Intermittent fasting has blown up in the past year, but scientists are just starting to figure out how it can help you lose weight. In one study from the University of Illinois at Chicago, researchers compared obese people in a traditional weight loss group and fasting group. For the experiment, the calorie-restricted group simply reduced the amount of calories they ate by 25 percent each day. The fasting group, however, alternated days: they ate 25 percent of the calories they needed one day between 12 and 2 p.m., and then had feast days the next, where they ate 125 percent of their required calories.
Insulin (in-suh-lin): A hormone made by the cells in your pancreas. Insulin helps your body store the glucose (sugar) from your meals. If you have diabetes and your pancreas is unable to make enough of this hormone, you may be prescribed medicines to help your liver make more or make your muscles more sensitive to the available insulin. If these medicines are not enough, you may be prescribed insulin shots.
Although sitting down to eat is the most common way to enjoy your food, research shows that people who stand while eating consume 30 percent more during their next meal than those who take a seat. How so? Scientists think that if we stand while eating, we don’t consider it a real meal and therefore resort to eating more later in the day. So if you ate a 450 calorie breakfast on your feet, you could potentially reduce that morning meal to just 360 by taking a seat. That translates to 9 pounds lost over the course of a year.
First, the bad news: Three-quarters of Americans have a "fat gene" associated with a 20 to 30 percent higher risk for obesity. But that doesn't mean you're destined to be heavy. A recent British review found that exercise can trump your genetics. Physically active people with the fat gene are 27 percent less likely to become obese than couch potatoes who have it. We're not talking about training for a triathlon; the active people got just one hour or more of moderate-to-vigorous exercise a week. Aim for the recommended five hours a week (three days of cardio and two days of strength training) and you'll rev your weight-loss results even more.
Eat like a king for breakfast, a prince at lunch, and a pauper for dinner. Ever hear the phrase? It has some truth behind it. Eat early on to jump-start your metabolism and give you enough energy to last comfortably until lunch, and then for dinner begin to wind down and eat the smallest meal of the day. Here are some examples of meals you could cook for yourself during the day, with one snack in between:
“Anytime you’re stressed, you probably go for food,” Dr. Seltzer says. (Have we met?!) That’s because cortisol, the stress hormone, stokes your appetite for sugary, fatty foods. No wonder it’s associated with higher body weight, according to a 2007 Obesity study that quantified chronic stress exposure by looking at cortisol concentrations in more than 2,000 adults’ hair.
You can eat twice as much pasta salad loaded with veggies like broccoli, carrots, and tomatoes for the same calories as a pasta salad sporting just mayonnaise. Same goes for stir-fries, omelets, and other veggie-friendly dishes. If you eat a 1:1 ratio of grains to veggies, the high-fiber veggies will help satisfy your hunger before you overeat the grains.
The problem is that when you rely on exercise alone, it often backfires, for a couple of reasons. This is partly because of exercise’s effects on the hunger and appetite hormones, which make you feel noticeably hungrier after exercise. “If you walk briskly for an hour and burn 400 kcal,” says Klein, “and then have a beer and a slice of pizza afterwards because the exercise made you feel hungry…you will eat more calories than you have burned.” It may not always be beer and pizza, but people do tend to naturally compensate for the calories they expend.
If you drink regular, go to 2%. If you already drink 2%, go down another notch to 1% or skim milk. Each step downward cuts the calories by about 20 percent. Once you train your taste buds to enjoy skim milk, you’ll have cut the calories in the whole milk by about half and trimmed the fat by more than 95 percent. One disclaimer: There are times when fat-free dairy isn’t the best option.
A commonly overlooked obstacle to eating better (and losing weight) is sleep. While sleep needs vary, according to the National Sleep Foundation, adults require seven to nine hours a night. Unfortunately, two-thirds of people report experiencing sleep problems at least a few nights a week, with women more prone to sleep problems than men. A review study that looked at 36 studies on sleep and weight gain found short sleep duration was independently linked to weight gain. Studies show the fewer minutes you spend asleep, the more likely you are to feel hungrier and make poor food choices the next day. Make sure you’re getting enough Zzzzs to reap the rewards of your weight loss efforts.
Fearing all fat is a thing of the past. Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) actually help you lose weight, not gain it. When researchers asked women to switch to a 1,600-calorie diet high in MUFAs, they lost a third of their belly fat in just 4 weeks. Sprinkle a handful of nuts on your salad, drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over steamed veggies, or mash a quarter of an avocado onto your breakfast toast.
The study authors believe that sleep deprivation can cause your body to produce extra hunger hormones (like ghrelin) and fewer satiety hormones (like leptin). This means you’ll feel hungrier and have a harder time controlling your cravings once they hit. Most adults should aim for at least 7 to 9 hours of shuteye per night, per the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations.
“A study by David Jenkins, MD, PhD—the University of Toronto pioneer in low-glycemic eating — demonstrates that eating small portions at frequent intervals is good for your health in a number of remarkable ways. Within the study, they found that people who ate every three hours reduced their blood cholesterol by over 15% and their blood insulin by almost 28%. That’s key, because in addition to regulating your blood sugar level, insulin plays a pivotal role in fat metabolism, inflammation and the progression to metabolic syndrome. When your body produces less insulin, you’re much less likely to convert dietary calories into body fat.
In a way, moderate-intensity physical activity is that "magic pill" a lot of people are looking for, because the health benefits go beyond keeping your waistline trim: Not only can it reduce your risk of cancer, stroke, diabetes and heart attacks, but studies have shown that physical activity can significantly improve the moods of patients with major depressive disorders.
While many people turn to artificial sweeteners in a misguided attempt to whittle their waistlines, those fake sugars are likely to have the opposite effect. According to researchers at Yale, artificial sweeteners are actually linked with an increased risk of abdominal obesity and weight gain, possibly because they can trigger cravings for the real stuff and spike insulin levels in a similar fashion to real sugar.