Weight loss is a numbers game. Eat fewer calories than you burn and you'll lose weight. Not everyone burns the same number of calories daily, so not everyone should eat the same number of calories to reach their weight-loss goals. Determine your own daily calorie needs, then create a deficit of 1,000 calories a day to lose 2 pounds per week. For some people, this rate may be too aggressive, and they'll need to amend their goals to lose weight more slowly.
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Figuring Your Calorie Needs to Lose Two Pounds a Week
Your basal metabolism, the number of calories you burn daily just to survive, is individual, and it's genetically determined. Your age, gender, size and activity level also influence how many calories you burn per day. Certain mathematical formulas help you estimate your calorie needs, as do online calculators. Use an online calculator or consult a dietitian, to figure out your personal daily calorie expenditure.
A pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. Once you know how many calories you need daily, subtract 1,000 calories per day to create a 7,000-calorie deficit per week to lose 2 pounds. You can cut calories by reducing portion sizes and choosing lower-calorie foods, but simply eating 1,000 calories fewer every day is not practical for many people.
Women, in particular, often burn only 1,600 to 2,100 calories per day. Cutting 1,000 calories will put them at a daily intake of below 1,200 calories, which is nutritionally unsound and can slow the metabolism. For most people, consuming a daily regimen of only 1,200 to 1,400 calories constitutes a low intake that will lead to weight loss -- how fast that loss happens is individual, however. Men may be able to lose 2 pounds per week by eating 1,600 to 1,900 calories per day, but the rate of weight loss depends on their size and activity level.
Increase the Number of Calories You Burn
Exercising regularly gives your metabolism a boost to help you lose 2 pounds per week. The American College of Sports Medicine maintains that 250 minutes per week of moderate-intensity is necessary to achieve significant weight loss. That's about 50 minutes per day, five times per week. For a 180-pound person, 50 minutes of brisk walking burns 333 calories, swimming burns 443 calories and a jogging at a rate of 5 mph burns 591 calories.
Burning these calories through exercise means you won't have to restrict the calories you consume as much to lose 2 pounds per week. Some people may need to exercise even more to create a calorie deficit that allows a 2-pounds-per-week loss. Exercise doesn't mean you can eat whatever you like -- it simply means you don't have to limit your diet as much.
Your Calorie Needs Change
The calorie intake that yields a 2-pound-per-week loss at the beginning of your plan will change as you lose weight. When your body is larger, it takes more calories to fuel it -- thus, it's easier to create a calorie deficit. As you get closer to your goal weight, it takes fewer calories to run your metabolic engine and thus greater calorie cuts and more exercise to maintain the 2-pound-per-week weight-loss rate. For example, you may get results with a 1,500-calorie plan and 40 minutes of exercise per day for the first month or two. When weight loss stalls, you'll need to reevaluate your daily calorie burn and restrict calories further and exercise more to break through the plateau.
Consider Your Goals
Extreme dietary restrictions create stress that actually makes it more difficult to lose weight. A study published in an issue of Psychosomatic Medicine in 2010 found that dieting increases output of the hormone cortisol; this means that monitoring calories is a perceived stressor. Cortisol, ironically, can lead your body to store -- rather than burn -- fat, meaning that devotion to a significant calorie restriction may actually backfire to some degree.
Ask yourself why you've set such a demanding weight-loss goal. Losing 2 pounds per week may require you take on unsustainable habits that can make you feel deprived or unhappy. This can sometimes cause you to give up and gain any lost weight back. Examine your overall lifestyle and consider changing your strategy for a more sustainable weight loss goal. If you settle for just 1/2- to 1-pound per week, you may find the process more manageable and successful. This would require a deficit of just 250 to 500 calories per day. You would have room to consume an occasional treat, celebrate a holiday or indulge at a party.
- Shape: Ask the Diet Doctor: How Many Calories Should I Eat to Lose Weight?
- National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Weight-Loss and Nutrition Myths
- Ask the Dietitian: Overweight & Weight Loss
- McKinley Health Center: Breaking Down Your Metabolism
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010: Chapter 2: Balancing Calories to Manage Weight
- Go Ask Alice: Ideal Caloric Intake?
- American College of Sports Medicine: ACSM Position Stand on Physical Activity and Weight Loss
- Harvard Health Publications: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- Psychosomatic Medicine: Low Calorie Dieting Increases Cortisol