So what does work? We spoke with five of the top weight-loss specialists in the country, and each offered one piece of advice to help you work toward the body you want.
The Advice: Remember basic math.
The Expert: Alan Aragon, M.S., Men’s Health weight-loss coach
To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume, says Aragon. Common sense, right? As most of us know, that simple rule can be hard to follow if your diet doesn't allow for your favorite foods. Aragon's solution: Plan “cheat days” where you can eat what you want, but plan ahead so you still end up with a calorie deficit for the week.
And while you want to incorporate exercise, don't over-rely on it. or you'll burn yourself out with endless cardio or gym sessions, Aragon says. Instead, have a plan and follow it consistently. If your nutrition and fitness schedule concludes with two days of pushing yourself to the limit, says Aragon, you're doing something wrong.
The Advice: Eat real food.
The Expert: David Katz, M.D., founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center
At the request of scientific publisher Annual Reviews, Dr. Katz pursued the question: What mainstream diet works best? He scoured through the options, from Paleo to vegan and much more. After weighing the pros and cons of each strategy, Katz found no clear winner. He did discover a helpful common pattern: Consuming real foods—or minimally processed foods, including plants—promotes health and prevents disease. “Focus on these foods and the nutrients will sort themselves out, ” says Katz.
The Advice: Eat foods fill you up.
The Expert: Christopher Mohr, PH.D., RD, president of Mohr Results in Louisville, Kentucky
Refined carbohydrates are foods from which the grain—and most of the nutritional value—is extracted when processed. Think white bread, pretzels, and plain pasta. They spike your blood sugar which then drops like a roller-coaster, making you hungry for more. Replace refined carbs with a cup of fat-free cottage cheese with fruit or wild salmon, Mohr says. The protein-filled foods will keep you fuller and prevent overeating, as well as helping you build and maintain lean-muscle mass. Choosing foods with 20 to 30 grams of protein and/or more healthy fiber is crucial, says Mohr.
The Advice: Strive for average.
The Expert: Mike Roussell, PH.D., Men’s Health nutrition advisor
Reaching for the middle doesn’t seem like the right way to approach a goal, but in this case, average is good. Trying to do too much too soon—losing 20 pounds of fat or gaining 20 pounds of muscle in a month—is a recipe for disaster, Roussell says. These aggressive goals lead to extremes in calorie-cutting and binging, called hyperbolic dieting, and produces unsustainable, short-term results. “Ask yourself—is my diet today the average of what I’d like it to always be? If the answer is yes, then you are doing it right, ” Roussell says.
The Advice: Eliminate mindless munching.
The Expert: David Sarwer, Ph.D., director of the Albert J. Stunkard Weight Management Program at the University of Pennsylvania
“In our overly scheduled daily lives, we rarely pay attention to what we eat and drink throughout the day, ” Sarwer says. Instead of running to the vending machine every time your stomach rumbles, plan out healthy snack breaks throughout the day. Trade a low-calorie snack bar for that bagel in the break room, or a handful of almonds to replace your afternoon bag of chips. The simple act of thinking about and controlling what you consume will work wonders.