"Is there a magic key to losing weight?"
"Is there anything simple I can do to help with the process?"
"Why am I finding it so hard to lose weight?"
These are questions we hear all the time from readers of the Dioxyme Blog, as well as, my patients in my medical practice.
Losing weight is hard and it is so easy to fall off the wagon.
We have all experienced a few weeks of successful dieting, but a weekend of indulging and the weight we lost is suddenly back. It can be frustrating, to say the least.
When it comes to achieving real, long-term weight-loss outcomes, there are some key elements to consider, the most important being that losing weight takes time -- it's a relatively slow process.
In reality, weight loss doesn't happen as it does on shows like the biggest loser. You and I do not have time to exercise 5-6 hours a day, trainers to guide us through, and nutritionists to coach us along the way. Therefore, you and I are not going to lose 5-10 pounds a week. It just won't happen.
More than likely you are working throughout your day and your meals are a welcome respite from the tasks of your job and your life. So, how can you make a diet tolerable, consistent, and successful?
Figuring out your calorie needs for weight loss.
The most important part of losing weight is that you have to be in a caloric deficit. What is a caloric deficit? Let me explain:
A calorie is the amount of energy your body gets from a portion of food. Your body burns a certain number of calories a day. This is what we call your caloric set point.
How many calories a day your body burns depends upon your metabolism and this determines your caloric set point.
As you get older, your metabolism slows and subsequently you burn a smaller number of calories a day.
Women tend to burn fewer calories a day than men.
Of course, your physical activity will affect the number of calories you burn daily. The more active you are, the more you burn.
Other factors also come into play such as your hormonal levels, your genetics, and your health.
For example, many medicines change your metabolism and are associated with 15-30 pound weight gains.
With all these variables, it is difficult to figure out how to diet and how to be successful. Here, I will show you how.
We can estimate what your caloric set point is by knowing your sex, age, height and weight. This is only an approximation. Yours might be a little higher, or, it might be a little lower.
However, it is very important to have a starting point. We have a tool on this website called the TDEE calculator. With the calculator, you plug in your four vital statistics and it will estimate the number of calories your body typically burns a day. It will also show you how these numbers change for the better the more active you are.
What is the calorie set point?
The caloric set point is very important for determining your needed caloric deficit.
To lose a pound of body fat a week, you need to have a 3000-calorie deficit in what you consume for a week.
What does this mean?
If you are a 40-year-old female, 5’ 5” tall and weigh 165 pounds and you work at a desk job and do not exercise, your caloric set point is about 1700 calories. This means that if you eat 1700 calories a day, you will not gain any weight and you will not LOSE any weight.
Even if you eat well!
Eating healthy foods is great for staying healthy. However, if you eat 1700 calories of healthy, organic, natural foods, avoid breads, rice, pasta, soda, and alcohol, you will not drop a pound.
Sad but true…. The key to losing weight is not necessarily what you eat, but how much.
A 3000-calorie deficit means that instead of consuming 1700 calories a day X 7 days which equals 11,900 calories for the week. Instead, you have to consume 8900 calories for the week.
8900 calories a week divided by 7 days equals 1270 calories a day. And this is to lose one pound in a week.
If you want to lose 1.5 to 2 pounds a week, using these same calculations, you would need to cut back to 1050 to 850 calories respectively.
Notice the numbers.
Basically, to lose 1-2 pounds a week you have to limit your calorie intake to 1000 – 1200 calories a day.
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Interestingly, all the popular weight loss programs that sell you food (Nutrisystem, Weight-Watchers, Jenny Craig, South Beach), provide you about 1200 calories a day for women and a little bit more for men.
All successful diet programs like Adkins, Keto, Intermittent Fasting, Carb-restricted, Mayo Clinic, DASH, etc. all work because of the caloric deficit they prescribe.
In fact, following the food recommendations of the above diet programs without restricting the total calorie intake, fails to cause you to lose weight.
For example, studies have been done on Islamic followers who observe Ramadan for 40 days. During the 40 days, participants fast all day and eat one meal at night. If their total caloric intake in that one meal is equal to their caloric set point, they lose no weight. In fact, most observers of Ramadan do not lose weight.
So how do you follow a 1000 – 1200 calorie a day diet? Won't you be hungry?
You might. But there are strategies to make this successful. And we can all be successful!
First off you have to start off slowly and learn to control your hunger and your cravings. The best way to do this is to start off slowly. If you normally eat 2000 calories a day and you drop it suddenly to 1000 calories a day, you will be very uncomfortable and this usually leads to failure.
Figuring out your calorie needs for weight loss.
There are several free calorie counters for your smartphone. Calorie Counter by Fat Secret and Myfitnesspal both offer a free app.
The key to using this is you have to log and count every single item you put in your mouth. If you ignore the cracker or couple of almonds you snack on, it will add up. And the numbers do add up to not losing weight.
Find out how many calories you typically eat for a day. Be sure to record everything. For example, if you are eating a salad, make sure you are including everything you put in it. If you are eating at a restaurant, the apps have most franchise and even foods you buy at your grocery store.
If you are eating over your caloric set point, let’s first start with working your way down to your set point. We like to start with increments of 300 calories. Believe it or not, this is almost the size of a small meal. If our target goal for you is 1200 calories a day, that would be the equivalent of 3 meals at 400 calories per meal.
It usually takes a full week for your tummy to be content and not growling when you reduce your calorie intake by 300 calories a day. If you are consuming the USA average of 2400 calories a day, it will take you using this incremental reduction, 2-3 weeks to get you comfortably down to your caloric set point.
You have to be patient for success. If you rush it, it will be much harder for you.
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Now that we have you at your comfortable caloric set point, let's amp up the volume and start losing some fat. Again, we are going to incrementally work you down. If your caloric set point is 1700 calories, we are going to again notch you down by 300 calories a day for this week. So your target goal is 1400 calories a day.
Don’t be disappointed by the scale. Going to 1400 calories a day may cause you to lose ½ a pound or you might not see it. One 8 ounce glass of water weighs about ½ a pound so how much fluid you retain will affect your weight.
Over the course of several weeks, you should get your target calorie count down to about 1000-1200 a day.
And this is the sweet spot for most people.
I do say most… but unfortunately not all. Myself included.
I have been on many diets throughout my life and unfortunately, even though my caloric set point is around 1700 based on my age, weight, height and sex, I have to drop my calories below 700 a day to lose weight.
We think this is because my metabolism responds differently to a caloric deficit than the average person. My metabolism slows as a result of the limited food intake and for me to actually lose weight, my caloric deficit has to be larger.
I have many patients who also have this issue and it makes it harder to lose weight. The key is in recognizing what caloric deficit you have to be at. Unfortunately, that is the truth.
I have numerous patients who provide their food app data to us and they truly consume around 1200 calories a day without losing weight. DON’T give up. Our goal is success and all information is vital. This just means they need a lower caloric intake.
Success can be achieved, you just have to use the data and be persistent.
There are a few additional helpful tools for losing weight that are very beneficial when you are on a caloric deficit diet.
CLA is a proven benefit for people who are on a caloric deficit program. Along with exercise, it helps burn fat and maintain muscle.
Foods To Avoid When Dieting
Certain foods will cause a spike in your blood sugar and cause insulin release. Insulin will cause you to store energy. In essence, it will cause you to take the sugar and store it as fat. We do not want to store fat; we want to burn it.
These foods should be avoided and include breads, pasta, rice, white potato, sweet potato, carrots, sweetened drinks, soda, and alcohol. Certain fruits will do the same thing such as citrus, apples, grapes, raisins and bananas.
Also, be careful with dressing for your salads and certain condiments. A tablespoon of ranch salad dressing has 70 calories per tablespoon and most people use 4-6 tablespoons per salad.
Green vegetables are excellent to eat and cauliflower can be used to create cauliflower rice. But again, you do have to measure and count what you eat.
And here is the most enjoyable tip for your diet. It is called the cheat meal. Reserve one meal a week for eating anything you want. This is not a cheat day, it is a cheat meal. I usually reserve it for Saturday night dinner. You can eat anything you want that meal including alcohol and dessert.
The cheat meal helps recharge your metabolism and will often make you more successful. It not only helps your metabolism but it also recharges your psyche and gives you something to look forward to.
Losing weight is hard. Yet everyone can be successful. A successful program should be done incrementally until you have reached your target caloric deficit. Your goal should be to lose 1.5-2 pounds a week. The key is being consistent and tracking everything you eat.