Throughout other parts of this site I try to clear up all the misinformation that clutters the topic of weight loss. But if you have already “hit bottom” and know that you want or need to lose weight and are willing to do what it takes, and you don’t want to take all the tangents first, all you need is a WEIGHT LOSS PLAN. That is, you need some concrete, actionable, measurable things to do. THAT is what this section is all about.
My Weight Loss Plan: The Basics
As I argue on nearly every page of this site, the timeless, universally effective way to lose weight is simply to consume less than you burn. If you have come to the point where you need to lose some weight you have probably already tried to remedy the problem with some form of “dieting”. That’s always the best first step.
But I assume that weight loss plan didn’t work. It rarely does. In that case it’s time to get a little more specific.
I will warn you in advance that while this is a “How To” section, this weight loss plan will be different than what you have probably seen elsewhere. I don’t make a long list of allowed foods and banned foods, or a list of heart-healthy low-cal recipes, or a description of exercises that you can do 6 minutes/day that will shed fat like magic.
As a matter of fact, in this weight loss plan NO FOODS are banned and EXERCISE IS NOT REQUIRED.
My Weight Loss Plan: The Specifics
To lose weight, do this:
- Multiply your weight (pounds) by 12 (13 if you’re on your feet most of the day, see below). Let’s call this number “Daily Calories Burned”.
- Subtract 500 from the “Daily Calories Burned”. Let’s call this the “Daily Calorie Limit”.
- Every day consume fewer calories than the “Daily Calorie Limit”.
That’s pretty much it!
That Daily Calories Burned figure is based the on conservative estimates using the following activity/calorie chart:
So if your typical day involves one hour of walking, one hour of standing, eight hours of sleeping, and fourteen hours of sitting, you burn around 12.2 calories per pound per day.
If you are on your feet almost all day long and walk three hours, stand three hours, sleep eight hours, and sit ten hours, you burn around 14.2 calories per pound per day, as shown below:
If your activity levels differ significantly from this range just use the figures in the chart to calculate your own value. But it is very important to err on the low end. Better to just use 12 as the factor (the first chart).
Why eat 500 calories less than I burn?
By running this 500 calorie per day deficit (eat 500 fewer calories per day than you burn) you should be losing about one pound per week (a pound requires 3500 calories to maintain, so when you accumulate a 3500 calorie deficit, you lose one pound).
The reason most people fail to lose weight by just trying to eat lighter is that they aren’t eating as light as they think. In order to ensure that you are REALLY eating lighter, you COUNT CALORIES. It is the only objective measure of how much fuel you are putting into your body.
Decide How to Measure Your Calories
Now that you know how many calories you burn (Pounds x 12) and how many calories you should eat (500 less than you burn), how do you measure the calories?
You have several options on how to hit your calorie targets.
Count/Measure for yourself
THE ABSOLUTE BEST WAY to hit your calorie targets is to learn how to look up accurate calorie counts and carefully weigh and measure everything yourself. This approach is the most difficult at first, but it gets easier with time and practice. When you do it this way, you eventually develop an instinct that will enable you to very accurately estimate the calories in almost any food item just by looking at it. And remember, KEEPING WEIGHT OFF involves making a reduced calorie diet a LIFESTYLE. By possessing this instinct for calorie counts it will be easier to stay on target long after you reach your weight goals.
So HOW do you count calories? I cover almost everything you need to know at Count Calories to Lose Weight.
Buy frozen pre-prepared meals
If you don’t want to figure out the calories contained in every ingredient in your meals, every drop of oil or butter, every sliver of cheese, every teaspoon of mayonnaise, etc., you can just buy frozen meals already prepared that have accurate calorie counts for the whole meal printed right on the container.
You can walk into almost any Wal-Mart store’s frozen section and buy almost any kind of meals that match your calorie target. Lean Cuisine, Stouffer’s, and Healthy Choice are some brands to look for. And it’s real food, like meats, fish, poultry, vegetables, pastas, etc.
Some brands are specifically designed to be lower in calories or healthier in some way, but the most important factor for our purposes is simply the fact that the full meal’s calorie count is right on the label (for single meal dinners).
Frozen dinners may not seem like the tastiest route, but they aren’t that bad. But even if they ARE that bad to you, they at least simplify the calorie counting business.
Calorie-controlled weight loss meal plans
If you’re in a hurry to lose weight, and you really don’t want to bother too much with the meticulous calorie counting, you are not alone. And because you’re not alone, this demand has given rise to a whole new industry to meet that demand.
This industry is the prepared calorie-controlled, portion-controlled meal delivery business. In a nutshell, they prepare, cook, freeze, then ship you nutritionally balanced meals with carefully calculated calorie counts. Many of them ship you a week or a month of meals at a time. You put them in the freezer, then defrost, heat, and eat. And if you stick to those correct calorie counts and don’t cheat, you’ll lose weight.
Some actually ship you only the raw ingredients with instructions on how to cook and prepare yourself.
There are a wide variety of service and product offerings within this industry. Some are more budget oriented, some offer much higher quality for a higher price, some have a wider range of meal choices, etc.
But in the end the most valuable service they provide is taking the calorie counting off your back. It really does simplify the process and is a great choice for many people.
I review some of these plans at Weight Loss Meal Plans.
A Few Relevant Notes
All of this calorie math works great on the spreadsheet, but the real world can be a little more variable. But in the long run it all works out. Most likely if you start running a strict 500 calorie per day deficit on January 1 you won’t see a one pound weight loss by Jan. 8.
And, what’s worse, that first week from Jan 1 to Jan 8 is probably going to be your worst week on the plan. It will feel like TORTURE. By Jan 15 you still may not see any results on the scale.
But maybe by Jan 23 you’ll see some results on the scale. Maybe a pound or two, and maybe a week later another pound.
And – at least in my experience – sometime between week 3 and week 6 the weight seems to just start falling off, even if you skimp a little on the strict calorie counting.
Your clothes start to fit looser, you start to feel better. You can wear things that haven’t fit in years. And then someone says, “Have you been working out? Have you lost weight? You look GREAT!”
THEN you’re really motivated to keep it up.
But what about…
Having talked with people about these topics for years I know in advance all the rebuttals people offer when I maintain that you must count calories to lose weight. “I heard you can’t lose weight if you drink alcohol, and I heard that cutting back on carbs was the real key, and that more frequent smaller meals are better for health and weight loss than less frequent larger meals…”
To whatever extent any of these concerns actually have any legitimacy, two other facts render them almost completely insignificant:
(1) The importance of caloric intake completely dwarfs all these other things in significance, and (2) getting the calorie counts right has the effect of forcing most of these other things into place.
For example, if you’re targeting an intake of 1500 calories per day, in order to have 500 calories of alcohol in the evening, you would need to limit all your other caloric intake to 1000 calories that day. That might be a 500 calorie breakfast (very light by most standards) and a very dry tuna sandwich (or equivalent) for lunch, and then nothing else other than your alcohol in the evening.
Can you see how the simple calorie restriction is going to discourage the use of alcohol? But there’s nothing about alcohol in this scheme that really makes it unworkable other than its calories.
The same goes for the whole idea of spreading your calories out over smaller, more frequent meals. When you’re targeting 1500 calories per day, that’s three meals of 500 calories each. One very try tuna sandwich as described above has 470 calories. How much smaller than that can you really make your meals?
Anyway, solve the calorie count problem and almost everything else will solve itself.
If you must strictly count calories to lose weight, what about “cheat days”? “Cheat days” is a popular concept whereby for one or two days per week you get to go off-script. NO NO NO NO NO!!! Math and physiology do not take breaks, so neither can you.
Running a 500 calorie per day deficit for 7 days yields weight loss of one pound over that week.
Running a 500 calorie per day deficit for FIVE DAYS and “cheating” by running a 1250 calorie per day SURPLUS on the weekend, you finish the week with a zero balance. No weight lost, no weight gained. And 1250 calorie per day surpluses are EASY TO DO. You could bury that surplus practically by just walking into most restaurants.
If you’re new to the notion that one must count calories to lose weight and you’ve read this far, you’re probably exhausted and depressed at how hard all this sounds, so meticulous all the time.
If you are feeling that way, I have good news.
It gets easier
The counting part gets easier because you’ll get much better at looking up calorie information, and you’ll have built a list of things you eat most often so that the information will be much more readily at hand.
Then after 2-3 months it’ll even get a lot easier than that because by then you will probably have developed such a sense for calorie counts that you’ll practically be able guess within 10% of a food’s caloric content just by looking at it. You will also have developed a sense for how many calories you’ve consumed each day without needing to log everything.
But it also gets easier because the counting and reduced calorie consumption becomes the “new normal”. When you first start counting and limiting calories, it’s CHANGE, and change is hard.
And finally, it gets easier because you’ll SEE SUCCESS. That will make all the effort that much easier.
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