Can You Lose Weight Just by Eating Healthier?

One of the questions people wanting to lose weight, but who either do not enjoy or are incapable of exercise ask is, "If I eat healthy and exercise, will I lose weight?" It is a fair question, though it does not have a simple answer.

Eating healthier is a great way to help loose weight. (Image: ansonmiao/E+/GettyImages)

Cutting fatty, salty, sugary foods packed with trans fats, preservatives and artificial colors and flavors out of your diet can certainly improve your overall health and may cause you to drop a few pounds in the first few weeks. That's the good news.

The bad news is that changing your diet alone probably won't cause any significant weight loss. In order to reach and maintain your weight loss goals, it is also important to exercise, stay hydrated and get enough sleep.

Tip

It is possible to lose weight simply by eating a leaner and more nutritious diet, but it is much easier to do so with a combination of a healthy diet, regular exercise, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep.

Weight Loss Facts

If losing weight were easy it would not be big business. There re almost as many different ways to lose weight as there are people trying to do so, but no matter what celebrities, celebrity doctors and manufacturers of miracle solutions claim, weight loss boils down to four simple things:

  • Taking in fewer nutrition-dense calories than you burn
  • Consistent cardiovascular workouts plus weight training
  • Staying fully hydrated
  • Getting enough sleep

The University of Kansas Medical Center recommends eating at least three times per day, plus snacks. This helps keeps your metabolism up, which means that you are not only taking in a steady stream of nutrients, you are continuously burning calories. Keeping your blood sugar levels balanced can also help stave off sudden cravings and afternoon fatigue.

Choose Calories That Count

The types of calories you burn are more important than the number you take in because empty, sugary calories are stored quickly as fat. The experts at the the University of Kentucky Healthcare center recommend that you concentrate on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats.

Whole fruit is better than juices because the fiber in fruit that helps you lose weight slows down the metabolism of the sugar and can help you feel full. Vegetables are best when eaten raw, grilled, roasted or steamed with little to no added fat. Lean on citrus juices, herbs, spices and aromatics such as garlic to flavor vegetables and use a very light hand with the salt shaker.

Lean proteins include chicken, turkey and fish that is grilled, broiled, roasted or pan-seared in a bit of heart-healthy olive oil. Whole grains include brown rice, faro, quinoa, rolled oats, popcorn and whole wheat. Healthy fats are found in avocados, fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, nuts, seeds and olive oil. These fats raise your levels of good cholesterol and lower the bad.

Excellent Reasons to Exercise

There are two basic types of exercise. The first is cardiovascular exercise. This raises your heart rate, which helps you burn calories, increases blood flow throughout your body and strengthens your heart and lungs. Cardio includes walking, running, swimming, bicycling and fun stuff such as dancing or taking an aerobics class. Basically, anything that raises your heart rate and keeps it there for a period of time qualifies as cardio.

Weight training is just what it sounds like, and it can involve free weights, weight and resistance machines at a gym or even your own body weight. Weight training generally involves short bursts of effort and does not raise your heart rate the same way or for the same amount of time as cardio does. What it does do is build lean muscle mass, which makes your body burn more calories even when you are at rest.

The fitness experts at Concordia University - Saint Paul recommend that you do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate cardio every week to maintain your weight and more than that if you are trying to lose weight. The university also recommends that you do at least two days per week of weight training.

Celebrate Your Zzzs

Adults should aim for at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night, advises Pennsylvania State University, because getting enough sleep allows your body to repair muscle tissue, especially if you have done a weight training workout that day.

Getting enough sleep also supports your immune system and fights infections, explains Penn State. This is why becoming over exhausted and "run down" can lead to you getting sick. Sleeping well helps your body metabolize sugar properly, helping lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes, and it refreshes your brain so that you can perform more effectively at work or at school.

The best way to ensure a good night's sleep, Penn State recommends, is to avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine. Also avoid alcohol because it affects how well you sleep. Set up a bedtime routine and stick to it, making sure that you get up at the same time each morning. Put your electronics, including your phone away or turn them off at least one hour before bedtime and keep your bedroom cool and dark.

Hallmarks of Healthy Eating

You do not have to restrict yourself to rice cakes, kale and water, remind the nutrition experts at Tufts University. Enjoying a varied diet plan that holds your interest is a far more likely a recipe for success than a restrictive diet which is boring and makes it seem as though you are being punished. And while there are no special foods to eat to lose weight in the sense that they will magically melt fat, some foods are more helpful to the hopeful dieter than others.

KMC suggests that you take in plenty of fruits and vegetables because they are low calorie and filling. They can also help satisfy your craving for sugar and many, such as watermelon, are water-dense which helps you to stay hydrated.

Instead of cheese and crackers, have cheese on slices of apple or pear. All forms of cheddar are a classic pairing with apples, and Havarti goes especially well with pears. You can also smear peanut butter on celery or dip celery, carrot sticks or jicama slices in hummus for a creamy, crunchy treat.

Foods to Avoid

One of the problems with the terabytes of information available online is that most of it is outdated or simply wrong. This is true of the idea that there are "good" and "bad" foods. The food experts at the University of Washington remind you that salty, fatty, sugary, artificially and colored foods and those that contain trans fats are not your best nutritional choices, but feeling guilty over having them can sabotage your diet faster than a taco truck on black ice.

One thing that can help is truly understanding why you should avoid these foods. Salty foods can make you retain water as well as raising your blood pressure. Fatty foods are generally high in calories. Sugary foods wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels. Artificial colors and flavors may not actually pose a threat to your diet, but they certainly do not offer it any benefits.

Trans fats can raise the levels of lower-density lipoproteins, or LDLs in your blood. This bad cholesterol is microscopic fat globules that, when left unchecked, can block your arteries, making your heart work harder. This can raise your risk of heart attack, stroke and some cancers. Trans fats also lower the levels of high-density lipoproteins that clean out the LDLs in your blood.

How to Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated offers many benefits, explains dietitian Jill Irvine at the University of Washington. In addition to helping your blood flow more smoothly, being well hydrated also lubricates your joints, cushions your spine, helps your skin stay supple and supports both digestion and elimination.

Signs of dehydration include irritability, fatigue, headache, dizziness, dark-colored urine, fuzzy thinking and dry mouth, explains Irvine. Feeling thirsty is actually a sign that you are already mildly dehydrated, so take it seriously and grab a glass of water or a water-high fruit such as watermelon or grapefruit or vegetables such as cucumbers, celery, lettuce or zucchini.

Irvine recommends water for effective hydration, but all beverages count. Men should drink 13 cups of liquid per day and women should aim for 9 cups. Drink more than that if you work out a lot or live in a very hot, dry climate. Good beverage choices include hot or iced coffee or tea, herbal tisanes, fruit juices, sparkling water and broth. It is best to avoid sodas of all kinds because of their high sugar content.

Eating Schedule to Lose Weight

Choosing a healthy diet is an effective first step to losing weight and keeping it off, and timing your meals can take it to the next level. According to the University of Utah, one useful tool is time restricted feeding, or TRF. On TRF, you eat only within a pre-chosen eight- to 12-hour period each day. For example, you might have breakfast at 8 a.m. and dinner at 6 p.m., and eat nothing at all either before breakfast or after dinner.

The general idea is that you will still count calories and plan healthy meals so that you are getting all the nutrition you require to function at your peak efficiency. Fasting for the rest of each 24-hour period forces your body to burn stored fat, explains the University of Utah.

The plus side to TRF is that you can still eat fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and whole grains, which is your best bet for losing weight. If you have diabetes or other blood sugar issues, make sure that you consult with your doctor before trying TRF.

Going Too Far

While eating a healthy, plant-centric diet is an excellent way to maintain your weight and fuel your body, it is possible to go too far in your quest for a clean diet, caution the experts at Harvard Health Publishing. While not currently recognized as a disease, the condition of orthorexia is one that health care professionals are keeping an eye on.

This condition, explains Harvard's Marcelo Campos, M.D., is somewhat similar to anorexia in its unhealthy emotional response to food and an obsessive-compulsive disorder in the anxiety surrounding food choices. Some of the hallmarks of orthorexia are a need to know exactly where foods come from, what is in them and how they are prepared.

If your relationship to food, especially in the form of a rigid refusal to eat a large variety of foods, is having an impact on your social and familial interactions, you should consult your physician.

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