Over 70% of adults in the United States are either overweight or obese, so most of us have some weight to lose. This means that many of us have some experience with “dieting”. And if you are dieting now or have ever done so in the past, you understand that weight loss happens when you eat fewer calories each day than what your body uses.
Here’s where it gets tricky. It’s tempting, and fairly common, for people to attempt a very low-calorie diet; eating 1200 calories or less on a daily basis. While this may result in weight loss initially, it’s usually not sustainable. In addition, they may pair calorie restriction with increased physical activity which increases the deficit between the calories their body needs and what they are eating.
This extreme approach to dieting can damage your health in several ways. When you put your body in this situation it will do everything it can to conserve energy and reduce calorie usage. Your thyroid, adrenal, stress, and sex hormones will be affected. This could lead to things like hair loss, inability to maintain body heat, inability to get pregnant, blood sugar swings, mood disorders, and sleep disorders.
Since your body feels the need to reduce energy needs in all ways to compensate for lack of calories, weight loss may slow or stop even though you are eating far fewer calories than you are “burning” each day.
Slow and steady weight loss by keeping daily calorie consumption just marginally (300-500 calories) under what your body burns is the better way to go. There are some great food and fitness apps that can help you to estimate your calorie needs and keep track of how many calories you consume. Some of my favorites are Myfitnesspal, LoseIt, and Fooducate. In my experience these apps may underestimate your calorie needs so I prefer the Body Weight Planner from the National Institutes of Health to determine calorie needs and then you can use an app to track your meals.
Keeping calories under control means reading labels, learning about portion sizes, and weighing and measuring fresh foods. Planning meals in advance is also very helpful to keep yourself on track.
Whatever tool you use, make sure to set your goal for about 1 pound of weight loss per week and give yourself several weeks of consistently meeting your calorie goal before you consider making any changes to the number of calories recommended. It may seem slow but if you think about it, one pound a week means you could be 40-50 pounds lighter by the end of the year!