Crash diets are the freaking worst. While you might be motivated to lose weight fast, by day four of whatever bananas diet you’re on (hopefully not literally a diet of bananas), looking puffy sounds a lot more appealing than 24 more hours of chicken breast and spinach.
Because we care, we’re here to offer you a much easier, healthier, and saner plan of attack that will actually help you learn how to lose weight fast—the healthy way. No juice cleanses, no hot dogs and a cup of broccoli (seriously, this exists), and no hunger-induced dreams featuring you naked in a kiddie pool full of guac.
Preserve your muscle and your sanity by jump-starting your weight loss results with these eight easy strategies that will set you up for years of healthy living.
1. Don’t Eat Any One Food (Except for Veggies) More Than Once Per Day
If you have toast at breakfast, choose another whole-grain carb like brown rice or quinoa for lunch and dinner. If you love to eat PB and J for a pre-workout snack, lay off the nuts the rest of the day. By limiting yourself to one portion of any single food, you automatically add a sort of fail-safe to your eating plan, says Rania Batayneh, M.P.H., author of The One One One Diet. Plus, even more importantly, this strategy adds a wider array of nutrients to each day—increasing your satiety and energy levels so you can crush your weight-loss efforts.
2. Eat Legumes at Least Four Times a Week
In one European Journal of Nutrition study, people who followed a low-cal diet that included four weekly servings of legumes lost significantly more weight after just four weeks compared to those who ate the same number of calories—but no legumes. The weight-loss turbocharge may come from legumes’ fiber and antioxidant compounds, since the researchers found that legume lovers had lower levels of inflammatory markers that are linked to obesity. Try adding chickpeas to your salad, cooking some lentils in the slow cooker, or mixing black beans into a Tex-Mex omelet.
3. Get 8.5 Hours of Sleep
Yeah, you know your sleep affects your weight. But you probably don’t realize just how quickly that happens: One Annals of Internal Medicine study suggests two weeks is all it takes for your sleep to show up—one way or the other—around your waistline. In the study, men and women followed a calorie-controlled diet. After 14 days of sleeping either 5.5 or 8.5 hours each night, both groups lost about 6.5 pounds—but those who got the most sleep lost twice as much fat as the short sleepers did. (Stay on track with your goals with Women’s Health’s Look Better Naked DVD.)
4. Drink a Liter of Water for Every 50 Pounds You Weigh
While increasing your water intake is vital to preventing overeating, promoting healthy digestion, and keeping your metabolism in tip-top shape, when it comes to dropping weight quickly, water is also your greatest de-bloating ally, says San Diego-based trainer Kyle Brown, C.S.C.S., who is best known for getting celebrities “cut” before photo shoots and red-carpet affairs. That’s because, when your cells are dehydrated, their first course of action is to cling to any fluid that’s in your system, contributing to all-over bloat. He recommends drinking a liter of water for every 50 pounds you weigh, per day. So if you weigh 175 pounds, it comes out to 3.5 liters of water. Sip consistently to prevent overloading your system all at once.
5. Cut Back on Processed Foods and Salt
Another way to ditch excess water weight is to get your sodium and potassium levels in check, says Brown. To do that, he recommends cutting back on processed foods, which tend to be high in sodium, and nixing salt from whatever food is on your plate. Pair this low-salt strategy with plenty of potassium-rich foods like salmon, halibut, and spinach, and you’ll de-bloat over the course of the week, he says.
6. Do 20 Minutes of High-Intensity Interval Training
To lose weight in record time, high-intensity interval training is your exercise strategy of choice. Minute-per-minute, it burns more calories than other workouts like steady-state cardio while also increasing the calories you burn 48 hours after your workout, says Taylor Gainor, C.S.C.S., co-founder of LIT Method in Los Angeles. Plus, over the long term, interval training builds muscle, which is critical for keeping the weight off, says Brown. Your exercise prescription: Perform all-out effort of a given exercise (like burpees, squats, lunges, or pushups) for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds, and repeat until four minutes have passed. Rest one minute, then repeat for a total of four rounds, suggests research from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
See some of the craziest diets people have actually tried throughout history.
7. Avoid Pasta, Cookies, and Candy
We realize this isn’t groundbreaking advice, but one of the easiest ways to debloat is to reduce your intake of simple, refined carbs. Some sources to watch out for include white pasta, cookies, crackers, and candy. While it goes without saying that the refined sugar in these foods can prevent weight loss over the long term, they can lead to significant water retention in the short term, says Gainor. You’ll be shocked how much weight you lose (even if it is water) within a week or two of cutting back on your regular sugar fix, he says.
8. Eat Whole Carbs, Proteins, and Fats Every Few Hours
Eating balanced meals and snacks, containing all three macronutrients your body needs, every few hours is key to energizing your bod for your workouts, preventing overeating (especially those simple carbs), and keeping your metabolism at peak speed, Batayneh says. Try toast, an egg, and avocado for breakfast, an apple with string cheese for a snack, and a spinach salad tossed with chicken and olive oil for lunch.
9. Eat a Handful of Nuts Every Day
In one Penn State study, people who ate roughly a handful of almonds each day lost significantly more abdominal fat over the course of six weeks compared to those who followed a nut-less (heh) diet with the same number of calories. While this study looked at almond intake, other tree nuts like walnuts and pistachios have also been linked to improved health and weights, thanks to their healthy fat and protein content.