It seems like 99.9% of Americans want to shed a few pounds right now. There also seems to be an endless number of diets to choose from — keto, intermittent fasting, delivered-to-your-door meal plans. How can you possibly know which weight loss path is right for you? And why is it so darn hard to get started?
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Endocrinologist Shirisha Avadhanula, MD, goes back to the basics to help you kick off a successful weight loss journey.
“We measure the body’s energy in calories. Weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you consume,” says Dr. Avadhanula. “ Simply put, weight loss occurs when you consume less calories or exercise more, preferably both.”
The term often used to describe your body’s metabolic set point is BMR or basal metabolic rate. There’s no perfect formula to determine BMR, but online calculators can give you a good estimate by considering your gender, height, weight, age and activity level.
“To lose weight in a healthy way, you need to make lifestyle changes that work for the long-haul while your body’s hormones adjust,” says Dr. Avadhanula. “It’s reasonable to lose one or two pounds a week. Any more than that is tough to sustain.”
“Exercise is a key component of weight loss because when you build lean muscle mass, your body has to use more energy to maintain it,” says Dr. Avadhanula. “Ultimately, this means you’re burning more calories when resting. While food plays a huge role in weight loss, adding in muscle-building exercises can be a game-changer.”
Dr. Avadhanula says a proven fat-burning form of exercise is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT uses short intervals of high-intensity exercises to burn fat and build lean muscle.
“Remember that it’s a journey. If you’re very inactive, start slow — aim for 5,000 steps a day. Gradually increase the goal to 10,000 steps a day. Then build up to exercising three to four times a week for 30 to 60 minutes,” she says. “Use a stepwise approach and find activities that fit your lifestyle and schedule, so you don’t lose motivation.”
“Studies have shown that there isn’t one superior diet — popular diets all result in the same amount of weight loss,” says Dr. Avadhanula. “Diets work because they hold you accountable. Regardless of the diet plan you pick, if you stick with it, you’ll probably lose weight.”
Dr. Avadhanula says to stay away from diet plans that seem like a magic pill for weight loss. Those diets are dangerous and unrealistic. Whether too strict or too expensive, people end up quitting the diet and feeling discouraged. Weight gain often follows.
“I urge people to stay away from fad diets because most of them aren’t sustainable,” says Dr. Avadhanula. “Focus on lifestyle changes — exercising more, choosing lean meats and eating fruits and veggies. Stay motivated by pairing up with a family member or friend so you can hold each other accountable. It’s easier to lose weight if someone has your back.”
“Few people realize that it takes a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose just one pound,” says Dr. Avadhanula. Since many people underestimate how many calories they eat throughout the day, she recommends using a food log to track everything you put in your mouth. Strive to take in fewer calories and be more active.
“I also tell patients to hide their scale when they start a weight loss journey,” says Dr. Avadhanula. “Don’t pay attention to your weight for the first three to four weeks. People often lose weight initially then the weight loss tends to slow down. Many people get discouraged at this point and give up.”
The three or four week mark is a good time to step on the scale and see your progress. There will be daily fluctuations, but the goal is an overall downward trend.