18 Tips to Lose Weight in a Healthy, Sustainable Way

MaryAnn Bodansky

MaryAnn Bodansky

Updated on January 16, 2023

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It’s no secret that weight loss is hard. If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you’ve probably heard your fair share of dubious weight loss tips, trendy diets, overzealous workout programs and dangerous weight loss supplements.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Crash diets and highly restrictive diets aren’t sustainable, and any progress you make with them can quickly disappear once you stop them.

“Heavily restricting calories or cutting out whole food groups (like grains or healthy fats) to lose weight needs to be a thing of the past,” Lauren Armstrong, RDN, says. “Research has indicated that these kinds of restrictive diets are hard to maintain, and can result in regaining the weight lost.”

Instead, making tiny tweaks to your existing lifestyle and incorporating them into your everyday life moving forward is the key to successful weight loss and weight management.

“Making a huge change all at once can be tough to maintain and be overwhelming,” Armstrong says. “Making smaller changes, like adding in an extra workout day or purchasing at least one vegetable every grocery trip, is more attainable and effective.”

And if you’re trying to lose weight, you’re far from alone. Almost half of adults in the United States (49.1%) tried to lose weight between 2013-2016, according to 2018 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Similarly, a 2022 Gallup poll that looked at responses from 2017-2021 found that 55% of adults in the United States responded that they wanted to lose weight.

Here, we spoke to registered dietitians and nutritionists for their top weight loss tips on how to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way. Steal their strategies for how to lose weight and keep it off.

1. Be realistic and choose achievable, not idealistic, goals.

“Focusing on easy-to-accomplish changes ensures success, and success ensures continued efforts to make changes. Change takes time, but realistic changes become real change. Start with one small change per week and build from there.” — Connie Diekman, M.Ed., RD, CSSD, LD, FADA, FAND, food and nutrition consultant and former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

2. Focus on how you feel, not a number on the scale.

“Weight can fluctuate from day to day, and focusing on a number can add more stress to your wellness journey. Instead, try focusing on how you’re feeling with the changes you’re making, such as more energy, better sleep or improved mood.” — Rahaf Al Bochi, RDN, LD, owner of Olive Tree Nutrition LLC and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

3. Don’t eat distracted.

“Several studies have shown that when you eat while doing other things (like watching TV or scrolling through your phone), you tend to eat more. It’s easier said than done, but try to make eating an activity in its own right.” — Angela Dowden, registered nutritionist

4. Swap out soda and other sugary drinks with calorie-free beverages.

“The simple step of drinking calorie-free drinks (like water or sparkling water) instead of sugary soda can save people from consuming excessive amounts of calories. Sugary soda can be consumed without offering a feeling of satiety, which can lead a person to take in large quantities without even realizing it.” — Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, based in Charleston, SC

5. Embrace (or at least experiment with) Dry January.

“Ditching alcohol, or at least cutting back, certainly has many long-term health benefits, but many people are surprised at how beneficial it is for weight loss. We tend to forget about alcohol calories, but they sneak up on you over time (a small 5-ounce glass of wine has about 120 calories, and a sweet mixed drink can pack in more than 500 calories).

Alcohol also impairs your body’s ability to burn fat, and in excess it raises cortisol levels, promoting more belly fat. If you’re eating well and exercising regularly but not losing weight, alcohol might be to blame. If Dry January feels like a lot, try to limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks on the weekend only.” — Anne Danahy, RD, based in Scottsdale, AZ, and owner of CravingSomethingHealthy.com

6. Fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies.

“Non-starchy vegetables — like zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, greens and peppers — are very low in calories, but high in volume. That means you can eat large quantities of these foods without adding lots of calories, so they can help you stay fuller and more satisfied. Load up on them, and learn how to cook them to maximize their deliciousness, like sautéing or roasting with a drizzle of oil. No more boiled Brussels sprouts!” — SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD, freelance writer and dietitian

7. Cut calories, but not too much.

“Cutting calories too drastically will quickly leave you feeling deprived and hungry. Instead, cut back in small ways that will add up to 300-500 calories cut at the end of the day. Try one less teaspoon of sugar in your coffee, switch sodas for unsweetened tea or sparkling water, just ½ tablespoon of mayo on a sandwich or just one serving of pasta instead of two.” — Lona Sandon, PhD, RDN, LD, program director of clinical nutrition in the School of Health Professions at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas

8. Don't start a fad diet.

“Diets are quick fixes and aren’t sustainable in the long run. Focus on small healthy lifestyle changes for long-term results. This can include starting to eat a balanced breakfast, drinking water or adding 10 minutes of physical activity into your day.” — Al Bochi

9. Focus on fiber.

“Instead of counting calories and focusing on what you ‘can’t eat,’ count fiber grams and try to eat MORE high-fiber foods. Aim for 25-35 grams of fiber each day from whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. These fiber-rich foods will keep you full, and they have a far lower calorie cost than most packaged snack foods, fast foods or ultra-processed foods.

Tips to help meet your fiber goal:

  • Start your day with a high-fiber cereal like oats or shredded wheat topped with fruit and nuts
  • Include a generous serving of fruit and/or vegetable at each meal and snack
  • Sprinkle nuts or seeds on cereal, salads or fruit and yogurt
  • Try to have a ½-cup serving of legumes/beans most days. Add them to your salad, chilis, stews or soups, or mash them with olive oil and spices and spread them on a sandwich or eat them as a dip.”

— Danahy

10. Prioritize quality and adequate sleep.

“Lack of sleep can lead to an increased appetite, poor food choices and a negative effect on one’s metabolism. Along with eating a balanced and healthy diet and participating in physical activity, making a point to get 7-8 hours of quality sleep every day may help people see the weight loss goals they want to see.” — Manaker

11. Consider a 3- to 4-hour spacing for fueling your body.

“Blood glucose (sugar) keeps the body going, but after 3 to 4 hours, it starts to dip and we get hungry. Hunger eating is often high-calorie foods, so fuel the body every 3 to 4 hours to help you make better choices each time you eat.” — Diekman

12. Swap out processed foods.

“Research shows that highly processed foods — like snack cakes, bagged potato chips and fast food — activate pleasure receptors in the brain that can override our bodies’ normal fullness cues. That’s why an important step in successful weight loss is to try and limit how much of these highly processed foods you eat. You don’t have to cut them out completely, but try following the 80/20 rule — that is, 80% of your diet comes from real, whole, natural foods, and 20% from processed foods.” — Shoemaker

13. Snack on certain nuts.

“Research shows that snacking on nuts can help control appetite and weight. They are packed with protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamin E and other good-for-you nutrients. Nuts, such as peanuts, almonds and walnuts, are great paired with a piece of fruit, such as a juicy apple or a banana.” — Sandon

14. Make fitness fit your routine.

“Regular activity helps us feel good, be excited to eat better and helps build muscle. The best way to get regular activity is to fit it into your day, whether morning, noon or night — just make it a routine.” — Diekman

15. Pump up the volume.

“Aim to eat mostly lower energy-density foods, which are those with lots of fiber and water, such as soups, whole grains and vegetables. These foods take up a lot of space on your plate and help make you feel full without overloading you with calories.” — Dowden

16. Consider reducing — not eliminating — your carb intake.

“Low-carbohydrate diets have been shown to be really helpful for weight loss. They can help regulate your appetite and keep you full on fewer calories, making it easier to stay at a calorie deficit to promote weight loss.

And you don’t necessarily have to go keto, either — just make some smart carb swaps, like trading half of your regular pasta portion for zucchini noodles, eating open-faced sandwiches, having half of your dessert instead of the whole portion or choosing riced cauliflower instead of rice.” — Shoemaker

17. Eat some protein at each meal.

“Protein curbs hunger while maintaining muscle, both of which are important if you’re looking to manage your weight. The mistake people often make is not spreading out their protein intake sufficiently over the day. Aim to have 20-25 grams of protein at each meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Eggs, fish, lean meat or plant sources like beans, soy and meat alternatives all count.” — Dowden

“Fiber and protein help you feel full on fewer calories. Pair apples with part-skim string cheese, add ½-cup black beans to a leafy green salad with four ounces of chicken breast or replace white rice with brown rice or a mix of brown and wild rice with quinoa for fiber and protein.” — Sandon

18. Include your friends and family.

“Sharing a weight loss journey with someone can help with motivation, and research indicates you may see better results. Just keep in mind that everyone’s weight loss looks different, so don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong if, for example, your partner lost 5 pounds and you’ve only lost 2.” — Armstrong

These responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

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