I Want To Lose Weight. Where Do I Start?

First of all, congratulations for committing to making some healthy changes to your life!   Now let’s get down to brass tacks.  The physics of weight loss really is as simple as this: burn more calories than you consume.  The challenge lies in doing that consistently enough to lose weight.  The first thing you need to do is set goals in 3 areas:  what you eat, pace of weight loss, and exercise.

How much to eat?

1.  To determine how much to eat you need to first know your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the amount of calories your body burns daily. Here is an online BMR calculator.

2.  Now use the Harris Benedict Equation to figure out your daily calorie needs, which involves multiplying your BMR times a certain value that depends on how active you are right now (do not adjust for exercise you are not yet doing).  See below for your value.

Sedentary (little or no exercise) : BMR x 1.2

Lightly active (light exercise 1-3 days/week) : BMR x 1.375

Moderately active (exercise that reaches your target heart rate 3-5 days/week) : BMR x 1.55

Very active (vigorous exercise beyond target heart rate 6-7 days a week) : BMR x 1.725

Extra active (vigorous exercise & physical job (e.g., mover, construction worker)) :  BMR x 1.9

3. Subtract 500-1000 calories from the number above.  This is your net calories.  Net calories is your total intake minus what you burn for each day.  So if your number is 2,000 calories, your net calories would be 1,500 to lose one pound a week or 1,000 to lose 2 lbs per week (Losing a pound requires eliminating 3,500 calories). How much you can eat will depend on how many calories you burn through exercise.  No exercise means striking 500-1000 from your daily dietary intake, which is much more difficult.  By exercising you can eat more. I do not recommend that you try to lose weight without exercise.

4.  Your net calories will need to be adjusted if your weight or age changes.  Recalculate every 10 pounds you lose.

Tips:  Use a weight loss mobile application like MyFitnessPal to help you keep track of your calories.  You might also use a website like Sparkpeople if you don’t have a smartphone.   Keeping track of your weight loss journey is a great reason to invest in a smartphone—there are tons of great mobile apps that make this task much easier.  Don’t worry so much right away about the foods you eat (but do keep Food Pyramid (MyPlate) in mind), just try to hit your calorie goal.  You will probably be tossing out some high-calorie junk foods in your attempts to bring your calories down anyway.  We can spiff up the quality of your diet later.  Focusing on too many different diet goals (carbs, vitamins, fiber, fat) can be overwhelming.

Pace of Weight Loss

Everyone has an magic weight loss number in mind, but I ask that you do not focus on your magic number, but rather on your weekly goal of 1-2 pounds.   Trust me, this will be enough effort.  Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT, try to lose more weight per week than 1-2 pounds.  Losing larger amounts of weight this quickly may cause your metabolism to slow down.  Weight loss requires patience, if you lose fast you are at much higher risk for regaining it.

Exercise Goal

The key is to exercise more than you are now.  (The exercise you are doing now is already in the equation.)  I recommend starting off with cardiovascular exercise since this will maximize calorie burn and therefore weight loss.  When doing cardio, be sure you are working at a moderate pace, which means you are achieving a target heart rate.  Click here for a target heart calculator.  You can build in strength training once you have lost about 10 pounds and have gotten used to your cardio workout.  How much to exercise really depends on your current level.  Here is some guidance for each level of current exercise.   Think about the last month.  How many times per week on average have you done some cardio exercise?

Not currently exercising (less than 1 time a week on average):   The goal here is to get some exercise on 3 days a week consistently.  For each workout, start with a duration that seems easy to you (i.e., probably no more than 20 minutes).

Inconsistent exercise (1-2 times a week on average):  The goal for you is to achieve better consistency.  Your first step is just to increase your days to 3-4 on average.  Don’t increase your duration until you have gotten your frequency up to 3-4 a week.  If you find increasing frequency difficult, you may need to reduce the duration of your workouts.

Consistent exercise (3 or more times on average):  It is great that you are already exercising but to lose weight you will probably need to increase frequency, duration and/or intensity.  The goal for you is to select which you would like to increase.  No matter how consistent you get, you will always be growing your exercise program in terms of frequency, duration, intensity, or even type of exercise (i.e., cross training).

Tip:  You must track your exercise so that you know how much you are burning.   Find mobile apps that help you do this. Runkeeper works via GPS and is great for exercise that involves moving across a distance (e.g., walking, jogging, running).   MapMyRide also uses GPS and is great for tracking your biking.  Weight loss apps like MyFitnessPal will allow you to hand enter any variety of activities, and tell you how much you burn from each. The calculation should take into consideration your weight, age, and gender or else it will be inaccurate.  Do not track your calories using an exercise machine readout—those are based on averages across many people and are highly subject to error.  If you do not have a smart phone, a pedometer is another way to track walking, jogging, or running.  You can also get wrist watches with GPS that will track walking, running, and/or biking.

Recommended posts to read NEXT:

See video of me explaining: The 5 Keys to Weight Loss

Everyone needs one:  Ah-Ha Moment

For inspiration:  Real Life Biggest Losers

Avoid these!   10 Biggest Weight Loss Mistakes People Make

In case you have any doubts:   Is It Really Possible to Lose 60 Pounds?

I also recommend you subscribe to FUdiet to stay up on the latest information on weight loss.  In each post I address the various bumps and turns on the weight loss journey.  Challenges like plateaus, stress, motivation, willpower, regain, saboteurs, and many, many others are addressed here.  Check out the Table of Contents for a huge variety of topics and then just click around. If you have a question or challenge that I have not written about, feel free to email me a topic and I will put it on my list!  You aren’t alone, let’s work together to get you to your weight loss goals.  Good luck getting started!

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  1. Charles says:

    I don’t think weight loss should be approached scientifically. It should be approached naturally. Losing weight is nothing but exercising a little common sense. Eating is only a habit. Change your eating habits, and change the way you eat, and the times you eat, and the weight loss will take care of itself.

  2. Angie says:

    Approaching weight loss scientifically worked for me– and now it feels natural. Best of both worlds, I guess!

  3. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button!
    I’d without a doubt donate to this brilliant blog!
    I guess for now i’ll settle for bookmarking
    and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to fresh updates and will share
    this website with my Facebook group. Chat soon!

  4. The BMR calculator is awesome. Thank you for posting this!

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