At the most basic level, weight loss is a simple process occurring when you burn more calories than you consume. You take calories in, of course, through food. Therefore, the process of losing weight almost always begins with reducing the number of calories you eat and increasing the number of calories you burn, thus creating a caloric deficit.
Your body burns calories at rest, just to keep your various physiological systems functioning correctly. You burn calories through activity and using your muscles. You also burn calories by digesting and metabolizing the food you eat. Even thinking, which requires cellular communication between the neurons in your brain, burns calories.
When your body faces a caloric deficit, it must turn to stored sources of energy to meet its caloric needs. Most of the body's excess calories are stored as fat, and the goal of most people in losing weight is to lose fat. As the body needs more energy than it takes in through food it turns to these reserves, and fat stores begin to deplete.
Step 1: Diet
The first place you should focus when you want to lose weight is your diet. When you eat more calories than you need each day, your body stores them as fat. Reducing your caloric intake below your body's needs helps burn existing fat and prevent further fat gain.
How many calories you need to cut from your daily diet depends on many factors. Your doctor or a nutritionist can help you determine your number. Once you have this number, you have to become more diligent with calorie control, by tracking your calories and choosing low-calorie foods.
A good place to start is by cutting out or significantly reducing your intake of the following foods:
- Sodas and sugary beverages
- Fatty and fried foods
- Fatty meats
- Refined grains like white bread, white rice and white pasta
The second step in the process is to eat more nutrient-dense, low calorie foods. Fresh vegetables give you the most bang for your buck. They're low in calories, high in nutrients and full of fiber to fill you up. Lean proteins are another invaluable source of nutrition that won't break the calorie bank but will keep you feeling full.
Step 2: Exercise
Increasing your physical activity is key to the process of weight loss. Exercise is the easiest way to increase the body's demand for calories. A vigorous workout such as running or cycling can burn more than 500 calories in 30 minutes, depending on your body weight and your pace.
Strength training such as lifting weights or doing calisthenics doesn't burn a lot of calories while you're doing it, but it builds muscle which increases your resting metabolism. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat tissue, so the more muscle mass you have the more efficiently your body uses energy from the food you eat.
Vigorous exercise causes an "after-burn" effect known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, which continues to keep the body's caloric demands slightly elevated after the workout is over.
This is due to the tissue repair that occurs when the muscles are recovering from exercise. It's much more pronounced following a resistance training workout than an aerobic workout. It's also more pronounced in deconditioned people. Once you become more fit, your body needs less additional energy to recover.
Increase your activity by adding in a mix of moderate and vigorous cardiovascular workouts. Strength train all your major muscle groups a couple times a week.
This doesn't mean lifting weights at the gym necessarily — you can also take a power yoga or Pilates class, or do squats, push-ups and pull-ups at home. Aim to exercise — either cardio, strength training or both — most days of the week.
Step 3: Train Your Brain
Weight loss is as much a mental process as physical. American culture provides plenty of opportunities to consume excess calories, and plenty of excuses and distractions that prevent you from burning them off. Retraining your mind to think differently about your consumption of food and your physical activity level is crucial in making changes that result in long-term weight loss.
Optimal weight loss occurs slowly through lifestyle changes that can be sustained throughout a person's lifetime, rather than a quick diet or a plan to exercise every day for two months. The process of losing weight requires patience and a mental commitment to permanent change, in addition to a healthy diet and an active lifestyle.