10 Secrets of Safe, Sustainable Weight Loss

Updated on March 6, 2019
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With a background in life sciences and education, Amanda often writes informative, actionable articles about health and well-being.

The real secret of long-term weight loss is to make healthy changes in diet and lifestyle that you can sustain over a lifetime
The real secret of long-term weight loss is to make healthy changes in diet and lifestyle that you can sustain over a lifetime | Source

A Healthy Lifestyle Is the Key to Long-Term Weight Loss

Healthy weight loss is not about shedding a few pounds over two or three months only to put them back on again when your diet program ends. Sound familiar? Safe, effective weight loss is about making lifestyle changes which support healthy living in the long term. Whatever the latest fad may claim, they are no shortcuts.

There are dozens of dietary and weight loss plans. Some of them work, most of them don't. Those that do follow the only formula which results in weight loss, and that is to burn more calories than you consume1.

It is important for a successful weight management program that the regimen you follow is both safe and sustainable. Here are 10 essential keys to successful, safe, and sustainable weight loss.

1. Get Active

You don't need to go to the gym or buy expensive equipment. You do, however, need to take part in full-body exercise every day. That could be fast walking, running, cycling, or swimming, following an aerobics workout, or engaging in any other activity which increases your heart and breathing rate.

You don't have to do the same exercise every day. It's a good idea to change out the exercises you do every now and again to stop you getting bored. Remember, you are aiming for a long-term lifestyle change which will be sustainable, so make it fun!

A healthy diet alone isn't enough to lose weight safely over the long term. You need to incorporate exercise into an active lifestyle to keep fit and control weight
A healthy diet alone isn't enough to lose weight safely over the long term. You need to incorporate exercise into an active lifestyle to keep fit and control weight | Source

2. Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet

Fasting-based diets are not safe or healthy because they are not sustainable in the long term. Proper nutrition promotes healthy weight loss2. You should eat at least three healthy, balanced meals each day.

The key to weight loss is to practice portion control and to manage the kind of food you eat3. Fast foods and pre-packaged, processed foods are counterproductive to health and weight loss4. You should include proteins, healthy fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals in each meal.

Cut down the amount of red meat and animal fat you consume and increase the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables5. Drink plenty of water and cut out sugary drinks such as alcohol and soda pop.

It's the combination of an active lifestyle and a healthy, balanced diet that enables you to lose, control, and maintain your weight goals
It's the combination of an active lifestyle and a healthy, balanced diet that enables you to lose, control, and maintain your weight goals | Source

3. Don't Skip Breakfast

Several fad diets encourage you to skip breakfast. This is bad advice. Scientific studies show that people who eat a sufficient and healthy breakfast are less likely to snack or experience cravings during the rest of the day6.

Eating a good breakfast is an essential part of any successful and safe weight loss regimen. The key is to make sure your breakfast is low in fat and high in fiber. Wholegrain cereal, wholemeal bread, skimmed milk, fresh fruit, and eggs are all good breakfast options.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you shouldn't skip it. If you've had a good night's sleep, you've already been fasting for between eight and 10 hours when you wake up! You should eat to give you energy to get through the morning
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you shouldn't skip it. If you've had a good night's sleep, you've already been fasting for between eight and 10 hours when you wake up! You should eat to give you energy to get through the morning | Source

4. Reduce Your Caloric Intake

Diets which exclude one or more food groups, such as high-protein, high-fat, or high-carbohydrate eating plans, only work because they reduce your overall caloric intake7. To lose weight, you must reduce the number of calories you consume relative to the number of calories you burn through physical activity. Cutting out one or more foodstuffs is not a healthy or sustainable way of achieving caloric deficit.

You should cut calories but also support nutrition. The keys to successful calorie control are to eat healthy, natural foods and manage your portion sizes8. Together with burning more calories through exercise, this will lead to safe and sustainable weight loss.

5. Eat More Protein and Fats

While you should cut down on the amount of red meat you eat, you still need to consume plenty of protein. Good sources of protein include:

  • pulses
  • beans
  • nuts
  • fish
  • seafood
  • cheese and cheese substitutes such as tofu

Healthy fats are essential to support an efficient metabolism, as metabolic activity is necessary to burn stored fat9. Eggs, nuts, oily fish, and pure vegetable oils, such as olive oil, all contain healthy fats.

Grilled salmon and natural vegetable oils are good sources of healthy proteins and fats
Grilled salmon and natural vegetable oils are good sources of healthy proteins and fats | Source

6. Stop Overeating

Many people eat until they feel "full." Often this means overeating. Having your hunger satisfied is not the same as feeling you can't eat another morsel. Eat smaller portions and don't have second helpings at meal times10.

Most people in the modern west overeat. Control your portions, eat a balanced, healthy diet, and stop eating before you feel "full" if you want to lose weight
Most people in the modern west overeat. Control your portions, eat a balanced, healthy diet, and stop eating before you feel "full" if you want to lose weight | Source

7. Choose Healthy Snacks

If you are hungry between meals, choose a healthy snack. Cut out sugary snacks, and don't eat potato chips, fries, or fast foods. Choose a piece of fresh fruit, a handful of nuts, or a salad instead.

Even when trying to lose weight, if you're hungry, you should eat. The trick is to choose a healthy snack such as fresh fruit or a handful of nuts rather than cake, a candy bar, or chips
Even when trying to lose weight, if you're hungry, you should eat. The trick is to choose a healthy snack such as fresh fruit or a handful of nuts rather than cake, a candy bar, or chips | Source

8. Drink Lots of Water

Not only is water essential for the metabolic processes which break down fat stores into energy, but it also helps you to feel full and decreases the urge to snack11. Aim to drink about eight glasses of water each day. Also, drinking a large glass of water about a half-hour before eating a main meal will fill you up and aid your digestion.

Drinking water before eating helps fill you up and stops you eating too much. Keeping yourself hydrated is important for healthy metabolism which is necessary for effective weight loss
Drinking water before eating helps fill you up and stops you eating too much. Keeping yourself hydrated is important for healthy metabolism which is necessary for effective weight loss | Source

9. Don't Eat at Night

Metabolism slows down in the evening and through the night, so any food you eat after sundown is more likely to be stored as fat12. Sleep is an essential part of healthy living. You should aim to get between seven and 10 hours sleep each day.

Staying up late at night may lead to hunger cravings and unhealthy snacking when your body is least able to metabolize what you consume. Allowing time for your final meal to digest, and then undertaking 20 minutes of light exercise, such as a walk around the garden, park, or block, will reduce food cravings and help you sleep.

Eating is often a social activity, but try not to eat too late at night as your metabolism slows down in the evening and sleeping "on a full stomach" not only disturbs your rest but is more likely to lead to weight gain
Eating is often a social activity, but try not to eat too late at night as your metabolism slows down in the evening and sleeping "on a full stomach" not only disturbs your rest but is more likely to lead to weight gain | Source

10. Be Kind to Yourself and Compensate for Mistakes

Several studies show that a positive outlook, high self-esteem, and the ability to forgive your own mistakes are all helpful in maintaining an effective weight-loss program13,14,15. If you miss your exercise, eat a little too much, or indulge in a sugary treat, don't beat yourself up about it.

Put it down to experience, congratulate yourself for the positive changes you are making, forgive the small error, and recommit to your new, healthy lifestyle. You can compensate for a small lapse by increasing the amount of exercise you do the next day or being especially careful about the food you eat for the rest of the week.

If you miss a day's exercise or eat too much of the wrong food while trying to lose weight, don't waste energy beating yourself up. Just move forward and maybe do a little extra exercise or eat a little less the following day
If you miss a day's exercise or eat too much of the wrong food while trying to lose weight, don't waste energy beating yourself up. Just move forward and maybe do a little extra exercise or eat a little less the following day | Source

Top 10 Healthy Weight Loss Tips

What
Why
How
1. Get Active
It's the combination of a healthy diet and plenty of exercise that leads to long-term weight control
Experts recommend at least 30 minutes exercise daily. You don't have to punish yourself in the gym; a walk around the park, a run, cycle ride, swim, or even vigorous housework all count
2. Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet
Fad diets and starvation diets can be unhealthy and rarely work in the long term. To get in control of your weight you need to make sustainable lifestyle changes. Eating well is more important than eating less
Cut down on red meat and animal fats. Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, and oily fish. Avoid "fast food" and prepackaged meals
3. Eat Breakfast
After a full night's sleep, you'll wake hungry. Eating breakfast gives you the energy to get going and kick-starts your metabolism which means you're less likely to snack and will have the energy needed to burn excess fat for fuel
Eat a healthy, full breakfast of wholemeal bread, eggs, fruit, cereals and water
4. Cut Calories
It's the combination of cutting calories and increasing exercise which leads to weight loss. Once you've achieved a healthy weight, then balancing caloric intake from food and caloric burn from normal metabolism and exercise is the ideal way to sustain a healthy weight
Cutting calories doesn't have to mean eating less. It's more important to change your eating habits from takeout, fried foods, sugary and fatty foods to lean cuts, oily fish, fresh fruit, vegetables, beans and pulses. You don't need complex calorie calculators, either; portion control is a simpler way to manage your caloric intake
5. Eat More Protein and Fats
Proteins are essential for muscle maintenance and tissue repair and fats are your body's best source of energy. The trick is to eat healthy fats
Reduce or cut out red meat, sugary and processed foods, and animal fats from your diet and replace them with oily fish, nuts, beans, and vegetable oils
6. Don't Overeat
If you regularly eat until you feel "full", then you are probably overeating which will lead to weight gain
Rather than stuffing yourself two or three times a day, eat smaller meals more frequently and always stop before you feel completely full
7. Choose Healthy Snacks
When reducing meal sizes and increasing exercise, you may need to snack between meals. That's not a problem so long as you choose a healthy snack
Healthy snacks include a piece of fresh fruit like an apple or orange if you fancy something sweet, or a slice of wholemeal bread with low fat cheese or a handful of nuts as a savory version
8. Drink Plenty of Water
Water slakes your thirst, makes you feel fuller, and supports healthy metabolism which aids fat loss
Experts say you should drink about eight glasses of water a day. But the important thing is to stay hydrated. A good way to check your hydration is to monitor the color of your pee. If it's dark or yellow, you need more water; if it's light yellow or clear, you're fine
9. Don't Eat Too Late
Your metabolism naturally slows down at night, so eating late can mean that the calories are stored as fat rather than burned up
Have your last meal several hours before bed. If you need to have something before you go to sleep, eat a piece of fruit or a sugar-free shake
10. Be Kind to Yourself
Making lifestyle changes takes time as you get used to new behaviors and habits. But one meal never made anyone fat, and one evening infront of the tube instead of at the gym never hurt
While doing your best to stick to your goals, be kind to yourself. Good self-esteem and a positive attitude are as important for good health as anything else. If you slip up, don't give yourself grief. Chalk it up to experience and get back on track as soon as you can
A table showing 10 important ways to support a healthy lifestyle for permanent weight loss and general well-being

Positive Change for the Rest of Your Life

Consuming expensive weight-loss products, paying out for costly gym memberships, and eating so-called "superfoods" are unnecessary for long-term, healthy, safe, and sustainable weight loss.

Just increase your physical activity, eat well, and reduce the number of calories you consume.

You won't lose pounds overnight, but if you commit to a lifestyle change rather than just a few weeks or months on an intensive program, you will see significant weight loss and an increase in energy and overall well-being. What's more, you'll sustain the changes you've made and reap the benefits for the rest of your life.

References

  1. Institute of Medicine (US) Subcommittee on Military Weight Management. Weight Management: State of the Science and Opportunities for Military Programs. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2004. 4, Weight-Loss and Maintenance Strategies.Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221839/
  2. Gardner CD, Trepanowski JF, Del Gobbo LC, et al. Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion The DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2018;319(7):667–679. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.0245
  3. (2014). What is the role of portion control in weight management?. International journal of obesity (2005), 38 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S1-8.
  4. "Certain Foods Linked to Long-Term Weight Gain". National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/certain-foods-linked-long-term-weight-gain
  5. "What’s the beef with red meat?". Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/whats-the-beef-with-red-meat
  6. (2014) Betts et al., J.A. Betts, J.D. Richardson, E.A. Chowdhury, G.D. Holman, K. Tsintzas, D. Thompson. The causal role of breakfast in energy balance and health: a randomized controlled trial in lean adults. Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 100 (2014), pp. 539-547
  7. "Low Carbohydrate Diets". Harvard School of Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/low-carbohydrate-diets/
  8. (2014). What is the role of portion control in weight management?. International journal of obesity (2005), 38 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S1-8.
  9. Sacks, F. M., Bray, G. A., Carey, V. J., Smith, S. R., Ryan, D. H., Anton, S. D., McManus, K., Champagne, C. M., Bishop, L. M., Laranjo, N., Leboff, M. S., Rood, J. C., de Jonge, L., Greenway, F. L., Loria, C. M., Obarzanek, E., … Williamson, D. A. (2009). Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. The New England journal of medicine, 360(9), 859-73.
  10. University of Pennsylvania. (2017, December 5). Binge eating linked to weight-loss challenges. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 7, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171205115949.htm
  11. Daniels, M. C., & Popkin, B. M. (2010). Impact of water intake on energy intake and weight status: a systematic review. Nutrition reviews, 68(9), 505-21.
  12. Kinsey, A. W., & Ormsbee, M. J. (2015). The health impact of nighttime eating: old and new perspectives. Nutrients, 7(4), 2648-62. doi:10.3390/nu7042648
  13. (2008). Role for a sense of self-worth in weight-loss treatments: helping patients develop self-efficacy. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien, 54(4), 543-7.
  14. Daniali, S., Azadbakht, L., & Mostafavi, F. (2013). Relationship between body satisfaction with self esteemand unhealthy body weight management. Journal of education and health promotion, 2, 29. doi:10.4103/2277-9531.115804
  15. Baumeister, R. F., Campbell, J. D., Krueger, J. I., & Vohs, K. D. (2003). Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles? Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4(1), 1–44. https://doi.org/10.1111/1529-1006.01431

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2018 Amanda Littlejohn

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