Losing Weight – A Primer

The formula for weight loss is neither secret nor mysterious — more calories burned than consumed. But if losing weight were as simple as that, then two-thirds of Americans wouldn’t be overweight or obese.

Though most of us don’t plan to become obese, we practice behaviors that produce that result. And though you did not plan to get fat, you are likely going to have to create a plan to lose weight. Knowing the formula — more calories burned than consumed — is not enough, you have to figure out a way to do it.

You can approach weight loss in three ways:

1) eat fewer calories; 2) burn more calories; 3) do both.

With some simple math, you can see #3 is going to be most effective. Here are the elements of doing that:

  • Set a reasonable, realistic weight loss goal.
  • Create and follow a reduced-calorie, nutritionally-balanced eating plan.
  • Engage in regular physical activity.
  • Create and follow a behavior change plan to help you stay on track with your goals.

First things first

If you have been sedentary for more than a few months, get a physical exam to make sure it is safe for you to be physically active.

Next steps

Establish your current body mass index (BMI) — an indicator of body fat — and see where it fits within the BMI categories.

Discuss weight loss with your doctor and decide on a goal. If you have a lot of weight to lose, set a realistic intermediate goal, say to lose 10 pounds. Even a small amount of weight loss can lead to big health benefits.

Estimate your calorie needs. How many calories do you need to maintain your current weight and BMI? This National Institutes of Health calculator estimates your caloric needs. It can be quite enlightening to see how few calories a sedentary lifestyle requires. For most of us, it’s far fewer than we consume.

Decide what type of activity you want to start with and the activity level you can sustain. Many people choose walking because it is available, effective and cheap.

MyPlate Supertracker

MyPlate Supertracker is a Department of Agriculture website that is a one-stop shop for keeping track of what you consume and what you burn in relation to your weight and BMI goals.

Set up a free account at MyPlate SuperTracker. The Food-A-Pedia section allows you to score 8,000 food items for their calorie and nutrient content. The Physical Activity Tracker allows you to score a particular activity for how many calories it burns.

Using your account, you can record your data and track your progress toward your goals; you can also get coaching tips for adjusting your food intake and activity output. In addition to recording your food and activity on the SuperTracker website, there are a plethora of smartphone apps that support food and physical activity tracking.

A simple strategy that has proven effective for many in changing dietary habits and losing weight is keeping a food diary. This can be as simple as writing down what you eat in a notebook or a daily planner. (For more information see Dear Diary, Today I Ate in Heart Insight Summer 2016.)

Following these steps, you, too, can do the math and lose weight:

  • Decide on a goal
  • Educate yourself about your specific calories in and out
  • Devise a plan
  • Follow your plan

You can do it!

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