Many weight-loss products like meal replacement plans, detox teas, fat-burning supplements, and juice cleanses promise to “jump-start weight loss.” However, “jump-starting weight loss’ is more of a buzzword than a necessary or helpful part of a weight-loss journey,” says Liz Wyosnick, RD.
The truth is, you can lose a lot of weight very quickly, but that typically requires very restrictive methods like cutting too many calories or ditching entire food groups. This fad diet route can create further setbacks since it’s hard to maintain long-term. It often leads to yo-yo dieting, which can slow down your metabolism and make it harder to lose weight and keep it off.
Although weight-loss marketing pros often try to sell quick fixes, this takes the focus away from what you really need at the beginning of your journey: a solid game plan. “Weight loss is less about how aggressively you start and more about how intentionally you build your approach,” says Max Grossman, a certified personal trainer and founder and director of Health Engineered.
Here, nutrition and fitness pros break down common myths about how to jump-start weight loss and what to do instead for a more sustainable, healthy and empowering slim-down plan.
“When I hear ‘jump-start weight loss,’ I hear fad diet wording that may mean a few pounds lost quickly, and then quickly regained once the regimen is complete,” says Wyosnick. Severe calorie restriction isn’t necessary to lose weight, and it often backfires — leading to more extreme weight fluctuations or yo-yo dieting later on.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: SET A REALISTIC CALORIE GOAL AND START A FOOD JOURNAL
“I encourage my clients to adopt a long game mindset for weight loss because there’s no need to lose weight quickly,” says Wyosnick. Instead of reaching for unhealthy weight-loss goals like “lose 10 pounds in five days,” aim for a healthy pace of 1-2 pounds per week.
Use an app like MyFitnessPal to determine a daily calorie goal to create a slight calorie deficit (meaning fewer calories in than those you burn through day-to-day activities and exercise). Then, consistently track your intake to raise your awareness of the proper portion sizes you need to eat to lose weight.
Many diets home in on what you “should” give up — carbs, dessert, dairy and more, says Samantha McKinney, RD. They promise if you can just push through it for 30 days, the results will be worth the pain. But having to cut out so much of what you love can make you feel deprived, drive up hunger and cravings, and eventually lead to binge eating and your same previous unhealthy eating habits when the strict regimen is finally over.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: ADD HEALTHY FOODS TO YOUR LIFE
“Hands down, the best thing you can do is focus on additions instead of subtractions,” says McKinney.
- Non-starchy vegetables such as artichoke, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, leafy greens and squash
- High-quality protein sources like fish, eggs, chicken, turkey, beans and tofu
- Healthy fats like olive oil, avocado oil, nuts and seeds
- Complex carbohydrates rich in filling fiber such as fruit, root vegetables and whole grains
When you prioritize healthy foods and drinks and log them in your food journal before you reach for indulgences, you can naturally begin to edge out the not-so-healthy things you’re trying to reduce, says McKinney.
A strange but scary-sounding claim is that a “detox” tea, broth, juice or fast can eliminate built-up toxins in your body and, in turn, enhance your body’s fat-burning capabilities to jump-start weight loss. But there’s no research to back this up. “The word ‘detox’ is another buzzword,” says Annamaria Louloudis, RD. “Your body naturally detoxifies itself, so don’t waste your money on ‘detox teas.’”
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: CLEAN OUT YOUR PANTRY AND FRIDGE
A much easier and more effective “detox” is to spring clean your kitchen. “We eat what we have around, so hide the junk food or keep it out of the house,” says Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD. Then, put healthy foods front and center with fruit bowls on the counter, glass containers of pre-cut veggies at eye-level in the fridge, and grab-and-go healthy snacks in pre-portioned bags.
One of the most de-motivating myths is you just need more willpower to start losing weight. But without an action plan, motivation to carry on can disappear pretty fast. “A lack of preparation often leads to less healthy decisions regarding food or activity,” says Wyosnick. For example, it’s much easier to chill out on the couch and watch Netflix after work when you don’t have a workout scheduled or the groceries you need to make a wholesome meal.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: HAVE A PLAN AND SUPPORT SYSTEM TO KEEP YOURSELF MOTIVATED
Instead of trying to summon willpower from nowhere, make it easier to create new habits and stick with them by having a plan and surrounding yourself with support. “When you’re armed with a plan for your Monday through Friday meals and workout routine, that alleviates mental energy later and can make you much more likely to follow through,” says Wyosnick.
Rather than overhauling everything all at once — then getting overwhelmed and quitting — start with one small change to your diet or exercise routine per week, she suggests. Set and track SMART goals which are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. After you reach one, build on your success with another.
Here are a few examples:
- Week one: Increase your vegetable intake by 2 cups per day.
- Week two: Maintain your week one goal and add a 30-minute walk four times a week.
You can also follow one of the plans in the MyFitnessPal app (for premium members), which features RD-approved strategies, recipes and daily check-ins.
To up your chances of success, get your support system involved, too. Research shows sharing your goals with someone you look up to can increase your motivation, and working out with others can compel you to push harder and longer. If it’s in your budget, you might also consider hiring a coach, registered dietitian or certified personal trainer to help create the most effective plan for you.
High-intensity exercises like HIIT workouts and group fitness classes are often made out to be ideal for weight loss due to evidence that they burn more calories during and after the workout (aka the “afterburn” effect). While this sounds great, you can easily blow the “bonus burn” with about half of a protein bar, says Grossman. It’s also common for people new to these exercises to dramatically lower their non-exercise activity thermogenesis (or calories burned from day-to-day movements like walking, fidgeting and doing chores) by vegging out following a super tough workout.
The reality: “No single workout generates very much fat loss on its own,” says Grossman. “And while almost everyone likes the idea of high-intensity training, few people can sustain it for very long.”
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: CHOOSE FORMS OF MOVEMENT AND EXERCISE YOU CAN SEE YOURSELF DOING FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE
The best approach for sustainable weight loss is reducing the calories you eat and increasing those you burn through a combination of everyday movement (doing the laundry, carrying light packages back to your apartment, playing with your dog) and exercise such as walking, running and strength training — the latter of which can help you build and maintain muscle and improve your metabolism over time.
“When you’re starting out, it’s all about adherence. If you can stick to it, it will benefit you. If not, it doesn’t matter if ‘everyone else’ seems to love it,” says Grossman. He advises looking for workouts that are physically and mentally engaging, so you can develop a skill without beating up your body, socially engaging, so you have a reason to show up and have fun, outdoors for the added benefit of taking in nature and sunshine, and, most importantly, enjoyable.
The possibilities are endless. Think: dancing, hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, longboarding, team sports, Frisbee, slacklining, yoga, rock climbing, swimming, martial arts, skiing, snowboarding or a combination of any of the above.
“A lot of time and energy is dedicated to ‘hacks,’ ‘tricks’ and ‘secrets’ to put in less and get more,” says Grossman. “While some of these hyped-up approaches actually have modest value, they often don’t work unless you’re already nailing the true essentials of weight loss.” While healthy eating and regular movement are important pillars, managing stress levels and self-care are key, too.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: START WITH A STRONG FOUNDATION
Take care of your overall health to make losing weight easier. No matter your weight-loss plan, make sure you have the basics covered, says Grossman. Get 7–8 hours of high-quality sleep each night and incorporate stress-management techniques into your life like meditation, breathing exercises and self-care practices.
Make progress every day while you work on mini fitness and nutrition goals, like walking more steps or learning to track macros. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.