The obesity epidemic sweeping the developed world has brought the subject of weight loss front and center, with millions of people searching for simple, effective ways to get their weight under control and keep it that way.
We’ve spent long hours sifting through the available data and determined that the following represent the 36 best ways to lose weight.
1. Eat Less
Weight loss is a huge industry. To keep the weight loss gravy train on track, many self-proclaimed experts work hard to sustain the myth that weight loss is complicated or that you need to buy their book to learn the secrets of weight loss. The fact is, losing weight is pretty simple: burn more calories than you consume (1). For nearly all overweight or obese people, that means they need to eat less.
To be sure, there is a lot of room for discussion under the umbrella of “eat less”. For instance, you can’t just randomly eliminate half the food you eat. You need to be sure that the food that’s left isn’t the stuff that’s been causing you to gain weight. That said, eating less should be the starting point from which to launch your weight loss efforts. From there, you can tweak your list of acceptable foods and add things like exercise, as we will see.
2. Embrace Aerobics
Aerobics first became a thing way back in the 1980s. At that time, many people predicted it would quickly fade away, like the pet rock. But a funny thing happened on the road to irrelevance. It was discovered that aerobic exercise is not only good for your heart, it is actually an excellent way to lose weight and keep it off (2). As a result, the “fad” of aerobics is now in its 4th decade and doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
As we mentioned at the outset, the “secret” to weight loss is burning more calories than you consume. Aerobics is a great way to do that. Of course, it won’t work if you leave aerobics class and head for the pizza parlor. But if you can maintain a reasonably low-calorie diet and perform aerobic exercise on a regular basis, you stand a good chance of losing weight and keeping it off.
3. Lift Weights
Lift weight to lose weight. It seems more than a little contradictory, but it’s actually a sound strategy. In the past 20 years, researchers have paid a lot of attention to the issue of weight training. What they’ve discovered is changing the way we look at this practice, which used to be reserved for bodybuilders. Weight training, as it turns out, is an excellent idea for older individuals (3), and it’s also a good way to lose weight (4).
Just half an hour of weight training per week has been shown to burn fat and keep it off, as long as you are consistent and you do compound lifts (squat, deadlift, etc.) rather than just isolation lifts (bicep curls, etc.). So, if you’re at the fitness club and you’re torn between the aerobics class and the weight room, keep in mind that you can’t really lose with either one as long as you are consistent.
4. Adopt the Keto Diet
The keto diet (5) is the original low-carb diet and is based on rock-solid science. It was developed a century ago to help children with epilepsy, but in the decades after World War II it fell out of favor when new anti-seizure drugs were developed. The concept of the diet is simple: eliminate all but 30-50 grams of carbs per day. In practice, however, that’s easier said than done. (Keto shakes can often help in this regard.)
Carbs are your body’s default power source. When denied carbs, your body switches to its backup plan: burning fat for fuel. To do this, it enters a state known as “ketosis” (hence, the “keto” diet). The end result is that you burn through fat and lose weight. Potentially, lots of weight. The only caveat is that if you exceed the strict carb limit, you’ll be bounced out of ketosis and have to start again, and that is pretty common because most everyone’s favorite foods are carb-heavy.
5. Boost Your Metabolism
Several of our suggested methods for losing weight share a common characteristic: they each have the effect of boosting your metabolism. Your metabolism (6) is the rate at which your body turns the food you eat into energy. People with fast metabolisms tend to be naturally slim. People with slow metabolisms often struggle with weight issues.
Boosting metabolism is another of the core principles of effective weight loss. Aerobic exercise, weight lifting, running, and bike riding will all enhance your metabolism to varying degrees. The bottom line is that the faster your body burns off the food you’ve eaten, the less of that food will be stored away as fat.
6. Keep a Food Log
Do you know why heavy drinkers don’t write down everything they drink? Because if they did, they’d have black and white evidence staring them in the face that they drink too much. If, like a lot of people, you are in a bit of denial about how much you eat, keeping a food log will likely bring things into focus for you and enable you to face the facts and take positive action.
If you’re not into recording everything long-hand with pen and paper, there are numerous fitness apps out there that have a food log component built into them. Many of these will even calculate the calories for you, which will bring things into even clearer focus. Food logs tend to work their guilt-driven magic whether you use them or not because if you’re consciously avoiding writing things down, somewhere inside your brain you’re aware that’s not a good sign.
7. Stop Eating Sugar
When you consume more than about 20 grams of sugar per day (which most Americans do), that excess sugar is stored away as fat through a process known as “lipogenesis” (7). If you want to lose weight then, a good place to start is by cutting back on sugary drinks and desserts and by not putting sugar in your coffee.
Excess sugar intake not only causes people to put on weight, but it’s also a major contributing factor to the development of insulin resistance and, ultimately, type 2 diabetes. If it helps, you might try switching to drinks sweetened with aspartame because there is zero, that’s z-e-r-o, scientific evidence that aspartame causes any health problems, short or long-term, for the average person (8).
8. Maintain A Consistent Workout Routine
As we’ve seen, lifting weights is a good way to burn off fat, raise your metabolism and lose weight. However, lifting weights sporadically won’t get you anywhere. You need to be consistent with it. That means lifting once, then waiting 10 days to lift again, then waiting a couple of weeks to lift again will not get the job done. You will need to lift at least 2 or 3 times per week on a regular schedule to enjoy the benefits.
In addition, it’s important that you practice proper form when lifting. This will produce three important benefits. First, it will ensure maximum muscle activation so that you can burn as much energy as possible. Second, it will ensure optimal muscle growth and metabolic increases. Third, it will prevent you from injuring yourself.
9. Ride a Bike
The bicycle is arguably man’s greatest invention (9), and yet it has fallen victim to the convenience of the car (which, when you’re sitting in traffic for an hour, isn’t really all that convenient). A big reason we’ve become a spare-tire society is that we spend so much time sitting in our automobiles doing nothing. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Instead of paying for gas, paying for parking, paying tolls, and exploding your waistline by using the car, ride a bike to work and reap the weight loss (10) and other health benefits. Those other benefits include a healthier heart, greater overall strength, lower risk of developing diabetes, arriving at work with oxygen in your brain ready to tackle any problems, better mood, better sleep, and more.
10. Regulate Portions
Often times, it’s not what we eat that gets us into trouble, but how much we eat. For instance, people tend to lose track of how much they’re eating when they eat from a bag or a box (think potato chips or pizza). A better approach to eating if you want to lose weight is to impose portion control on your food. That means using plates.
Ideally, if you want to lose weight, the contents of your plate should be divided thus: 1/2 veggies, 1/4 lean meat, and 1/4 starch. Also, you would not go back for seconds. Instilling some discipline on the amount you eat is related to our first point: If you want to lose weight, you need to eat less. You also need to be smart about it and not just keep the food that tastes best.
Earlier, we talked about aerobics and bike riding. But if a health club aerobics class doesn’t appeal to you, or riding a bike isn’t your style, pick up some running shoes and hit the pavement. Running provides a range of health benefits, both long and short-term (11), including helping people lose weight and keep the weight off. Running activates a whole host of muscles, making it a much more effective means of burning calories than walking (12) or many other types of exercise.
Running also tends to suppress the release of the hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin plays an important role in regulating appetite. Therefore, ghrelin suppression is cited as one of the primary goals of many a weight loss strategy. If you can control your cravings, you stand a better chance of losing weight. Research indicates that running is a natural way to keep ghrelin production in check (13).
12. Eat More Protein
Protein is necessary in order to build muscle. So if you are going to embrace resistance training as part of your weight loss efforts, you’ll want to eat plenty of protein to optimize the results. Protein, however, does more than just build bigger muscles. Even if you’re not lifting to increase muscle mass, eating more protein will help you retain the muscles you do have as you lose weight (14).
That’s not all. Increasing the amount of protein you eat may also fend off high blood pressure, increase metabolism, enhance your energy levels, and, perhaps most importantly, reduce your appetite (15). Lean meat is also significantly lower in calories than equal amounts of carbohydrates, which will help you lose weight and keep it off.
13. Don’t Drink So Much Beer
Most people who drink beer regularly drink it on top of their normal diet. So, if a 30-year-old guy is getting the 2,500 or so calories he needs every day from his food, and then he has 3 or 4 beers on top of that, he’s just overshot his caloric needs by about 600 calories. Do that on a regular basis for a few years, and you’ll be the proud owner of a beer belly.
Remember, too, that when people have a few brewskis in them, they tend to make less than stellar dietary choices, which only exacerbates the situation. The bottom line is that if you are a beer drinker and you are serious about losing weight, something will have to give, and it can’t be veggies and lean meat. As hard as it might be, you will have to revisit your relationship with beer.
14. Do Drink More Water
If you research the topic of weight loss, you will find many people – experts and non-experts – talking up the benefits of drinking water. The idea seems to be to drink water when you feel hungry or to drink it right before you eat. In either case, the result is that you get a feeling of satiety and don’t want to eat as much. You also no longer have enough room in your stomach to pack in calorie-rich foods.
Does it work? That depends on who you ask. Many people swear by it, but scientific studies are lacking on the subject, and the few that have attempted to address it have yielded mixed results (16). That’s mixed results, not just negative results. That means some experts believe it can be helpful. The best advice, in this case, seems to be to try it. It’s water, so you have nothing to lose, except possibly some weight.
15. Stop Eating Junk Food
This one should go without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway because processed food is even more insidious than most people think. Obviously, junk food is loaded with fat and carbs that, in many cases, wind up around a person’s waist, but there is more to the story. One of the reasons those burgers, fries, fried chicken, and other fast foods end up as fat stores is because your body doesn’t process them in the same way it processes veggies and lean meat.
A study published in 2010 indicated that the human body only uses about half as much energy (i.e., calories) digesting processed food as it does to digest fresh fruit, veggies, and lean meat (17). The implication is clear: not only is fast food loaded with calories, but more fast food calories wind up unused and stored as fat.
16. Ditch Low Fat Foods
If you are trying to lose weight, avoiding low-fat food doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. But it’s actually a good idea based on a simple fact: low-fat food is often loaded with sugar to make it taste better. That is not just some urban myth. A systematic comparison study published in 2016 found that low-fat and non-fat foods were indeed higher in sugar than their regular counterparts (18).
More sugar is bad news if you’re trying to lose weight because, as we mentioned above, anything more than about 20 grams of sugar per day is likely to wind up as fat and undermine your weight loss efforts. Rather than buying processed foods labeled “low-fat” a better idea is to buy fresh vegetables and lean meats as they are naturally low in both fat and sugar.
17. Get Enough Sleep
If you want to lose weight, make sure you get plenty of sleep every night. Why? Because tired people are hungry people. Researchers have discovered that if people don’t get enough sleep, they are more likely to crave carb and calorie-heavy foods rather than healthy foods (19). Not only that, but their ability to restrain themselves is also compromised, meaning they often overeat.
As such, if you want to lose weight, you will make sure you get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep every night. There is another reason to make sure you get enough sleep. Scientists have found a conclusive link between sleep deprivation and low levels of leptin in the blood (20). That’s important because the hormone leptin helps regulate appetite.
18. Weigh Yourself Regularly
Stepping on the bathroom scale every couple of days won’t burn excess calories or make you feel full. What it will do is draw your attention to even minimal weight gain and enable you to tweak what you’re doing before things get out of hand. By comparison, if you weigh yourself every 2 or 4 weeks, you could put on quite a bit of weight before you realize it. That could be emotionally deflating and make you feel like your efforts are in vain.
The key to getting the most accurate readings possible is to weigh yourself at the same time, under the same circumstances every time. So if you weighed yourself the first time an hour prior to lunch, after having a bowel movement, and without any clothes, then weigh yourself under the same conditions every subsequent time.
19. Know What You’re Eating
It’s hard enough to lose weight. It’s even harder if you don’t know what you’re putting in your stomach. This is a potentially big issue for people who eat a lot of packaged or processed food. Even foods that say “natural” on the label may have hidden carbs in the form of sugar. That means you should read the label of anything you think you might put in your stomach.
Packaged and processed food is also often high in sodium. Besides raising your risk of high blood pressure and stroke, excessive sodium intake has been shown to promote overeating and the weight gain that comes with it (21). The preferred course of action is to always eat fresh food. But if you must eat packaged food, do your weight loss efforts a favor and read the label first.
20. Get Off the Diet Carousel
Weight loss can sometimes seem like an impossible dream. Frustration at not achieving the desired result fast enough often causes people to hop from one fad diet to another, searching for the weight loss secret. This is not only bound to end in disappointment, but it’s also really bad for your health (22).
Instead of embracing the ideas of the next diet guru you see on daytime TV, keep things simple by remembering the basic rule of weight loss: burn more calories than you consume. This single rule can be the basis for a workable, sustainable, successful weight loss program that includes healthy foods and exercise. The habits you develop with this approach will also increase your chances of keeping the weight off after you reach your target.
21. Eliminate Stress
Stress doesn’t have a form or shape. You can’t taste it or smell it. A full list of potential causes of stress would be too long to include here, but they run the gamut from relationships to work to political events, health scares, and more. Stress may be invisible, but you can feel its effects on your body and mind, including weight gain (23).
People gain weight under stress because they seek comfort in food (24). Typically the worst kind of carb-heavy, calorie-heavy food to boot. If you want to lose weight, you would do well to identify the sources of stress in your life and do your best to alleviate them. Easier said than done? Probably. But even modest stress reductions will help.
22. Eat Lots of Fiber
If there is a secret weapon when it comes to weight loss, it might be fiber. Fiber plays a couple of useful roles when it comes to helping you lose weight. It takes up precious space in your stomach, sending your brain the signal that you’re full. This, in turn, shuts off your appetite and lets you walk away from the table satisfied.
By preventing overeating, fiber helps regulate blood sugar levels, which also helps to neutralize food cravings. Fiber also makes sure your digestive tract is clean and clear, which helps you get more from the reduced amount of food you are eating, and it helps reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels (25). So make fiber part of your overall weight loss plan.
If you are doing a good job sticking to your weight loss routine, but you’re bothered by the feeling that you’re depriving yourself of life, work in a cheat day once a week. If you think this sounds crazy, good. It means you’re serious about your weight loss. Rest assured, however, that cheat days can be made to work, and they can make the difference between failure and success.
Take one Dwayne Johnson, for instance. Commonly known as “The Rock”, Johnson is 6′ 5″ tall and packs 260 pounds of muscle onto his frame. His dedication to healthy eating and working out means you will have a tough time finding any excess fat on him. Yet his once-a-week cheat days are legendary. A typical cheat meal for The Rock? A dozen pancakes smothered in ice cream and syrup, followed by 4 pizzas. You don’t have to go that far (not that you could), but the point is to allow yourself to indulge once a week, then get back on the ball.
24. Walk and Take the Stairs
The obesity epidemic is inextricably linked to two other phenomena: the rise of fast food and the rise of the computer. Fast food is loaded with everything you need to build a set of love handles, but nothing you need to achieve or maintain good health. And sitting at a computer all day just speeds up weight gain. If you want to lose weight, you have to get off your butt and get moving.
If you’re going up 1 or 2 floors, take the stairs. Instead of sitting around at lunchtime, go out and take a vigorous walk. If you drive to the mall, park as far away from the entrance as you can. Once you get in the mall, take the stairs between floors instead of the escalator. Take the stairs at the subway station instead of the escalator and stand on the subway train. It all helps.
25. Brush Your Teeth Often
This might seem like a strange suggestion, but some people swear that they are less likely to eat soon after brushing their teeth. The idea seems to be that if you’ve just brushed, you’ll think twice before having a snack because you don’t want to mess up your nice clean teeth. The funny thing is, there might be something to this idea.
Researchers in Japan conducted a large-scale study where they discovered that men who brushed their teeth several times a day were leaner than other men, and they stayed that way while other men put on weight. It’s believed that, besides wanting to keep their clean teeth clean, the minty flavor of the toothpaste may discourage snacking.
26. Don’t Put Snacks on a Card
If you don’t have the cash to pay for snacks (or junk food, or sugary drinks, or beer), then don’t buy them. A lot of people run into convenience stores to pick up candy bars, soda, chips, and more and pull out the plastic to pay for them. This is a habit you should kick to the curb. If you don’t have enough green in your wallet to pay for your indulgences, don’t indulge.
Leading off the list of snacks you should never pay for with a card are potato chips. These greasy, salty, delicious indulgences are among the worst offenders when it comes to packing on pounds. So if you are intent on losing weight, they should be one of the first things you drop, no matter how you’re paying for them.
27. Skip Dessert
If you’re looking for an easy way to jump start your weight loss efforts, look no further than that piece of cheesecake with the blueberry sauce and whipped cream staring you in the face. Many people would emerge relatively unscathed from the dinner table or the restaurant if they could simply say “no thanks” to dessert.
That modest-sized piece of cheesecake has almost 500 calories, more depending on how much sauce and whipped cream you pile on top. Remove dessert from your dinner time ritual and you’re potentially saving a whole day’s worth of extra calories every week. That kind of calorie load tends to add up quickly around the waist. Eliminate it, and you have a good starting point for weight loss.
28. Ditch the Salad Dressing
Here is another simple way to jump start your weight loss efforts. Just a few tablespoons worth of French dressing is around 200 calories. So, imagine you went to dinner and had what you thought was a pretty healthy meal. No fried food. No mountains of pasta. But you put a normal amount of French dressing on your salad and had a piece of blueberry cheesecake for dessert. You just blew up your healthy dinner with an extra 700 calories.
Starting down the road to weight loss doesn’t have to mean starving yourself. In a lot of cases, it just means making a few common sense changes, like using vinaigrette on your salad and skipping dessert. Just make sure you don’t skip dessert at the table and then eat a pint of ice cream before you go to bed.
29. Chew Your Food Thoroughly
When your mom told you to chew your food, she knew what she was talking about. Chewing properly has a number of benefits. First, you’ll enjoy your food more if you stop and savor it instead of inhaling it. Second, by chewing your food better, you’ll help ensure more thorough digestion. That’s important for dieters who aren’t eating as much.
But there is a more fundamental reason why you should take your time and chew more thoroughly if you want to lose weight. A study out of Japan demonstrated that people who eat quickly gain weight more quickly than people who take their time at the table (26). The results were the same for men and women. So take your time eating as part of your weight loss program.
30. Cook at Home More Often
Restaurants want to make a good impression on your taste buds, and most of them pull out all the stops to do that. They know that, even if their decor isn’t great, if your mouth is happy you’re likely to come back. So they pile on the heavy sauces, sugar, thickeners, salt, and anything else that will endear them to your tongue.
If you want to lose weight, you would do well to cook at home more often. (Just make sure you don’t emulate the practices of your favorite restaurant.) On top of eating better and losing weight, you’ll save money too. Money you can use on things like new clothes to complement your new, slender profile.
31. Eat Yogurt Instead of Ice Cream
Earlier, we touched on the subject of dessert and how avoiding it can help jump start your weight loss efforts. However, if you are one of those who feel that dessert makes life worth living, there is an alternative to denying yourself the final course: creative substitution. For instance, instead of having a bowl of ice cream after dinner, try frozen yogurt.
On average, there are more than 300 calories and 15 grams of fat in two scoops of ice cream. Sometimes a lot more. By comparison, an equivalent serving of frozen yogurt has just over 200 calories and only 6 grams of fat. While that might not seem like much of a difference, it adds up over weeks and months. Keep in mind you can always eat a smaller portion, too.
32. Use Smaller Plates
This method of fooling the mind into thinking you’re eating more than you are has been used for many years by people trying to lose weight. Does it work? Countless people say that it does, and it is a tactic that is employed every day by dieters all over the world. Science, on the other hand, is skeptical (27).
The idea is that you take a smaller plate and then fill it proportionally to the same degree you would fill a larger plate. In short, you scale it down. Because the plate is smaller, you’re actually eating less, and if all goes well, it helps you lose weight. Will it work for you? A common sense approach would be to give it a try and see for yourself.
33. Avoid All-You-Can-Eat Buffets
Everybody loves a good all-you-can-eat buffet. They’re an almost perfect expression of abundance: pay one low price, eat until it’s coming out your ears. What could be better? While, in theory, there’s nothing wrong with abundance, the all-you-can-eat buffet is responsible for almost as many bloated waistlines as the fast food industry.
If you are a fan of the buffet, but you’re also intent on losing weight, this is one sacrifice you will likely need to make. Buffets are temptation incarnate for a person attempting to adhere to rule #1 of dieting: eat less. If you don’t want to sacrifice the socializing that comes with hitting the buffet with your friends, skip the buffet and order something off the menu instead.
34. Use a Probiotic Supplement
The gut microbiome plays a vital role in overall health (28). That microbiome is populated by bacteria that break down food and extract nutrients. Years of poor eating habits can wreak havoc on these microbial colonies and reduce digestive efficiency. However, if you are trying to lose weight, it will be important to have a healthy gut so you can get the most out of the food you eat. Probiotics are how you do that.
”Probiotics” is another name for the trillions of bacteria that comprise the gut microbiome. Probiotic supplements are a proven way to restore health to these vital microbial colonies (29). They’re affordable, safe, easy to take, and should be part of your weight loss arsenal.
35. Gastric Band Surgery
Should all else fail and a person’s weight reach dangerous levels, surgical intervention may be required. To be sure, surgery should always be a last resort, but it may be the only way to produce the desired outcome for some people.
One of the most common forms of weight loss surgery is gastric band surgery (30). During this procedure, a small band is placed around the upper part of the stomach creating a pouch. This small pouch fills quickly. As a result, you feel full after eating only a small amount, and you lose weight.
36. Other Types of Surgical Intervention
Other common types of weight loss surgery include the intragastric balloon, gastric bypass, and gastric sleeve. The intragastric balloon (31) is just that, a balloon. This is inserted into the stomach and inflated. As a result, you have less room for food and feel full after eating small amounts.
With a gastric bypass (32), a small part of the upper stomach is separated from the rest of the stomach, and a piece of intestine is surgically attached to the new smaller portion creating a bypass. With gastric sleeve surgery (33), about 2/3 of the stomach is removed, creating a much smaller stomach that fills up quickly. Gastric bands, intragastric balloons, and gastric bypasses can all be undone. Gastric sleeve surgery cannot.