If you’re like most people, you have struggled with your weight at some point in your life. Since obesity has become an epidemic in the Western world, there is now a huge market around all things weight loss.
With all of this confusing, often times even contradicting advice, we are more lost than ever. It’s analysis paralysis and we end up hopping from one theory and fad diet to another. But let’s take a step back and look at what’s logical and actually helpful here.
Even though it kind of comes down to how many calories you eat and burn, things are not as simple as that. Nutrients are metabolized in a different way, there’s the factor of thermogenesis, and that some foods make us more or less satiated.
In this article, we wanted to equip you with the first 9 steps you should take in order to lose weight easily and do it in a healthy, sustainable way. Contrary to popular belief, weight loss can be a by-product of a healthy and enjoyable diet and lifestyle, it doesn’t have to mean starving yourself and counting every single calorie.
While these following tips will include a concept called calorie density and we will talk about empty calories, don’t be fooled – we don’t want you to count your calories. We are simply showing you how food choices can have a huge impact on your overall calorie consumption and why you don’t have to count anything in order to move the needle into the right direction.
Read more: How to Eat a lot & Still Lose Weight
Calories are not evil though. They are necessary for survival! Unfortunately, today’s food is often crammed with an unnaturally high amount of calories which makes us gain a lot of weight over the years. But there’s a way out: Here’s our back to the basics approach that will work wonders for you!
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1. Ditch the meat
Not only does meat have a high calorie density and a high amount of saturated fat and cholesterol, both of which are very bad for your health. A 2010 PANACEA study showed the total meat consumption of their prospects was positively associated with weight gain in men and women, in normal-weight and overweight subjects.
With adjustment for estimated energy intake, an increase in meat intake of 250 g/d (eg, one steak at approximately 450 kcal) would lead to a 2-kg higher weight gain after 5 years. Positive associations were observed for red meat, poultry, and processed meat. What’s more, the antibiotics found in most meats (32.6 million pounds of antibiotics were fed to livestock between 2009 and 2013) contribute to obesity in humans.
And don’t think that fish is any different – after all, it’s a muscle as well that’s made of protein and fat. So it works the same for your body.
An easy way to stop eating meat is by replacing it with plant-based meat substitutes. Try different products until you find the ones you like. Bonus points if it’s low-fat too. An even healthier and weight-loss promoting way is to switch over to bean dishes like vegan chilis or baked beans. Emphasize starch-heavy meals instead of protein-rich ones.
2. Stop consuming dairy & eggs
Have you ever heard people calling dairy “liquid meat”? Unfortunately, this gives us a hint that animal by-products are not healthier or less harmful than their meat. And yes, I’m also talking about cheese… but who could live without it, right?
Well, it turns out that all milk contains small amount of naturally occurring morphine-like compounds. This is because the baby (be it human, a cow, a cat etc.) has to bond with the mother and stay with her for a certain period of time.
That’s way nature made the milk THAT irresistible – by putting in a tiny dose of drugs. Especially in cheese, we get massive concentrations of fat and salt, which our highly evolved brains continue to love. Combine this with the opioid-like casomorphins, and cheese suddenly goes from “very delicious” to “obscenely tempting”.
Dairy is also high in fat (which makes it calorically dense) and protein, which raises IGF-1 levels in our bodies. This is a growth hormone we need as little babies to grow rather fast – but once we’re past a certain age, all this hormone does is making us fat and sick, i.e. stimulate cancer growth.
Eggs are the food with the highest amount of saturated fat and cholesterol (even more than any burger), both not at all helpful if you want to lose weight (and prevent major chronic diseases). They also increase artery clogging plaque and are as bad for your heart as smoking 5 cigarettes a day. On top of that, animal products contain no fiber, which means you need to eat a large volume (aka a large amount of calories in that case) in order to get full. Really not helpful here!
You can swap these products for plant-based alternatives like almond milk, vegan cheese, egg replacers, and more. Some can even be made at home where you can control everything from the different ingredients to the flavor. Try to eat these products less and less often, replaying them with whole plant-based foods eventually.
3. Ditch the oil and sugar
I think almost everyone will agree with me that refined sugar is basically empty calories – empty of nutrition, that is. Refined products make you gain weight very quickly because they lack fiber as well as micronutrients.
Most of our processed, pre-packaged foods contain some added sugar and therefore make you hooked! These simple sugars tell your brain to eat more and more… until you end up with problems like an overgrowth of yeast in your body. And when that happens, it’s nearly impossible to lose weight until you get that yeast under control.
But did you know that the equivalent to refined sugar is actually oil? Yes, I know that everyone who’s ever dieted ate their daily salad with a nice amount of “good” olive oil. In reality though, you create a high fat meal very easily by just adding 1-2 tablespoons of oil to it – which comes down to 200-250 calories from the oil alone.
What’s more, oil is essentially 100% fat and only contains trace amounts of micronutrients, making it as nutritionally devoid as white sugar. If you consume dietary fat, it’s a lot easier converted into body fat than carbohydrates are, so you should try to stay away from it as much as you can. Oil has the highest caloric density of all foods, and getting it out of your diet can really make a huge difference.
You can replace the sugar with molasses or dried fruit as well as stevia. Instead of cooking your food with oil, simply use a non-stick pan and some splashes of water. Salad dressings can be made on the basis of vinegar, mustard, or tahini instead of oil.
4. Focus on fruits and vegetables
This one is a no-brainer, but still needs to be emphasized. Some people try to lose weight by just cutting back on calories, while still not consuming any more fruits or vegetables! But these foods are actually beneficial to your weight loss for a couple of reasons: caloric density, fiber, and micronutrients. Let me explain.
From all the types of food you could eat, vegetables have the absolute lowest calorie density – fruit comes in second. A pound of both of them only has 100-300 calories, meaning that you could eat up to 6 pounds of them or more and still not gain any weight. This is because of their high amount of water and fiber.
In a nutshell, fiber sweeps through your intestines and pushes the crap out. It also slows down the digestion of your food, stabilizes blood sugar, and in general gives your food a lot more bulk – meaning you’ll get full on less calories and stay this full for a longer amount of time.
And then there are micronutrients, namely vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and more. These are essential for our bodily functions, including losing body fat, moving around, healing wounds, and a ton more.
If we fall short of them, we start having cravings for food – and we all know that this never ends well. Instead of grabbing a piece of fruit when we’re low on a nutrients, it’s usually rather a chocolate chip cookie and a few chips.
Fill 30-50% of your plate with fruits or vegetables every time you eat. This will drastically dilute your caloric intake while still giving you lots of nutrients and a high volume of food. Start by adding some more fruits or veggies to the meals you're alreadyy eaten, then also snack on apples or carrots. Everything counts!
5. Take small steps
I understand that when we’re motivated or in a lot of (emotional or physical) pain, change should happen fast. Very fast. And we are willing to do a lot of things in order to get the results we want. But the problem is that we’re habitual creatures and kind of resist change at the same time.
We want a lean body but we don’t want to cut out fat. We want to have more energy to move around but don’t want to eat our veggies. All of the helpful advice out there can be too overwhelming and then we end up doing nothing instead of even some little thing.
This is why I highly suggest you pick out one or two areas of your diet and lifestyle that you think you can change first. Maybe it’s cutting out meat or eggs, maybe it’s switching to almond milk or snacking on fruit instead of candy bars. The most important thing is that your get going and do something, implement a new habit.
The results will speak for themselves and motivate you to go one step further, getting closer and closer to your weight loss goal.
Write up a list of things you know need to change and only focus on one or two. Be strict here and consistent until it starts to feel like second nature. Don’t get discouraged if you fall back, simply start again. All of these tiny things make a huge change.
6. Don’t starve yourself
This is one of the most ineffective ways to weight loss because it always ends in binging, hence piling on the pounds again. But the starvation itself is very counterproductive as well because it actually goes against our biology and survival mechanism.
When you teach your body that it has to get by on less and less food, it adjusts your metabolism accordingly and starts to eat away your own muscle. Once you get out of the starvation mode, your body desperately holds on to every single calorie it gets and you will gain weight by eating less than what you normally need to maintain your figure.
But slowing down your metabolism means much more than that. You become very sensitive to temperature and don’t want to move around a lot. This lack of energy means that you won’t be able to exercise at all, which weakens both your muscles and bones.
What’s more, by eating only very tiny amounts of food you can never meet your nutritional requirements for vitamins and minerals – which your body needs to function properly. This can lead to a number of problems, including organ failure, hair loss, memory loss, tooth decay, skin ailments and many, many more.
So never intentionally keep yourself from eating when you feel like you need some food. Instead, make smarter choices like the ones above. Make sure to never eat less than 1,200 calories, better 1,600 calories. Otherwise, this won’t be a successful weight loss for you, only another yoyo diet.
Plug your food into tools like cronometer.com and make sure you eat enough calories. Listen to your hunger signals instead of restricting your calories – you’ll be able to eat more foods if they come from whole plant-based sources.
7. Drink enough water
With all of this advice regarding your food, one essential nutrient shouldn't be left out: water. For a long time now, people have been increasing their water intake when wanting to lose weight. And for good reasons!
Drinking water increases the amount of calories you burn, which is known as resting energy expenditure in adults, resting energy expenditure has been shown to increase by 24–30% within 10 minutes of drinking water. This can last for at least 60 minutes!
A study of overweight women examined the effects of increasing water intake to over 1 liter (34 oz) per day. They found that over a 12-month period, this resulted in an extra 2 kg (4.4 lbs) of weight loss. And they didn't even make any other lifestyle changes!
Drinking around 1.5 liters of water daily has also been shown to reduce BMI, waist circumference, and body fat - especially when the water is cold.
Especially if you drink water instead of soda, juice, or milk, your calorie intake will drastically decrease. Our bodies don't recognize if we consume liquid calories, and therefore our satiety levels stay unimpressed. You can literally drink a huge glass of juice and still feel as hungry!
Try to drink at least 2 liters or 67 oz of water, which comes down to about 8 glasses (8oz). If you're in a hot climate, work out a lot, or are sick, then try to drink even more than that. To make this a more enjoyable experience, you can put some cut citrus fruit or berries in a glass bottle along with your water to give it a subtle flavor.
8. Get off the scale
If we start implementing changes, we want to see results. Quickly. So we get on the scale every day and want to see the numbers drop – but weight loss doesn’t work that way. It has its ups and downs, your body needs to adjust to different types of food, a different water intake, exercise level, and much more.
Weight naturally fluctuates, and it’s not because you ate that one potato more last night. Weighing yourself this often will only drive you crazy, and even take away your motivation. Want to see the number drop every time you step on a scale?
Then get on it only once a month. Or maybe every 2-3 weeks. This will ensure much better results since you don’t have to witness all the little fluctuations and your motivation will always be sky-high.
What’s more, your scale won’t tell you if you lost weight, water, or muscle. But it makes a huge difference in your appearance! If you don’t eat enough calories, you’re more likely to lose weight and muscle – both of which you want to keep. Losing body fat is a slower process, but a lot more desirable and sustainable.
Never weigh yourself daily. You might like to measure your thighs, belly, or highs with a tape and write it down every week or every month. Only get on the scale every 2-3 weeks for a more accurate number.
9. Read the labels
Lastly, you want to make sure you know exactly what you’re putting into your body. Knowledge is power, and just as we’ve shown you what you need to avoid (or eat more of) in order to lose weight easily, you need to put that knowledge into action.
Some products can seem very harmless or even have the words “low fat”, “light”, or “sugar free” written on them – but it’s all marketing most of the time. Make sure you know what all of the ingredients are and that they don’t come from an animal or have unpronounceable names.
As a second step, try to choose the products that have oil or sugar at the very bottom of the ingredient list, if at all. The less ingredients something has, the better it usually is too. On top of that, you can use food labels to find food items higher in vitamins, minerals, or fiber.
Be sure to check out the serving size too because otherwise, the nutritional information can be very misleading. A food label may indicate that a food has 100 calories and only 5 grams of fat, for example. But if you look at the number of servings, it may state three. That means that if you were to eat the entire package, you would be getting three times the amount shown on the food label. In this example, 300 calories and 15 grams of fat.
Although you should aim for eating mostly whole foods that don’t have a label at all, make sure the processed ones you add in don’t have tons of empty calories or weird ingredients. Take responsibility and look out for smarter options.
Considering all of the tips above, it's clear that a plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables brings along many benefits to someone looking to be healthy and get lean while still eating a rather large amount of food.
But there's even more to this if we look closer...
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About the Author
Alena has been eating a plant-based diet for 6 years and is passionate about sharing her learnings in the fields of nutrition, wellbeing, and vegan ethics. She is the co-creator of nutriciously and loves music, reading, nature, traveling, yoga & good food. Alena received training in the fields of nutrition, music therapy, and social work.
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