If you want to slim down ASAP, face the facts: Rapid weight loss isn’t just unhealthy, it can set you up for binge eating and fluctuations that interfere with the results you want.
Another thing: It’s hard! “For most people, it’s very, very difficult to lose more than one to two pounds of body fat in a week,” says Philadelphia-based weight-loss physician Charlie Seltzer, MD. And although water loss might move the scale a bit more, the change is superficial and temporary. “It’s fat loss that changes shape,” he says.
Even if you manage to meet your goal, it probably won’t be sustainable: “The amount of restriction required will make you so hungry that you’ll eat everything in sight—it’s survival instinct,” Dr. Seltzer says. What’s more, your body will be less prepared to burn the foods you binge on, since calorie restriction gradually slows your metabolism, he adds.
That said, there are ways to jumpstart your weight-loss journey—and yes, it will take time!—all without starving yourself, investing in unsafe supplements, or logging hours at the gym.
Instead, try any number of these safe, sustainable tips this week. And remember: You’ll get the best, longest-lasting results from changes that don’t leave you feeling depleted or deprived.
1. TRACK YOUR DIET.
“Eating fewer calories than you burn will help you lose weight—it’s that simple,” Dr. Seltzer says. “But you need to know your patterns before you can make a plan.”
To assess how much you’re actually eating to maintain your current weight, Dr. Seltzer recommends using MyFitnessPal. Just input whatever you eat, and be honest. The app will calculate your daily calorie intake without judgement (or any math on your end). “No food is inherently good or bad,” Dr. Seltzer says.
2. MAKE SUPER SMALL FOOD SWAPS.
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.
3. GO AHEAD: EAT YOUR LARGEST MEAL AT NIGHT.
Also some research shows that the human body is primed to consume most of its calories during daylight hours. But the lifestyle is problematic for many: Because family meals and dinners with friends often are scheduled for after sunset, “people who try to stop eating after 7pm can’t do it every day for the rest of their lives,” says Dr. Seltzer, who supports an alternative strategy: Eating a hearty meal at your regular dinnertime.
After all, when you run out of calories too early to go out to dinner with friends or satisfy a bedtime craving, you’re more likely to fall victim to what Dr. Seltzer calls the “f*ck it” effect—when you break one “rule” and give up for the rest of the night.
To prep his patients for success, Dr. Seltzer tells them to plan around a large evening meal by eating a lighter breakfast and lunch—NBD since most people who eat a meal before bed tend to wake up feeling relatively full, he says. Research suggests balanced bedtime meals may also promote steady next-day blood sugar levels, which also helps with appetite regulation.
“It just easier for people people to eat at the end of the day, and this approach ensures your social life doesn’t take a hit,” he says.
4. GET YOUR PROTEIN FROM LEAN FOOD SOURCES.
Dietary protein is one of the most important tools in your weight-loss arsenal, partly because you expend more energy digesting protein versus carbs and fat, Dr. Seltzer says. But it’s often packaged with naturally-occurring fats that amp up the calories of each serving.
It’s why leaner protein sources like chicken breast, white fish, and low-fat dairy have fewer calories than alternatives like bacon and burgers. Greek yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese also make smart choices.
5. PAIR PROTEIN WITH SWEETS.
When eaten by itself, candy and other sugary foods flood the bloodstream and clear out quickly, leaving you hungry again or tired, Dr. Seltzer explains. Protein slows this the release of sugar into the bloodstream so you can get your fix and feel satiated for longer.
6. OPT FOR CARBS WITH HIGHER FIBER CONTENT.
Like protein, fiber slows the rate at which your body plows through carb calories so you feel full for longer and maintain steadier blood sugar levels, one reason why research consistently links fiber intake to weight loss. That means fibrous whole grain bread tends to be a better choice than white bread and also explains why fruits, which contain fiber and valuable vitamins in addition to sugar, beat straight-up candy every time.
7. DRINK MORE WATER.
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.
8. IMBIBE JUST A LITTLE BIT LESS.
Booze delivers seven calories per gram—more than carbs and protein (four calories per gram)—without filling you up or delivering essential nutrients. And because it chips away at your inhibitions, it makes those French fries at the bar look way better, and that late-night pizza stop a go.
In other words? “Drinking makes you more likely to eat sh*t,” Dr. Seltzer says, referring to drunk foods. At the same time, he stops short of asking patients to quit alcohol cold-turkey to lose weight. Plus, research suggests you don’t have to, as long as your intake is moderate—i.e., less than about a drink a day. “If you drink a glass of wine every night and notice you eat more afterward, eat less early to account for this,” he says. “Or, if you’re drinking four glasses of wine a week, drink three instead so you’ll won’t feel such a big difference.”
9. MAKE A REAL EFFORT TO MANAGE STRESS.
“Anytime you’re stressed, you probably go for food,” Dr. Seltzer says. (Have we met?!) That’s because cortisol, the stress hormone, stokes your appetite for sugary, fatty foods. No wonder it’s associated with higher body weight, according to a 2007 Obesity study that quantified chronic stress exposure by looking at cortisol concentrations in more than 2,000 adults’ hair.
It’s why no weight loss journey is complete without a stress-management tactic: Maybe it’s meditation, calling your mom after work, or chilling out with music. Just make sure it’s hunger, not stress, that leads you to the kitchen.
10. SLEEP AN EXTRA 30 MINUTES A NIGHT.
“Poor sleep is associated with slower metabolism, and the more you’re awake the more hours you have to eat,” Dr. Seltzer says. What’s more, the sleep deprivation activates the same brain receptors responsible for the marijuana munchies, according to a 2016 SLEEP study.
11. EXERCISE—BUT NOT EXCESSIVELY.
Although it’s way more fun to take up a tolerable activity (i.e., watching Netflix on the elliptical) than it is to drop tasty foods from your diet, “exercise won’t help you lose weight in one week,” Dr. Seltzer says.
After all, “resistance training might initially contribute a pound or two due to the body’s inflammatory response, and people who do low-intensity exercise might burn calories, but they often end up eating more or subconsciously moving less throughout the day to conserve energy,” he says—and research supports the theory.
Real talk: It could take weeks or months to see the metabolic effects of exercise on the scale, and even then, building muscle, which is denser than body fat, could lead to weight gain. “Do what you like because it’s good for you,” Dr. Seltzer says, noting the way exercise is awesome for your heart, mental health, and more—and that not all measure of progress can be seen on the scale.
12. HAVE ALL THE SEX.
In what is perhaps the biggest buzzkill of all time, sex doesn’t quite count as cardio or burn a significant amount of calories: Women burn about 3.6 per minute. “It’s still a good idea,” Dr. Seltzer says, citing the activity’s other benefits, like increasing the output of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which naturally reduce food cravings.