10 Science-Backed Strategies to Lose Weight While Maintaining Your Muscle Gains

Experts explain how to lose fat and reach your weight-loss goals — besides creating a calorie deficit.

In the simplest of terms, losing weight comes down to math. You generally need to consume fewer calories than you burn, right? Creating a calorie deficit is broadly recommended as a tactic to achieve your goals. But even if the number on the scale goes down from one day to the next, it may not mean the amount of body fat you have has changed.

ICYDK, your total body weight is made up of seven distinct things: Muscle, bones, organs, fluids (including blood), body fat, waste (the stuff inside the digestive tract you haven't eliminated yet), and excess glycogen (the unused byproduct of carbohydrates you store in your liver and muscles as additional fuel). Most often, when the number on the scale changes, it's due to fluctuations in the amount of water, glycogen, and waste in your body, which shift from hour to hour and day to day.

Losing body fat, however, takes longer, and a calorie deficit may be just one component of your weight-loss game plan. Here, experts share their other strategies for how to lose fat, retain muscle, and achieve your weight-loss goals. (

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How to Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle

1. Stick with your workout routine.

Turns out, your body fat could play a role in weight loss. Just as there's more than one kind of fat in food, there's more than one type in your body. White fat stores extra energy and can contribute to obesity, according to the National Institutes of Health, while brown fat (aka brown adipose tissue), actually burns calories. But not all adults have both kinds: A 2021 study of more than 52,000 people found that only 10 percent of participants had brown fat.

This type of fat contains more mitochondria, the parts of cells that generate heat and become highly activated in response to cold temperatures, exercise, and caffeine, than white fat. You're able to burn more calories at rest when brown fat (if you have it) is activated, Dr. Cypess previously told Reuters.

Exercise is one of the easiest ways to increase the proportion of any brown fat you have. In a study, scientists at Harvard's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute discovered that working out releases a hormone called irisin, which helps converts white fat to brown — and improves cardiovascular and cognitive functioning. To nab its benefits and improve your health overall, consider exercising for a half-hour at least five days a week. (

2. Take a vitamin D supplement.

Taking vitamin D daily may be a beneficial strategy for how to lose fat. A small study at the University of Minnesota found that people who started a weight-loss program with higher levels of vitamin D lost more weight than those who had "insufficient" levels of the nutrient. Other research suggests that vitamin D appears to boost the effectiveness of leptin, a hormone that signals to the brain that you're full. Since few foods naturally contain vitamin D, Shalamar Sibley, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at the university, suggests taking a vitamin D3 supplement daily to get the 600 International Units (IU) recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture. (BTW, being deficient in vitamin D affects your body in more ways than one.)

3. Move more.

Despite what most people think about how to lose fat, it's not just about exercise — it's also about moving more in general. In fact, the physical act of sitting or lying down may actually speed up your body's production of fat, according to research published in the American Journal of Physiology-Cell Physiology. When you lounge on a sofa or in a chair for extended periods of time, you exert forces on your cells that cause them to become stretched out and may ultimately increase fat production, according to the researchers.

Glued to your desk every day for eight hours or more? You need to take action, says Richard Atkinson, M.D., a clinical professor of pathology at Virginia Commonwealth University. Get up and walk around for five minutes at least once an hour. Take a stroll around the office. Go talk to a coworker rather than sending an email. Pace back and forth while talking on the phone.

"Just standing — even if you're not moving — uses significantly more muscles than sitting down," says Dr. Atkinson. When you're watching TV at home, get up and jog in place or do jumping jacks during commercials (or try one of these at-home workouts). These short bursts of exercise can help you burn calories and keep your cells healthy.

4. Sip on green tea.

A review of studies concluded that regularly sipping green tea can potentially help you lose weight. This weight loss is the result of EGCG, a compound known to reduce fat absorption. But that's not all the drink does: "Green tea also increases the amount of fat that your body eliminates," explains study author Joshua D. Lambert, Ph.D., an assistant professor of food science at Penn State University. So think about trading your usual afternoon java for green tea instead. Experts say that drinking three to five cups of the regular or decaf variety every day may help you lose weight. (BTW, you'll also want to brew a pot of ginger tea for some extra health perks.)

5. Don't get caught up in the genes.

Current research shows that there are more than 30 genes that may affect body mass index. Specifically, and people who have a variant on chromosome 16 on what's called the FTO gene, have a 20 to 30 percent higher risk of obesity than those who don't have a varient, according to an article published by Harvard's School of Public Health. But having a gene variation doesn't mean you're destined to be overweight. For starters, research shows that just believing you have a gene variant that may contribute to obesity may actually reinforce unhealthy behaviors. Plus, a British review found that exercise can trump your genetics: Physically active people (who had one hour or more of moderate-to-vigorous exercise a week) with a gene variation linked to obesity are 27 percent less likely to become obese than less active people who also have the gene. Aim for the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions' recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and two strength-training sessions to stay healthy and help you meet your weight-loss goals.

Strategies to Help You Along Your Weight-Loss Journey

1. Be cognizant of peer pressure.

Picture this scenario: You don't really want dessert, but your friends are having some, and they're urging you to join them. So you give in and order a piece of tiramisu. In that instance, you committed sociotropy, aka people pleasing — a behavior that can potentially lead to weight gain.

Generally speaking, "women score slightly higher than men on people-pleasing measures," says Julie Exline, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University. That may be because men are raised to be assertive while women are socialized to value relationships and "basically to be nicer," Exline explains.

In other words, humans, and women, in particular, are inclined to go along with what the rest of the group wants to do, and that may affect your food choices. If you feel pressured, "tell your friends politely but firmly that you're fine with what you have and that you're not hungry for more right now," says Exline. Hold your ground and your pals will get the message or, better yet, get them on board: Teaming up with a buddy can help you be more successful with your weight loss goals.

2. Be aware of the "treat yo' self" mentality.

Doing something that can potentially assist in reaching your weight-loss goals or generally improve your health, such as hitting your daily water target or eating a lower-calorie meal, may make you less likely to exercise or eat healthy foods later on. This is because of a phenomenon scientists call licensing, which happens when you feel that you've earned the right to be self-indulgent. Most people have a tendency to want to balance things out, says Kathleen Vohs, Ph.D., an associate professor of marketing at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. So when you do one thing that's good for your health, which often requires exerting some discipline and self-control, you may want to follow it up with something that's a bit more indulgent.

So how can you balance the two? Be mindful of activities and foods that may slow your progress, and if you do opt to eat a snack that's not a part of your healthy meal plan or you skip a workout, give yourself some grace and move forward.

3. Practice mindful eating.

Most folks eat quickly, chewing each bite just a few times, which may lead you to consume more food than you realize. Slow down and try to eat more mindfully: In a small 2011 study, people who chewed each bite 40 times ate almost 12 percent fewer calories than those who chewed just 15 times. When you chew longer, your body produces less ghrelin, a hormone that boosts appetite, and more of the peptide hormones that are believed to curb hunger. "Chewing seems to stimulate the gut to make appetite-suppressing peptide hormones," says Dr. Cypess.

Plus, the more you chew, the more thoroughly you break down food, which may release nutrients into your blood faster and give your brain time to register that you're full. To slow down your noshing and potentially reduce your calorie consumption, which, in turn, can contribute to weight loss, focus on eating mindfully at every meal, consider putting down your fork between bites, and try to increase your number of chews with every mouthful.

4. Make healthy food choices.

Don't blame your chocolate craving on a lack of willpower. Turns out, there's a physiological reason ice cream, french fries, and cupcakes are so hard to resist: Your body is wired to crave rich food. Consuming sugar can prompt the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and happiness, and sweet and salty foods can trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in pleasure, according to the Cleveland Clinic. "Some people are hypersensitive to food," says Eric Stice, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at the Oregon Research Institute. "They find things like chocolate cake orgasmic, so they tend to overeat it."

Research shows that greater contact with natural environments (e.g. parks, woodlands, and beaches) is linked with better health and well-being, and people who spend at least two hours outside each week are more likely to report good health or well-being, according to the journal Nature. "It could be that there's something healing and calming about simply being outside," says Stephanie Jilcott Pitts, Ph.D., an assistant professor at East Carolina University. (And that's the start of the health benefits of nature.)

5. Head outdoors.

Making healthier food choices can be tough to do if you're surrounded by treats, but eating nutrient-dense foods throughout the day can keep your glucose (which fuels your body) at a high level so that you feel energized and satisfied. Consider snacking on nutritious choices such as fruit with yogurt, vegetables with hummus, and whole-grain bread topped with nut butter. Over time, these small, consistent healthy choices will help you meet your weight loss of body composition goals. (

For instance, research has shown that people who walked for 90 minutes in nature could have a lower risk of depression than those who walk on busy city sidewalks. Not only that, but walking may curb cravings and, in turn, caloric consumption: In a 2011 study, regular chocolate eaters who took a brisk 15-minute stroll consumed about half as much of their favorite treat as those who didn't go for a walk. A key component of your "how to lose fat" playbook: Take your workout outdoors. If your neighborhood isn't made for exercising, find a park nearby and head there often to bike, run, or hike.

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