There’s nothing simple about losing weight. The adage, “calories in, calories out” reduces the process to a mathematical method that doesn’t account for our psychology, emotions or deeply ingrained habits. Of course you need to track calories when you’re trying to lose weight, but making real changes requires clarity and devotion. Our experts can help.
- Prioritize taking care of yourself.
Mantra: “I am taking really good care of myself.” If this is the thought that you keep reminding yourself throughout the day, then how do your actions support it? If I were taking really good care of myself, then I might choose to eat French fries after a harder day at work, but I’d only eat a small portion, and I’d also take a walk.”
- Make a fallback plan.
Almost every Thursday, my clients write their fallback plan for the weekend. While you’re in a good mood, before you come across the “screw its,” sit down and think about what the minimum-minimum is: What’s the ONE THING you need to do to feel like you’re still on track? Is it eating vegetables? Drinking water between adult beverages? Doing 10 push-ups?
Be realistic. Any healthy choice is still moving forward. Now write down your fallback plan, or take a picture of it on your phone so you’ll remember it just before the “screw its” happen.
- Think about whether negativity impacts your decisions.
Choices are something that you are in control of, so start being aware of what you are doing and eating, and who you are hanging out with. Simply put, if it doesn’t align with who you are, what your beliefs are or what’s important to you, let it go. You will be amazed at the freedom and relief that comes after letting go of all the negativity.
- Keep adjusting your calorie intake.
As you lose weight, your metabolism can drop because your body requires less calories or “energy” to fuel a smaller you. The calorie intake that you initially had when you began your weight-loss journey will need to be adjusted to match your body’s current needs for weight loss. Make sure to revise your calorie goal in MyFitnessPal every 10 pounds or so.
- Eat an adequate amount of protein; it fuels fat burning.
It may be surprising, but it is a scientific fact that your body cannot effectively burn and use fat as energy if it doesn’t have help from either carbohydrate or protein. As you are losing weight, your body loses both muscle and fat (I know, bummer!). During this process it is especially important that you continue to eat enough protein. Eating adequate protein fuels fat burning while preserving calorie-burning lean muscle.
- Focus on the bigger picture.
The key to long-lasting health is consistency. Focus on feeling good and on being happy with the decisions that you are making, and stick with it. Your diet and exercise adjustments will improve a little bit at a time, and you will begin to see change. At the end of the day, it’s not about a number on a scale, the number of marathons you’ve run, or the weight you can lift. It’s about how you feel and the positive impact you can make on the lives of those around you.
- Be strategic about eating back your exercise calories.
The calories you eat and exercise off are estimations, and we’re more likely to overestimate calories burned from exercise. If hunger hits between meals, start slow–particularly if you’re trying to lose or maintain your weight. Begin by eating back a percentage of your exercise calories (say, 50%) rather than all of them, and see how you feel in 20–30 minutes.
- Drink more water.
Water is important because all of the chemical reactions in your body requires water—including the ones that burn calories. One of the biggest hurdles from cutting calories for weight loss is the feeling of hunger. Feeling hungry is normal, but some of us (okay, many of us) mistake thirst for hunger and immediately grab a snack instead of water. Next time hunger grabs you by the hair try drinking water first. —Trinh Le
- Add exercise to help maintain your weight loss.
When people lose weight through calorie restriction but without exercise, they tend to lose muscle along with body fat. But when they change their diet and exercise, they preserve muscle and lose more fat.
Many kinds of exercise can be effective for weight loss, but running is among the most effective. In a 2012 study, Paul Williams of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that runners were leaner and lighter than men and women who did equivalent amounts of any other type of exercise. The main reason seems to be that people typically burn more calories per minute when running than they do when swimming, riding a bike, or whatever else.
- Get in the habit of consistent tracking.
When you’re using MyFitnessPal to lose weight, the first thing you need to focus on is getting into the habit of tracking your food and activity. The more you track, the more you’ll learn about your eating habits—and the more likely you’ll be to reach your goals! Eighty-eight% of people who track on MyFitnessPal for seven days lose weight.
- Reconsider the quality of what you’re eating.
Diet and weight loss will likely always be more complicated than “exercise more, eat less”—no matter what a well-meaning relative or personal trainer might suggest. And it’s worth considering the potential outsize, knock-on effects of refined carbohydrates on our bodies. It is perhaps more valuable to think: “Healthy diet, healthy body”—and to carefully consider whether any food that comes out of a box, as so many refined carbs do, qualifies for the former, or will help achieve the latter.
- Create an environment that’s hospitable to healthier eating.
Brian Wansink believes that if we want to make eating better a lifestyle, we need to trick our brains into making the right choices. Even the smallest things, such as where you store your cereal (Wansink believes you’ll eat less of it if you store it out of sight in a pantry or cupboard instead of on the kitchen counter) and where you start grocery shopping (linger in the produce aisle first for at least 10 minutes; you’ll buy more fruits and veggies) can make huge impacts.
“It’s a lot easier for us to set up our most immediate environment so that it’s easier to eat better,” Wansink says.
- Consider the quantity and quality of your calories.
A balanced diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables will help you maintain a low glycemic load. Choosing lean protein sources like chicken, fish, nut butter and low-fat cheese will reduce the amount of fat—particularly saturated fat—in your diet. Both glycemic load and protein type are indicators of your diet quality, and will affect your weight.
It’s apparent that a calorie is not a calorie in this case, so do calories still count when it comes to weight loss? The answer is a resounding Yes! To be successful at maintaining a healthy weight, both the number of calories consumed and the quality of those calories matters.