While the general principle of weight loss is simple -- eat less and move more -- there are a lot of little things that can trip up your weight loss efforts and make it difficult to reach your goals. Check with your doctor or a registered dietitian to get help planning an effective diet and exercise program for weight loss.
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Calorie Considerations for Weight Loss
If you want to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week, you'll need to eat 500 to 1,000 fewer calories each day. You may be underestimating how much you eat and not actually limiting your calories enough to lose weight. This could be from eating portion sizes that are too large or forgetting to add some calories, such as those from beverages or condiments, into your total. Even if a food is healthy, it's possible to eat too much of it, and some foods, such as salads, can have more calories than you'd expect.
However, it could also be the opposite. It's also possible to eat too few calories and have this interfere with weight loss by slowing down your metabolism. If you're a man, don't eat fewer than 1,800 calories per day; if you're a woman, make sure to get at least 1,200 calories per day. If you're already down to about this amount of calories per day, you'll need to increase your activity level to burn more calories and speed up weight loss.
Exercise and Weight
Although exercise is typically associated with weight loss, in some cases it can cause weight gain, or you could be doing the wrong type of exercise for weight loss. You need to do cardio to burn more calories and increase weight loss, as strength-training exercises alone don't usually burn enough calories. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do strength-training workouts, however. Doing a mix of these two types of exercise leads to the best results. Aim for at least two strength training workouts and at least five 30- to 60-minute cardio workouts per week.
Some people appear to be more likely to lose weight with increased exercise than others, according to a study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" in February 2015. The study found that those who didn't experience increased weight loss from exercise within the first four weeks were somehow compensating for the exercise and not likely to experience an increase in weight loss through exercise. Another study, published in "Medical Science in Sports and Exercise" in 2013, found similar results and noted that these people tend to either eat more or do less of other activities during the course of the day to compensate for any exercise sessions. Overall, even though you're exercising, it's important to keep up your normal activities the rest of the day and to watch your calorie intake, being careful not to add anything extra on exercise days.
Beneficial Dietary Changes
While skipping breakfast might seem like a good way to cut calories, it's not a good idea when you're trying to lose weight. Skipping may cause you to overeat at the next meal and actually gain weight instead of losing it. Instead, eat about three meals and a small snack each day. Limit foods that are made with refined grains or are high in saturated fat or sugar; concentrate instead on nutritious whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein foods. A typical meal might be an two to three ounces of skinless chicken or other lean protein, 1/2 to 1 cup each of vegetables and fruits, and 2 to 3 ounces of a whole grain, such as brown rice. Foods high in protein or fiber help increase feelings of fullness, so make sure to get a mix of protein foods and high-fiber foods in each meal or snack. If you prefer to eat more frequent meals, make sure each meal is small enough that you don't go over your daily calorie limit.
Other Potential Issues That Cause Weight Gain
Other not so obvious issues could be limiting your weight-loss potential. For example, feeling stressed or not getting at least seven hours of sleep per night can cause your body to release a hormone called cortisol that may be associated with increased body fat. Check with your doctor as well, to make sure there isn't a medical reason for your weight gain such as pregnancy, menopause, an underactive thyroid, food intolerance or polycystic ovary syndrome. You could also be taking a medication that causes weight gain as a potential side effect, such as birth control pills, medications to treat mental health issues, steroids and some diabetes medications.