Protein foods are the most important for fat loss because they are filling and eating them leads the body to burn more calories compared to fats or carbohydrates.
This makes high-protein, lower carb diets done the right way very useful for losing body fat because you eat less, your body burns more calories, and the ample pool of amino acids from the protein preserves lean muscle mass.
Still, when the going gets tough and you’re trying to change your body, it can be helpful to have a few more tricks up your sleeve. This article will give you simple fat loss tricks that fall into the following two categories:
1) Ways to get yourself to eat less without feeling hungry, and
2) Nutrients that cause the body to burn calories at an elevated rate.
These tips are best used if you have already adopted the following habits:
• Eating whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and nuts.
• Favoring whole carbs from plants over refined grains.
• Avoiding processed foods.
• Exercising regularly, preferably with strength training as a primary activity.
#1: Eat high-quality protein, favoring foods high in the amino acid tyrosine.
The benefits of eating high-quality protein at every meal are abundant:
• Protein helps preserve lean muscle mass so that you have a higher daily resting energy expenditure.
• High-quality protein helps manage blood sugar and insulin, decreasing cravings for sugar.
• Certain amino acids contained in protein activate a network of transmitters in the brain that are energizing and will reduce people’s desire to eat. For instance, the amino acid tyrosine has been found to improve dopamine levels in the brain so that people eat less and have fewer cravings for foods high in sugar and fat.
What to do: Plan meals around high-quality protein, getting as much variety as possible to provide an array of energizing amino acids for the brain. Try eggs, fish, poultry, wild game (bison, elk, etc.), beef, pork, and cheese. Leafy greens such as spinach and mustard greens are also packed with tyrosine.
#2: Eat foods high in indigestible fiber, especially resistant starch.
Foods high in fiber fill you up and they result in a lower proportion of the calories being absorbed by the body than those low in fiber.
What you may not know is that processed foods with added fiber don’t help you eat less—only those with naturally occurring indigestible fiber have this benefit. This type of fiber is found primarily in vegetables, fruits, and some grains.
Resistant starch is another kind of indigestible fiber that encourages the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. It’s been found to increase the feeling of satisfaction to a meal, and to preserve lean muscle mass when losing fat so that your overall energy expenditure doesn’t drop drastically.
What to do: Eat veggies or fruit with every meal and try to get some resistant starch in your diet daily. It’s found in raw unmodified potato starch, green bananas, oats, peas, maize, and raw potatoes, cooked and cooled potatoes, and cooked and cooled white rice, among other foods.
#3: Start meals with green veggies or salad.
Start every meal with green veggies or salad and you will eat fewer calories overall, while getting a more nutritious meal. Drinking a glass of water or tea before chowing down has also been shown to reduce food intake.
Whatever food we put in our mouths first, is what we eat most of. For example, in a recent study using college students at a buffet, those who started with vegetables ended up eating more veggies overall, which translated into fewer calories and fewer simple carbs like dinner roles or French fries.
Similarly, the students who started with bread or French fries ate more carbs total, which meant they consumed significantly more calories by the end of the meal.
Why it works: As long as you see and eat the same volume of food, you are likely to feel full and satisfied despite the lower intake in energy.
#4: Watch out for overweight friends and fast eaters.
Humans are extremely susceptible to social cues when it comes to eating. For example, people will eat more when eating with overweight dining companions, especially if they are of the same sex.
If we are eating with someone who scarfs their food, we do too, consequently eating more at the meal. Good news is that the same goes for when our companions eat slowly—we slow down too.
We’re also more likely to eat high calorie foods are have an alcoholic drink if our friends are indulging. We make the mistake of thinking, “if everyone else is doing it, then I should be too.”
What to do: Be aware that we are very easily swayed by other’s choices. Begin to be conscious about what you put in your mouth and how much you’re eating with friends.
Know that the research is not very promising on this front. Even well-educated, intelligent people are extremely creative at rationalizing their desire to eat calorie-laden foods when in social situations.
For example, one study found that when grad students in nutrition were instructed in advance how to eat mindfully in social situations, they weren’t able to fight the social pressure to chow down when friends were doing so. One solution is to load up on protein and indigestible fiber before dining with friends.
#5: Drink green tea or yerba mate.
Green tea and yerba mate come from different plants, but they both contain caffeine and extremely high levels of the catechin antioxidants that promote fat loss.
An example of green tea at work is a study that had overweight women go on a diet for 4 weeks to lose weight. Then for 8 weeks they strength trained and took 10 grams of green tea powder twice a day, losing nearly 10 kg of body fat compared to a placebo group that lost only 3.2 kg of fat.
Notice that this study required the women to lose fat prior to using the green tea, and then they lifted weights for the duration of the intervention. This means that green tea is an aid to boost metabolism but it was not the driving force behind the fat loss—that was diet and exercise.
Why it works: The antioxidants in both green tea and yerba mate decrease fat absorption and can suppress food intake. They also enhance energy expenditure via greater thermogenesis and improve liver function.
#6: Eat fewer meals a few days a week.
Eating just one meal a day a few days a week is an easy way to get yourself to eat fewer calories so you lose fat and it avoids the harmful hormonal changes that occur with long-term calorie restriction or full-on fasting.
It works like this: Some days you eat normal meals, whether that’s 3, 5, 6 or whatever works for you. You don’t need to restrict calories—just be mindful of your portions and food choices.
Then on 2 or 3 days a week, you only eat 1 or 2 normal meals. Studies that test this design usually include one meal that’s about 500 calories on “off” days, but depending on your goals and individual factors, you could try two meals in the 500-calorie range and expect to get good results.
Why it works: People report that knowing they have the freedom to eat what they want the next day provides mental relief and replenishes willpower. Plus, after they get used to it, they don’t get hungry even on days with only meal.
#7: Use whey protein strategically to reduce hunger and reach protein goals. Having a whey protein shake is a useful way to blunt hunger and improve energy expenditure.
For example, in one study, overweight men who supplemented their diet with 56 grams of whey protein daily for 23 weeks lost about a kilo of body fat compared to a group that supplemented with soy protein and lost no fat.
Importantly, hunger hormones such as ghrelin were reduced and insulin concentrations were lower compared to the soy protein group. Whey spikes insulin and people often worry that this may cause blood sugar problems or lead to elevated insulin, but the research shows the opposite—whey protein supplementation consistently leads to lower blood glucose and better insulin sensitivity.
Why it works: Whey protein reduces hunger and raises calorie expenditure since it has the highest thermic effect of all protein powders due to its superior amino acid profile. Whey also stimulates protein synthesis that contributes to muscle growth to a greater degree than soy, casein, or pea protein.
#8: Eat omega-3-rich foods such as fish or grass-fed/finished beef.
The omega-3 fats contained in fish and other foods are unique because they raise body temperature from eating, which leads the body to burn extra calories. For example, a recent study tested the thermic effect of food in overweight men who ate about 3 grams of omega-3 fats a day.
The results are impressive: The thermic effect increased by 51.3 percent during the 6 hours after eating a meal containing fish oil. The men burned a whopping 920 calories during the period after eating when metabolism was elevated—that’s a huge amount—and they also experienced an increase in the use fat for energy instead of burning carbohydrates.
Why it works: Omega-3 fats enhance the activity of genes called the uncoupling proteins, which lead the body to burn more calories. There’s also some evidence that other polyunsaturated fats, like almonds and walnuts, have a similar effect. This is why certain fats don't make you fat, but can make you lean.
#9: Eat monounsaturated fats like avocados, olives, and quality olive oil. Called “anti-obesity” foods by scientists, avocados and olives are filled with nutrients and antioxidants that promote metabolic health and raise calorie expenditure after a meal more than other fats.
For example, compared to a breakfast in which the fat source was cream, a meal containing olive oil produced a higher thermic effect and shifted the body into more of a fat burning state. A second study showed olive oil was also superior to sunflower and flax seed oil for increasing calorie burn after eating.
Why it works: Monounsaturated fats are thought to make the body more likely to burn the energy they contain rather than store it as fat. They may also enhance uncoupling proteins in the same way as fish oil, elevating metabolic rate.
#10: Take care of your gut by eating probiotic foods.
The bacteria in your gut have a rather profound effect on how many calories your body absorbs and they may influence how much you eat as well.
For example, taking antibiotic drugs will shift the composition of your gut bacteria so that your body is able to absorb a greater amount of calories from carbohydrates, which it then converts to body fat.
In addition, one group of researchers believes that inflammatory gut bacteria, which interfere with brain function, actually have the ability to influence how much and which foods you eat. The hypothesis is that because they can alter dopamine levels and mood, bad gut bacteria make you crave foods high in fat and sugar, driving up calorie intake.
What to do: Eat plenty of probiotic foods such as pickled foods, miso, sauerkraut, quality yogurt, kefir, Indian lassi, and Korean kim chi.
#11: Display healthy foods prominently and hide those you don’t want to eat. Keeping food out of sight, or simply out of reach, also lowers calorie intake. For example, one study found that people will eat fewer calories if they have to get up out of a chair and walk across a room to eat popcorn and cookies on a counter than if those same treats are within reach on a table.
Of course, the best method is don’t even buy foods you don’t want to eat, such as cookies, crackers, ice cream, or chips. If someone gives you foods you don’t want to eat, donate them to a food bank, give them to people at work, or throw them away.
Why it works: Hiding food keeps it “out of sight out of mind.” It requires increased motivation to get the food and makes us more mindful about what we are putting in our mouths.