8 Easy Ways to Stop Weight Gain, According to Health Experts
It's normal for weight to fluctuate 2 to 5 pounds throughout the week but once that number starts to creep outside your comfortable weight range, or your pants start to feel snug—or both—how can you halt the gain and get your clothes fitting again? The answer is not a juice cleanse, detox or quick fix. Please don't waste your money. It's much easier than that, trust us (and doesn't cost a thing). Try one—or all eight—of these tips from the experts and your clothes will be fitting in no time.
1. Add more activity to your day
Specifically, NEAT movement, which stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis, which includes all the activity you do throughout the day that isn't structured exercise, sports, sleeping or eating. For example, "the day to day activities you may not even think about, such as walking, cleaning, going up the stairs versus elevator or random fidgeting," says Lacey Dunn, M.S., RD, LD, CPT, registered dietitian and personal trainer at Uplift Fit Nutrition. While these activities might seem insignificant when thinking about calories in and calories out, studies show that NEAT can account for 6-10% of total daily calories burned in sedentary people and up to 50% of daily calories burned in active people.
When COVID-19 changed the working world forever, people's NEAT movement was slashed because instead of commuting to work and moving around an office all day, they were sitting at home all day with very little movement. "Lower NEAT can lower the amount of calories that you burn throughout the day, which will take you out of a deficit and cause you to not lose weight or even gain weight," says Dunn.
Dieting also naturally lowers NEAT movement because the body tries to compensate for the lack of energy by preserving energy, Dunn says. Stress can lower NEAT, too. The easiest way to increase NEAT is to walk more every day. "You can track your NEAT by using a fitness watch tracker to track your steps to ensure that your NEAT levels stay consistent," says Dunn. If you're averaging 5,000 steps per day, add 1,000 each week. Schedule one 30 minute walk each day or break it up into two or three 15 minute walks. Fill up your water bottle every hour (this one helps you move and drink more water!), park your car further away when you go to the store and cook more dinners at home versus getting takeout. Anything that helps you move counts!
2. Track your food for a couple of weeks
Tracking your food is one of the most effective things you can do to stop weight gain in its tracks. "Sometimes adding this step of mindfulness is all the change you need," says registered dietitian, Elisa Bremner, M.S., RDN, CDN. That's because often people will track their food while dieting or doing a weight loss program, but after the program ends, so does the tracking. Then extra calories start to sneak back in. "Calories still count more than anything else, especially as you age and your metabolism slows down," says Cheryl Mussatto M.S., RD, LD, registered dietitian at Eat Well to Be Well. When you aren't hyper focused on what you're eating anymore, it's easy to grab an extra handful of chips here or a bigger portion of ice cream there.
You can write it down in a journal, take photos or use a calorie-counting app. Tracking in a calorie counting app can be particularly helpful because it forces you to record serving sizes, which means you have to measure what you're eating. The simple act of measuring out foods, especially ones that are easy to overeat like nuts, chips, peanut butter, cheese and ice cream, can help you slash 100-400 calories or more each day. And don't forget drinks. Is your wine pour actually five ounces? You don't have to do this forever, as it can be time consuming, but doing it for a short period of time can make it easier to identify behaviors that could be hindering your goals.
3. Read nutrition labels
"Food labels can be misleading," says registered dietitian, Tejal Pathak, M.S., RD, LD, CDCES, "Fat-free does not mean sugar free or vice versa. Many packaged food items like beverages and yogurt are labeled as fat-free but then they are loaded with added sugar resulting in increased calories. Instead, look closely at the nutrition facts panel to make better choices."
The American Heart Association recommends that women stay under 24 grams of added sugar per day (about 6 teaspoons) and men stay under 36 grams of added sugar per day (about 9 teaspoons). There is now a separate line for added sugar on the nutrition label, making it easy to see how much you are consuming every day. Remember that too much added sugar is stored as fat, so aim to keep your intake low by opting for naturally sweet treats and including adequate protein and fiber to stay satisfied after meals. Aim for about 8 to 10 grams of fiber per meal and 15 to 25 grams of protein per meal. Needs will vary person to person.
4. Take a break from takeout
"Average take out and restaurant portion sizes have nearly doubled over the last several decades," says Erin Hendrickson, RDN, registered dietitian at No Waste Nutrition. Condiments and sauces add up too, says registered dietitian, Jennifer Fiske, M.S., RDN, LD. "Dip and spread lightly, it doesn't take as much as you may think to add some extra flavor. For salads, dip your fork in the dressing then in your salad so you get a little bit on every bite. Simple tips that add up!" Fiske says.
Look out for "complimentary munchies" too, says Pathak. "Be mindful of delicious complimentary chips, creamy salsa, dips and breads served, as soon as you are seated at restaurants. By the time meal is served multiple refills are already enjoyed and that can easily add up calories resulting in weight gain. Choose no refills or let it be served along with your main meal to avoid going overboard with complimentary food items," Pathak says.
5. Step on the scale once per week
Research shows that those who weigh themselves every day have better success with maintaining weight loss. But if seeing the daily fluctuations drives you crazy, then step on the scale once a week (or instead focus on the other seven tips instead of this one). Seeing the number staring you in the face weekly helps remind you of your goals and stay focused on the habits you need to get there. It's a reminder to get your workout in, have one drink instead of three and to put vegetables at the center of your meals.
Just remember that the number on the scale isn't a measurement of fat but of everything in your body, and it fluctuates several pounds throughout the day and week so don't stress about normal fluctuations.
6. Build more balanced meals
"Aim to make half your plate the colorful foods—fruits and veggies—and have your protein and grains/starches be the supporting cast members," says Mandy Enright, M.S., RDN, RYT, author of 30-Minute Weight Loss Cookbook: 100 Quick and Easy Recipes for Sustainable Weight Loss. Most people do the opposite, filling half their plates with protein or grains and having a little bit of vegetables on the side. This simple swap of making half your plate vegetables instead of grains can save you 100-150 calories per meal. "Put emphasis on the timing, quality and quantity of your foods. Our bodies love consistency, so aim to eat around the same time daily. Ideally, plan to eat around every 4 hours. Consume more wholesome foods such as fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean sources of protein," Enright says.
"Make sure your meals contain adequate protein, fiber and fluid volume. These are the components that can help you feel satiated for fewer calories, potentially making it easier to maintain the calorie deficit needed for fat loss," says registered dietitian, Summer Yule, M.S., RDN. "Look for lean meats, poultry and fish (these foods are very protein dense, meaning they contain a lot of high-quality protein relative to their calorie content). Non-starchy veggies add a lot of fiber and fluid volume to meals for very few calories. Dairy, eggs, legumes and fruits are some other nutrient-rich components to add to your meals."
7. Stop restricting certain foods
Restricting food leads to overeating or binging. While you may be restricting in an effort to lose weight, it's counterproductive when you restrict ice cream all week and then eat an entire pint on Friday night. "Giving yourself freedom to enjoy treats any time of any day is key to stopping the restrict-binge cycle that makes it hard to lose weight," says registered dietitian, Diana Savani, RD, LDN. Allow yourself to have any food any time but be mindful of portions and eat without distractions, so you can savor the food and enjoy every bite.
"It's easy to consume more than the recommended servings sizes, especially if we're distracted. Plus, it's just in our nature," says Hendrickson. "Most people will eat the amount of food they're served, even when hunger levels are relatively low. For better portion control, try eating from a smaller plate and slowing down the pace of mealtime," she says. "Assessing hunger and fullness levels before, during and after eating can also be very helpful in avoiding eating past the point of fullness and eating closer to your daily calorie needs," says Savani.
8. Go to bed earlier and keep stress low
"Look beyond what you are eating and assess your sleep and stress levels. Excess stress and poor sleep can increase cortisol levels and affect hunger hormones which can contribute to weight gain. Additionally, our bodies can confuse signals for hunger, thirst and fatigue. So if you feel tired, you may reach for a snack when you actually may need a glass of water or a nap," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.
Aim to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night and put systems in place to help you do that. Start moving your bedtime back by 30 minute increments at a time, don't look at your phone at night and if you do, turn the screen to the nighttime light setting to decrease blue light exposure. Exercising regularly is associated with better sleep and lower stress levels. Even five minutes of cardio exercise can reduce anxiety.
"Realize that losing weight is not about following a diet, but living a daily lifestyle," says Dr. Lisa Leslie-Williams B.S., Pharm.D., Founder of The Domestic Life Stylist. "There has to be a mindset shift if you're employing changes for the long-term. You're not adapting changes to just lose weight but, to be more energetic, decrease premature aging, limit disease and show up everyday at your absolute best. Once you realize that mindset is first, you're halfway there."