If romantic comedies, glossy magazine covers, and early reruns of Sex and the City are all you had to go off of, your 20s might seem like the best years of your life. With youthful skin, a speedy metabolism, and the kind of self-possessed confidence that only comes from complete and total independence, life in your 20s can certainly appear glamorous. But as doctors, nutritionists, and actual 20-somethings are quick to point out, it's often anything but.
With a revolving door of demanding jobs, late nights out, and the unhealthy habits that often come with a youthful lifestyle, it's not uncommon to come face to face with some unwelcome changes in your body. So it's best to keep your health top-of-mind during this formative decade as you lay the groundwork for your career and develop the lifestyle habits that will follow you for years to come.
On that note, we've gleaned some interesting insights from nutritionists, dietitians, and personal trainers regarding the best diet for weight loss in your 20s. Whether you're looking to shed a few pounds or simply want to set the stage for a healthier future, here are the workouts to try, the foods to eat, and the healthy habits to adopt during this defining decade.
THE BEST APPROACH:
Your 20s are all about establishing healthy habits that you can realistically stick to for years to come. With that said, patience is just as important as practicality. According to a 2012 study published in the British Journal of General Practice, it can take about ten weeks to form a long-lasting habit. What doesn't fit into this equation? Fad dieting.
"If you want to lose weight in a healthy way, without causing future damage to your metabolism, it's better to take it slow," holistic nutritionist Elissa Goodman told Well+Good. "Don't follow extreme calorie restrictions and don't fall for fad diets—these are two very common ways to cause a lot of issues down the road."
Elise Chassen, a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and exercise physiologist, agrees with this sentiment. "People turn to fad diets not only out of desperation, but because they're simply uninformed," she told Everyday Health. Instead, the two recommend a clean diet consisting of lean proteins and whole wheat carbs, supplemented by plenty of fresh fruits and veggies. Remember to consult with your primary care physician before adopting any health or dieting regimen.
THE BEST FOODS:
While there are no hard and fast rules, Los Angeles–based nutritionist Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., and Goodman recommend the following foods for 20-somethings.
Healthy, Filling Fats
Bowden suggests his clients fill up on healthy, unsaturated fats like avocados, almonds, olive oil, salmon, and flaxseeds. Health benefits aside, these foods "boost your levels of serotonin, the 'feel-good' chemical," adds Goodman.
Bone-Building Greens and Plant-Based Proteins
According to Goodman, 20-somethings should pair hearty greens like arugula, bok choy, and kale with plant proteins like lentils, hemp seeds, and chia seeds. She regards these two food groups as "the basics of good nutrition."
To balance hormones, boost energy, and help with PMS, Goodman also recommends maca powder. According to Jeanette Ogden, the mind behind Shut the Kale Up, maca powder is one of the best superfoods you can buy. "For me, it's hormone balancing. Even when I was pregnant, I'd take maca, and I'd feel different."
The perfect antidote to a long night out, coconut water is "full of the electrolytes you need to recover," explains Goodman. To temper hangovers before they even start, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests having a glass of water for every beer or mixed drink.
THE BEST WORKOUTS:
No healthy diet is complete without a proper exercise routine to complement it. And, as celebrity trainer Laurent Amzallag points out, your 20s are the perfect place to start. "Women in their 20s often don't have responsibilities like family or kids yet, so this is the time to create healthy habits," he told Well+Good. "If you do that now, it will be much easier to keep them going in your 30s and beyond." He recommends high-intensity conditioning workouts up to four or five times a week, like Barry's Bootcamp or Switch Playground. The reason behind the intensity? "Your metabolism slows down as you get older … so this is the time that you want to start building that muscle."
If time, money, or proximity to these boutique gyms is an issue, don't sweat it—just break a sweat in any way possible. "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," writes Everyday Health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a weekly minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise like walking or mowing the lawn or 75 minutes of intense exercise like running or dancing.
HEALTHY LIVING ESSENTIALS
Gardner B, Lally P, Wardle J. Making Health Habitual: The Psychology of 'Habit-Formation' and General Practice. Br J Gen Pract. 2012;62(605):664-6. doi:10.3399/bjgp12X659466
Weight Control and Obesity: Prevention. Cleveland Clinic. April 17, 2020
Fats: Know Your Fats. Cleveland Clinic. July 19, 2019
Hever J. Plant-Based Diets: A Physician's Guide. Perm J. 2016;20(3):15-082. doi:10.7812/TPP/15-082