Developing healthy eating habits isn’t as confusing or as restrictive as many people imagine. The essential steps are to eat mostly foods derived from plants—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes (such as beans and lentils), and nuts—and limit highly processed foods. If you eat animal foods, you can add in some dairy products, fish, poultry, and lean meat. Studies show that people who eat this way have a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and possibly cancer and other chronic diseases. Here are our guidelines for building a healthy diet.
“For weight loss, it’s important to eat foods with plenty of protein and fiber to keep you full throughout the day and prevent you from overeating. I like to recommend opting for plant-based proteins, since they tend to have fewer calories than their meat counterparts,” says Rizzo. A 1/2 cup of cooked lentils has 12 grams of protein for just 140 calories. It's super versatile and can be added to grain bowls, salads, soups, and more.
A 2012 CDC study found that the average adult consumes about 100 calories worth of alcohol daily, but favoring a glass of wine instead of beer or sugary cocktails can drastically reduce that figure and make your waistline slimmer. In addition to having fewer calories than most alcoholic beverages, red wine, in particular, is a good source of those waist-shrinking flavonoids that are also found in red fruits. Resveratrol, a particular flavonoid found in red wine, is believed to have heart health benefits because it helps prevent blood vessel damage and reduces your ‘bad cholesterol.’ Just remember to imbibe in moderation.
Not all the nutrients and other substances that contribute to good health have been identified, so eating a wide assortment of healthy whole foods like fruits and vegetables helps ensure that you get all of the health-promoting benefits that foods can offer. If your diet, day after day, consists of the same half dozen foods, it could fall short. In addition, varying your food choices will limit your exposure to any pesticides or toxic substances that might be present in particular foods. 
Yogurt is protein-packed and full of probiotics, which are good for gut health and may help your weight-loss efforts. Your gut health can impact your weight, and eating more fiber and probiotics helps keep your gut bacteria happy, which can be good for your metabolism (read more about your gut-weight connection). Go Greek for more protein; plus, research from Appetite found that consumption of Greek yogurt was associated with reduced appetite and increased satiety. Just keep an eye on added sugars in flavored yogurts, which only add calories. Instead, use fresh fruit to sweeten plain yogurt.

The next time you're craving some crunch, drop the potato chips and grab celery. The veggie is essentially all water and fiber — two things that fill you up quickly — and while one cup of chips can be upward of 160 calories, celery only contains about 14 calories per cup, chopped. Dip them in a serving of natural peanut butter (it's best if the ingredients list only has peanuts and salt on it) or hummus for a healthy snack.
Salmon boasts significant anti-inflammatory properties thanks to its rich omega-3 fatty acid content, meaning it’s an excellent source of protein for those looking to jumpstart their weight loss. In fact, one International Journal of Obesity study that examined the effects of weight loss and seafood consumption showed that when men ate three 5-ounce servings of salmon per week for a month as part of a low-calorie diet, it resulted in approximately 2.2 pounds more weight loss than following an equicaloric diet that didn’t include fish. According to a study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, fishy fatty acids may also signal thyroid cells in the liver to burn more fat.
You may not think of them as a weight-loss food, but eggs are packed with protein, which helps curb your appetite. One study found that overweight women who ate eggs for breakfast were able to lose twice as much weight as women who started their days with bagels. And egg whites in particular are a good source of branched-chain amino acids, which help keep your metabolism running smoothly.
The saturated fats in animal foods generally boost levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and have other adverse effects. To limit your intake, choose lean meats, skinless poultry, and nonfat or low-fat dairy products. It’s also a good idea to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats (see next slide). Keep in mind, though, that not all saturated fats are bad for you; those in chocolate, milk, and cheese, for example, are more neutral in their effect on blood cholesterol. Trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils are even worse than saturated fats, but FDA regulations have now nearly phased them out of the food supply.

Speaking of standout breakfast foods, Greek yogurt is another option worthy of the spotlight thanks to its high-protein content. Per study in the journal Appetite, researchers from the University of Missouri compared the satiety effects of high-, moderate-, and low-protein yogurts on women aged 24-28, and found Greek yogurt, with the highest protein content, to have the greatest effect. What’s more? Probiotics in items such as yogurt and fermented foods, like pickles and sauerkraut, help good bacteria in the gut process food more efficiently. Hello, weight loss! If you want to get even more protein in your yogurt, check out Icelandic yogurts, which can have two to three more grams of protein per serving compared to Greek.


Since avocados are packed with nutrients and healthy fats that can stimulate weight loss, it’s no surprise that avocado oil acts in a similar fashion. When Penn State University researchers compared those who consumed monounsaturated-rich oils (like high-oleic canola oil or avocado oil) with those who consumed a flax-safflower oil blend, they found that those who used just three tablespoons of the monounsaturated-rich oil daily lost nearly two percent of their belly fat in just one month.

Drinking enough water can help you stay slim, too. Research from the American Chemical Society in Boston found that having two 8-ounce glasses of water before a meal while also reducing portion sizes could help you lose weight and keep it off. Not to mention, water fills you up, curbing your appetite: "In addition to slightly boosting your metabolism, drinking water before meals has been shown to help you eat less without trying," says Sass.
Fruit and vegetables are low in calories and nutrient dense, which means they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Focus on eating the recommended daily amount of at least five servings of fruit and vegetables and it will naturally fill you up and help you cut back on unhealthy foods. A serving is half a cup of raw fruit or veg or a small apple or banana, for example. Most of us need to double the amount we currently eat.
Prepare more of your own meals. Cooking more meals at home can help you take charge of what you’re eating and better monitor exactly what goes into your food. You’ll eat fewer calories and avoid the chemical additives, added sugar, and unhealthy fats of packaged and takeout foods that can leave you feeling tired, bloated, and irritable, and exacerbate symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety.
If you’re on a quest to jumpstart weight loss, why not kick your metabolism into overdrive by sneaking spicy foods into your diet. Capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper that gives it its spiciness, revs up your metabolism in a way that’s conducive to weight loss. In fact, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, those who supplemented their diet with capsaicin consumed 200 fewer calories during their next meal.
Hello, hydration. Watermelon, which gets its pretty color from the antioxidant lycopene, is a juicy, delicious way to make sure you’re staying hydrated—a key factor in weight loss for various reasons. When you’re drinking enough water, all your systems (including your metabolism) are better able to work at their maximum capacity, Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist, told SELF in a previous article. Plus, proper hydration prevents you from confusing thirst for hunger, which can lead you to overeat throughout the day. And don’t buy into the hype about watermelon being a calorie bomb—1 cup only contains 46 calories.
When it comes to eating for weight loss, fiber is the number one nutrient that belongs on your radar. The Cleveland Clinic says women should aim for the recommended 25 to 30 grams per day, and one of the easiest ways to do that is by loading your plate with broccoli. The veggie contains 16 grams per bunch! If you don't like eating it solo, sneak it into the dishes you already love, like this Fusilli with Broccoli Pesto recipe.
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