Despite there being more information on health and fitness today than ever before, I've found myself getting confused and frustrated by all the mixed messages.
After what feels like 100's of hours of research (I'm a geek), I've found a few principles that seem to be the "keys" to effective and sustainable weight loss. One of them is the importance of building healthy habits into your life. Another one is having the belief you can actually do it.
In this brief post we'll talk about what I feel is the most important one of all.
TDEE – The Science Behind Weight Loss
Everyday your body burns a specific number of calories just by existing. This is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate. The BMR is based on your weight, height and age. (Calculate your BMR here)
When you exercise or simply expend energy through physical activity, you burn additional calories. When you combine your BMR with the calories you burn through physical activity, you get your Total Daily Energy Expenditure. (Calculate your TDEE here).
This is what is known as your maintenance calories. If you eat this amount of calories you will maintain your weight.
So How Do I Lose Weight?
You lose weight by having a calorie deficit.
A calorie deficit is eating less than your body needs to maintain itself and thus creating a deficit. Ever had more bills than you had money? You had a financial deficit. A calorie deficit is having less energy than you need to stay the same weight.
Let's say that based on your age, weight, and height your BMR is 1700 calories and through some physical activity you end up with a TDEE of 2300 calories. To maintain weight you simply eat 2300 calories every day.
To gain weight you eat more than your TDEE and to lose weight you eat less.
Of course, you can also achieve a deficit through burning more calories through exercise.
Every effective diet I've come across, whether it's high fat, low fat, high carb, low carb, uses a calorie deficit to achieve weight loss.
How Many Calories Are We Talking?
Technically you can eat nothing all day and achieve weight loss through having a calorie deficit.
Many "miracle diets" claim incredible results through eating specific magical foods or using unique protocols. Unfortunately many diets out there are nothing more than glorified Crash Diets. These diets put you into severe caloric deficit resulting in, yes weight loss (usually short term), but they can also cause health complications and damage to your metabolism.
To avoid doing damage, the general recommendation I've found and used is 500 calories less than your TDEE. Some people advise more, but I've found that to be unnecessary.
Also, having any more than a 500 calorie deficit makes it likely that along with losing fat you will lose lean muscle , which is not ideal as lean muscle helps burn additional calories.
There are 3500 calories in a pound of fat, so at 500 calories a day you will lose a pound in a week. (See how much exercise burns a pound of fat here.)
Note that your body can become conditioned to the same repeated exercise. This can affect your TDEE (see more about this).
How Do I Get Started?
I suggest that you use flexible dieting to accomplish the goal of creating a calorie deficit in order to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way.
Flexible dieting is non-restrictive and allows you to eat all of your favorite foods as long as they fit within your TDEE and macro goals.
You could eat unhealthy foods and still achieve weight loss (as demonstrated by The Twinkie Diet). but weight loss and health are not mutually exclusive. My advice would be to fill the majority of your diet with fresh veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, and lean meats. This way you can feel great AND achieve weight loss.
Don't get bogged down by the latest and greatest research coming out of universities you've never heard of. All the conflicting diets and controversial advice from health gurus are enough to give anyone a headache.
Focus on your TDEE, which has proven time and time again, to be the most important tool for weight loss and getting healthier.
Just remember that whatever you decide to eat – the above information is enough for the majority of the population to get started losing weight.
Written by Dan Bolton for Healthy Eater and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image provided by Jonathan Borba