Now is the time to set up healthy habits you can maintain for life. Read on to learn how to keep the scale steady in your twenties.
If you’re like most women, your twenties are a time of transition. It’s the decade when you leave home, launch your career, and maybe even start a family. With so many changes, it’s no wonder that the number on the scale may be creeping higher.
In college, you may have had to deal with the stress of leaving home while also confronting the sudden availability of fast food. “That’s why we have terms like the freshman 15,” says Jonny Bowden, PhD, a nutritionist based in Los Angeles.
Later, sitting all day at a 9-to-5 job may have stymied your weight loss efforts even more. Add pregnancy and parenthood into the mix, and winning your battle with weight loss might look more elusive than ever.
The good news is that your twenties are a great time to part ways with unhealthy practices and create healthier habits that will help you gain control of the number on the scale. Try these 10 strategies for weight loss in your twenties:
1. Ditch fad diets and restrictive eating regimens. If you experimented with extreme calorie cutting and restrictive fad diets in your teenage years, it’s time to leave those unhealthy habits behind. “People turn to fad diets not only out of desperation but because they’re simply uninformed,” says Elise Chassen Sopov, RDN, an Oradell, New Jersey-based registered dietitian nutritionist and exercise physiologist who specializes in weight management. Now that you’re an adult, it’s time to choose a healthy way of eating that you can maintain for the rest of your life. Make fruits and vegetables the stars of your meals, and lean protein and whole-wheat carbs the supporting players.
2. Know your way around a cafeteria. Whether you’re eating in a dining hall or an office cafeteria, it’s important to know how to spot healthy options. Instead of reaching for fried foods, choose baked, grilled, roasted, or broiled meat and fish, along with steamed vegetables. Avoid foods covered in butter, cheese, or cream sauce, and go for fruit when you want something sweet, suggests the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
3. Up your nutrition game in the kitchen. Take a healthy-cooking class or look for free seminars about healthy eating run by health professionals, suggests Sopov. “Everyone could benefit from talking to a registered dietitian who will take the time to pinpoint what behaviors and changes in diet will work best for your lifestyle,” she says. Check out the offerings at your local grocery store — many now have nutritionists on staff to help you reach your healthy eating goals.
4. Focus on healthy, filling fats. Not all fats are created equal, says Dr. Bowden. He tells his clients to eat more healthy fat and protein and cut down on carbs. Unsaturated fats are the healthiest and can be found in delicious foods, such as avocados, almonds, olive oil, salmon, and flaxseeds.
5. Beware of buzzwords and marketing claims. Companies that make everything from soft drinks to processed foods may not always be telling the whole truth about how healthy their foods are, says Bowden. Their use of buzzwords like “organic” and “natural” might trip you up when you’re trying to make healthy choices. In a study published in 2014 in Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, researchers asked 318 college students to state whether they thought a food was healthy or unhealthy based on packaging images. When the image contained a health-food buzzword like “organic” or “whole grain,” participants rated the food as being healthier. Don’t judge a food by its packaging: Be sure to always read the nutrition label to get the whole story.
6. Party smarter. One of the biggest challenges for women in their twenties is balancing a social life with a healthy lifestyle, Sopov says. “Whether it be dating, nights out with friends, or work happy hours, there is always alcohol involved,” she says. To keep your liquid calorie intake in check, drink a glass of water before and after a cocktail, choose a light beer or a moderate amount of alcohol, and skip drinks mixed with soft drinks, suggests the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
7. Break a sweat any way you can. Whether you choose to walk, run, bike, swim, dance, or play a sport, getting your heart pumping is crucial when it comes to losing or maintaining your weight. If you’re looking to simply maintain your weight, aim for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of more intense exercise each week, suggests the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If your goal is to drop pounds, you might need to sweat it out more often.
8. Practice patience. Establishing healthy habits now can help you keep the weight off for decades to come. But it takes more than a few weeks to make a new habit stick. According to a 2009 study the European Journal of Social Psychology, it can take as long as 66 days to establish a habit, so the authors suggest giving yourself about 10 weeks before expecting a new one to take hold.
9. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. The same study also showed that new behaviors are more likely to become a habit when they’re simple. Set smaller goals, such as running a mile, before attempting bigger ones, like racing in a 5K.
10. Give yourself time to lose the baby weight. If you decide to start a family in your twenties, know that it’s normal for it to take six months to a year to get back to your pre-baby weight. Give yourself at least six weeks after giving birth to start a weight-loss plan, recommends the National Institutes of Health. If you’re breastfeeding, wait two months. And don’t be too hard on yourself. “Your body has just endured a massive transformation, and prior routines are turned upside down once kids enter the picture,” says Sopov.