There are several meal plans for women that can be effective for weight loss. Here are some of the top choices recommended by experts.
Balanced Plate Method
Paulina Lee, a registered dietitian in Sugar Land, Texas and founder of Savvy Stummy, a wellness program designed to support gut health, notes that the balanced plate method can be a simple way to add more variety to your diet. “Instead of counting calories or tracking macros, simply fill your 9-inch plate where half of it is vegetables, a quarter of the plate is lean protein and a quarter of the plate is starch,” she explains.
This diet pattern is sustainable, realistic and effective for long-term weight loss, according to Lee. “Not to mention, rounding out a meal with fiber, protein and healthy fats will keep you fuller for longer, which can reduce snacking between meals and other cravings,” she says.
One review of 23 studies concluded that portion control plates, which incorporate the same guidelines of the balanced plate method, could help support weight loss in people with overweight and obesity or type 2 diabetes. The review also noted that portion control plates were associated with several positive dietary behaviors, including increased fruit and vegetable intake.
Gisela Bouvier, registered dietitian and owner of Gisela Bouvier Nutrition in Punta Gorda, Florida, recommends the Mediterranean diet, noting that it can support weight loss and overall health. According to Bouvier, the Mediterranean diet “encourages intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, such as nuts and seeds and lean proteins.”
One study found that both menopausal and pre-menopausal women experienced significant fat loss when following a low-calorie, Mediterranean diet. In fact, women lost an average of nearly five pounds of body fat over the course of the eight-week study, even with minimal aerobic exercise.
Inspired by the traditional diets of Mediterranean countries like Greece, Spain and Italy, the Mediterranean diet has also been linked to a long list of health benefits beyond weight loss, including improved heart health, enhanced brain function and increased longevity. Plus, unlike other popular diet plans, it’s easy to follow and doesn’t have any strict rules, like calorie counting.
However, while no foods are technically off-limits on the diet, several should be limited, including red meat, processed foods, refined grains and added sugar. Other components of the diet often include staying active, sharing meals with family and friends and enjoying red wine in moderation.
The volumetrics diet is an eating plan that encourages eating foods with a low calorie density, such as fruits and vegetables, to promote feelings of fullness while also cutting calories. The diet, which is outlined in a book by nutrition scientist Barbara Rolls, categorizes foods based on their calorie density and offers guidelines of which foods a balanced meal should include.
“The thing people like most about a volume-based approach is that it makes you feel like you can eat a ton—without constantly thinking about ‘restriction, ’” says Jaclyn London, a registered dietitian based in New York.
London also notes that no foods are restricted on the volumetrics diet and it’s easy to adapt to your needs and preferences. Plus, it may even help improve your relationship with food. “By emphasizing plants, volumetrics encourages a shift in not only what you eat, but how you think about what you eat,” she says.
A study in The Journal of Nutrition found that foods with a lower energy density improved appetite control, curbed cravings and increased feelings of fullness in women with overweight or obesity, all of which could contribute to weight loss.
Also known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet, the DASH Diet was originally developed to reduce blood pressure and promote heart health. However, according to London, the diet “can be both an overall healthier style of eating and smart approach to weight loss.”
The plan recommends filling your plate with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, along with legumes, nuts, fish, poultry and low-fat dairy products. Meanwhile, foods high in added sugar or saturated fat should be limited, including red meat or full-fat dairy, and the plan recommends limiting sodium to no more than 2,300 milligrams a day. The DASH Diet also provides guidelines on how many servings of each food group you should enjoy each day.
Many of the foods encouraged on the DASH Diet are low in calories yet rich in important nutrients like fiber and protein, which can be beneficial for weight loss. Furthermore, foods that are limited, including foods high in added sugar, have been linked to weight gain and obesity when consumed in excess.
“Of great emphasis on this plan (and really, any great diet) is that the diet tells you what to eat, without over-emphasizing a key nutritional component,” says London. Besides supporting weight loss, London also notes that the diet features several key nutrients to support heart health, including omega-3 fatty acids, potassium and magnesium.