, this means if they lost:
- 0.5% of their body weight per week consistently, it would take 50 weeks for them to reach their goal weight of 140 pounds.
- 0.75% of their body weight per week consistently, it would take 34 weeks.
- 1% of their body weight per week consistently, it would take 25 weeks.
In reality, it’s unlikely that a person can lose weight so consistently, so it may take longer. That’s because “the leaner one becomes, the slower the rate of loss becomes, with more frequent plateaus,” says St. Pierre.
Moreover, the hormones that control your hunger, like leptin and ghrelin, will become unbalanced as you continue to lose weight, which can make you feel hungry more often.
That’s why “it’s also important to realize that fat loss is seldom linear. It fluctuates from day to day and week to week. The goal is to see an overall trend downward over time.”
How to Track Weight Loss
Since weight loss is not linear, tracking your progress may be tricky. Of course, one of the simplest ways to track your weight is to hop on the scale each morning.
A small 2015 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that participants who weighed themselves daily for 6 months lost more weight than people who weighed themselves about every 5 days.
“However, if weighing yourself makes you feel anxious, or you attach your ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ to your weight then it may be more beneficial to weigh yourself less frequently, and use other outcomes measures such as your fitness, strength, energy, how clothes fit, etc.,” says St. Pierre.
Focusing on your behaviors rather than the outcomes is likely to be more effective and potentially less stressful.
What to Eat on a Healthy Weight Loss Diet
Instead, follow the basics of a healthy diet. This requires that you take a look at your diet and see what you should, and are willing, to change. Let’s say, for example, your daily diet looks like this:
- 35% of what you eat comes from processed meats like bacon, deli meat, and frozen dinners.
- 35% of what you eat comes from refined grains and sugar like breakfast cereals and pre-sliced bread.
- 30% of what you eat comes from fruits and vegetables.
St. Pierre says it’s important that, in order to lose weight, you should eat mostly minimally-process foods. For example, limit processed meat like bacon and eat more veggies. Or replace refined grains, like instant oatmeal, for whole grains like old fashioned oats.
A 2019 study in Cell Metabolism related to the consumption of processed foods shows that even when calories and macronutrients are presented, eating processed foods resulted in overeating and weight gain.
St. Pierre also says to incorporate more vegetables than you’re probably including right now. So an updated daily diet for you may start out looking like:
- Change 35% of what’s on your plate from processed meats to 35% of minimally-processed proteins like seafood, chicken, and tofu.
- Change 35% of what’s on your plate from refined grains and sugars to 25% whole grains, legumes, and root vegetables.
- Boost the 30% of what’s on your plate from fruits and vegetables to 40% with the ultimate goal being around 50%.
You could start achieving this by identifying swaps for certain meals, like replacing a breakfast biscuit with an apple and some peanut butter, or having a side salad for lunch instead of fries.
How to Eat To Lose Weight
St. Pierre says that it’s important for you to eat your meals slowly until you’re satisfied. He’s not the first person to offer this advice.
A 2015 review, in the journal Physiology & Behavior, of 22 studies found that people who eat their meals more slowly tend to consume less calories compared to people who eat more quickly.
Another small 2008 study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found that the 30 female participants consumed less and drank more water during a meal when they were instructed to eat more slowly.
How to Deal With Hunger When Losing Weight
Hunger is an issue when losing weight and can derail your progress if not well managed. “There will often be some level of hunger when losing weight, yes. But you should not be ravenous or constantly hungry,” says St. Pierre.
When it comes to dealing with hunger, everyone is different. Finding the balance that works for you is best. And discovering new ways to cook and eat can help you manage hunger more effectively.
“Ultimately, it’s about following whichever approach you enjoy and can follow most consistently,” says St. Pierre.
No matter what method you choose, remember that there will be good days and bad days.
“It’s not about perfection, it’s about doing the best you can, wherever you are, with whatever you have,” St. Pierre says “Sometimes you can crank that dial to 10, and sometimes it can only be at a 2 or 3. That’s ok, any step along that dial can create meaningful change and progress. The key is to always keep it above 0!”
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