If you’re hoping to lose weight, there are so many choices: Cutting carbs, weighing what you eat, keeping a food journal, intermittent fasting, hiring a personal trainer and countless other ideas registered dietitians, health coaches and well-meaning friends might suggest.
If you’re looking to lose weight, experts agree there isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. From the Mediterranean diet to DASH, there are many different eating plans to help you achieve your goals in a way that fits your lifestyle. However, there are some commonalities that can set you up for success. Here, four criteria the best weight-loss diets share:
THEY PRESERVE ASPECTS OF YOUR CURRENT LIFESTYLE
If you try to overhaul your diet all at once, it’s more likely to backfire, says Dr. Shauna Collins, author of “No More Dieting!” Instead, start by highlighting the foods you love and look for the healthiest version, suggests Collins. For example, “if you love sandwiches, try removing one slice of bread and eating it open-faced.” Making small changes is sustainable, and you’ll be more likely to lose weight and keep it off.
THEY INCORPORATE FLEXIBILITY
Plans with choices are ideal: They’re more likely to suit your lifestyle, which encourages you to continue. “A diet that is too spartan only broadens our existing polarized views about food as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ which often leads to an inadvertent off-the-wagon episode,” says Rebecca Newman, LCSW, a psychotherapist based in Philadelphia. “A good plan prioritizes making nutritious choices overall, without the use of language that forbids certain foods.”
THEY ENCOURAGE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Weight loss isn’t solely about eating. The best plans highlight the importance of physical activity and recommend you get moving for roughly 150 minutes each week. “The combination of the two is where the magic happens,” says medical exercise specialist Chris Gagliardi, a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. “We know physical activity can increase your metabolism and help you burn more calories. Start slow and work your way up — you’re looking for the lifestyle change, not the quick fix.”
THEY ACKNOWLEDGE THE JOURNEY
Weight loss isn’t always linear and if you hit a plateau, your plan shouldn’t make you feel like you’ve failed. Over-emphasis on the finish line can be discouraging. “Plans that focus too much on a numeric result may under-value the work you’ve put in to making changes in your life,” Newman says. “A good plan will encourage you to view the process as a journey, which involves trying a new recipe at home, noticing changes in your energy level, appreciating how your clothes fit differently and, finally, seeing a reduction in weight.”