Dietary advice can be confusing, especially when it comes to weight loss, and the fact that every second person you meet has something different to say doesn't make things any easier. If you're trying to figure out whether you should be eating less to lose fat, here's what you need to know.
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Eating Less to Lose Fat
According to the USDA, many Americans are consuming more calories than they should. Cutting down on your calorie consumption and replacing unhealthy calories with healthier options can help you lose fat.
The Mayo Clinic explains that the food you eat is either burned as you go about your day or stored within your body as fat. If you're consuming more calories than you're burning every day, then the extra calories will cause you to gain weight. If you want to lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit, where you burn more calories than you consume.
Per the Mayo Clinic, one pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. So effectively, to lose one pound of fat a week, you would have to create a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day. Similarly, to lose two pounds a week, you would have to create a calorie deficit of 1,000 calories per day. How do you create a calorie deficit? By eating fewer calories and exercising to burn more calories.
Losing weight at a rate faster than one to two pounds a week is not recommended. You're more likely to gain it back if you crash diet than if you take it slow and focus on building a healthy lifestyle.
If you're eating less to lose fat, you also need to ensure that your calorie intake doesn't drop below the minimum number of calories your body needs to survive, which is 1,200 calories per day for women and 1,500 calories per day for men, according to Harvard Medical School.
Practice Portion Control
Practicing portion control can help you limit your calorie intake and lose weight. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that average portion sizes have grown so much over the past 20 years that sometimes a plate of food served at a restaurant can easily feed two or three people, instead of just one.
Even packaged foods that are sold as a single portion often contain multiple servings and are not supposed to be consumed in one go. The NIH calls this phenomenon "portion distortion" and says that it can affect the quantities of food you eat at home as well. Eating large portions can cause you to consume far more calories than you actually need.
To help you reduce your portion size, the Mayo Clinic recommends serving yourself a smaller portion than you normally eat and then eating more fruits and veggies at the end of the meal if you're still hungry. Checking nutrition labels can help you understand how many calories are in the food you're eating, and you can use a calorie counting service to keep track of how many calories you're eating in a day.
The Mayo Clinic also cautions against eating food directly from packages or containers, as that can make it harder for you to gauge how much you're eating. Instead, it's recommended that you transfer the food to a plate. Switching from a large plate to a smaller one can also help you reduce your portion size, according to a September 2017 study published in the journal Obesity Science & Practice.
Swap Out Unhealthy, High-Calorie Foods
Apart from portion control, the Mayo Clinic also suggests swapping out unhealthy, high-calorie foods and beverages with healthier, lower-calorie options. Doing this allows you to still eat as much as you normally would in terms of quantity, but it helps you lose weight because you would be consuming fewer calories.
For instance, the Mayo Clinic says that instead of a 3-ounce bag of ranch-flavored tortilla chips that has 426 calories, you can snack on a 3.5-cup serving of air-popped popcorn that has only 109 calories. The popcorn will be just as filling and you'll have managed to cut out 317 calories.
Similarly, the Mayo Clinic notes that replacing your 16-ounce flavored latte, that has 250 calories, with 16 ounces of unsweetened black coffee, which has only 4 calories, helps you cut down on 246 calories. Replacing your 8-ounce, 149-calorie serving of whole milk with the same amount of skim milk saves you 58 calories.
If dessert is your weakness, try substituting it with fruits or berries, so that you can indulge your sweet tooth without going overboard on the calories. For example, the Mayo Clinic suggests 1 1/2 cups of strawberries with only 69 calories as a healthier, more nutritious dessert than a cup of chocolate ice cream that has 285 calories.
Be More Physically Active
Apart from reducing your calorie intake, the other way to help create a calorie deficit is to increase your level of physical activity. For instance, if your target is to lose one pound of weight a week by creating a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day, you could eat 250 fewer calories per day and work out so that you burn an additional 250 calories per day.
The USDA explains that the number of calories you burn during exercise can vary depending on factors like your weight. However, these figures should give you a rough idea of the number of calories you would burn doing various exercises. Per the USDA, a 154-pound man would burn 180 calories an hour while stretching, 280 calories an hour while walking, 220 calories an hour while weight training, 510 calories an hour while swimming and 590 calories an hour while jogging.
For best results, a December 2012 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology recommends opting for an exercise routine that combines cardio with strength training. The study found that while cardio exercises helped reduce body mass and body fat, throwing in resistance training helped build lean muscle.
- USDA: “2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans”
- Mayo Clinic: “Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “What Is Healthy Weight Loss?”
- Harvard Medical School: “Calorie Counting Made Easy”
- National Institutes of Health: “Serving Sizes and Portions”
- Obesity Science & Practice: “How Does Plate Size Affect Estimated Satiation and Intake For Individuals in Normal‐Weight and Overweight Groups?”
- USDA: “Physical Activity”
- Journal of Applied Physiology: “Effects of Aerobic and/or Resistance Training on Body Mass and Fat Mass in Overweight or Obese Adults”