You will lose some fat by eating less, but smaller portions alone will not maximize fat loss. Your best bet is aerobic exercise combined with calorie reduction. To lose 1 lb. of fat, you must eat 3,500 fewer calories each week. You may find that daunting, but if you eat less and exercise more, you will not have to deprive yourself of food, you will lose fat faster and you will be healthier overall.
Eating 3,500 calories fewer every week is no easy task, and it might well be unsafe depending on your weight. A sedentary 150-lb. woman, for example, requires about 2,000 calories per day to maintain her current weight. To lose a safe 2 lb. a week, she needs 7,000 fewer calories per week, or 1,000 fewer calories per day. This would drop her consumption to 1,000 calories a day. To ensure adequate nutrition, women should not eat less than 1,200 calories a day, unless under the supervision of a doctor; men should not consume fewer than 1,500 calories daily.
The solution to the calorie and nutrition dilemma is to add exercise to your weight loss regimen. Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise is the secret weapon in fighting fat. Strength training, while great for muscles, does not burn fat and might even add a few extra pounds. To burn fat, you must raise your heart rate for a sustained period of time – 30 minutes a day is the minimum recommended, but more is better. If you keep track of the approximate amount of calories you burn with your cardio exercise, you can adjust your food portions and calorie intake. With regular exercise, you will be able to create the correct calorie deficit for weight loss while eating more and without dropping below the minimum number of calories you need for health.
Calculating Calories and Heart Rate
To determine the calories you need to maintain your current weight, multiply it by 15 if you are already moderately active, and between 10 and 15 if you are less active or sedentary. Then set a diet and exercise regimen that will create a calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories a day. To calculate the heart rate you should aim for during aerobic exercise, subtract your age from 220 and multiply that number by 0.55 and 0.7. That will give you your heart rate range to maximize fat burning. If you are out of shape, begin at the low end and work your way up.
A Word About Abdominal Fat
Eating less will help you lose some of the subcutaneous fat deposited on your hips and thighs. But losing the more dangerous abdominal fat that leads to heart disease, diabetes and other life-threatening medical conditions takes quite a bit more effort. Dieting alone will not rid you of the visceral fat that poisons your vital organs; aerobic exercise is a must. The good news is that once you begin losing abdominal fat, your body responds immediately to make you healthier, even if you do not see physical changes right away.
- “HealthBeat”; Calorie Counting Made Easy; Harvard Health Publications; April 2009
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans – Chapter 4
- Federal Executive Board – Greater Los Angeles: SoCal Feds Get Fit – Fit Tips #2
- “YOU on a Diet”; Drs. Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz; 2006