After ringing in the new year, many people try to get to work on their New Year’s resolutions. Each year, the most popular resolution pertains to health and weight loss. Unfortunately, the majority of people abandon their weight loss resolutions within a few weeks. Setting realistic expectations and educating yourself about the science of weight loss can help you make steady progress toward your goals.
Understanding the Science of Weight Loss
People trying to lose weight often view calories as the enemy. However, a calorie is simply a measurement of energy. It is an agreed-upon unit of measurement for energy in food. This means that calories are neither good nor bad; they are simply a way to assess the amount of energy you are taking in.
The body needs energy to perform a range of functions, including cell repair, respiration, adjusting levels of hormones, and circulating blood. The amount of calories your body uses each day to perform these basic activities is called your basal metabolic rate. Several factors influence this rate, including:
Men need more calories to maintain their bodily functions than women.
2. Body size
A person with a larger body size has more tissue to maintain than a smaller person, meaning that he or she will burn more calories.
3. Muscle Mass
Muscle cells use more energy than fat cells. Thus, very muscular individuals have a higher basal metabolic rate.
Older individuals burn fewer calories than their younger counterparts.
Using a simple online calculator is an easy way to estimate your basal metabolic rate. Approximately 70 percent of the calories used each day go toward this metabolic rate. The rest are burned when you perform various activities, including walking, talking, and concentrating on your work.
To lose weight, you must follow a simple formula: take in fewer calories than your body expends. There are two ways to do this: First, you can reduce the number of calories you eat. Second, you can increase the number of calories your body expends by exercising. One pound of body fat is equivalent to approximately 3,500 calories. Thus, you need to cut 500 calories per day to lose 1 pound per week (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories). Of course, this is just a rough guideline. When losing weight, you may lose a combination of water, lean tissue, and fat. These differences may change your caloric needs somewhat, but a 3,500 calorie deficit per pound of weight is a good estimate.
Setting a Realistic Weight Loss Goal
The best way to achieve your weight loss goal is to make it realistic. Most dietary experts recommend aiming to lose no more than 2 pounds per week. This translates to a 1,000-calorie difference between the calories you eat and the calories you burn each day. However, it may not be sustainable to assume that you will lose 2 pounds each and every week until you meet your goal weight. Many people lose a large amount of weight initially, but struggle to maintain this momentum long term.
To set a smart weight loss goal for yourself, use the body mass index (BMI) as a rough estimate. BMI is a number derived from your weight and height and is used to define overweight or obesity. Use an online BMI calculator to determine a goal weight in the healthy range, which is a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9. Keep in mind that this represents a relatively large range of weights that are healthy for your height. Choosing a goal weight near the top of this range is a good initial goal. Once you reach that goal, you can focus on losing the last 5 to 10 pounds if necessary.
Dietary Strategies to Achieve Your Weight Loss Goal
One way to meet your 500 to 1,000-calorie-per-day deficit is to change the way you eat. It is essential to make dietary changes that you will maintain over the long term. View your dietary modifications as a lifestyle change rather than a short-term diet to achieve your weight loss goals.
All foods are a mixture of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Approximately 50 to 60 percent of your calories should come from carbohydrates, 12 to 20 percent from proteins, and the remaining 30 percent from fats. Regarding carbohydrates, the majority of your carbohydrates should come from complex carbohydrates rather than simple carbs (e.g., sugars). Choose whole grain options, including whole wheat toast, bulgur wheat, steel cut oats, or wheat pasta.
To get your daily protein, choose vegetable sources whenever possible. Beans, nuts, seeds, and soy products are great non-animal sources of protein. If you do eat meat, opt for chicken, turkey, or lean cuts of beef.
Finally, fats should primarily come from non-animal sources. Processed foods and animal products often contain trans fats and saturated fats, which are harmful to heart health. Instead, opt for foods rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. For example, olive oil, fatty fish, seeds, and nuts are great source for these fats that stimulate weight loss and improve heart health.
Importance of Frequent Exercise
In addition to diet, meeting a weight loss goal requires a commitment to physical activity. This does not mean that you need to hit the gym every single day. Instead, aim to get the 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine. This could include 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on five days per week. Alternatively, you may break up physical activity into 10-minute chunks throughout the day.
To get the best benefit for your body, vary your aerobic routine. This keeps your heart challenged, stimulates fat loss, and keeps your muscles guessing what will happen next. For example, you may alternate between cycling and running on the treadmill to get the best benefit for your body; vary your aerobic routine. This keeps your heart challenged, stimulates fat loss, and keeps your muscles guessing what will happen next.
For example, you may alternate between cycling, running on the treadmill, using a rowing machine, swimming, vigorous dancing, or doing step aerobics. Any activity that gets your heart beating faster and causes your breath to quicken will stimulate weight loss.
For maximum fat loss benefit, add a high intensity interval training session at least once per week. Choose a favorite aerobic activity and begin with a 1-minute interval at 80 percent of your perceived maximum intensity. Then, perform 1 minute at a resting pace (20 percent of your max). Alternative between high and low intensity for at least 10 minutes to stimulate long-lasting weight loss.
Perhaps the most important part of achieving your weight loss goal is being realistic in your expectations. Maintaining a healthy weight is a lifelong journey, and some weeks will go better than others. Be kind to yourself when you slip up to stay motivated for the long term.