Are you wanting to lose a couple of pounds? Do you ever feel disenchanted by the fad diets, ‘magic foods,’ and weight loss tricks out there and wonder if there is actually any proof behind them other than just anecdotal or celebrity claims?
You’re not alone.
Therefore, the purpose of this post is to 1) present to you some tips that you can easily incorporate into your life that will enhance your weight loss efforts and 2) show you the evidence behind them by directing you to some unbiased, peer-reviewed studies.
So…Is There a Silver Bullet?
One thing you will realize as you read on: there is no magic behind losing weight. It all comes down to the balance between the energy you consume versus the energy you expend.
Some foods (and herbal supplements) do enhance your ability to burn more calories even while keeping the same activity level (mainly by increasing overall metabolic rate through thermogenesis, or “heat production”). But like everything, it will depend on how much of it you consume, and whether you incorporate it with other healthy eating habits and physical activity. Eat too much ‘weight loss foods,’ and you will gain weight. Take too many ‘weight loss supplements,’ and you will have negative side effects.
So What IS Proven to Help?
Learn to Love Water (Especially Before Meals)
Scientific bottom line: Drinking more water decreases appetite, helps you eat less, and optimizes your metabolism to burn calories.
While the idea of drinking water is neither novel nor unique, it does work. It has been shown that drinking a half liter (17 oz) of water 30 minutes before meals can help one eat fewer calories and lose 44% more weight (1a). In addition to making you feel full, drinking a glass of water boosts metabolism by 30% over a period of 1-2 hours, helping you burn more calories regardless of your physical activity level (1b, 1c).
Say “No” to Sugary Drinks
Scientific bottom line: ‘Liquid sugar’ causes you to eat even more than you normally would, easily leading to weight gain.
At this point we are not talking about sugar in general or sugar vs other carbs (which can be a whole separate topic of discussion), but we are talking about sugar in its liquid form. Studies have shown that when the same people are given comparable amounts of solid candy and soda (at different times) and then observed, their eating habits change considerably when their diets are supplemented with soda (compared to when they are eating the same amount of calories in candy), in that they tend to eat significantly more food throughout the day and have resultant weight gain (2a).
What about fruit juices? In terms of sugar content, they are similar to soda, with some experts considering them pretty much the same when it comes to your diet and weight loss efforts (2b). Therefore, aim to eat whole fruits, and try avoiding sugary drinks altogether.
Cut Down on Refined Carbs
Scientific bottom line: These foods increase overall hunger as well as cravings for other high-calorie foods, making it difficult to eat less.
Refined carbohydrates (such as sugar, white bread, and pasta) are stripped of their natural fiber, and as a result can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin release–leading to hunger, cravings and binge eating only a few hours after meals (3a, 3b). Eating refined carbs is also strongly linked to obesity (3c). Therefore, if choosing carbohydrates, always find ones that have some fiber content (eg. whole grain).
Drink Black Coffee*
Scientific bottom line: Caffeinated coffee boosts metabolism and decreases hunger.
Studies show that the caffeine in coffee can boost metabolism by 3-11% and increase fat burning by up to 10-29% (4a). While coffee by itself contains antioxidants and is thought to have some beneficial properties, studies comparing caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee show that this increase in metabolic rate is mainly due to the additional caffeine (4b, 4c).
With that said, be mindful of the sugar or other calorie-dense ingredients being added to your coffee. If you cannot drink it black, use non-calorie sweeteners, limit the creamer, and nix the chocolate/caramel syrup and whip cream.
*If you know you are sensitive to caffeine, avoid #4 and #5 or limit your intake.
Drink Green Tea
Scientific bottom line: Caffeinated green tea provides an even better boost in metabolism.
Regular green tea (or green tea extract) has two important things that help in weight loss: caffeine and powerful antioxidants called catechins. These catechins not only have their own health benefits, but they further enhance the thermogenic (fat-burning) properties of the caffeine on your metabolism (5a, 5b).
A systematic review of fifteen studies on green tea has concluded that there is strong evidence that its consumption can aid with weight loss and maintenance (5c). But what about decaffeinated green tea? While it’s still good for your health, without the caffeine, green tea doesn’t seem to have the same impact on weight loss (5d).
Eat More Protein
Scientific bottom line:
–Adding protein to a diet with carbs: Keeps you fuller, helps you eat less overall
–Combining high protein with low carb diet: Keeps you fuller plus a boost in metabolism
It has been shown that increasing the amount of any type of protein to replace 25% of your calorie intake (while still eating carbs) can help you feel satiated longer, reduce food cravings and late-night snacking by 50% (6a), making it easier to eat less in general (6b).
Furthermore, if you go the extra step to restrict your carbohydrate intake, eating a higher protein diet will not only keep you feeling satisfied so you are able to comfortably consume fewer calories a day (subjects in these studies consumed, on average, 400 fewer daily calories), but it will also increase your metabolism and make it easier to burn fat (6c, 6d).
Eat Spicier Foods
Scientific bottom line: Capsaicin can suppress appetite, slightly boost metabolism, and reduce some cravings.
Spices like cayenne pepper contain capsaicin, a compound that can increase metabolic rate and cause mild appetite suppression (7a, 7b). However, this effect seems to only be significant in people who have not already developed major tolerance to its effects (those who eat a lot of spicy foods on a daily basis).
Scientific bottom line: This habit makes you feel fuller and leads to eating less during meals.
It’s true that it takes a while for the brain to “register” that you’ve had enough to eat. Available studies show that chewing more slowly helps you eat fewer calories while feeling fuller compared to eating quickly (these subjects ate more per meal but felt less satiated) (8a). This is because chewing slowly increases the production of certain gastric hormones that work to suppress your appetite and help you lose weight (8b).
Get Enough Sleep
Scientific bottom line: Sleep deprivation increases your appetite and slows down your metabolism.
Increasing evidence is showing that the importance of getting adequate sleep may rank up there with healthy eating and exercise. The mechanism by which sleep restriction can sabotage your weight loss efforts is twofold: by up-regulating your appetite through the release of certain hormones and by affecting your metabolism so your body ‘holds onto’ fat (9). How much sleep is enough? It’s different for everyone, but the average is 7.5 hours.
Keep a Food Diary
Scientific bottom line: Anything that helps you be more aware of what you eat and how much you eat can be a very effective complement to your weight loss regimen.
Even though this is the last one listed, keeping a “food journal” is actually one of the best ways to jump-start your healthy eating efforts. I personally love the app MyFitnessPal and have recommended it to my patients in the past (both the mobile and desktop versions are well-designed and very user-friendly), but there are countless ways to keep track…from old-fashioned paper charts to photographic diaries (10a, 10b). The key is to choose one that works for you and to stick with it.
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Here’s to happy, healthy eating…bon appétit everyone!
*Like all health-related articles on this blog, this information is for education purposes only and not to be used as medical advice. Always check with your trusted health care provider prior to starting a weight loss regimen.