Introduction: Secrets to Long-Lasting Weight Loss
Go through any grocery checkout line, and you’re inundated with magazines promising this month’s ultimate weight loss solution. One touts the cabbage soup diet. Another cries that Atkins is the way to go, while yet another claims that a raw food diet is most nutritious. It’s enough to drive a soul to drink, or at least to go order a burger and fries with the works, and just forget the whole confusing mess.
Learning to approach weight loss is a bit like going through the five stages of grief, and most would-be dieters spend a lot of time in step three: bargaining. If only I could find the right plan, we bemoan. Then the weight would come off. However, deep inside, we know that healthy weight loss — the kind that prepares you for a lifetime of maintenance — doesn’t hinge on the latest quick-fix fad. Instead, successful, long-term weight loss relies on taking a sensible approach to food, buffered by a strong, positive support system and regular exercise. If it sounds dull, chew on this: would you rather have the thrills of a cabbage soup diet for the rest of your life, or enjoy a nice boring diet full of an array of healthy foods you love?
In this article, you’ll learn the secrets to long-lasting weight loss, including how to calculate your daily calorie needs and how to easily track calories; how to select foods that are nutrient-dense and filling; how the ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and fat can influence your success; and meal planning ideas.
Calories Consumed vs. Calories Burned
Not long ago, nutritionist Mark Haub went on a Twinkie diet. He lost 27 pounds in two months living on snack-aisle junk food like Twinkies, Doritos, and Little Debbies. How on earth could someone eating high-calorie junk food lose weight? The answer is simple: calorie counting.
That’s right. Haub ate 1,800 calories per day, which was what resulted in his weight loss. Even though those 1,800 calories came from Oreos, it was just the same to his body calorie-wise as 1,800 calories of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. When faced with a caloric deficit, the body will shed excess pounds — no matter where the calories are coming from.
To successfully lose weight, you don’t need a fancy diet plan, though knowing how to get good nutrition certainly helps. The primary goal is burning more calories than you consume. You’ve probably heard this before, and it sounds so dead obvious that anyone with a brain doesn’t need to go into more detail.
This would be a mistake.
Continue to page 2 to learn why.
All About Counting Calories, Continued
Learn and know how many calories your body needs to maintain its current weight. Why? Knowledge is power. Once you know approximately what your body wants, calorie-wise, you can calculate how many calories it will take to lose one to two pounds per week. Use an online calculator, like this one from Baylor College of Medicine, which will use your gender, height, weight, age, and activity level to tell you your BMI and how many calories you need to maintain your weight.
To lose weight, you need fewer calories: 3,500 fewer calories per week to lose one pound, and 7,000 fewer calories per week to lose two pounds. So, if you want to lose one pound per week, you must reduce your daily caloric intake by 500 calories. If the calculator says you require 2,200 calories for maintenance, your daily allotment would be 1,700 calories to lose a pound per week.
That’s certainly doable, right? It’s also much more forgiving and simple to follow than cookie-cutter diet plans, which tend to go too low on the calories, leaving you hungry and more likely to abandon the plan. When you know you can lose weight on 1,700 calories a day, and you see the results on the scale, weight loss becomes much easier to manage.
Tracking calories can be done through free online services like fitday.com, sparkpeople.com, and calorie-count.com.
Foods to Help You Lose Weight
The best foods to promote weight loss the healthy way are natural, unprocessed, and nutrient-dense. While we leave it up to you to select your own diet, the Mediterranean Diet exemplifies this philosophy — full of healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, with the occasional serving of fish or glass of wine.
It’s especially important to choose healthful, nutrient-rich foods because when dieting, every calorie counts. That nutritionist on the Twinkie diet lost weight just fine, but he was likely cranky and malnourished while doing so.
Be sure to select foods high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Foods designated as "superfoods" are excellent choices to build your meals around. Superfoods include berries, yogurt, tomatoes, spinach, salmon, pumpkin and other squash, nuts, citrus fruits, broccoli and cauliflower, tea, herring, oatmeal, and more. Even dark chocolate, which is chock full of antioxidants, is a superfood that can help you attain healthy weight loss goals — 100 calories of Lindt 85 percent chocolate satisfies a chocolate craving like nobody’s business.
Avoid processed foods and refined carbohydrates — they are often one and the same. For instance, packaged cookies are both highly-processed and full of sugar, a refined carbohydrate. Avoid white bread products and processed meats, and you may want to consider taking it easy on the dairy products as well. Sugars and processed foods are not as good as healthful foods are at making you feel full, and isn’t that the goal? You want to feel full and satiated on fewer calories so that you can lose weight healthfully and without all the stress and turmoil.
Continue to page 3 to learn how the right ratios of carbs, fat, and protein will help you lose weight.
Carbohydrates, Fat and Protein, Oh My
Three macronutrients rule our food choices: carbohydrate, protein and fat. Purportedly sensible diets over the past decades have been built on cutting one of these macronutrients out of our meals entirely! In the 1980s and into the 1990s, carbs were king. Doesn’t that seem a little odd?
They told us to cut the fat from our diets, all of it; buy ultra-processed foods labeled "low-fat" and packed with sugar to make up for the missing fat and full of unnatural ingredients to mimic fat’s mouth feel. How did that go for us?
And in the 1990s, the Atkins diet resurged in popularity. Based on cutting out carbohydrates and eating as much protein as possible, dieters lost weight by sending their bodies into a ketogenic state where fat, not glucose, was the body’s fuel. It’s a condition difficult to maintain and Atkins followers found the transition back to a less-rigid diet to be disastrous to their weight-loss efforts.
Accept it; embrace it: we need each of the three macronutrients in our diets to be healthy and happy. The only question that remains is, how much of each? The answer varies from person to person. The average person needs only 10–20 percent of their calories to come from protein, with the rest divvied up between fat and carbohydrates. Bodybuilders and people with very active lifestyles and/or workout regimens may want more protein in their diet. One study showed that, among women, a diet with a higher protein-to-carb ratio resulted in more fat loss, and these women felt fuller throughout the day than those in the high-carb group.
Other studies have found that a low-fat diet high in complex carbs (like vegetables, fruits and whole grains) and lean protein were most successful in promoting weight loss and in maintenance afterwards.
The bottom line, however, is to find what works for you. If you track your calories as we suggest, your software or website will provide a breakdown of how much fat, protein and carbs you’re getting daily. Some people find they do well on 60 percent of their calories from carbs, 20 percent fat and 20 percent protein. Others might feel better with 40 percent carbs, 45 percent fat, and 15percent protein, while someone working out to build muscle might eat 40 percent carbs, 30 percent fat, and 30 percent protein daily.
For healthy weight loss, nothing beats eating fewer calories than your body needs in the form of nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods from all three major macronutrients. Use a calorie calculator to find out how many calories you need to maintain or lose weight. Join a community for support and to track your calories, either online or in real life. Plan filling meals that incorporate as many superfoods as possible, and remember to get adequate ratios of carbs, protein and fat. While exercise is crucial to assisting weight loss, your diet is your front line attack, and eating right is the key to unlocking overall success.
- A reduced ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein improves body composition and blood lipid profiles during weight loss in adult women. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12566476
- The role of dietary fat in body fatness: evidence from a preliminary meta-analysis of ad libitum low-fat dietary intervention studies. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10889789
- The role of dietary fat in the prevention and treatment of obesity. Efficacy and safety of low-fat diets. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11466588