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How to Lose Weight and Keep it Off


Updated July 07, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

How to keep weight off
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Losing weight seems like a pretty easy concept, when you think about it. You eat less, exercise more and the weight is supposed to come off. The fact is, I'll bet you already know how to lose weight. If you're like most of us, you've probably lost weight many, many times...so many times, you're an old pro at it. You may even have your 'go-to' diet or exercise program, powering up your old Weight Watcher's account or starting back to the gym whenever the weight starts to creep up.

But what happens when you go off that diet or stop that workout program? You gain it right back, sometimes with a few extra pounds thrown in.

So what you really want to know isn't how to lose weight, but how to lose it and then make it stay lost...forever. There's no real secret to losing weight. The real challenge is making it permanent.

By the Numbers

Weight loss is such a complex process, the only way we can really wrap our heads around it is to drill it down into a bunch of numbers. You already know these numbers, probably as well as any weight loss expert: You know that, to lose one pound of fat, you have to burn about 3500 calories over and above what you already burn each day. You don't really want to burn 3500 calories in one day, but rather to cut that down into daily calorie deficits, say cutting 500 calories a day with a combination of diet and exercise.

To go by the numbers, you have to go through a few calculations:

  1. Calculate your BMR (basal metabolic rate). You have some options for how you can do this:
    • Option 1: Do the Math - Use this revised Harris-Benedict formula to get an estimate of your BMR:
      • Male: (88.4 + 13.4 x weight in kg) + (4.8 x height in cm) – (5.68 x age)
        Female: (447.6 + 9.25 x weight in kg) + (3.10 x height in cm) – (4.33 x age)

    Your BMR is the most important part of the weight loss calculations because it tells you how many calories your body needs to maintain bodily functions such as breathing and digesting and well, existing. This is the minimum number of calories you need to eat each day. Important Note: No calculator is 100% accurate and these formulas don't take into account things like bodyfat, frame size or other factors that can make a difference in your BMR. More about your metabolism.

  2. Calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). For this you multiply your activity level with your BMR :
    • Activity Multiplier:

    -Sedentary................BMR x 1.2 (little exercise)

    -Lightly active...........BMR x 1.375 (light exercise)

    -Moderately active.....BMR x 1.55 (moderate exercise)

    -Very active.............BMR x 1.725 (hard exercise)

    -Extremely active......BMR x 1.9 (hard exercise daily)

  3. Keep track of how many calories you eat. For at least a week, enter and track your calories online (e.g., with Calorie Count or FitWatch) or use a food journal to write down what you eat and drink each day. Be as accurate as possible, measuring when you need to or looking up nutritional information for restaurants, if you eat out. After a week, add your totals for each day and average them out to get a general idea of how many calories you eat each day.
  4. Calculate the thermic effect of food (TEF) - Multiply your total food calories by 10%. The reason? Your body actually burns calories to digest food, which is a nice, passive way to burn more calories.
  5. Compare your numbers. Take your BMR number x your activity multiplier. Compare that number to your food calories, minus your TEF. If you're eating more, you'll gain weight. If you're eating less, you'll lose weight...at least, theoretically. Caution: Remember, these are only estimates and some experts guess that these numbers could be off by as much as 1,000 calories. One reason for the error is in the difficulty in estimating our daily activity levels. Many of us may say we're 'moderately active' when we may actually be 'lightly active.' And, of course, our activity levels can change from one day to the next.


    Mary is 46 years old, is 5'4" and weighs 165 pounds. These are her stats:

    BMR = 1465
    Activity Level = Moderately Active (1.55)
    Food Calories = 2700
    TEF Calories = 270

    Mary's BMR/Activity level is 2270. She's eating about 2430 calories a day (less her TEF). That means Mary is eating about 160 calories more than what her body needs, which could eventually lead to weight gain.

    Is There an Easier Way?

    There isn't an easier way to lose weight, but there is an easier way to figure out how to lose weight, if these formulas are a little too much for you. The absolute simplest involves one thing: Make small changes in your diet and activity levels every single day. With this method, you don't always know how many calories you're cutting, or how many calories you're burning. But, if you're doing more movement than before and you know you're eating less than before, you are creating a calorie deficit and the weight loss will follow, even if it's slow. Some ideas:

  6. Instead of... Do this...
    An afternoon Coke Drink a glass of water. (calories saved: 97)
    An Egg McMuffin Eat a small whole wheat bagel +1 Tbsp of peanut butter (calories saved: 185)
    Using your break to eat chocolate Walk up and down a flight of stairs for 10 minutes (calories burned: 100)
    Hitting the snooze button Get up 10 minutes early and go for a brisk walk (calories burned: 100)
    Watching TV after work Do 10 minutes of yoga (calories burned: 50)

    Total Calories Saved: 532 (based on a 140-pound person)


    Donnelly, J.; Blair, S.; Jakicic, J.; et al. Appropriate Physical Activity Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Regain for Adults. Med & Sci in Sports & Ex: Feb, 2009. Vol 41, Issue 2.

    Kelly, Mark. "Resting Metabolic Rate: Best Ways to Measure it - And Raise it, Too." ACE. Retrieved August 29, 2013. http://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/2882/resting-metabolic-rate-best-ways-to-measure-it-and/.

    Next: The Exercise Factor - How Much Do You Need?

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