You don’t want to get involved in some kind of elaborate scheme that you’re not going to be able to really maintain long term, like counting every single calorie. It’s better to use something that is simple and easy, that you can do every day for the rest of your life, and that will help you estimate and keep general track of how many calories you’re eating. This includes just writing down what you eat. If you do that- just record what you eat – that helps people lose an additional 10% or 20% of weight.
Do you want to know the secret to weight loss? There are quite a number of self-help books, videos, and other products all trying to sell you that secret. How many times have you heard the claim “lose weight without diet and exercise?” This post examines diet – what we eat, what we should eat, what we perhaps shouldn’t eat, and how much we eat.
How many calories does an average person need on an average day? That depends on a number of variables, specifically height, weight, age, and level of activity. An average man needs to eat about 2500 calories per day in order to balance his energy expenditures; an
average woman, around 2000 calories. Of course, somebody with a very high degree of activity or someone above average in size may need to eat as many as 3000 calories in an average day.
Basal metabolic rate measures how many calories we burn going about our business. This is calculated based on our height, weight, and age. The basal metabolic rate increases with increasing height and weight and decreases with age. You also have to adjust the basal metabolic rate for activity level. Somebody who is sedentary isn’t going to burn as many calories as somebody who is highly active. Putting all those factors together can allow you to roughly calculate how many calories you burn each day.
Weight management simply comes down to calories consumed versus calories expended. Overeating by as few as 50 calories per day can result in as much as 5 pounds gained per year. That’s a lot of weight gain for a very tiny difference in our eating habits. So what if you want to lose some excess weight? A conservative approach to weight loss is under-consuming – consuming fewer calories than you burn by about 500 per day. If you under-consume by 500 calories per day, that’s 3500 calories, or 1 pound, per week. One pound per
week is a good, healthy rate of weight loss.
At the more aggressive end of the spectrum would be under-consuming by about 1000 calories per day. Most people cannot sustain that significant a decrease in their daily food intake for any period of time. Even still, under-consuming by 1000 calories per day only
results in a weight loss of about 2 pounds per week. What this also means is that, if someone is claiming you can lose 5, 10, 15, or 20 pounds in 1 or 2 weeks, they’re being less than honest. You can only burn about 1 to 2 pounds per week of fat, which is what you want to lose when you’re trying to lose weight. Any weight loss above and beyond that is water weight or other things.
Lots of people claim to have tricks and tips for losing weight. Unfortunately, none of them are terribly helpful. One you may hear about is fasting, jump-starting a diet by fasting for a day or longer. There’s really no evidence for any long-term or significant benefit from fasting, and it shouldn’t be part of a weight control or weight management program. In fact, fasting may cause your body to try to conserve calories and lower its metabolic rate.
What about late-night eating? A lot of people give the advice that you shouldn’t eat late at night if you’re trying to lose weight because those calories turn directly into fat. This has been studied multiple ways in both animals and humans. It turns out that it really doesn’t matter when you consume your calories; the net calories will still be stored if you have excess calories. It still comes down to calories in versus calories out.
What about restrictive diets? A lot of fad diets or weight loss diets are premised on the notion that if you eliminate certain things from your diet, the weight will magically melt away. This is not a helpful strategy or approach to weight loss. In the final analysis, it doesn’t really matter what kinds of calories you’re eating; the overwhelmingly important factor is how many calories you’re eating. Also, by restricting the variety of food that you eat, you can compromise on good nutrition.
In the last 20 years or so, there has been a huge fad of diets focused on either low fat or low carbs. The notion here is that if you adjust the proportion of macro-nutrients – fats, proteins, and carbohydrates – in your diet, you will get to some magical zone or magical balance in which you’ll shift into a different kind of metabolism that will help you burn calories. After a lot of research, it turns out that there just is no evidence to support these claims. It all still comes down to caloric intake.
What about exercise? Isn’t exercise important for weight loss? It turns out the answer is yes and no. Exercising definitely burns calories, but not as many as you may think. A reasonable exercise program is to do 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 3 days a week. That would burn about 450 calories. If you’re trying to under-consume by 3500 calories per week in order to lose 1 pound per week, then burning off an extra 450 calories doesn’t get you very far toward that goal. The bottom line is that you can’t lose weight solely by exercising. You would have to exercise 90 minutes a day, 7 days a week, in order to burn off 1 pound per week. Thus you have to combine exercise with calorie control.
What about diet pills – is there any medicine or pill that will help in a weight loss program? There’s no theoretical reason why there can’t be a pharmaceutical, for example, that shifts us into more of a weight loss balance. But nothing has been proven to be both safe and effective. That doesn’t stop there from being many “weight loss pills” on the market that claim to melt away the fat without diet and exercise.
The nuts and bolts of the breadth of the research is straightforward. Dieting doesn’t work. Perhaps that’s the biggest myth of all – that you can positively impact your weight maintenance by going on a diet. Rather, the focus should be on long-term, healthy strategies that you can maintain for the rest of your life.