What is the best way to lose weight?

There are plenty strategies you can use to lose weight. Some involve extra exercise while others place a higher emphasis on cutting calories. All weight loss strategies that involve either cutting calories or exercising more will lead to some results. The best weight loss strategy involves a balanced approach that emphasizes permanent lifestyle change rather than temporary weight loss.

Weight Loss 101

Every single diet or weight loss plan works on the same principle: eat less, move more. The only way to lose weight is when you create an environment in which you burn more calories than you eat. Burning more than you eat (known as a calorie deficit) allows your body to tap into fat stores for energy causing weight loss. Without a calorie deficit, losing weight is impossible.

Diet and/or Exercise for Weight Loss

Creating a calorie deficit is the first step in losing weight. There are a few ways you can create one. You can either eat less, exercise more or combine the two. Creating a lifestyle in which you eat less AND exercise more will produce easier, more permanent and healthier change.

The reason that combining both is a better way to lose weight is because choosing only one will require extreme change that is difficult to maintain. Remember that a calorie deficit is the ONLY rule you need to satisfy in order to lose weight. If you are strictly looking for weight loss (and aren’t concerned about any negative health consequences), it doesn’t matter whether a calorie deficit is created by exercising more or eating less. Choosing only one will require you to create a calorie deficit entirely by eating less or exercising more. Let’s take the following example:

The calorie calculator estimates that a 30 year old man, 5 feet-8 inches tall, weighing 220 pounds that has a sedentary lifestyle burns 2,515 calories per day. If this man were to eat 2,515 calories, he would maintain his current weight of 220 pounds.

If this man wanted to lose weight, he would need to create a calorie deficit; he would need to eat less than 2,515 calories per day. A calorie deficit of around 750 calories per day will yield weight loss in most people. If he wanted to do this by dieting alone, he would need to eat 1,765 (2,515-750=1,765) calories per day.

Since this man is obese, a safe assumption is that he eats more than 2,515 calories per day, probably closer to 3,000 calories per day. Going from eating 3,000 to 1,765 calories per day is a very drastic change that would be very difficult to maintain over a long period of time.

If this man wanted to lose weight by exercising alone, he would need to make equally drastic changes. Since this man eats about 3,000 calories per day, he would need to burn 3,750 (remember the 750 calorie deficit per day for weight loss from above) calories per day to lose weight without cutting any calories. With his current sedentary lifestyle, he burns 2,515 per day. The calorie calculator estimates that this man would need to exercise 6-7 times per week to burn 3,616 calories. Going from not exercising at all, to 6-7 times per week would also be a very drastic change difficult to maintain over the long term.

If this man wanted to both cut calories and exercise, he would be able to make smaller changes to both diet and exercise that would cause easier and healthier weight loss. Since this man will use both diet and exercise to lose weight, he doesn’t need to create a deficit of 750 calories through diet alone. If he cuts half of that out of his diet, he can burn the rest through exercise.

Half of 750 is 375. His current intake of 3,000 minus 375 equals an intake of 2,625 calories per day. Cutting 375 calories out of his diet is a lot more manageable than the 1,765 calories he would need to cut through dieting alone. To create a deficit of 750 calories per day, he needs to add 750 to his intake (3,375). That means he needs to burn 3,375 calories per day to lose weight with a calorie intake of 2,625. The calorie calculator estimates that he can burn 3,249 calories by exercising 3-5 times per week. Again, going from no exercise to exercising 3-5 times per week is a lot more manageable than going from nothing to 6-7 times per week. Combining diet and exercise to lose weight will allow you to make smaller changes in each department rather than making huge changes to only one.

Slow Changes

Losing weight requires change to both your diet and exercise habits. If you’re not careful, the change can overwhelm you causing you to quit your weight loss goals before you even reach them. The best way to decrease the chances of failing is to making slow change.

In the example above, the man should avoid cutting his calorie intake from 3,000 to 2,625 overnight. A better approach would be to split the difference in half and cut about 200 calories per week. During his first week, he would eat 2,800 calories per day and the second week he would go down to his goal of 2,625 calories per day. This slower change would allow him to more easily deal with change.

The same slow change should be used with exercise. Instead of going from no exercise to 3-5 times per week, he should increase his physical activity in weekly stages. For example, his first week he could increase his activity level from no exercise to 1-2 times per week. His second week would go up to 3-5 times per week. Slow change is easier to handle and creates longer lasting habits than quick change.

The Best Way to Lose Weight: Long Term Lifestyle Change

The best weight loss strategy will emphasize long term lifestyle changes rather than short term weight loss. Making positive changes to your lifestyle will yield more than weight loss. Eating less and exercising more can lead to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, better blood sugar control and a decreased risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Improving your overall health will give you so much more than weight loss.

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