When it comes to reaching our weight-loss goals, we've got about as much patience as we do sitting in traffic when we're already late for work.
But in order to get to your goal as quickly as possible, you've got to forget about crash dieting. That's because making strategic tweaks to your diet and exercise plan, rather than skimping on calories and exercise bingeing, is the fastest way to torch fat and keep it off, says Torey Armul, R.D. spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"Some diets that promote rapid weight loss are too restrictive and unrealistic over time, which leads to weight regain," says Armul. So even if you lose five pounds a week on a quick-fix diet, that weight will be back faster than you can say, "I don't eat carbs."
Unlike a fad diet, these six expert-backed tips will help you lose weight fast because you're making smart adjustments, not hard ones.
Here's how to reach your goal weight faster without losing your mind.
Get 6.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep
According to a small study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, people who slept for 8.5 hours a night for two weeks lost nearly twice as much weight on average than participants who slept 5.5 hours per night, despite the fact that they followed the same diet and workout plan. That's because when you get a good night's sleep, your hunger hormones, like ghrelin and leptin, stay in check. That means you're not going to wake up with a sudden hankering for a bacon, egg, and cheese.
Plus, a 2013 study from the University of California, Berkeley suggests that skipping sleep makes your brain's reward zone react to fatty and sugary treats way more enthusiastically. What's more, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who didn't get enough sleep ate an average of 385 extra calories that day. In short, more sleep = less calories in your mouth and less fat on your body.
Do deep nasal breathing to relax
Too many tough days at the office or ongoing arguments with family members can sabotage your weight-loss efforts, says Jeremy Shore, C.S.C.S., a group education director for Matrix Fitness. When your body is stressed, your cortisol levels rise, telling your body to store fat for protection, says Shore. While that might be helpful in the Amazon, it's not going to save you from your boss's emails. Shore recommends deep nasal breathing to relax. "This directs air into the lower lobes of the lungs where there are a greater number of parasympathetic nervous system receptors—stimulating repair and recovery while calming the mind," he says. Inhale and exhale deeply from the nose, spending five to eight seconds on each inhale and five to eight seconds on each exhale.
Eat every three to four hours
Eating meals frequently helps combat fat gain by giving your body long-lasting energy and preventing intense hunger that leads to irrational food choices and over eating, says Armul. At each meal, fill half of your plate with fruits and veggies, one quarter with whole grains, and one quarter with lean protein, like beans, nuts, eggs, fish, and poultry, she says. These nutrient-rich foods increase satiety by slowing the digestion and absorption of food in the stomach, which ultimately leads to less calories consumed and more weight loss.
Make each meal 35 percent protein, 35 percent fat and 30 percent carbs
This formula will help you lose weight faster, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D., manager of wellness nutrition services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that increasing your protein intake while decreasing the amount of calories you consume ensures that you lose fat instead of muscle. This 35-35-30 breakdown doesn't mean you can eat any old carb or fat though, she says. Aim to get most of your healthy fat from nuts and fish, your carbs from beans and whole grains, and protein from lean sources like eggs, chicken, and fish, she says.
Strength train 3 times per week
Since muscle mass actually increases your metabolic rate, building muscle through weight training increases your caloric burn, says Alberty Matheny, C.S.C.S., R.D., and co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab. To increase your muscle mass, he suggests doing three to four sets of exercises like bicep curls, triceps pull downs, squats, lunges, bench presses, and upright rows. Perform eight to 12 reps per set, taking a 45 to 90 second breaks between sets. Tackle this sequence three times per week and increase the weight and sets to keep making progress as you get stronger, he says.
This kind of strength training recruits fast-twitch muscle fibres, which increases fat burning, says Shore. Although you could see a small increase in the scale as you build muscle, keep in mind that muscle is more dense than fat. That means it’s very likely that you're losing fat while gaining muscle, so don’t stress, says Shore. To keep up your progress, aim to increase the amount of resistance you use when your current weight becomes too easy to lift, says Shore.
Do interval training
High-intensity interval training (HIIT), consisting of short bursts of exercise with quick periods of rest or recovery exercises in between, is a very effective way to promote fat loss, says Matheny. "Varying the intensity of training leads to a spike in heart rate, which is metabolically challenging and burns more calories," he says.
Matheny recommends a Tabata-style workout to rev up your fat-burning power. For this, you'll spend 20 seconds doing an intense exercise, like burpees, followed by 10 seconds rest. You'll repeat the sequence eight times, giving you a four-minute workout. For a quick and dirty full-body workout, repeat the sequence five times with five different exercises for a total of 20 minutes.
This article originally appeared on Womenshealthmag.com.