There always seems to be a hot, new diet claiming rapid weight loss. Rather than adopting wholesale any given diet or program, however, understanding the actual process of losing weight will help you design a regimen that works best for you.
Calculate Weight Loss Calories
No one likes to count calories, but the reality is that weight loss requires you to be conscious of the balance of energy going in and out of the body, which is measured in calories. You must burn more energy than you consume to create the energy deficit required for weight loss.
Subtract this caloric deficit from your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), which, according to a study published in February 2014 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN), is the sum of calories used by your body for normal bodily functions, plus additional energy expenditures.
More conveniently, you can use the weight loss calculator provided by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Subtract 500 to 1,000 calories from your TDEE to determine your daily caloric goal. As an example, if you plan to lose two pounds per week and your TDEE is 2,500 calories, then you should eat 1,500 calories — your daily caloric goal — to reach your weight loss goal.
Cut Your Calories
Next, start cutting calories in your diet, through portion control and/or eating lower-calorie foods. Whatever you decide, it's important to track your calories and follow a meal plan. You can plug your meals into the Meal Plan Calculator found at the United States Department of Agriculture website, which can help you track calories, determine portion sizes and design meal plans.
Weighing foods with a food scale can help ensure that you are hitting your daily caloric and nutritional targets. Cheating on diets is common, and weighing preset portion sizes is one way to limit this problem. "Meal prepping" using recommendations such as that outlined by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health can take meal planning to a higher level, helping you save money and ensuring you meet daily caloric goals.
Choose a Weight Loss Program
Once you determine your daily caloric goals and start tracking your calories, start thinking about a diet plan that considers more than just calories. Some diets focus on specific ratios of macronutrients — carbohydrates, proteins and fats — while others promote eating "clean" foods or "detoxing" to accelerate weight loss.
Low-carb and low-fat diets are among the most popular and most studied diets. According to a meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in September 2014, both low-carbohydrate and low-fat commercial diets can promote significant weight loss, but the differences between each individual low-carbohydrate or low-fat diet were small.
The study included the Atkins, Zone, Weight Watchers, Volumetrics, South Beach, Slimming World, Rosemary Conley, Ornish, Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig and Biggest Loser diets. The primary conclusion was that patients seeking to lose weight ought to adopt the low-carb or low-fat diet that they can best adhere to.
Consider trying a commercial diet rather than developing your own, since the commercially marketed diets often come with useful resources, guidance materials and a community of dieters that can help you get started and adhere to a long-term diet strategy.
These programs may include their own meal plans, meal prep systems, training videos and other useful resources. When starting a new weight loss diet regimen, make sure to first consult your healthcare provider.
Consider Your Metabolism
In addition to caloric intake, muscle mass and metabolism play roles in determining your rate of weight loss. According to Mayo Clinic, your metabolism is determined by the following:
- Body size and composition. Larger or more muscular people burn more calories at rest.
- Gender. Men burn more calories than women because they tend to have more muscle and lower body fat.
- Age. Older people burn fewer calories, since they progressively lose muscle mass with age.
The story on metabolism is much more complicated, however. A person's metabolic rate is also partly determined by genetic makeup, hormonal controls, diet composition and environmental factors impacting lifestyle, sleep, physical activity and stress.
According to the JISSN review study, the metabolic rate adaptively slows in response to weight loss. This adaptation makes long term weight loss difficult, requiring that you lose weight in a stepwise, incremental fashion and avoid extreme energy deficits (greater than 1,000 calories per day) to ensure a steady, slow rate of weight loss.
Include Physical Activity
One hour of exercise may burn 500 calories, but a single bagel with cream cheese can wipe out that entire effort in a matter of minutes. Therefore, a plan that seeks to limit calories through exercise cannot ignore diet. Exercise is much more meaningful and useful in the context of a sound and well-regulated dietary regimen.
Aerobic exercise is the most efficient way to burn calories. This includes activities like running, bicycling and swimming. According to Mayo Clinic, you should include at least 30 minutes of physical activity in your daily routine. However, you may have to dedicate more time towards aerobic exercise in order to meet your daily caloric goal. If you don't have time for a longer exercise routine, split up your workout into 10-minute chunks spread throughout the day.
Strength training, such as weightlifting, should be included at least twice a week, according to Mayo Clinic, because muscle mass is critical in increasing metabolic rate. Since running a calorie deficit for weight loss not only leads to loss of fat but can also result in loss of muscle, moderate strength training exercises during weight loss regimens can help maintain muscle mass and prevent deceleration of the body's metabolic rate.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Losing Weight"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Body Weight Planner"
- United States Department of Agriculture: "Meal Plan Calculator"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: " Meal Prep: A Helpful Healthy Eating Strategy"
- Journal of the American Medical Association: "Comparison of Weight Loss Among Named Diet Programs in Overweight and Obese Adults"
- Mayo Clinic: "Metabolism and Weight Loss: How You Burn Calories"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "Metabolic Adaptation to Weight Loss: Implications for the Athlete"