The assumption that consuming fewer calories and increasing how much you move seems to make sense, right? After all, that’s what we’ve been repetitively told…
But, the human body is more complex than anyone’s equation. Don’t get me wrong, these steps are crucial. But this mantra is too simplistic. Paradoxically, being too strict can cause your body to rebel. If you’ve lost weight and put it right back on, or you’ve been stuck at a plateau, you likely know this already.
It’s time to step off the weight loss rollercoaster ride and embrace science-backed strategies that work. In this article, we explore 5 evidence-based weight loss strategies where you should focus your attention on for long-lasting success.
1) Improve your insulin sensitivity
Have you heard of the hormone, insulin?
When we consume carbohydrates, it is broken down into sugar. We need a certain amount of sugar to function. However, the safe range is narrow. If the level becomes too high for too long, like in diabetes, cellular damage occurs. Insulin’s role, then, is to guide excess sugar (glucose) into the relative safety of the cells. As in the story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears, insulin keeps the blood sugar level “just right.”
However, more people are experiencing high blood insulin levels, called hyperinsulinemia. Why does insulin soar? Because blood sugar does. It’s too dangerous to let our glucose level remain elevated so more insulin is produced with the aim of bringing blood sugar down. After some time, constant hyperinsulinemia results in a condition called insulin resistance, where our cells become “resistant” to the effects of insulin and thus less effective.
What does insulin sensitivity have to do with weight loss?
- Inhibits lipolysis; it hinders the breakdown of fat
- Raises the possibility of fat accumulation
- Increases the risk that people will regain weight loss following a low-calorie diet
This raises an important question…
How does one improve their insulin sensitivity?
- Consume whole, low glycemic foods.
- Eat healthy fats.
- Incorporate high-intensity interval training (more on this soon).
- Focus on good gut health.
- Manage stress…
And on that note, let’s talk about this important topic.
2) Manage your stress level
Have you ever stopped to consider whether stress could be contributing to an expanding waistline? Maybe you’ve eagerly gorged on your favorite meal while barely being conscious of the process? Or maybe you’ve found yourself unable to resist that chocolate bar after a long, distressing day?
Research published in 2015 in the Journal of Health Psychology found that “Stress-related eating is associated with greater preference for calorie-dense and highly palatable foods.” As stress rises, food cravings increase. This triggers fat gain.
How to reduce your stress level?
There are many techniques that aid relaxation and switch off the stress response. Here are seven of our science-backed favorites:
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
- Foods that contain B vitamins, zinc, and Omega-three fatty acids.
(eg: Free-range eggs, nuts, seeds, and shellfish are excellent options)
3) Make Sleep a Priority
Do you sleep soundly for eight hours per night? Many people have convinced themselves that five or six hours per night will do. Unfortunately, the research shows otherwise.
In a study published in the journal PLOS Medicine, researchers investigated the effects of short sleep duration on leptin and ghrelin, hormones that lessen or heighten your hunger, and on body mass index (BMI). They found that “Participants with short sleep had reduced leptin and elevated ghrelin [which is] likely to increase appetite and possibly induce weight gain.”
How do you improve your sleep quality?
- Develop a sleep routine: Include the same sleep and wake time, allocate time to wind down, meditate prior to slumber, enjoy a warm bath 90 minutes before bed.
- Avoid blue light for at least 90 minutes prior to bedtime.
- Limit caffeine consumption. Caffeine can negatively affect your sleep even when consumed six hours before sleep!
- Avoid (or limit) alcohol in the evenings.
- Exercise. Whether you find it difficult to nod off or stay asleep, regular physical activity can help.
Thirty to 40-minute endurance sessions each week are enough. For some people, exercising too close
to bedtime may have the opposite effect, so if you need to exercise later in the evening, take note of whether this is problematic for you.
- Set a sleep schedule by going to and waking up at consistent times.
4) Add High-Intensity Interval Training to Your Routine
There are many approaches to exercise. However, one evidence-based approach has been proven to burn abdominal fat, reduce waist circumference and address insulin resistance…
High-intensity interval training, or HIIT.
What is HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)?
As the author of a journal article called High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss said, HIIT involves, “Repeated brief sprinting at an all-out intensity immediately followed by low-intensity exercise or rest.”
This style of exercise is a perfect match for a treadmill or elliptical work, skipping or rowing, or even walking if you’re just beginning.
5) Increase Your Muscle Mass
When you increase the amount of muscle you have, you increase your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This raises your ability to burn fat and lose weight.
In support of this, a study titled Effects of dieting and exercise on resting metabolic rate and implications for weight management found, “Resting metabolic rate increased as [muscle] mass increased.”
A 2018 study published in the journal Nutrients found the opposite is also true. A loss of lean body mass lowered resting energy expenditure. It also increased fatigue and injury risk. For those trying to lose weight, the authors note an important finding: the metabolic decline triggered by a loss of lean body mass caused people to regain the fat previously lost.
In essence, when muscle mass drops so does metabolism and the ability to keep weight off. When muscle mass increases the body can more easily burn fat, making it possible to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
It’s important to remember that as your muscle mass increases you need more energy to nourish and support this tissue. This translates into higher allowed calories. Too few calories are counterproductive.
Note: While researchers often use the term ‘lean body mass’, we prefer muscle mass because it is more accurate. Find out why in our article, Lean Body Mass and Muscle Mass – What’s the Difference?
How can you increase your muscle mass?
- Eat Well – Our article, What to Eat to Build Skeletal Muscle dives into the ‘how to’.
- Incorporate resistance training.
- Consider taking a protein supplement.
For many people, the “eat less, exercise more” mantra fails. Yet with the right approaches, permanent weight loss is possible.
Instead of deprivation, focus on science-backed approaches that work: improved insulin sensitivity, stress management, sound sleep, high-intensity interval training, and increasing your muscle mass.
And remember; choose approaches you love. They’ll be far easier to stick to and make it easier to live a happy, healthy and slender life.