What it Takes to Lose Weight


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What does it take to lose weight?

To lose weight, you have to eat fewer calories than your body uses. Calories are the amount of energy in the food you eat. Some foods have more calories than others. For example, foods that are high in fat and sugar are also high in calories. If you eat more calories than your body uses, the extra calories will be stored as body excess fat.

A pound of fat is about 3,500 calories. To lose 1 pound of fat in a week, you have to eat 3,500 fewer calories (that is 500 fewer calories a day), or you have to "burn off" an extra 3,500 calories. You can burn off calories by exercising or just by being more active. (Talk to your family doctor before you begin any type of exercise program. Your doctor can help you determine what kind of exercise program is right for you.)

The best way to lose weight and keep it off is to eat fewer calories and be active. If you cut 250 calories from your diet each day and exercise enough to burn off 250 calories, that adds up to 500 fewer calories in one day. If you do this for 7 days, you can lose 1 pound of fat in a week.

Many experts believe you should not try to lose more than 2 pounds per week. Losing more than 2 pounds in a week usually means that you are losing water weight and lean muscle mass instead of losing excess fat. If you do this, you will have less energy, and you will most likely gain the weight back.

How often should I eat?

Most people can eat 3 regular meals and 1 snack every day. The 3 meals should be about the same size and should be low in fat. Try to eat 1 to 2 cups of fruits and vegetables, 2 to 3 ounces of whole grains and 1 to 2 ounces of meat (or a meat alternative) at most meals.

Some people benefit more if they eat 5 to 6 smaller meals throughout the day, about 2 to 3 hours apart. For example, their first meal of the day might be a cup of low-fat or nonfat yogurt and a banana. Three hours later they might eat a simple deli sandwich with whole-grain bread and fat-free mayonnaise.

Eat breakfast and don't skip meals. While skipping meals may help you lose weight in the beginning, it fails in the long run. Skipping meals may make you feel too hungry later in the day, causing you to overeat at your next meal.

After about a month of eating a normal breakfast, lunch and a light dinner, your body will adjust.

What is so bad about high-fat foods?

Foods high in fat are usually high in calories, which could lead to unwanted weight gain. Consuming too much saturated and trans fats may increase LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) level, and increase your risk of heart disease. The USDA suggests that you eat no more than 20 grams of saturated fat, and that you limit the amount of trans fat to as close to 0 grams as possible. Click here for more information on reading nutrition labels.

It is important to remember that some fats can be beneficial to your overall health. "Good" fat, such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are found in fish, nuts, and low- or nonfat dairy products.

What are empty calories?

Some foods are referred to as "empty calories" because they add lots of calories to your diet without providing much nutritional benefit. An example is sugar-sweetened drinks, such as fruit juice, fruit drinks, regular soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened or flavored milk and sweetened iced tea. These drinks can add lots of sugar and calories to your diet.

But staying hydrated is important for good health. To reduce the calories and sugar in your diet, substitute water, zero-calorie flavored water, non-fat or reduced-fat milk, unsweetened tea or diet soda for sweetened drinks. Talk with your family doctor or a dietitian if you have questions about your diet or healthy eating for your family.

Can I trust nutrition information I get from newspapers and magazines?

Nutrition tips and diet information from different sources often conflict with each other. You should always check with your doctor first. Also, keep in mind the following advice:

  • There is no "magic bullet" when it comes to nutrition. There isn't one single diet that works for every person. You need to find an eating plan that works for you.
  • Good nutrition doesn't come in a vitamin supplement. Only take a vitamin with your doctor's recommendation, as your body benefits the most when you eat healthy foods.
  • Eating all different kinds of foods is best for your body, so learn to try new foods.
  • Fad diets offer short-term changes, but good health comes from long-term effort and commitment.
  • Stories from people who have used a diet program or product, especially in commercials and infomercials, are advertisements. These people are usually paid to endorse what the ad is selling. Remember, regained weight or other problems that develop after someone has completed the diet program are never talked about in those ads.

Will diet drugs help?

Although diet drugs may help you lose weight at first, they usually don't help you keep the weight off and may have damaging side effects. Most diet pills have not been tested by the Food and Drug Administration, which means you can't be sure if the drugs are safe. Taking drugs also does not help you learn how to change your eating and exercise habits. Making lasting changes in these habits is the way to lose weight and keep it off.

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Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 12/10
Created: 06/04

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