In the US, the market size of the weight loss services industry, measured by revenue, is a staggering $2.8 billion. That really should come as no surprise, considering the obesity epidemic in this country.
On paper, losing weight should be simple. You have to burn more calories than you eat each day. But unfortunately, in practice it’s just not that easy because food is delicious, temptations are real, and discipline is often lacking. So, people struggling to lose weight desperately turn to fad diets, supplements, and meal replacement plans.
While many diets and fads have some merit, there are five simple, science-based weight loss strategies that can help you slim down.
Track Diet and Exercise Daily
In 2020, more than 87 million people in the US downloaded and used at least one health or fitness app. Research shows that daily tracking of physical activity, food intake, and weight loss progress can be effective for weight loss. A systematic review and meta-analysis appearing in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found a positive correlation between weight loss and the frequency of monitoring food intake and exercise. If you’d like to test this theory for yourself, some of the most popular weight and exercise tracking apps include MyFitnessPal, Weight Watchers, Noom, Lose It!, FitBit and Healthie
Eat Protein for Breakfast
Protein has long been a secret weapon for body builders, athletes, and dieters alike. Science shows that protein helps regulate your appetite by making you feel full. Research in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated the satiating effects of meals with varying protein contents and whether there was an effect on appetite-regulating hormones and appetite ratings. Results showed that protein can effectively regulate appetite hormones to help people feel full, primarily due to a decrease in the hunger hormone ghrelin and a rise in the satiety hormones peptide YY, GLP-1, and cholecystokinin.
Another study focused on young adults who skipped breakfast and found that the hormonal effects of eating a high-protein breakfast can last for several hours and leads to increased satiety. A breakfast rich in dietary protein provides additional benefits through reductions in appetite and energy intake. These findings suggest that the addition of a protein-rich breakfast might be an effective strategy to improve appetite control. Good choices for a high-protein breakfast include eggs, oats, nut and seed butters, protein muffins and oatmeal, low-fat cottage cheese, and whole grain breakfast wraps.
Try Intermittent Fasting (IF)
IF is currently very popular for a good reason, science shows that it works! Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a patterned approach to eating that makes sense scientifically and intuitively because the food we eat is broken down by enzymes in our gut and eventually ends up as molecules in our bloodstream. Carbohydrates are quickly broken down into sugar, which our cells use for energy. But, if our cells don’t use it all, it’s stored as fat. Sugar can only enter our cells with insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas. Insulin brings sugar into the fat cells and keeps it there. So, during a fast, insulin levels go down and our fat cells can then release their stored sugar, to be used as energy. We lose weight if we let our insulin levels go down. The concept behind IF is that the fast allows insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off fat.
Balance your gut bacteria
The gut microbiome is an emerging area of research that focuses on the role of bacteria in the gut on weight management. It turns out, the old adage, “you are what you eat” is more accurate than ever, especially considering your diet is also the foundation for culturing a microbial ecosystem in your gut that affects weight, disease, and perhaps even your mood. The human microbiome, or the gut ecosystem, is comprised of more than 100 trillion microorganisms, both healthy and unhealthy, that assist many human processes. As more extensive clinical trials are conducted and innovative research is published, the intricate connections between the human gut, performance, and disease are becoming more apparent and robust.
Diet has a direct impact on the quality of gut microbiota, which in turn affects metabolic processes and overall health. An unhealthy gut microbiome has been associated with irritable bowel disease, skin disorders such as acne and atopy, Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and obesity. Every individual has different varieties and amounts of bacteria in their gut. Some types can increase the amount of energy that individuals harvest from food, leading to fat deposition and weight gain. To create and maintain a healthy microbiome, individuals are encouraged to eat a nutrient dense, low-trans/saturated fat, probiotic-rich diet and exercise regularly. Foods that increase good gut bacteria include: fruits, vegetables, grains, fiber, fermented foods, and probiotics like kefir, yogurt, and sauerkraut.
Reduce sugar and refined carb intake
And finally, the strategy no one really wants to hear about…cutting carbs and sugars. Science shows that weight loss depends on limiting intake of sugars and refined carbohydrates. Unfortunately, the Western diet is incredibly high in added sugars, which has definite links to obesity. To lose weight, it’s imperative to reduce intake of refined carbohydrates, which are heavily processed foods that no longer contain fiber and other nutrients, including white rice, bread, and pasta. Science shows that these foods are quick to digest, and they convert to glucose rapidly. When excess glucose enters the blood, it creates insulin, which promotes fat storage and contributes to weight gain.
While conventional science has attributed weight gain to a net surplus of calories due to burning fewer calories than taking in, a 2021 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looks at a carbohydrate-insulin model focused on diet quality versus total calorie intake for weight loss. The model postulates that the intake of processed carbohydrates leads to changes in the levels of insulin and results in increased fat deposition. In turn, this leads to hunger and consumption of more calorie-rich foods and leads to obesity. The model suggests that avoiding processed carbohydrates and starchy foods may be necessary to lose weight instead of restricting calories. To shed pounds, reduce intake of sugars and refined carbs and swap processed foods for healthier options. Good food swaps include: whole-grain rice, bread, and pasta instead of the white versions; fruit, nuts, and seeds instead of high-sugar snacks; herb teas and fruit-infused water instead of high-sugar sodas; smoothies with water or milk instead of fruit juice.
Anyone who has struggled with weight issues will tell you, there are no quick fixes when it comes to weight loss. In addition to the evidence-based strategies we’ve discussed, the importance of getting regular exercise cannot be overstated. Combining exercise with a healthy diet is a more effective weight loss strategy than depending on calorie restriction alone. Exercise increases metabolism and helps maintain and increase lean body mass, which also helps increase the number of calories you burn each day. To reap the health benefits of exercise, it is recommended that you get some form of aerobic exercise at least three times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes per session, and of course, more than 20 minutes is better if you want to lose weight. However, in cases where individuals have struggled with weight loss for a prolonged period and have explored various options without success, private weight loss surgery may be considered a viable solution to achieve significant and lasting results.
We all know that weight loss can be challenging, but if you apply these science-based strategies, along with exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, reducing stress, and eating a balanced, nutritious diet you can drop pounds and improve your health.
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