Author: Raj Chandler • Fact checked by: Tara D. Thies • Oct. 20, 2020
Weight loss is one of the most common fitness goals for people of all experience levels and backgrounds. According to the CDC, almost half of adults in the United States have attempted to lose weight at some point in the last twelve months.
But the prevalence of the desire for weight loss – particularly the loss of body fat – means there’s a lot of bad information, marketing gimmicks, and deceiving ingredients on the market. Some unscrupulous nutrition companies use time as a sales tactic, promising rapid results if you purchase their products.
No matter what any social media ad or buzzy email says, there’s no magic bullet that will allow you to lose weight overnight. The specific amount of time it takes for anyone to lose weight depends on too many factors to predict: age, diet, current weight, activity level and even sleep habits all play a role.
Generally, the recommended amount of body weight to safely lose is no more than two pounds per week. In this article, we’ll delve into some of the practical components of weight loss and provide a few general guidelines for nutrition to help you maximize the amount of weight your body burns.
From a scientific standpoint, the only requirement for losing weight is consuming fewer calories than you burn consistently. As Harvard Medical School points out, over the years many different kinds of fad diets have gone in and out of popular culture – but any style of eating that helps you take in fewer calories can be effective for weight loss.
A long-held fitness rule states that “a pound of weight equals 3,500 calories.” Despite its prevalence, this body composition myth has been debunked in several studies over the years. Unfortunately, there is a large margin of error when it comes to determining exact caloric intake needed to reduce body mass. The only truly accurate way to measure calorie needs are with direct or indirect calorimetry, both of which aren't readily available to the general public.
If you aren’t sure how to determine your caloric needs, there are a number of online calculators and formulas that can help. Two of the most widely accepted methods are the Katch-McCardle and Harris-Benedict formulas. However, the most accurate and practical way to understand your daily calorie needs is to count calories and track your weight for a few days or a week. During this time, adjust your daily caloric intake until you get to the point where your weight stays the same – this is your “maintenance” level.
Once you know your caloric maintenance level, you'll need to restrict some calories to lose weight. Depending on your initial weight and current eating habits, a 500-1,000 calorie deficit each day is appropriate for a healthy 1-2 pound weight loss per week. As you make changes to your diet, be sure to monitor your weight and overall health. If your maintenance calories are already low, avoid dropping them too much, because you still need enough calories, protein, and other nutrients to stay healthy and function properly in daily life.
There are several things to think about when planning a diet for weight loss: lifestyle, taste preferences, and activity level. A generally healthy diet typically consists of a variety of fruit, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy.
The Mediterranean Diet, which is comprised of vegetables, fruits, herbs, whole grains and a moderate amount of dairy and meat, is a great place to start when planning a diet. Medical research indicates this diet may be as effective as other popular modern diets for losing weight. The Mediterranean Diet can also be customized heavily based on your individual preferences.
Other popular diets for weight loss include low-carb diets like keto and paleo. These styles emphasize zero or minimal consumption of carbohydrates, which helps the body switch to burning fat for energy. Still others use time-restrictive eating styles like intermittent fasting. Any and all of these approaches can be successful – it just depends on which one is most sustainable for you. Even if it shows progress, it does you no good to follow a weight loss plan that you can’t adhere to for longer than a week!
In fact, most nutritionists and personal trainers recommend forgetting about the concept of "dieting," since it often leads to a yo-yo effect where people lose weight fast in the short-term but have trouble sustaining their weight loss results for more than a few weeks or months. Rapid weight loss doesn't matter if you can't maintain this change in your body composition over the long term.
Supplements like protein powder alone won't lead to weight loss. Protein shakes, fish oils, vitamins and other supplements can help, but they should be just an addition to a balanced diet and exercise program. Assuming other factors like diet and sufficient exercise levels are in place, protein powder can be a great addition to any weight loss strategy and may even help increase muscle mass retention.
This all depends on you!
It is generally recommended that you lose no more than 1-2 pounds of body weight per week. For most people to achieve this, they will need to start out cutting around 500 calories from the amount of calories normally consumed per day. To estimate how many weeks it will take you to achieve your weight loss goal, divide the total number of pounds you'd like to lose by the rate at which you are losing them (1 or 2 pounds per week). Of course, if you are already eating relatively few calories, you should avoid cutting too many calories from your diet.
Also keep in mind that weight loss is not a linear process. While eating at a caloric deficit will ensure you lose weight over the long run, science indicates that factors like hydration and meal timing play some role in weight loss. There may be a day or even multiple days when you plateau and the scale does not budge, which is why it’s important to choose an eating style that feels easy and natural for you.
As mentioned, these and other recommendations you may find about eating habits and physical activity for weight or fat loss are just that: recommendations. The best way to create a healthy weight loss program is to consult with a registered dietitian, personal trainer or other types of health experts who can help you create a meal plan for a sustainable weight loss journey. They will know how to create a plan that provides you with a healthy rate of weight loss that doesn't put you at risk of health issues.
It won't happen overnight and will require plenty of hard work – plus some cardio, weight lifting or other kinds of physical activity. You may encounter periods where weight loss slows down or even completely stalls. But with the right information, a healthy mindset about losing weight, and a personalized nutrition plan that accounts for your preferences and lifestyle, you can lose the amount of weight you desire without dietary restrictions that make you dread mealtime or unrealistic crash diets that you can't stick to for more than a few days.
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