Say farewell to fad diets—and hello to these safe, natural weight-loss tips.

By Emily Abbate
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Photo: Shutterstock

Losing weight can be tough. Yes, there are a plethora of diets, workout routines, and pills out there that seem like a roadmap to the weight-loss promised land. But at the end of the day, keeping pounds off involves tweaking your lifestyle. Natural weight loss, which involves adopting healthy habits that you can incorporate long-term, can help that number on the scale go down in a safe, effective way.

The only problem: When you hit a simple Google search, there's an overabundance of natural weight-loss remedies, products, and pills practically screaming at you. How do you know what's legit?

"Stay away from anything that doesn't promote health," says JC Doornick, D.C., a health and lifestyle coach who travels the world helping people lose weight. "Anybody taking pills, stimulants, injections, fluids, or eating 500 calories a day is focused 100 percent on weight loss and zero percent on health."

It's also important to identify the strategies that feel right for you. A tactic like intermittent fasting may work for some, for example, but others may feel loopy come 11 a.m. without an energy-boosting breakfast. Check out the tips below to help you figure out how to lose weight naturally, in a way that feels totally customized to you and your body. That way, once the pounds peel off, they can stay off-for good.

Do the workout you love.

Often times, we think the best weight-loss strategies start with a lofty exercise program. But the reality is that workouts are only one part of the picture, and there are a slew of recommendations for how much exercise we should be getting on a regular basis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for example, recommends that adults should exercise 150 minutes a week at a moderate intensity, or incorporate 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Meanwhile, a study published in Circulation found that the amount of exercise we get has a direct relationship to our heart health-the more you get, the healthier your heart will be-and they suggest two full hours a day as the new goal.

Basically, everyone's different, so it's hard to nail down a guideline that applies to everyone, says Sara Gottfried, M.D., bestselling author of The Hormone Cure and The Hormone Reset Diet. But if all else fails, remember this: Something is better than nothing. That's why Dr. Gottfried suggests incorporating 30 minutes of moderate intensity movement daily, devoting five minutes before your workout to an active warm-up, then another five minutes to cool down and prevent injury. Once you've got that down, you can layer on time and intensity. "After two weeks, add 10 minutes so that you're exercising moderately for 40 minutes, four days per week, or increase intensity," she suggests.

Finding something you enjoy is an important component to any fitness routine, too, because-duh-it means you'll be more likely to stick with it. So if running isn't your thing, don't sweat it-try a Zumba class, or meet girlfriends for Spin after work. (You could even try working out according to your Zodiac sign.) "You might get results from something you hate, but those results won't last," says Jess Sims, C.P.T., a Fhit Pro trainer at Fhitting Room in New York City. And don't be afraid to branch out and see if there's something else to love. "Varying your workouts will help keep you entertained and help you progress because your body doesn't get used to the same movements," adds Sims. Plain and simple: There's no one-size-fits-all workout, so don't box yourself in.

Experiment with eating.

Just like exercise, diets are different for everyone, especially when it comes to the best way to lose weight naturally. "I could tell my patients to eat nuts and berries, meditate, sit in a corner, and eat salmon. But if that doesn't work for them, they're out," says Doornick. "It's important to be realistic about what people can and can't do. Start where they want to start, and set realistic food parameters." (Here's why you should give up restrictive dieting once and for all.)

But if you just want to make a few tweaks to your current eating plan, Gottfried has three suggestions:

Befriend the produce section. It's no secret that eating vegetables is good for you. But shockingly, only 27 percent of American adults eat the recommended three or more servings they should be getting daily, according to a CDC report. Aim to up your vegetable intake to one pound per day. Not only will it help you hit your weight-loss goals, but eating a rainbow of vegetables can also help protect against cancer, heart disease, and the effects of aging. (Looking for dinner inspo? These creative recipes make the most of spiralized veggies.)

Try intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting (or IF) has gotten trendy over the last few years thanks to mainstream wellness pushes like the Bulletproof Diet. The concept: Stave off food for 12 to 18 hours between dinner and breakfast, as doing so may offer many of the same benefits of a low-calorie diet, like a lower incidence of cardiovascular diseases. Couple it with high-intensity exercise and Dr. Gottfried says you're looking at a winning combo.

Cut out grains for three weeks. As much as we love carbs, "most grains have a fairly high glycemic index, meaning that after one to two hours, your blood sugar surges," says Dr. Gottfried. "Unfortunately, foods that spike your blood sugar are chemically addictive. They spur inflammation in your body and keep you in a downward spiral of craving that can ultimately lead to a growing waistline." To break the cycle, try scratching grains for less than a month, and pay attention to how your body reacts to the change.

Beware of natural weight-loss pills.

Between social media ads and TV commercial breaks, it's nearly impossible to escape messaging around natural weight-loss supplements. A lot of them are plant-based-green tea extract, bitter orange, raspberry ketones-and harmless-sounding. But do they work? Not exactly, says Melinda Manore, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Oregon State University. In her research of hundreds of natural weight-loss supplements (a $2.4 billion industry in the United States), she concluded that there's not a single product that results in significant weight loss. And, what's worse, many of them have side effects that can hinder your fitness goals (including bloating and gas). Not exactly a surefire way for you to fit into those skinny jeans.

Be open to the right natural herbs for weight loss.

While weight-loss supplements are definitely out, those aren't the only things to consider: There are also natural herbs for weight loss. And while there's a laundry list ready to be added to your drink at any smoothie spot or juice bar, a lot of them don't really live up to their purported better-for-you benefits. According to the McCormick Science Institute, there are 12 herbs and spices that have potentially significant health benefits, including black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, and turmeric. But out of all of the spices, cayenne pepper has been most praised for its weight-loss properties. Researchers found that just half a teaspoon increases metabolism, and a study group of 25 diners burned an extra 10 calories when it was added to their meal. Even better: For those who didn't regularly eat spicy meals, adding in pepper cut an average of 60 calories at their next meal. (Spicy foods might also be the secret to a longer life.)

But remember, vitamins are good.

Generally speaking, you want to load up on essential vitamins and minerals through whole food sources. Still, nobody's perfect. Supplementing your everyday diet can bring about total-body benefits, including increased muscle tone, more energy and, yep, weight loss. (This is what you need to know about vitamin IV infusions.) If that last one is your main goal, Dr. Gottfried suggests making these a regular part of your diet:

Vitamin D: Some experts think that sleep disorders have risen to epidemic levels for one major reason: a widespread vitamin D deficiency, says Dr. Gottfried. That's not exactly ideal, since adequate sleep is critical for your metabolism and actually achieving healthy, natural weight loss. Dr. Gottfried says it's best to aim for 2,000 to 5,000 IUs of vitamin D each day (try using this simple vitamin D dosage calculator to figure out how much you need), as a 12-week weight-loss study found that doing so resulted in lower amounts of fat mass.

Copper and zinc, together: When thyroid hormones are too low, your body pumps the brakes on your metabolism. But zinc can help boost your immune system and maintain a healthy thyroid. The downside: Adding zinc to your supplement routine can make you copper deficient. That's why Dr. Gottfried suggests women pair them together (you can get this in a high-potency multivitamin). For an optimal ratio, she suggests taking 20mg of zinc each day with 2mg of copper.

Berberine: Blood sugar rises with age, and berberine is one of the supplements proven to help you normalize glucose. It also works to reduce inflammation in your body, which can help with weight loss. And as if that weren't enough, "berberine can also curb sugar cravings, especially for those suffering from diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and obesity," says Dr. Gottfried. Take 300 to 500mg once to three times per day.

Magnesium: Affectionately called the relaxing mineral, magnesium can counter stress response, help your muscles release, and may even help you score better sleep. (Here are five other tricks that could help you snooze.) Plus, Dr. Gottfried says it's needed for hundreds of biochemical reactions in the body, like keeping your heartbeat steady and maintaining normal nerve and muscle function. Opt for 200 to 1000mg, and take it at night, since it helps your muscles relax.

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