Want to lose weight? Then you have to do a little math: To lose one pound of body weight, you need to subtract 3,500 calories from your diet or burn that amount of calories.
Weight loss is a numbers game. One pound of fat contains 3,500 calories. To lose one pound of fat, you need to tip your personal energy balance so you're burning 3,500 more calories than you are eating.
"To lose one pound a week you would have to put yourself in a 500-calorie deficit every day," says Sari Greaves, RD, registered dietitian with the Step Ahead Weight Loss Center in Bedminster, N.J. and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "It's the whole 'eat less, move more' guideline to help you lose weight."
Weight Loss: Doing the Math
To lose one pound a week, you need to have a good idea of how many calories you burn (use for energy) on an average day. Men burn 1,900 to 2,500 calories per day, depending on their level of activity, Greaves says. Women burn 1,600 to 2,000 calories per day.
To get a more accurate idea of your daily caloric requirements, you can turn to an online basal metabolic rate (BMR) calculator. BMR calculators take into account your height, weight, age, gender, and level of activity to work out exactly how many calories you need to eat every day, just to keep your weight constant.
Once you know your current daily caloric requirement, you can create your own formula for losing one pound a week. The idea is to create a 500-calorie deficit each day by eating 500 fewer calories, working off 500 more calories through exercise, or any combination of the two actions that equals 500 calories. For example, you might choose to eat 250 calories fewer than your daily caloric requirement, and then do a workout that burns another 250 calories. Some days you might feel like burning off 500 calories with exercise alone. Other days you might cut your intake by 500 calories. If, at the end of each day, you achieve that 500-calorie deficit, you'll lose one pound in seven days.
Weight Loss: Easy Does It
Keep in mind that one pound a week is just one goal. If you want to speed up your weight loss, then make your caloric deficit larger. If you don't feel like pushing yourself, go for a smaller deficit. "Simply cutting 100 extra calories from your diet every day can lead to up to 10 pounds of weight loss in one year," Greaves says.
Experts say healthy weight loss involves losing a maximum of two pounds per week. More than that and you probably are not burning fat. Instead, you're cutting into your lean muscle mass and dropping water weight, neither of which provide sustainable weight loss. You'll gain all the weight back eventually, and feel tired and worn out in the meantime.
Weight Loss: Diet and Exercise
Whatever your weight-loss goal, losing one pound should ideally involve both diet and exercise. Pursuing one without the other is setting yourself up to regain the weight later on. "Exercise is not a free ticket to eat more,” Greaves says. “My motto is, 'Work on what you put in your mouth first.' Although physical activity is an essential component to a healthy lifestyle, you also have to eat less to see the numbers on the scale drop."
One way to help keep yourself on target is to start keeping a diary that notes every calorie you eat. The diary also should include calories you are burning through exercise.
Weight Loss: Diet and Exercise Tips
These diet and exercise tips can help you create the daily caloric deficit that will help you burn that one pound of fat:
- Cut down on fatty foods. Fat contains nine calories per gram, compared with four calories per gram for carbohydrates or proteins. Cutting a lot of fat out of your diet can cut hundreds of calories a day.
- Eat whole grains. They fill you up and take longer to digest than the simple carbohydrates contained in processed flour or white rice. Choose whole-grain bread, brown rice, and oatmeal. Whole grains also contain lots of healthy fiber.
- Think before you drink. Sodas and fruit juices contain tons of calories. Just sticking to water and diet drinks can decrease your caloric intake effortlessly.
- Eat regular meals. Skipping meals can make you so hungry you'll overeat later on, and also can cause your metabolism to slow down. Stick to three meals and a snack per day.
- Mix up your routine. Keep yourself from getting bored with exercise by pursuing different activities. Combine outdoor sports with fitness classes. If you're a jogger, ride a bicycle once in a while. If you like aerobics, try yoga now and then.
- Do regular strength training. Muscle at rest burns more calories than fat at rest. Increasing your muscle mass helps you lose weight more efficiently. The more muscle you have, the more fat you will burn.
- Break it up. You should do at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, but research shows that you don't have to do it all at once to gain weight-loss benefits. Take a brisk 10-minute walk around the block in the morning, and a 20-minute bike ride later in the day. This way, even the busiest of people can squeeze in calorie-burning activities.