There are many approaches to weight loss and there is no set ideal method that works for all people, which is why so many different diets and exercise regimens exist. While some methods are more effective for each individual person, not all weight loss methods are equivalent, and studies suggest that some approaches are healthier than others. That being said, one of the most commonly effective weight loss methods is counting calories. In its most basic form, calories consumed minus calories expended will result in weight gain if the result is positive, or weight loss if the result is negative. However, this is far from a comprehensive picture, and many other factors play a role in affecting healthy, sustainable weight loss. For example, there exist conflicting studies addressing whether or not the type of calories or foods consumed, or how they are consumed, affects weight loss. Studies have shown that foods that require a person to chew more and are more difficult to digest result in the body burning more calories, sometimes referred to as the thermic effect of food. While the increase in burned calories may be marginal, foods that are more difficult to digest such as vegetables generally tend to be healthier and provide more nutrients for fewer calories than many processed foods.
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According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans those who achieve and manage a healthy weight do so most successfully by being careful to consume just enough calories to meet their needs, and being physically active. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), healthy individuals seeking to maintain their weight should consume 2,000 calories (8.4 MJ) per day.
In what is perhaps the biggest buzzkill of all time, sex doesn’t quite count as cardio or burn a significant amount of calories: Women burn about 3.6 per minute. “It’s still a good idea,” Dr. Seltzer says, citing the activity’s other benefits, like increasing the output of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which naturally reduce food cravings.
HIIT stands for high intensity interval training, and it’s a great way to build muscle without spending hours in the gym. The idea is to go all out for a short period of time, followed by a slower pace that allows you to recover. Think of jogging or sprinting all out for 30 seconds, followed by a minute or two of rest, then repeat. Short bursts of high-intensity exercises keep your heart rate up while adding lean muscle. More muscle mass equals calories burned on a daily basis. Also, the more lean muscle you have, the higher your metabolism is.
“You can’t just say, ‘I want to lose weight…someday.’ It’s that kind of loose talk, without a fence or guideline, that discourages you from getting started and prevents you from succeeding. The way I did it was by tying it to an upcoming event in my life. I never focused on a number and I didn’t set out to lose a certain number of pounds per week or overall. I merely found a target date a year away and I proclaimed to myself that I’d be in better shape by then. — Maria Menounos, author of The Everygirl’s Guide to Diet and Fitness, on how she lost 40 pounds
You'll also be asked about your activity habits. If your body is more active during the day, it requires more fuel (in the form of calories). Try to be as honest as possible about your exercise and daily activity habits. If you fudge the numbers, you won't get an accurate result. If you're not sure how active you are during the day, keep an activity journal for a week or look at data from your fitness tracker to get a quick estimate.
Many theories of weight loss are based on the notion of creating calorie deficit into your diet and exercise routine. If you burn the same number of calories as you consume, you can assume your weight will remain relatively constant. In order to lose weight, you should attempt to consume less calories than you burn. It is widely believed that consuming 3500 Calories less than you burn over a period of time will result in approximately 1lb of fat loss.
“I tell all of my celebrity and professional-athlete clients to get between 6 and 8 hours of sleep per night. Everyone is overly focused on food, water and exercise, all of which are extremely imperative to weight loss and optimal health. However, without proper sleep, all of these the other factors are null and void. When you don’t get enough sleep, levels of the hormone leptin drop, which increases appetite. This surge in appetite makes comfort food more appealing, which can derail weight loss efforts.” — Jay Cardiello, celebrity fitness and nutrition expert
“Research continues to support the role of a high-protein diet and weight loss, however, we don’t want to reach those protein needs exclusively with animal proteins. Plant proteins found in beans not only help us feel full and stabilize blood sugar but beans are associated with longevity. Who cares about being skinny if you die young?” —Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, food and nutrition expert
They should help keep you from feeling deprived and bingeing on higher-calorie foods. For instance: honey has just 64 fat-releasing calories in one tablespoon. Eggs have just 70 calories in one hard-boiled egg, loaded with fat-releasing protein. Part-skim ricotta cheese has just 39 calories in one ounce, packed with fat-releasing calcium. Dark chocolate has about 168 calories in a one-ounce square, but it’s packed with fat releasers. And a University of Tennessee study found that people who cut 500 calories a day and ate yogurt three times a day for 12 weeks lost more weight and body fat than a group that only cut the calories. The researchers concluded that the calcium in low-fat dairy foods triggers a hormonal response that inhibits the body’s production of fat cells and boosts the breakdown of fat.
Very low levels of thyroid hormone usually indicate an autoimmune reaction to the thyroid gland itself. This means you’ll have to take thyroid hormone supplements orally, usually the stable form T4 (Levaxin), which your doctor can prescribe for you. Your body will transform this into the active T3 hormone when necessary. The supplement dose should be adjusted so that you reach normal hormone levels (TSH, T3, T4) and sufficiently alleviate symptoms – though a few people feel best when keeping TSH slightly below normal.
Caloric intake: While it is true that less calories usually means more weight loss, some diet plans are strict and can leave you feeling hungry most of the time. Additionally, some people need more calories because of metabolic issues or high activity levels, and low-calorie plans might be insufficient. Think about whether a diet plan will keep you full.
Plain and simple: We just don't feel full by liquid calories in quite the same way as we do real food. Drinking a juice or caramel coffee drink, for instance, won't make you feel full the way eating a bowl of veggie- and protein-packed stir-fry will. So monitor your intake of juice, soda, sweetened coffee and tea, and alcoholic beverages. If you consume each of those beverages during the day, you'll have taken in at least 800 extra calories by nighttime — and you'll still be hungry. (Incidentally, alcohol may suppress the metabolism of fat, making it tougher for you to burn those calories.) Some other ways to skip sugar? Check 'em out here.
A 2012 study also showed that people on a low-carb diet burned 300 more calories a day – while resting! According to one of the Harvard professors behind the study this advantage “would equal the number of calories typically burned in an hour of moderate-intensity physical activity”. Imagine that: an entire bonus hour of exercise every day, without actually exercising. A later, even larger and more carefully conducted study confirmed the effect, with different groups of people on low-carb diets burning an average of between 200 and almost 500 extra calories per day.
When you've finally reached your goal and size, it can be tempting to throw your scale at the garbage and never look at it again. That scale, however, is essential to keeping excess body mass off once you've gone through all the hard work to lose it. While maintaining your weight, you need to be aware of how much you actually weigh. Pick a day of the week and weigh yourself every morning on that day. Write it down. This way, you're aware if you've gained any back and can curb it before it snowballs into anything serious.
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.
Talking with a health care professional about your weight is an important first step. Sometimes, health care professionals may not address issues such as healthy eating, physical activity, and weight during general office visits. You may need to raise these issues yourself. If you feel uneasy talking about your weight, bring your questions with you and practice talking about your concerns before your office visit. Aim to work with your health care professional to improve your health.