Weight loss is as simple as basic math. Literally. If you know that 1+1=2 you’re already ahead of the game. It took me over ten years to learn this. Crazy, right?
Here’s the thing. Day in and day out we are bombarded with “fast-acting miracles” to shed that belly fat, boost our energy, gain confidence, fall in love, get that promotion! Yeah, just as it is completely ridiculous for me to say that losing 20 pounds is going to get you your dream job, it is equally asinine to believe that any product on the market is going to assist us with our weight loss goals. I say “ours” because I’m going to be completely honest with you — I’m still working on this myself. (I’m 40 pounds lighter than I was last June though, and I didn’t use any supplements).
There was a key word back there — market. All these miracle solutions are just products with very clever marketing that prey on our insecurities. We’ve allowed the advertising and marketing industries to tell us what we should eat, drink, and do for so long that we actually started to believe them. And worse yet, we started giving these people our hard earned money! So much of it, in fact, that the weight loss industry in America generates 20 billion dollars a year. 20 billion! And it’s rising every single year.
Well, forget all of it. You don’t need weight loss pills, you need education. And, frankly, a whole lot of willpower, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Calories In < Calories Out
Weight loss comes down to one simple scientific equation: Calories In < Calories Out, which is to say that the amount of calories you consume in a day has to be less than the amount of calories your body is using to fuel your day. The main reason that you should automatically discredit any “miracle” pill is as simple as understanding that different bodies and lifestyles need varying degrees of fuel.
A 5’2, 50 year old, mainly sedentary woman is going to need significantly less calories than an active, 6 foot, 18 year old male. And those weight loss pills? Most of them are just caffeine, a lot of them are placebos, and almost every single one of them puts you at a higher risk for heart attacks and strokes. They aren’t healthy, but you reach for them because you know your diet hasn’t exactly been the best either, and you figure a little boost is just what you need to kick start your weight loss program, right? Well — stop.
What you need to do is determine — roughly — how much energy you personally exert in a day. There’s a plethora of free tools online that can assist you with determining this number; the tricky part is that this will actually take you some considerable trial and error time, because as I mentioned above, the number itself is different for everyone, and online calculators, while close, can never be wholly accurate. Personally, my recommendation is MyFitnessPal. It’s as easy as plugging in your current stats: height, weight, and level of daily activity (not including meaningful exercise). I also recommend the Scooby Calorie Calculator.
Crunch The Numbers
If you’re not sure about how much exercise you get per day, I’d err on the side of caution, and presume you’re sedentary to start. Remember, this is going to take some tweaking over time. You may start out thinking you’re “lightly” active and then realize that you’re overestimating your calorie expenditure, so you’ll adjust those numbers until you start seeing results. This is a starting point, and it’s only half the battle.
Let’s assume I have these stats — 5’6, female, 160 pounds, and I work as a receptionist. I’m going to set the activity level to “sedentary” since I’m often sitting at work, and because I only have about 15lb I want to lose, I’m going to set myself to lose .5lb a week (a 250 calorie deficit per day). That puts my calorie goal at approximately 1500 calories/day, meaning my TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) is approximately 1750 calories/day.
Remember that original equation now: Calories In < Calories Out. As long as I don’t go OVER 1750 calories/day… I won’t gain weight. If I eat approximately 1750 calories/day, I won’t lose any either. If I stay in and around 1500, I should see a slow but steady 0.5LB average loss per week, as there are roughly 3500 calories in a pound.
Write Everything Down
The next thing you should do is start logging your food in a diary or journal. A lot of people recommend using a food scale to ensure the most accurate logging, but I find that can be an overwhelming idea when you’re just getting started. Spend a week just logging what you eat through the day without necessarily focusing on hitting your calorie target that you’ve determined above.
The reason I say this is because I believe it’s important to at first gain an understanding of exactly how much you are normally eating before you go ahead and start eating in a deficit. If you find you’re averaging over 500 calories OVER your TDEE already, cutting 750 calories from your day is going to seem like a remarkable large change. Losing weight is a marathon, not a sprint, and you have to learn what pace works for you.
MyFitnessPal’s database is very handy to use when you get started but you’ll start to notice that it isn’t wholly accurate either (other users that submit their recipes end up in the database), and it will eventually become necessary to manually submit your own recipes for the closest calorie estimate.
So, you’ve determined now that if you do effectively zero exercise all day you have to be mindful of not going over your 1750 calorie cap, and if you want to see that number on the scale go down, you actually have to stick to 1500.
Don’t Skip The Small Stuff
You’ve starting logging (great!) now it’s time to tighten up that logging. Be sure to include marinades, condiments, and salad dressings in your logs, as they can be surprisingly calorie dense. Use the nutritional information on the package as much as possible, but keep in mind that they are capable of being off by upwards of 20%.
Let’s say you’ve been at this for two weeks now and I haven’t dropped a single pound. “There must be more to this that I’m not doing, I should incorporate some exercise” you’ll think to yourself.
Well, sure, of course you can incorporate exercise if you want to (and I do recommend it) but fundamentally no, you don’t. If you haven’t lost anything yet, the equation isn’t wrong — you may just be overestimating your caloric burn and underestimating your caloric intake. Don’t sweat it, we all do it!
You can do one of two things here: keep logging as you are for another couple weeks – there are a number of reasons why you may not have seen a loss on the scale yet (water weight being the largest culprit, and if you’re a woman, that good old time of the month), you need to be patient. No miracle solution here, just simple patience. If, in another 2 weeks, you still haven’t gained or lost anything, start decreasing your calories slowly. Drop 100 calories per day for the next week. Scale dropped? Great! You’re much closer to finding your “sweet spot” for weight loss.
Persist. And Then Persist Some More.
What next? Keep at it. You may not see a loss every week on the scale, don’t let that discourage you. Keep a lot of your weigh-ins, and be mindful of the overall trend. Over the course of a few weeks, if the overall trend is downwards — then you’re doing exactly what you should be doing, don’t quit! If the overall trend is upwards, take a deep breath and remember the equation. You may have to tighten up that logging over time, which could include investing in a food scale, or you may decide you want to start running to lose some extra calories that way.
Whatever you do, remember that you didn’t gain the weight overnight, so you’re not going to lose it that way either. That’s where the willpower comes in. Some days will seem easier than others. You won’t always feel motivated, but if you stray from the process you won’t see results (and you WILL stray, at least once, trust me). Take it one day at a time — heck, take it one meal at a time. If you go over one day, it’s not the end of the world, just get right back to your plan the next day.
This is not a quick fix by any means, but you’ll notice all the tools I’ve outlined for you are free, and they’re just waiting for your hard work and dedication.
You now know that weight loss is as simple as basic addition and subtraction — use that knowledge and work your way towards a fitter, healthier, you 🙂