Here’s the thing: a safe and achievable rate of weight loss is about one or two pounds a week.  In order to lose a pound in a week’s time, you need to tilt your calorie balance in the negative direction by about 500 calories per day.  Since a pound of fat stores about 3500 calories, if you burn up 500 of those stored calories every day for a week, you’ll lose about a pound of fat.  Larger people can often tip the balance a little further – coming up with a shortage of 750 or even 1000 calories a day to lose a bit more quickly.

Ready to start?

  • The best way to create your calorie ‘shortage’ is with a combination of diet and exercise.  Don’t try to just do one or the other. For one thing, those whose calorie needs aren’t that high to start with may not be able to cut out 500 calories a day from their meals without cutting back too far (you shouldn’t go much below 1200 calories a day).  And, if you try to cut too much, not only is it harder to pack all your nutrient needs into fewer calories – you may not have enough energy to exercise.  Trying the ‘exercise only’ approach is tough too, because it takes a lot of exercise burn up 500 calories – like a solid hour of non-stop swimming.
  • Focus on eating ‘nutrient dense’ foods – those foods that give you the most nutrition for the fewest calories per bite.  Vegetables top the list, followed by the lowest fat proteins (fish and shellfish, poultry, egg whites, fat-free dairy products, protein powder), followed by fruit and then whole grains.
  • Cut back on your whole grains for the first week or two to give yourself a little head start.  You don’t want to cut them completely, but cutting back to just a serving or two each day can help you save a lot of calories.  As long as you’re eating plenty of veg and fruit, you should be getting enough carbohydrates to fuel your exercise.
  • Careful calorie counting is key, but it’s often one of the hardest things to do.  This is why meal replacements work so well – they take the guesswork out of calorie counting because you know exactly how many calories are in them.  Have a protein shake made with milk and fruit for two meals a day, then focus on vegetables and protein for your third meal.
  • Keep your snacks small and protein-packed (like a protein bar or a small carton of Greek yogurt) and you’ll keep your calorie-guesswork to a minimum.