How to (Safely) Lose Weight by Changing Your Meal Plan

Health Professional, Medical Reviewer

Losing weight is one of the most difficult things to do because it requires discipline and consistency. Here are some simple tips that you can incorporate into your daily meal plan that can help you lose weight in a healthy manner and keep it off for good.

A Balancing Act

To lose a pound of stored body fat, you must cut out or burn 3,500 calories. A deficit of 500 calories each day will help you lose 1 pound of body fat each week. So you must either eat 500 calories less per day, burn 500 calories through exercise, or a combination of both each day to lose a pound in a week. While some fad diets promote large weight losses of five or more pounds each week, this simple formula is a way to ensure that you lose stored body fat and not water or lean muscle mass through extreme dieting or restriction.

Increase Your Water Intake

Drinking adequate water not only helps make you feel more full and eat less calories overall, it helps to regulate your metabolism so you can burn calories more efficiently at rest. When your body is dehydrated, your metabolism is more sluggish, making it more difficult to lose weight. A good rule of thumb is to drink at least half of your body weight in fluid ounces each day, and even more if you are exercising or outside in the heat.

Limit Added Fat and Empty Calories

Protein and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, while fat contains 9 and alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, respectively. Limiting your intake of alcohol calories and added fat to foods can dramatically decrease your caloric intake. When preparing foods at home or ordering foods in a restaurant, make sure to limit added oils, salad dressings, butter, and other added fats to decrease the overall calories of meal.

Limit Refined Starches and Carbohydrates

While carbohydrates contain only 4 calories per gram, simple sugars are quickly and easily digested, leaving you feeling hungry just a short time later. Make sure most of your carbohydrates come from high-fiber foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grain bread, rice, pasta, and cereals. Look on the Nutrition Facts label to find products that are low in sugar and high in fiber. Fiber is not easily digested so it keeps you feeling fuller for longer, thereby decreasing your overall caloric intake at each meal.

Fill Up on Lean Protein

Lean meat, fish, poultry, low-fat dairy products, eggs, and fresh vegetables contain protein that is lower in calories than fat and will fill you up because it takes your body longer to digest than carbohydrates. Make sure to have some lean protein at each meal and snack to ensure that you stay full for a few hours after your meal.

Don’t Skip Meals

While skipping meals may seem like a great way to decrease calories, it slows your body’s metabolism and often makes you overeat at your next meal, thereby increasing your calorie intake over the course of the day. Stay prepared with snacks in your bag, car, and at the office to ensure you don’t skip meals when you’re busy. This way you’ll be less likely to grab an unhealthy snack from the vending machine or hit the drive-thru for fast food.

Self-Monitor Every Day

I can’t stress enough the importance of daily self-monitoring through food logs, smartphone tracking of your diet and exercise, and/or daily weighing. Research shows that the accountability of tracking your food intake will help you stay on track with your meal plan and eat less calories overall.

Exercise Often

Simple bouts of exercise throughout the day such as short walks, taking the stairs, and being less sedentary burns calories throughout the day and helps your body’s metabolism burn calories more efficiently. If you don’t have time for formal exercise, find ways to fit in short bits of walking throughout the day to help your body burn more calories. Exercise will also make you less hungry. A combination of cardiovascular exercise and strength training will help to burn calories and boost your metabolism.

The Bottom Line

While fad diets may produce rapid weight loss in the short term, weight regain is almost guaranteed. These simple tips can help you improve the quality of your diet, lose weight, and maintain it.

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