Losing weight is literally a numbers game. Eating fewer calories or exercising to burn off calories typically results in weight loss over time. One pound of body fat is equal to 3,500 calories. If you need to lose 2 pounds of body weight, you need to eat 7,000 fewer calories each week. This means eating an average of 1,000 fewer calories each day.
If you factor in exercise, you may not need to lower your daily calories quite as much to still lose weight. For example, if you cut calories by 700 but you also exercise to burn 250 calories each day, you’ll still lose 2 pounds a week.
While it may seem simple, losing weight is often more complex than adding or subtracting calories. You should always talk to your doctor before making big changes to your diet or exercise routine.
Path to improved health
Create a plan
You and your doctor should work together to decide how many calories your body needs each day. You can get an idea of how many calories you need based on your weight, age, height, and lifestyle. You should also take into consideration any health conditions or physical limitations you may have.
If you need to lose a lot of weight, you will gradually continue to decrease your calories over time. Doctors and weight loss experts generally recommend if you go a few weeks without losing weight, it’s time to recalculate your calorie goal.
Track your progress
While you’re counting calories, it’s important to document everything you eat. Keep a calorie tally so you always know how many calories you have left. There are many free mobile apps that can help you easily track your calories throughout the day. You can input the foods you eat, the amount of water you drink, and any exercise or physical activity. You can also track them with a notebook and pen. Either way will work as long as you’re consistent with your tracking.
Make calories count
Following a low-calorie diet while exercising is one of the most successful ways to lose weight and keep it off. Even if you have a lot of weight to lose, try not to be intimidated. Research shows that losing just 5% of your body weight can have a positive impact on your health.
The best way to stick with a low-calorie diet is to make the most of your calories. Not all calories are created equal. If you don’t make good choices with your limited calories, you’re going to end up hungry and irritable. This is especially true if you’re opting for junk food over real food.
Here are some tips for making the most of your calories:
- Don’t skip the protein. Try to eat some protein at every meal. Protein helps keep you full and helps your body burn calories. Research studies show that protein increases your metabolism (the speed that your body burns calories). It also helps decrease your appetite because you feel fuller. There are many sources of protein. Try to choose lean meats, eggs, cottage cheese, fish, nuts, and legumes (such as beans or edamame).
- Don’t drink your calories. Water is the best thing to drink when trying to lose weight. Staying hydrated will help you burn calories. Try to avoid all sugary drinks such as sodas, fruit juices, sports drinks, and alcohol.
- Dump the junk. Sure, you may give in to a craving every once in a while, but don’t make a habit of it. The calories from junk food are also called empty calories. This is because they don’t do anything to nourish your body. And they don’t keep you full very long, either. It’s best if you can remove or limit them.
- Watch your carbs. Carbohydrates (carbs) have two categories: simple and complex. Complex carbs are generally your healthy carbs. They include vegetables, potatoes, and whole grains. Simple carbs are often called refined carbs. They include white bread, white rice, potato chips, sugars, and processed food (fast food and boxed food). Fruit contains sugar, which is technically a simple carb, but it’s still considered a component of a healthy diet.
Note portion sizes
Food portions are often larger than they should be. This is especially true in restaurants. But you can still eat out while watching calories. Before you begin eating, decide to eat half your meal at the restaurant and take the other half home. Dividing your meal on your plate may help you see when you’ve eaten half. Another option is to order one meal and split it with a friend or family member eating with you. Remember: the more food you eat, the more calories you take in.
Things to consider
It may be tempting to cut calories even lower for faster weight loss. But it’s harder to maintain a severe restriction of calories. Getting too few calories is not good for your body. It needs healthy food to create energy. You could end up malnourished. Plus, research shows that people who restrict calories too much and lose weight too quickly usually end up gaining back the weight they lose.
In general, doctors suggest that women should not restrict themselves to fewer than 1,200 total calories per day. Men should not let their daily calories drop below 1,800.
Questions for your doctor
- Will a low-calorie diet work for me?
- Is a low-calorie diet the best way for me to lose weight?
- What foods should I eat while on a low-calorie diet?
- What foods should I avoid while on a low-calorie diet?
- Should I exercise while on a low-calorie diet?
- Are there any medicines or supplements that would help me stick to a low-calorie diet?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.