Losing 2 pounds a week will require a healthy food and exercise regime, plus a ton of willpower. Don't worry, you've got this! Here's everything you need to know.
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You need to cut down by 1,000 calories a day for a week to lose 2 pounds.
Your Calorie Requirements
The food you eat provides calories, or energy, that your body burns as fuel in order to survive. The number of calories you require per day varies depending on many factors, which include gender, age, physical activity level, height and weight, among others.
The USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans estimate that adult women require between 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day while adult men require between 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day. The lower end of the range is for people who live sedentary lives, while the higher end of the range is for active people.
The USDA also prescribes different calorie counts for people of different ages. This is because you require a lot of calories while you're growing, but as you get older, you require fewer calories because your basal metabolic rate (BMR) drops. According to the American Council on Exercise, after the age of 20, your BMR drops by 2 to 3 percent every decade.
The USDA notes that many Americans exceed the recommended amount of calories. The human body stores these excess calories that it is unable to convert into physical energy as fat.
Cutting Calories to Lose Weight
Weight management basically means striking a balance between the calories you consume and the calories you burn. In order to lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit where you burn more calories than you consume.
So how many calories do you have to cut out to lose weight? According to the Mayo Clinic, 1 pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories. To lose 2 pounds of weight a week, you would have to create a calorie deficit of 7,000 calories per week, which translates to 1,000 calories per day. Therefore, you have to create a calorie deficit of 1,000 calories per day for a week, in order to lose 2 pounds a week.
You can achieve this calorie deficit by increasing the amount of exercise you get and cutting down on the number of calories you eat per day, although it's important that your calorie intake doesn't fall below the minimum requirement for your body to survive, which is 1,200 calories per day for adult females and 1,500 calories per day for adult males.
Read more: Recommended Caloric Intake for Weight Loss
Crash diets promise rapid weight loss, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that the results are often short lived. Instead, if you want to lose weight and keep it off, it is recommended that you take a longer-term approach that requires an ongoing healthy lifestyle with permanent changes in your day-to-day food and exercise habits.
Establishing a Healthy Eating Pattern
The USDA recommends following a healthy eating pattern that not only helps you achieve and maintain a healthy weight but also provides your body with all the nutrition it requires and prevents chronic diseases.
The USDA defines a healthy eating pattern as one that involves eating a lot of whole fruits and a variety of vegetables from all the subgroups, such as dark green, orange and red, legumes (peas and beans) and starchy vegetables. It also includes grains, of which at least half should be whole grains, and a variety of foods with protein, like seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds and soy products like tofu and soy milk.
The USDA recommends limiting your consumption of saturated fats, trans fats, added sugar and sodium and drinking alcohol in moderation, which is defined as a maximum of two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
A simple example of how this would work in action would be to replace the strawberry ice cream you eat for dessert with some real strawberries instead. One cup of strawberry ice cream has 254 calories whereas 1 cup of strawberries has only 46.1 calories.
Building an Exercise Routine
It is recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week. For additional health benefits, including weight loss, you should increase your aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 150 minutes of vigorous exercise a week.
Brisk walking, swimming, dancing and bicycling are some examples of moderate-intensity exercises whereas jogging, playing singles tennis and bicycling uphill are a few examples of vigorous exercise.
Additionally, it is recommended that you do resistance training exercises that strengthen all your muscle groups at least two times a week. An exercise routine that combines cardio and resistance training can help you achieve significant weight loss, concluded a study published in January 2014 in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases.
The number of calories you burn when you exercise varies depending on factors like the type of exercise, the intensity and your weight.
Here are some estimates of calories burned that can give you a rough idea: A 160-pound man would burn 314 calories an hour while walking at a speed of 3.5 miles per hour, 606 calories an hour while running at a speed of 5 miles per hour and 292 calories an hour while bicycling leisurely at a speed of under 10 miles per hour.
Consistency is the key to building an exercise routine and losing weight. A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine in April 2015 concluded that you need to exercise four times a week for a minimum of six weeks in order to build an exercise habit. The authors of the study recommend keeping the exercises simple and fun for people who are new to exercise, to help the habit stick.
Building a regular exercise routine may mean waking up early in the morning or turning down social commitments in the evening to work out. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests planning your physical activities with a friend so that both of you are more likely to stick with the routine once you've committed to it — and each other.
Tips for Success
The NIH also recommends a few other tips to help you succeed in your weight loss journey. Keeping a journal where you write down everything you eat and the amount you've exercised can help you and your health care provider track your progress and analyze your habits.
You may slip occasionally, but it's important to learn from those mistakes and be better prepared the next time around. The journal can help you identify factors like work or the weather that may hamper your routine. It can also help you identify sources of temptations, like social gatherings or watching TV.
Setting achievable goals that build up slowly can help you reach a distant point. The NIH cautions against changing too much too fast, since quick weight loss methods don't provide lasting results. Instead, it is advisable to be realistic about your abilities and the amount of time you have and make progress one small step at a time. An example of a specific goal is to walk for 30 minutes a day, five times a week.
- USDA: “2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans”
- American Council on Exercise: “Resting Metabolic Rate: Best Ways to Measure It — And Raise It, Too”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Losing Weight”
- Mayo Clinic: “Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics”
- National Institutes of Health: “Overweight and Obesity”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Calorie Counting Made Easy”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "The Role of Exercise and Physical Activity in Weight Loss and Maintenance"
- USDA: “Ice Creams, Strawberry”
- USDA: “Strawberries, Raw”
- Mayo Clinic: “Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories Burned in 1 Hour”
- US Library of Medicine: "Exercise Habit Formation in New Gym Members: A Longitudinal Study"