Your body is beautiful, attractive, and worthy at any size. And even though we all have days where we wish something about our appearance was different, we hope you never feel like you "need" to lose weight to look good—you don’t. But, there are a lot of reasons that people may want to lose weight that have nothing to do with vanity. Your doctor may encourage you to lose weight to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, or certain cancers if you're above a healthy weight. Or, perhaps you're nursing an injury or have arthritis and want to shed a little bit of the extra weight you're carrying to ease the stress on your joints. If you have sleep apnea, high blood pressure, or asthma, losing weight may help improve your condition. So, if you find yourself needing or wanting to lose a little weight, you're not alone.
But, when it comes to losing weight, we’re not ones for fads. So, in searching for the best way to drop a few pounds safely and sensibly, we decided to consult some of the best health and fitness experts in the industry. From personal trainers and yoga gurus, to nutritionists and dietitians, we’ve knocked on the doors of the crème de la crème in the wellness industry to compile the ultimate guide to toning up and staying healthy.
Ready for the golden advice experts swear by? Keep scrolling for the 16 best habits or practices to help you tone up and look and feel your best.
1. Don't Go Straight for Cardio
“It’s common to hear people rave about how cardio will burn more calories than weight training—but this is only half true,” says Jonathan Dick, personal trainer and nutritionist at Equinox Kensington. “Yes, in single session cardio you're likely to burn more calories than a strength session. But what strength training will do for you that cardio can’t is ramp up your metabolism for up to 36 hours post-exercise—so you’ll still be burning calories (and ideally fat) while your body uses protein, vitamins, and minerals to repair the muscles.”
2. If You're Lifting Weights, Go Heavy
“Safety and proper technique is paramount, but when it comes to really burning fat, you’ll yield far better results if you’re lifting heavier,” says Otaniyien Ekiomado, personal trainer and head of education at Evolve Fitness London. “The numbers will be different for everyone, of course, but you need to be performing all the key exercises—squats, deadlifts, bench press, single arm rows—with a weight that challenges you on every single rep." If you’re flying through your sets and can power through most of the reps before really feeling the burn, you’re not challenging yourself properly, and Ekiomado says your fat loss results will reflect that. "Lifting heavier weights will mean the muscles need to work harder to repair themselves afterward—a process that ramps up your basic metabolic rate, burning more calories faster.”
3. Ditch Your Scale
Whether you fear the scale, or weigh yourself too often, the scale may not be the best go-to tool for monitoring your progress. “What you really want here is ‘fat loss’ rather than ‘weight loss’ and the number on the weighing scale has little to do with your overall health and feeling/looking good,” says Chris Magee, head of yoga at Psycle London. “We need to remember that muscle is more dense than fat, and that incorporating a change to your eating and training regime may yield huge results everywhere but on the scale. If your goal is purely numbers-driven, then you’ll set yourself up for failure, because when the number doesn’t go down, it’s easy to become dejected and question everything you did that week—when, in fact, you might have made great progress with muscle gain and fat loss, but the two might have balanced each other out." Magee recommends you take pictures of yourself to track your progress. "They’ll give you a much clearer idea of how far you have come,” he says.
4. Add Cardio to Your Strength Circuits for a Double Burn
“There’s a reason Barry’s method has gained such a cult following—it’s because it works,” says Sandy Macaskill, Barry’s Bootcamp London co-owner. “You can use a similar method in your own workouts by splitting between cardio, on a treadmill say, and resistance circuits with weights." He says that the cardio element burns fat, while the weight training helps build lean muscle, strengthens your bones, and boosts your metabolic rate to keep your body cranking through calories even at rest.
5. If You're Doing HIIT, Get the Intensity Right
HIIT training has become increasingly popular and it is often lauded for being the best fat-burning exercise. But, in order to get the most out of the workout, you have to do it right. Personal trainer Andy Vincent says he often sees people not getting the ‘high intensity’ part of HIIT right. "For starters, HIIT should be short duration—never more than 20 minutes long. If you are honestly going all-out on an exercise, you should not last very long," he says. "What I end up seeing is ‘fairly high intensity’ training for 40 minutes, which is not what the studies were carried out on and will not give the same results." Vincent says to choose exercises that are easy to perform because poor control and form will lead to injury. Good options are battling ropes, burpees, sled work, goblet squats, and loaded carries, mixed with bikes, rowers, versa climbers, and treadmills for cardio. "The aim is to push to your max for 20 to 40 seconds, ideally with eight to 10 repeats. Depending on your start point, you may need 90 seconds rest, and as you get fitter, reduce the rest period,” he says.
6. Don't Neglect the Stretch
It's important to stretch before and after your workout. "Though usually seen as the muscle-easing end to a workout, stretching is actually an important workout in its own right," stresses Catie Miller, Xtend Barre London founder and trainer. "Regular stretching has been shown to increase the production of collagen, which helps to firm and tone, increase flexibility, and to correct poor posture by lengthening tight muscles that pull areas of the body away from their intended position." Miller says stretching just twice a week can actually increase the blood and nutrient supply to our muscles, which reduces muscle fatigue, so you can train harder and recover faster.
7. Engage Your Core
“To get the most out of every single type of physical exercise, whether it’s running, yoga, barre, HIIT, or spin, you need to learn how to engage your core muscles properly,” says Niki Rein, founder and creative director of Barrecore. “The way to do it, so you’re not just ‘sucking in,’ is to draw up the pelvic floor, slightly tip your tailbone under so that you’re pulling the lower abdominals closer to the front of the spine, and then close the ribcage and keep the back long.” Rein says that in addition to making exercise safer and stabilizing your body, engaging your core boosts your calorie burn both during and after your workout. “This effect comes from the deep isometric contraction your body has to hold, which demands constant blood flow to the muscles, for maximum calorie and fat burn,” she explains.
8. Eat Regularly
It’s important to not let too much time elapse between meals or snacks because eating more regularly helps to keep your blood sugar stable. “For example, don’t skip lunch if you’re going out to dinner later thinking that it will be helpful in avoiding extra calories,” says Marilyn Glenville, Ph.D., nutritionist, and author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar. “Your body will think there is a shortage of food, slow down your metabolism, and hold on tight to your fat stores. Also, there’s nothing that’s more guaranteed to rev up your appetite, so you’ll likely end up eating more at the meal anyway.” Aim to eat something every few hours and be sure to drink plenty of water in between meals.
9. Pile Your Plate with Greens
“Have a lighter dinner by filling at least half your plate with vegetables before adding anything else,” says registered nutritionist Shona Wilkinson. “And no, this doesn’t include roast potatoes. Green vegetables are excellent, as they are low in calories and high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.” Wilkinson suggests preparing several vegetable side dishes at once and storing them in the fridge to save time in the kitchen. “Look for recipes to make them more interesting—sautéd Brussels sprouts with garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice are absolutely delicious,” she notes.
10. Keep Track
Counting calories often gets a bad rap, but Peter Cox, a clinical nutritionist, says it can be helpful to let you know if you’re hitting your targets. “It isn’t sexy, but the best way to lose weight is to really look at the mathematics of it all—calories in versus calories out, and just really be more mindful of what and how we eat,” says Cox. “When we’re genuinely hungry, our body will let us know—you’ll feel the growling or rumbling in the tummy—but when we’re disconnected from our bodies, we can often confuse ‘brain hunger’ with real hunger—we eat when we feel an emotional prompt, rather than a genuine need to refuel.” With all this said, if you find yourself getting obsessive about numbers, this may be a good tip to skip.
11. Don’t Skip Breakfast
“Eating breakfast promotes the practice of eating consistently throughout the day, supports stable blood glucose levels, and a healthy body weight,” says Allison Backer, a registered dietician and certified kettlebell coach. “Having a satisfying breakfast is the best way to start the day off right. After an overnight fast, it is time to replenish your energy stores and hydrate.” Yet, with our busy lives, we often skip breakfast, or make the mistake of purposely foregoing the meal to “save calories” for subsequent meals. Backer says this is counterproductive. “If not fueling properly, you will begin to feel tired, sluggish, and as if you are in a bit of a daze,” she warns. “You may also end up resorting to eating something calorie-, fat-, and sugar-laden when that sudden urge for a boost kicks in.”
For a nutrient-dense breakfast, consider 1/2 cup of cooked oatmeal with berries and a hard-boiled egg, or two slices of whole grain toast topped with 1-2 tablespoons of natural nut butter and a small orange, or a protein-packed smoothie with added greens.
12. Drink Water
The often-cited weight-control tip to drink more water has stuck around all these years with good reason: it works. “Research studies indicate that water may act as a natural appetite suppressant and assists with calorie burning,” shares Backer. Next time you feel those hunger pangs, drink a glass of water before reaching for a snack. Limit and avoid sugary beverages and sodas.” Proper hydration doesn’t just help control your appetite, it also boosts metabolism, prevents fatigue, and maintains mental alertness. Plus, as Backer notes, “Exercise performance can be hindered when one has lost 2% of their body weight due to dehydration.”
13. Pay Attention to Food Labels
“Let’s face it, food labels can be difficult to interpret. However, it is important to take a glance at this helpful tool,” says Backer. “Food labels should be used to compare products in order to make better selections while shopping, as well as for assistance with tracking purposes when aiming to meet your specific nutrition goals.” In general, pay attention to the portion size, the calorie content, and the nutrients of interest for your particular goals, such as added sugars, total fat, sodium, dietary fiber, and protein. It’s also wise to scan the list of ingredients. If there are chemical names or words you don’t recognize, it’s clear the food is highly processed and not the healthiest option. Similarly, if the first few ingredients listed are sugars, unhealthy fats like partially-hydrolyzed palm kernel oil, or food dyes, you might want to consider another option. “Aim to consume minimally-processed foods. Focus on purchasing whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, seafoods, nuts, beans/legumes, seeds, dairy (excluding processed cheeses), and whole grains,” advises Backer.
14. Don’t Ban Foods
It often seems like we can’t go more than a few months without hearing about some new-fangled “miracle” diet. Some of these diets seem to demonize certain foods—or entire food groups—so it can be difficult to know what to eat these days. Backer says that the best approach (unless there is a medical or cultural contraindication) is to eat based on your preferences as well as what will support your individual optimal health requirements. “All foods can fit into our diets with a little extra planning. We shouldn’t restrict our intake or label certain foods as ‘forbidden.’”
With that said, if you’re looking for a healthy eating lifestyle rather than a diet, Backer has a suggestion: “If you would like to improve your health and protect our environment, try shifting your focus from a meat-centered diet. Research shows that diets abundant in plant foods decrease the risk of developing chronic diseases and support weight management.” Sounds like a win-win.
15. Cut Back On Alcohol
“Everyone deserves to enjoy their favorite alcoholic beverage in moderation. However, take into consideration that alcohol consists of empty calories that can sabotage your weight-loss efforts,” says Backer. “Alcohol also has an appetite-stimulating effect. After having a few drinks, you may let your guard down and consume unhealthy food choices (usually high fat and salty foods).” Backer also says that a night of drinking and eating too much can have health behavioral consequences that bleed into the next day, too. “Overindulgence may also lead to difficulty getting out of bed for a workout,” she says. “Consider what is most important to you—waking up, ready to check off a workout from your to-do list, or spending the day curing a hangover.” Sounds like a sound argument to keep in mind next time you head to happy hour.
16. Get Enough Sleep
Backer says this final tip for helping prevent weight gain actually has nothing to do with what you’re eating or how much you’re exercising. “Research suggests that those who sleep between 7 to 9 hours every night do a better job of maintaining a healthier weight as compared to those pulling all-nighters. Unfortunately, we are not getting enough shut eye,” notes Backer. In fact, according to The Sleep Foundation, 35.2% of adults report sleeping less than 7 hours per night most nights.
“Lack of sleep can disrupt the balance in hormones that regulate hunger,” explains Backer. “Poor sleeping habits may stimulate the appetite and tempt us to give into cravings.” Plus, motivation plummets when you’re exhausted, so you’re less likely to crush your workout (or lace up your sneakers at all) and cook a healthy meal.
Suni, Eric. Sleep Foundation. “Sleep Statistics.” February 20, 2021. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/sleep-facts-statistics