11 Science-Backed Ways to Lose Weight

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on December 28, 2016
5 min read

You probably know the usual weight loss advice by heart: Eat less and move more. While doing both (correctly!) can certainly help you shed pounds, there are other science-backed strategies to make your weight loss journey a little easier -- and they’re not what you might expect. Start with these 11 small steps that can add up to big results. 

Catching enough ZZZs is almost as important as exercise or nutrition if you’re looking to lose weight. Studies link a lack of sleep to feeling hungrier and gaining weight. When you skimp on shut-eye, you’re more likely to eat bigger portions, crave high-carb foods, and choose fatty snacks. Plus, chances are you’ll be too tired to work out  -- double whammy. Try to aim for 7 to 8 hours per night.

Yep, you read that right. Research shows that if you sprint for 30 seconds, rest for 4-6 minutes, and then repeat that at least 4 times, you’ll lose more fat than if you jog or walk at a steady pace for an hour. Big-time savings! Try shorter-interval workouts instead of long, grueling runs. You can also do intervals on a bike, the elliptical, or in the pool -- anywhere you can vary your pace and how hard you work. 

Whatever’s on it, you’re probably going to eat it. So keep a bowl with fresh fruit or veggies there, and put the sweet treats out of sight. 

In a study from Cornell University, women who keep a fresh fruit bowl out in the open weigh 13 pounds less than those don’t. The opposite is also true: The same research found that women who keep cereal boxes or soft drinks visible on their counters tend to weigh more. 

If you’re a cardio devotee, it’s time to broaden your workouts for a bigger payoff. Try to add two to three strength training sessions  to your weekly workout schedule. The reason? Lifting weights builds lean muscle mass, which raises your metabolism and helps your body burn more fat, even when you’re at rest. Use free weights, weight machines at a gym, resistance bands, or even your own body weight to do moves like squats, planks, and pushups. (Try this 10-minute body weight workout.)

You may see a lot of delicious-looking green smoothies on your Instagram feed, but don’t be fooled: Juices and smoothies aren’t a dieter’s dream. Studies show that our bodies don’t register calories from liquid foods as well as those from solid foods, so you may slurp down way more than you realize through that straw. Plus, if you load them with coconut milk and almond butter, you’ll want to keep the serving size small, or you’ll get a lot more calories than you bargained for. Go for whole foods that require a fork or spoon.   

No, this doesn’t give you free rein to indulge in a carton of ice cream. But “good” fats, like the ones found in nuts, fish, olive oil, and avocado, play an important role in a healthy diet. Research shows that these unsaturated fats can curb your appetite, sending a message to your brain to stop eating when you’re full. 

What’s more: “Fat-free” or "low-fat” snacks are often loaded with sugar, refined grains, or starches to replace the flavor lost from fat. Your body quickly digests these refined carbs, raising your blood sugar and insulin levels and making you gain weight.    

Having too many flavors or choices on your plate can actually boost your appetite, research shows. To combat temptation, stick with one main flavor profile (Asian or Italian, for example) per meal. Don’t overload your senses by putting pesto pasta, barbecue chicken, and salad topped with sesame-miso vinaigrette all on one plate.

Those snacks right before you turn in can really set you back. People who stop eating earlier in the evening take in nearly 250 fewer calories per day, on average, than those who chow down later at night, according to a study from Northwestern University. This can lead to a gain of up to 2 pounds per month. 

Researchers found that late-night eaters go for more high-calorie foods like soda, and fewer fruits and veggies. So if you do snack before bed, make a smarter choice with one of these 100-calorie snack options

You don’t have to give up carbs all together: Quality is more important than quantity. Choose whole grains, which are lower on the glycemic index, a measure of how fast a food raises your blood sugar. Opt for complex carbs (think whole-wheat bread, barley, or oats) as opposed to refined grains (such as white bread, white pasta, and breakfast cereals). Research has shown that whole grains may help keep hunger at bay and can help prevent weight gain in men and women. 

Eating from larger dinnerware not only tricks you into eating more, but it can also lead you to believe you ate less, according to research from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab. People who ate from larger cereal bowls ate 16% more cereal than those who had smaller bowls -- although they believed they ate 7% less! Swap your large plates and bowls for smaller versions (about 9 inches wide for plates) and you may find it easier to eat less.     

Research has shown that mindful eating can help people avoid unhealthy food choices -- not that you need to become a Zen master. Eating mindfully is simple: 
•    Notice the smell, flavor, color, and texture of your food.
•    Avoid distractions like watching TV while eating.
•    Take your time (20 minutes per meal is a good gauge). 
•    You can also try eating with the opposite hand that you usually use, or try chopsticks to slow yourself down while eating.