These days, we get so much conflicting information about weight loss that it’s hard to know what is actually true and what is just another weight loss myth. Just scroll through your news feed, look at magazines in the supermarket checkout line, listen to friends and neighbors, and you’ll start to think that weight loss is a puzzle that wasn’t meant to be solved. But don’t panic! We’ve dug through the latest research and conferred with top health experts to identify these cold, hard facts about weight loss:

1. Diet Matters Most

Exercise is an important part of any weight loss plan, but scientists at the University of Washington School of Medicine found that exercise alone is not effective at helping most people shed excess pounds. Their study, published in the scientific journal Obesity, determined that a carefully managed diet had a higher likelihood of leading to weight loss than exercise. Of course, they found that diet and exercise together were most effective.

2. Exercise for Maintenance

Working out becomes most important once you lose weight, say scientists at the University of Colorado’s Center for Human Nutrition. Their research found that exercise is most critical in the maintenance phase because it helps to repair a “broken metabolism.” Their results showed that people who are physically active after substantial weight loss are far less likely to regain the pounds they dropped.

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3. Quality Counts

This might be one of the most surprising facts about weight loss. While reducing the amount of calories you consume is important when you’re working toward a weight loss goal, researchers in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard University School of Public Health report their findings that all calories are not the same. Choosing high-quality foods—made with nutrient-dense ingredients—and decreasing consumption of lower-quality foods (which have more calories and fewer nutrients) improves your chances of successfully losing weight and keeping it off. Vegetables and fruits, whole grains and lean proteins top the list of high-quality foods.

4. Snacking Helps

Eating six small meals per day helps you stay full and less likely to binge on unhealthy foods, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Researchers found that with three main meals and three healthy snacks, you can still consume the same amount of calories as you would with three larger meals, but feel less hunger. Most important is the choice of snacks: Nutrient-dense foods keep you on the path to weight loss, low-quality foods only pile on excess calories, which lead to weight gain.

5. Fats Are Essential

Eliminating fat from your diet does not result in healthy weight loss, according to a study by scientists in the Netherlands. Saturated and hydrogenated fats fill you up with calories, but few nutrients. But healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, such as those found in nuts and avocados, help reduce belly fat while furnishing you with energy for your busy day. Polyunsaturated fatty acids, found in cold-water fish and its oil, and in many seeds, lead to a higher resting metabolic rate, helping you to burn calories even when you’re not active.

6. Food Diaries Help

People who write down what they eat (using a tool like Nutrisystem’s Daily Tracker) lose twice as much weight on average than those who don’t. That’s the finding of a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The 1,700 participants were all asked to follow a healthy diet, attend weekly group sessions, and engage in moderate exercise for half an hour each day. The average weight loss for the group was nine pounds over the course of the six-month study. But those who kept an optional food log lost twice as much during the same time frame as participants who didn’t. Even more effective than keeping a written food diary? Using an online tool like Nutrisystem’s NuMi, a FREE online tracking tool.

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7. Programs Are Most Effective

Dieting on your own is less likely to be effective than participating in a weight loss program—even supplied with all of these facts about weight loss—according to an analysis reported in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It found that people who managed their own diet were less successful at losing weight and keeping off excess pounds than people who enrolled in managed programs such as Nutrisystem. So losing weight solo is possible, but you can increase your chances of achieving long-term health by signing up for a proven program.

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