The weight loss journey can often be a frustrating cycle of highs and lows. In this article you’ll learn about our 3 Surefire Steps to lose weight. We’ll explain how to manage hunger and cravings, what food swaps to make and how to make smaller, maintainable lifestyle changes to achieve your long term weight loss goals!
In this article we’ll cover the following topics:
How to Lose Weight – The Basics
How much of a calorie deficit do I need in order to lose weight?
It’s a fact, there’s no way around it – in order to lose weight you need to be in a calorie deficit (1.). A calorie deficit is achieved when you consume fewer calories than you burn.
For example, let’s say you consume 2000 calories a day and find that this keeps your weight steady, or in maintenance. In order to lose weight, we recommend reducing your caloric intake by 500 calories a day (2.) as it is easier to maintain than a more drastic cut in calories, and it will lead to more significant results. You will still lose weight if you reduce your daily intake by 200 or 300 calories, it will just take longer.
Achieving a calorie deficit can be done by eating less and/or increasing your calorie burn through exercise. We’ll get into the details of that later!
Crash diets, which can be restrictive and limiting in the foods they allow you to eat, will likely yield quick results. The reason for this is that they often require a drastic cut in calories. However, this will lead to weight gain as soon as you start eating a ‘normal’ diet again (3.) .
In order to lose weight, you need to achieve a consistent calorie deficit over an extended period of time (4.), and you need to maintain this once you reach your goal weight. This is easier said than done, but don’t worry – we’re here to help you reach that goal!
How do I maintain a calorie deficit?
The million dollar question is: How can we achieve a calorie deficit and maintain the deficit, until we reach our target weight?
Successful weight loss and weight management requires a lifestyle change. Reaching a calorie deficit one day may not be that much of a challenge. The hard part is keeping that calorie deficit over a period of several weeks or months. By taking your time, you will be shedding excess body fat, and you will be less likely to gain it back (5.) .
Once you reach your goal weight, we don’t recommend going back to your regular diet. If you do you’ll gain back (at least some of, if not most of) those pounds you worked so hard to lose. So we’re here to help you make some small, and permanent, changes to your lifestyle. By making these changes you will learn about weight management and you’ll be able to enjoy your favorite treats from time to time too.
Three Ways to Achieve a Caloric Deficit:
- Reduce your calorie intake – this does not necessarily mean eating less, it means eating less caloric foods. We’ll explain that in more detail below.
- Increase your calorie expenditure – by exercising more and ‘burning’ calories.
- A combination of both points 1. and 2.
1. Reducing Calorie Intake
Lowering your calorie intake doesn’t necessarily mean eating less, it means eating fewer calories. One pound of carrots is a lot more food in volume than a 3 ounce slice of carrot cake, but the latter has way more calories.
One pound of carrots has only 186 calories, whereas a slice of carrot cake has at least double that. And we can guarantee that eating one pound of carrots is a much healthier option than a slice of carrot cake. Fiber, nutrients and minerals versus processed flour, butter, sugar and umm… more sugar!
The choice is obvious but realistically, eating one pound of carrots may not seem like a satisfying snack for most people. How about carrot sticks with hummus or another flavorful and nutritious dip? Not only is this lower in calories than the cake, it’s better for you, and will provide your body with healthy fats, protein and fiber which will all keep you feeling full for longer.
This is not to say that once you reach your goal weight, that you can’t have carrot cake. But just be aware of the choice you are making, you’re rewiring your brain to eat mindfully.
2. Increasing Calorie Expenditure
Physical activity is key to increasing your caloric expenditure or “burn”. We’ll cover some examples further below. Exercise should be included in any weight loss program to ensure healthy progress, but always check with your practitioner before starting a new physical activity.
3. Reducing Calorie Intake and Increasing Calorie Expenditure
This is the ideal scenario for healthy, long term weight loss. If you can cut your caloric intake by 300 calories per day, and add an extra 45 minute walk, or 25 minute jog to burn 200 more calories, you’ll have a total deficit of 500 calories a day!
Why is it so hard for most us to reduce what we eat, make healthier choices and to STICK to a diet? The answer is cravings – which brings us to our next point!
Understanding the Difference Between Hunger and Cravings
One reason why you might have trouble sticking to a diet, is because you experience a craving for something particular, rather than actually feeling hunger. We are constantly surrounded by a huge variety of food choices in stores, advertisements, or the tantalizing smells as we walk down the street.
Lack of food is not an issue for 90% of the world’s population (6.). It is something that we have access to 24/7, and for most of us the choices are endless. So it should come as no surprise that we have food on the brain most of the time, and find ourselves in the kitchen pantry looking for a snack to satisfy our urge to eat.
In severe cases, the desire to eat when you’re on a diet can be compared to the desire to breathe when you hold your breath for too long. Willpower alone is not going to be enough in these situations, and you may find it easier to give in to the craving, which may leave you feeling guilty or disappointed in yourself.
In order to help us work through our cravings, let’s identify some main differences between hunger and cravings below.
|A feeling in your stomach, a physical feeling.||Can be mentally or physically driven. Not a physical feeling of hunger in your stomach.|
|Doesn’t pass with time||Passes with time – find a distraction!|
|Any food will satisfy the hunger||Yearning for a specific food, usually a comfort food.|
|Comes on gradually||Comes on suddenly|
As you can see, hunger is a physical feeling where your stomach rumbles, you may feel weak and get a headache. It doesn’t pass with time, on the contrary it intensifies over time. You also will find that with hunger you are not craving a specific food.
Cravings on the other hand, are primarily mentally driven. They come on suddenly and they are usually for a very specific comfort food – sugar and salt being the two main culprits (7.) . Cravings will pass with time if you distract yourself. Have a glass of water or make a cup of tea. Read a book, call a friend, go for a walk or take up knitting! Anything to get yourself away from the kitchen and occupy your mind.
How to Lose Weight – 4 Action Steps
These 4 action steps will help you further towards your weight loss goals. You don’t have to apply them all at once, tackle them one by one if it makes you feel more comfortable. Remember that healthy weight loss takes time!
1. Sugar and Sugar Alternatives
Sugar may satisfy cravings in the short term, but in the long term it increases them. Why is that?
If you eat well balanced meals you should experience fewer cravings. This is because protein (eggs, legumes, meat and fish) and fiber (vegetables and whole grains) help to balance your blood sugar levels (8.). If you eat a donut for breakfast, made with white flour and sugar, your blood sugar levels will spike giving you an energy boost, and then they’ll crash, leaving you feeling tired, and craving more (9.).
A bowl of oatmeal with blueberries and a dollop of greek yogurt, on the other hand, will give you those proteins and fibers that your body needs. This will level out your blood sugar levels and you should find that you’ll be fine until lunchtime!
Sugar is highly processed and really gives you no nutritional benefit (10.) . Sugar is added to many foods and it’s given several pseudonyms so that it doesn’t look like the main ingredient in a processed item. Some of these other names for sugar are high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, dextrose, rice syrup, maltodextrose…the list goes on. There are over 70 different names for sugar!
Take a look at this ketchup label for instance. In the US, ingredients are required to be listed on all packaged food items. These ingredients are listed in order of content. So the first ingredient makes up the highest percentage of ingredients, and next one makes up a smaller proportion, and so forth.
In ketchup, the sugar content is split into two types of sugar – high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup (both are highly processed by the way!). They do that because if they listed these types of sugar as one, it would appear as the first ingredient!
Sugar alternatives such as honey and maple syrup contain a similar amount of calories to regular sugar, but they’re often touted as healthier alternatives. They do contain some antioxidants and minerals (11.), but calorie for calorie, they’re still sugar. Both should be used sparingly when your goal is to lose weight.
Cutting out sugar and its alternatives is the first action step that you can take towards better health and weight loss.
Action Step 1 : Skip the sugar and sugar alternatives
2. Processed vs. and Natural Foods
Processed foods may satisfy a craving in the short term, but you may well find that an hour or two later, you’re looking for the next thing. This is because your body isn’t satisfied, your taste buds may have been temporarily satisfied, but the body is still thinking – Hey! Where’s that protein that I need?
The additives that are found in so many processed foods are artificial and are engineered in a way that keeps you coming back for more. They have an addictive effect and your brain gets used to that daily sugar rush at 4pm, or that cookie with your morning coffee.
Processed foods are stripped of their nutrients (some may have artificial ones added back in), and pumped full of ‘nasties’ such as preservatives and flavor enhancing chemicals (12.). Do you really want to eat something that comes out of a lab?
The best way to satisfy these particular cravings is to listen to them, identify them, and then if you must give in to them, opt for a more natural version of what you’re craving. For example, if you suddenly feel you NEED a burger, skip the drive thru and cook yourself a small, grass fed steak with a side of spinach. This is lower in calories, higher in vital nutrients, and void of processed additives. If you’re feeling like you need something fresh and cold like an ice cream or milkshake, you could be thirsty. Why not make yourself a smoothie instead or have a cold orange.
The problem that many people have with choosing natural foods over processed, or ready made foods, is that it requires more effort. This is generally true, but remember, small lifestyle changes lead to long term success!
Take the extra 15 minutes to cook yourself something nice. And it doesn’t have to be every day. If you know that Fridays are a good day for you to have more time to cook, start there. Soon you’ll be able to meal prep and find that you can cook a great meal for yourself that will feed you for more than one meal.
Action Step 2: Swap processed foods for natural, whole foods
3. Nutrient Dense Foods
Your body needs nutrients. If it doesn’t have enough of what it needs, it will tell your brain it’s in need of something in the form of a craving. Sometimes this can even be for a particular type of food. For example, many women have cravings for red meat during their period, this is because their bodies are in need of iron. Dark chocolate can mean that your body is asking for magnesium, and craving something cold and fresh could be a cry for some vitamin C.
So, what exactly is nutrient dense food? It is food with a high amount of vitamins and minerals per calorie. Let’s take your average breakfast cereal versus a spinach omelet. The breakfast cereal is probably quite high in added sugar, and it’s probably fortified with minerals such as iron and potassium. On the other hand, an omelet made with two eggs, a little onion and garlic and a handful of baby spinach is far more nutritious than a bowl of breakfast cereal. Not only that, it will keep you fuller for longer as it’s well balanced, giving you good doses of protein and fiber.
Action Step 3: Eat nutrient dense foods
4. Protein and Fiber
Protein and fiber help you feel full quickly, and they satisfy your appetite for a longer time than a high-carbohydrate meal will. Per calorie, you will be satisfied more quickly with a high fiber and/or high protein food, than with a food high in carbs (donut or bagel) which is low in protein and fiber (13.), (14.), (15.).
What foods contain protein and fiber? Some good sources of protein are eggs, poultry, and greek yogurt. Good sources of fiber include nuts, whole grains and legumes. Try to include these as a main part of each meal to help you reach a longer lasting feeling of fullness.
Action Step 4: Replace high carbohydrate foods with high protein and high fiber foods.
For some meal inspiration, find our FREE 28-Day Holistic Meal Plans here!
Now that we have these action steps, which provide some basic ground rules for a healthier and lower calorie lifestyle, we’ll look at how we can incorporate these with our 3 Surefire Steps to Weight Loss!
How to Lose Weight – The 3 Surefire Steps
The following 3 Surefire Steps, combined with the Action Steps above, will help you lose weight and keep it off. Remember that successful and maintainable weight loss is not going to happen overnight. Of course it takes patience, willpower, and effort, but the rewards are phenomenal! Better health, more energy and weight loss! It’s worth it!
Step 1: Make a assessment of the foods you are currently eating
The hardest part of this step is to be honest with yourself. In order to change your habits, you need to identify the bad habits first. The most useful tool for this is simply a notepad. (You could also use a calorie counting app to log your foods which would automatically count the calories for you.)
Log your foods by meal – breakfast, lunch, dinner and especially snacks. Use a calorie counting app or simply search caloric values online, this is easy to do by volume or unit. Add up how many calories you have eaten for each meal, and soon you’ll be able to see where you could easily cut some calories. You may well find that you’re consuming 300-500 calories a day worth of snacks! Hold onto that thought for a second as we continue with our steps to losing weight.
Step 2: Calculate your daily caloric need and subtract 300 calories.
Your daily caloric need is the amount of calories your body requires for it to maintain its current weight. To calculate the calories you need to maintain your weight, you can use the formula below. (16.)
NOTE: It is important to remember that the resulting number is not set in stone, and you do not need to eat exactly ‘x’ amount of calories to lose weight. It is a useful guide when you really don’t know where to start, and will give you an indication of whether you should aim for 1500 or 1800 calories, for example.
First calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is the amount of calories your body burns just by performing its everyday functions such as breathing, keeping your heart beating etc.
For this exercise, let’s say “Sarah” weighs 160 pounds, is 5’7” (67 inches) tall and is 45 years old. This is calculated as follows for women:
BMR for women = 655.1 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age)
Let’s put those numbers in and see what we get:
BMR for Sarah = 655.1 + (4.35 x 160) + (4.7 x 67) – (4.7 x 45)
= 655.1+ 696 + 314.9 – 211.5
= 1455 calories
For men, use this equation:
BMR for men = 66 + (6.2 x weight) + (12.7 x height) – (6.76 x age)
Now that we have Sarah’s BMR we need to find out what her activity level is in order to see what her calorie burn is like. Below are the activity levels and their values.
Sedentary (little or no exercise, desk job) = 1.2
Lightly active (light exercise 1-3 days per week) = 1.375
Moderately active (moderate exercise 6-7 days per week) = 1.55
Very active (hard exercise every day, or 2 times per day) = 1.725
Extra active (hard exercise 2 or more times per day) = 1.9
To find out how many calories Sarah needs to stay in ‘maintenance’ we multiply her BMR by her activity level. Sarah has a desk job, runs 3 miles 3 times a week, and walks her dog for thirty minutes a day. This would put her in the moderately active category, so her activity level is 1.55.
Sarah’s maintenance calorie level is calculated as follows:
Maintenance Calorie Level = Activity level x BMR
= 1.55 x 1455 calories
= 2255 calories.
This means that if Sarah were to eat 2255 calories per day and keep up her level of exercise, she would maintain her current weight. In order to lose weight in a responsible, safe and sustainable way, we are going to subtract 300 calories, which gives us a total of 1955 calories.
This formula gives Sarah an indication of what her target calorie intake should be. However, it is important to use this as a guideline. The best way to find your optimal calorie intake for weight loss is to track your daily calories and observe if you gain, lose or maintain your weight. From there, you can reduce your intake by 300 calories, which can be achieved by following the 4 Action Steps we discussed earlier. Here’s a recap:
- Skip the sugar and sugar alternatives,
- Eat natural foods, not processed foods,
- Eat nutrient dense foods, not nutritionally empty foods,
- Replace high carbohydrate foods with high protein and high fiber foods.
By adhering to these Action Steps and making small changes to her lifestyle, Sarah will see a difference if she maintains a calorie deficit over an extended period of time.
Step 3: Add extra physical activity to your day.
Burn an extra 200 calories a day by adding more physical activity to your usual routine. This will give you a TOTAL calorie deficit of 500 calories per day which will definitely help you reach your weight loss goal.
Why not just eat 500 calories less instead of upping your exercise? Well, we believe in lifestyle changes for long-term results, and exercise is vital to a healthy lifestyle. There are many, many options to get your heart rate up. Here are some examples of activity that will burn an extra 200 calories a day on average*:
- Bike around the neighborhood for 30 minutes at 10-12 mph;
- Take the stairs… for 30 minutes;
- Turn up the volume and dance for 40 minutes;
- Jog for 25 minutes;
- Jump on the trampoline for 30 minutes;
- Walk for 45 minutes;
- Swim for 30 minutes;
- Play tennis for 30 minutes.
*exact calories burned depend on sex, weight, metabolism.
If you really don’t like to exercise, or perhaps you just don’t have the time to add in another activity, then we recommend that you decrease your calorie intake by a total of 500 calories per day, instead of 300.
The reason we recommend the calorie reduction as well as the exercise, is because it is the easiest method to maintain. Cutting out an extra 200 calories per day, when you’re already cutting out 300, may be harder than you think!
On the other hand, if you know you have a food filled week ahead of you and that you’ll be eating more than usual, go ahead and increase your activity level to balance out the extra calories you’ll be consuming.
How quickly can I expect to lose weight?
It takes a deficit of 3500 calories (17.) to lose one pound of body fat, so if you maintain the Action Steps and the 3 Surefire Steps to weight loss, you’ll lose around 1 pound in 7 days! That may not sound like much, but hold 4 sticks of butter (equivalent to 1 pound) in your hands and imagine that…
Don’t be discouraged, slow and steady is the key to maintaining your weight loss in the long run. According to the CDC, a person who maintains a steady weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week is more likely to keep the weight off in the long run (18.) .
During the first two weeks, you may see a more drastic loss as you will initially lose water weight, before you lose body fat.
If you prefer to see faster results, you could increase your caloric deficit by no more than 800 calories a day. We recommend that you don’t exceed this amount as the higher the calorie deficit, the harder it will be to maintain in the long run.
We want you to lose weight safely, to enjoy the healthier you and to keep the weight off. Instead of focusing on losing weight, focus on changing your lifestyle bit by bit. Improved eating habits, as seen in our 4 Action Steps above, will give you a lean and healthy body, improved energy and a better mood.
This is a process, you will learn as you go, don’t be discouraged by small setbacks and if you have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.