Dangerous crash diets may lead to short-term weight loss, but dropping extra pounds for the long haul can be trickier.
Attaining a new shape does mean adhering to some old advice small, steady changes in eating and exercise habits are still the best predictors of lasting weight loss, experts say. But that doesn't mean dieting needs to be boring.
A few smart tricks incorporated into a healthier lifestyle can help. Here are some fresh tactics for shaving pounds, including a few that put a new spin on the tried-and-true.
When the ingredient list on packaged food includes numbers, put it down. Ingredients that include numbers as part of their names usually identify an item as a "convenience food" that's full of fat and preservatives, said Dr. Carson Liu, a Los Angeles-based bariatric surgeon.
"If you're trying to lose weight, it's very, very difficult to do so with processed foods," Liu said, because they have so many carbs, sugars and hidden ingredients."
For the same reason, Liu recommends shutting the door on meal deliveries, whether they're a month's worth of diet food hyped on TV or a triple cheeseburger from a greasy spoon.
"It's an unsustainable and extremely costly habit," he said.
"Eating just a salad for lunch is probably the worst meal for weight management," said Manuel Villacorta, a San Francisco-based dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "Have the salad, but have a sandwich with it, or a bowl of bean soup."
As low-calorie as all those salad veggies are, without carbohydrates, they do nothing to knock down levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, which tells the brain when to eat. Villacorta recommended carb-containing foods such as fruits, grains, pasta and bread.
"If you're not eating enough, you're not lowering your ghrelin amounts, and you'll eat more later," Villacorta said.
Those who sleep less than five hours a night have a 73 percent chance of becoming obese. By getting between five and six hours, those odds plummet to 27 percent, Villacorta said.
"Sleep is a big deal," Villacorta said, "because ghrelin increases when you sleep less. If you're lacking sleep because you're going to the gym instead, I'd rather you go less to the gym. Sleep your seven hours."
No, not that way (though having sex can burn 85 calories or more).
The best time for an aerobic workout is before breakfast, said Dr. Kathleen Hickey, a bariatric physician in private practice in Hillsborough, N.J.
"This is when your insulin level should be its lowest, and therefore the energy for the workout has to come from fat," Hickey said. "Whenever insulin levels are elevated which is nearly most of the rest of the day given how frequently Americans eat fat stores are protected and cannot be used for energy."
Exercising for more than 45 minutes or so may stimulate the production of cortisol, a stress hormone, which can lead in turn to fat production, said Dr. Marc Tinsley, a health, fitness, safety and wellness consultant in Monroeville, Pa.
By splitting one 60-minute workout into two 30-minute sessions, you'll "turn your body into a fat-burning machine," Tinsley said.
The effects of being sedentary throughout the day say, by sitting in a cubicle for eight hours can't always be overcome by going to the gym after work, Tinsley said. Instead, fitting in some light physical activity such as a brisk walk or some jumping jacks during the course of a day, termed NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis), can actually end up burning more overall calories.
"I tell my patients that it's kind of like stirring the pot when you're cooking gravy or sauce," Tinsley told MyHealthNewsDaily. "If you forget to stir it throughout the day, you can stir your heart out at the end of the day but it won't make up for what you didn't do."
And not just on your bicycle.
By "cycling" your calorie intake throughout the week, you can expedite weight loss by tricking the body's own fat-preservation methods, said Brad Schoenfeld, a fitness trainer in Scarsdale, N.Y., and author of "Women's Home Workout Bible" (Human Kinetics, 2010).
For example, if your target calorie intake is 1,500 calories a day, you would eat 1,200 calories on Monday, 1,500 on Tuesday, and 1,800 on Wednesday, and then repeat.
"This helps to override the body's natural starvation mechanism, tricking it into greater fat loss," Schoenfeld said.
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