If you’re looking to lose a few pounds, working out alone isn’t going to cut it. You’ve got to change your diet too, and no, that doesn’t mean jumping on whatever weight loss diet is trending at the moment. Rather, these classic, science-based strategies are what you need. Paleo-this and gluten-free-that may sound intriguing, but the boring truth is that non-fad diets work better in the long run because they require less drastic altering of your usual routine. Which means you’re more likely to stick with them over time. Here’s how to get started.
Diet Strategy #1: Go Square
Despite some plans out there that advocate increasing the frequency of your meals and decreasing their size, you’ll likely have greater success with a traditional approach to your dining, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, author of The Superfood Swap and nutritionist to the Chicago Cubs. “You should absolutely shoot for three meals a day without snacking — or one or two snacks only if you’re really hungry,” she says. “The more opportunities you give yourself to eat, the more likely you are to overdo it.”
Diet Strategy #2: Think Month, Not Week
In a society built around instant gratification, one of the toughest parts about losing weight is how long it all seems to take.
“The average American male is 5’9” and weighs 195.5 pounds,” says Blatner. “To maintain that weight, he’s eating about 2,500 calories a day. To lose one to two pounds per week, he needs about 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day.”
Why don’t you shoot for something more exciting, like five pounds a week? Because you’ll be lowering your calorie intake to the unsustainable level of about 1,200, and that weight will come barreling back the minute you resume a normal eating plan.
Instead of obsessing over how fast you can drop 10 pounds, “record progress,” Blatner suggests. “Whether that’s the scale, food logs, a certain pair of pants or belt that gets looser, have some way to gauge success. When you see results, it motivates you to keep going.”
Diet Strategy #3: Put Calories First
With all the exclusion diets out there (Raw food only! No carbs! Dairy-free!), it’s easy to lose sight of what actually causes weight loss: taking in fewer calories than you expend. “Calories are king,” says Blatner. “They are the first thing guys should pay attention to in order to lose weight.”
On the other hand, she adds, in the long term the type of calories you eat do play a role. For instance, protein burns a few more calories during digestion than carbs do, meaning you’ll get a little “metabolic extra credit” by easing off the carbs, particularly refined carbs such as white bread, white rice, white pasta, white sugar. “Get your carbs from whole fruit, veggies, dairy, and beans for more nutrients,” says Blatner. “In the long run, these foods will fill you up more so you aren’t as hungry.”
Diet Strategy #4: Eat Your Greens
Yeah, we know it’s boring. So is brushing your teeth and taking a shower, but since you manage both of those tasks just fine (you do, don’t you?), we’ll assume you can also learn to fill half your dinner plate with vegetables before you starting piling on the meat. “That really is the key to being healthier and not being hungry,” says Blatner. “Every bite of a vegetable contains four times fewer calories than any other food you could be eating.” Plus, because they contain fiber and have a high water content, they make you feel fuller.
Diet Strategy #5: Less Food, Not More Exercise
You know all those magazine cover lines about burning off the pounds with whatever hot new fitness routine? Nah. Ain’t gonna happen. Exercise can’t undo a bad diet, says Blatner. “I hear so many male clients say it doesn’t matter what they eat, they just have to work harder at the gym and everything will be OK. Not true,” she maintains. “Food is 80% of weight loss. You have to look at what you’re eating if you want to see results.”
Diet Strategy #6: Think Superswaps
Like many men, you may favor the all-in approach to beating the scale into submission. But that all-or-nothing mentality is going to turn around and bite you where it hurts.
“Crash dieting is not something just women do,” says Blatner. “Men are actually the biggest culprits here. They give up everything they love and are surprised when the changes don’t stick.”
Instead, make a list of your top five guilty-pleasure foods — whether that’s wings, burgers, pizza, or fries —and search online for healthy alternative recipes. For instance, if your love your NFL Sunday wings, eat grilled skinless drumsticks dipped in hot sauce with celery and carrots drizzled lightly with ranch dressing. “These ‘superswaps’ let you eat what you crave, but with better-for-you ingredients,” Blatner says.
Diet Strategy #7: Timing Matters
The easiest way to manage hunger is to spread your meals out evenly during the day. That doesn’t mean scarfing down a midnight snack to balance out a noontime lunch. “I teach clients 12-on, 12-off, meaning let your body rest without eating for 12 hours, and then spread three meals through the other 12 hours,” says Blatner. “So if you stop eating at 8pm, breakfast should be at 8am, followed by a 1-2pm lunch, and 7-8pm dinner.”
You might not feel like a big breakfast, but eating something — even a cereal bar — can stave off midday hunger pangs that lead to the pizza lunch. Also, it’s also helpful to stop eating about two hours before you hit the sack, since digesting food during sleep can cause you to wake during the night.
Diet Strategy #8: Mix It Up
Protein-heavy diets come in and out of vogue. What really matters, though, is that not all your protein comes from the same source since each offers slightly different nutritional values. “Rotate between chicken, turkey, fish, lean pork, lean beef, and beans or lentils,” says Blatner.
“Don’t assume chicken, turkey, and fish are always lowest in calories — the cut makes a big difference.” For example, a turkey burger made with fatty turkey parts may end up being more calories than a lean beef burger.
The bottom line? Shoot for 1,800 to 2,000 calories through three meals a day; fill half your plate with vegetables; eat at regular intervals; and think moderation, not extreme. Given yourself a month, and get ready to go shopping for smaller pants.
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