The hardest part of losing weight isn't understanding how it happens. It's building a plan that accounts for all the little details that make a big difference in your results. Everything from your genetics, work schedule, and everyday stressors, to your love of beer, wine, and dessert will influence how well you're able to lose weight.
Yes, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn if you want to get lean. However, the art of fat loss is all about the things you do other than lowering calories that make it easier to not only succeed at your goals but also ensure that the change isn't temporary.
If you're looking for an approach that focuses less on counting calories and more on building a system that helps you with weight loss, then you've come to the right place.
Arm yourself with these six simple steps to finally build a plan that accounts for and understands the variable nature of life, and you'll be able to thrive and see results in any situation.
To Get Leaner: Sleep More
Here’s a truth you’ll appreciate: One of the best things you can do for your body is spend more time in bed.
Harvard researchers who studied more than 68,000 people found that those who slept less than 5 hours a night were 5.4 pounds heavier and more likely to become obese than those who slept more than 7 hours.
One reason? Just a single night of inadequate sleep may increase activity in your brain’s reward center, particularly regarding food. To point: A University of Chicago study found that “short sleepers” took in an average of 220 more calories a day than those who logged adequate z’s.
Quick Fix: Unplug the bedroom TV and try for 8 hours of sleep a night—and never settle for less than 7.
Here’s a scary fact for some added inspiration: If you are a habitual short sleeper, your chance of an early death rises by as much as 12 percent, Italian researchers say.
To Get Leaner: Lift More Often
Your treadmill’s calorie tracker might make cardio seem like a fat-loss genie, but don’t be fooled. The more miles you log, the more efficient at running you become and the fewer calories you may burn.
Plus, running long distances can take a physical toll that can dampen your enthusiasm. All that pain and boredom causes many people to burn out and give up.
To Get Leaner: Lift Heavier Weights
Now that you’ve made it to the gym (or dusted off your weights at home), reach for the larger dumbbells. Lifting heavy weights not only burns more calories during your workout but may also increase your sleeping metabolism by about 8 percent, say researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Yep, you’ll burn more calories as you lie on your back and dream of Scarlett Johansson. That 8 percent might not sound like much, but it can add up to about 5 pounds a year.
Quick Fix: Push your limits. As you feel yourself becoming stronger and more comfortable during a workout, don’t be afraid to go bigger.
To Get Leaner: Eat When You Want
You’ve heard that you need five or six meals a day for fat loss. The simple rationale is this: Digestion requires energy, so spreading your calories over many small meals throughout the day keeps your metabolism humming and your hunger at bay.
The problem? It’s not how frequently you eat but rather what you eat that affects how many calories you burn at mealtime.
So if you take in 2,000 calories a day, it doesn’t matter how many meals you’ve eaten; your calorie burn from digestion remains the same.
Quick Fix: Take a week and write down when you feel most hungry. Then adjust your eating patterns accordingly.
To Get Leaner: Load Up On Protein
Every time you eat a meal that doesn’t include protein, you’re telling your body you don’t want to burn more calories.
Here’s why: Protein helps control your blood sugar, keeps you fuller, reduces hunger, and burns more calories during digestion—so you can stay lean and still enjoy your favorite foods.
Also, the protein stops muscle breakdown and provides the raw materials for laying down new muscle.
Quick Fix: Carbohydrates are not evil. But when you eat them alone, they set off a series of events—including a rise of insulin—that cause you to crave more food and store more fat.
So whether you’re snacking or eating a meal, include some protein and you’ll drop fat.
For meals, a 6-ounce portion of fish, chicken, or lean beef is reasonable. For snacks, try a handful of nuts, a stick of string cheese, or Greek yogurt.
To Get Leaner: Snack Smarter
While the number of meals you consume doesn’t matter, the size of your snacks does. Since the 1970s, the average snack size has increased from 360 to 580 calories, according to research from the University of North Carolina.
When you consider that the average man snacks twice during a workday, you’re looking at almost 500 additional calories every 24 hours because of the increased snack size. Over the course of a week, that can contribute to an extra pound of fat.
Quick Fix: Use one hand to defeat your cravings. (Mind out of the gutter, fellas.) If a portion does not fit into your hand—whether it’s almonds, a chicken breast, cheese, or fruit—then the portion size is probably too large.
If it’s packaged, read the label. You want 200 to 300 calories in each serving, with 15 to 20 grams of protein and about the same amount of carbs—what you might find in a cup of Greek yogurt and some dried cherries.
When you add them all up, these steps give you enough flexibility to live your life, but, at the same time, know when you've gone off plan and are doing more harm than good.