As a holistic nutritionist, I encounter plenty of people who generally eat well and exercise consistently but genuinely struggle to get the fat loss results they want. When clients come to me intending to lose weight, my first priority is to identify the obstacles creating their weight loss resistance.
Successful—and most importantly, sustainable—weight loss occurs when we address the real issues causing the body to store excess fat. Resolving underlying causes of blood sugar and hormone imbalance, inflammation, gut health, liver function, and micronutrient deficiencies is essential to helping the body release extra weight and keep it off.
13 Steps to Losing Weight
Many of us have been taught wrongly that the secret to weight loss is to eat less and exercise more as if our bodies are a calories-in-calories-out math equation. However, human biology and metabolism are far more complex than that!
When you restrict calories and overdo exercise, your body perceives your weight loss program as a stressful, starvation, fat-storing emergency. As a way of protecting you, it suppresses your metabolism (so you burn fewer calories), produces more hunger-inducing hormones, and hangs on to its fat resources for dear life.
Real weight loss comes when you’re not at war with your body—no more restriction and deprivation. Instead, you will be lovingly convincing your body the war is over and gently encouraging it to burn fat naturally and effortlessly. Below are 13 essential steps for smart and sustainable weight loss that I’ve seen work time and time again for clients in my practice.
1. Just eat real food (JERF).
Most people are overfed and undernourished, meaning they eat a lot but not foods that provide them with the nutrition needed by their cells to function optimally. Just eat real food your grandmother would recognize, and keep it simple.
Stick to the basics of a healthy meal: an appropriate amount of protein, plenty of whole-food carbohydrates from vegetables and fruit, and some healthy fat. Remove inflammatory foods as much as possible: sugar, gluten, dairy and other animal products, soy, hydrogenated fats, artificial sweeteners, and ultra-processed foods of any kind.
2. Stay hydrated.
Water is the elixir of life, and drinking enough of it (8+ glasses a day) helps with every aspect of your health, including weight loss. People often mistake dehydration for hunger, so you feel like you want a snack when really you just need a big glass of H20!
Staying hydrated flushes toxins, prevents constipation, reduces appetite, and can even break down fats [source] and increase metabolic rate [source]! Pro tip: Drink 8–16 ounces of water 15–30 minutes before you eat to increase weight loss.
3. Eat slowly and mindfully to aid weight loss.
Mindful eating is associated with weight loss [source]. It changes behaviors related to eating that contribute to satiety, such as paying attention to internal instead of external cues for hunger [source].
When it’s time to eat a meal, put away your phone, close your computer or turn off the TV, and sit at a table, distraction-free. With your food in front of you, take three deep breaths in and out through your nose. This will turn on your parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) nervous system, which is crucial for the proper functioning of your gut hormones to regulate digestion [source].
Eat slowly, chewing each bite at least 30 times, and experience the tastes, textures, and aromas of your meal. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that your stomach is full!
This practice of slow, mindful eating often results in eating less food because you’re not wolfing down your plate and running back for seconds or thirds. This has also been shown in studies to reduce your snack intake later [source].
4. Eat three meals a day—no snacks.
The three square meals a day approach trains our bodies to burn fat effectively. Not grazing/snacking between meals will provide a natural fast that encourages fat metabolism. Why would your body tap into its fat stores for energy if you’re providing it with a hit of glucose every hour or two? It won’t.
If this is new to you, start with four meals a day and work down to three. Have a small, early breakfast, make lunch the largest, most satisfying meal of the day, and have a small, early dinner.
You could even try what the subjects in a research study did, eating two meals a day, breakfast and lunch. This was shown to result in greater weight loss than was seen in a group eating the same number of calories but split into more frequent meals throughout the day [source].
5. Pay attention to food timing.
We hear a lot about what we should be eating, but minimal attention is given to when. Eating according to your body’s natural rhythms is crucial for weight loss. Your digestive fire is at its peak between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so eating a big, healthy lunch during that time is most efficient for digestion and the assimilation of nutrients.
Our bodies love routine, so aim to eat at roughly the same times every day, e.g., breakfast at 8 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m., and dinner at 6 p.m. As the digestive fire is weak in the evening, try to stop eating by 7 ideally, or 8 at the latest.
Studies have demonstrated an association between late eating times and increased body fat [source]. Fasting for at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast helps burn fat. Fasting promotes the secretion of human growth hormone, optimizes muscle building, and normalizes insulin sensitivity.
6. Move after every meal.
Gentle activity after a meal will mobilize the glucose you just ate to be burned as fuel instead of stored. Walk around the block, climb some stairs in your building, or anything else that’s low impact.
7. Eat prebiotic-rich foods.
Prebiotic foods enhance short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) production in the gut. SCFAs increase gut motility, which reduces the calories your body extracts from food. One study found that prebiotics selectively changed the gut microbiota composition in obese women, leading to changes in metabolism and a slight fat loss [source].
Eat foods rich in prebiotic fiber such as oats, apples, beans and lentils, jicama, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion greens, garlic, onions, and chia and flax seeds. Besides being low in calories themselves, these delicious foods (okay, dandelion greens might be a bit of a stretch) convince your body that it is not in starvation mode and doesn’t have to scavenge as many calories from your meals. These foods also help to improve your gut microbiota to keep your digestion healthy and prevent disease [source].
8. Nurture your good bugs.
Speaking of the microbiota: beneficial gut microbes are critical for weight loss. Supporting your microbiome frees you of constant hunger, cravings, and the feeling that your metabolism is out of control. An overgrowth of the wrong kind of bacteria in your gut can cause you to gain weight and have trouble losing it.
Nourish the good bacteria in your gut by eating tons of fresh, organic veggies and adding 1–2 tablespoons of fermented vegetables to your meals. Next time you’re at the grocery store, grab a jar of sauerkraut, kimchi, or any other cultured veggie from the refrigerated section and give it a go (make sure the package states it has live cultures)!
9. Limit fructose.
When you think of sugar, you likely think of the granular white stuff, aka table sugar. This is called sucrose, which is half glucose and half fructose. Unlike glucose, which is readily absorbed into the bloodstream for energy, fructose is primarily metabolized by the liver.
When you eat a diet high in fructose, the liver gets overloaded and has to store any excess that it can’t break down in the form of triglycerides, aka fat. Studies show that overconsumption of fructose can lead to increased belly fat and insulin resistance [source].
Fructose can also make you eat more because it doesn’t trigger insulin secretion and leptin production like glucose does. Without the signal from leptin to “stop eating now,” you can polish off a bag of dried mangoes too easily!
To limit fructose consumption, avoid added sugars—even the “healthy” ones like honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, coconut sugar, and Medjool dates, which are all high in fructose. Instead, use stevia and/or rice malt syrup, which is a fructose-free blend of carbs, glucose, and maltose.
Don’t over-indulge in dried fruits and fruit juice, but feel free to have 1–2 pieces of whole fresh fruit a day. Whole fruit has plenty of fiber and nutrients to slow down the sugar dump on your liver, and it has a boatload of health benefits [source]. Low-fructose fruits include kiwi, blueberries, raspberries, grapefruit, lemon, lime, pears, and coconut.
10. Do HIIT workouts.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT), or burst training, workouts are designed to help you burn fat long after you’re finished exercising because they speed up your metabolism for up to 24 hours post-workout. HIIT raises human growth hormone levels, signals fat burning, aids in increasing lean, toned muscle, improves glucose tolerance, and increases insulin sensitivity.
In HIIT workouts, you’re exercising in short intense bursts, followed by a short recovery period. You only need to do about 20 minutes a day to reap the fat loss benefits.
11. Get quality sleep.
Lack of sleep or poor sleep damages your metabolism and elevates cortisol levels, which fuels appetite and increases cravings, particularly for sugar and carbs. Getting enough uninterrupted, good-quality sleep is essential for blood sugar balance and weight loss.
I recommend going to bed by 10 p.m., sleeping in total darkness (get an eye mask), and making it a priority to snag 7.5–9 hours of z’s each night.
12. Incorporate stress management.
High levels of the stress hormone cortisol are linked with inflammation, belly fat, and weight gain. If you perceive your life as stressful, you are more likely to store fat and gain weight [source].
Focus on managing your daily stress by doing one pleasurable, mind-body activity each day. Try meditation, visualization, yoga, massage, Epsom salt baths, walking outside, breathing exercises, legs up the wall, or a walk in nature. Find something that works for you and do it daily!
13. Make detox a part of your lifestyle.
Detox doesn’t equal juice cleanses. You can assist your body with daily detoxification by providing it with the nutrients it needs for optimal function and reducing your liver’s toxic exposures. Making detox part of your lifestyle helps your body eliminate toxins in a gentle way, balances your hormones and metabolic processes, and promotes the breakdown of excess fat and weight loss.
Swap out your personal care and home cleaning products for toxin-free alternatives. Drink plenty of filtered water, keep alcohol to a minimum, eat a high-fiber, whole food diet, eat organic produce when you can (or at least the Dirty Dozen), and organic, grass-fed, pastured meat and eggs and wild-caught fish. Try one meal a day or one day a week without eating animal products. Use this no-fuss one-day cleanse to kick-start a gentle detox.
This post was medically reviewed by Dr. Holly Smith, a board-certified physician in nephrology and internal medicine with a background in nutrition. Learn more about Hello Glow’s medical reviewers here. As always, this is not personal medical advice, and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.131