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Learn how to lose weight effectively

Table of Contents

Do I gain weight because I eat too much?

Not exactly. Although losing weight can seem like a big problem, in reality it is quite simple: you lose weight when there is a caloric deficit. In other words, when you burn more energy than you consume.

And although a caloric deficit is the most important driver of weight loss, there are also other contributing factors that can accelerate or slow down the process:

  • Genetics. Scientists at King’s College London found out that our genes influence the composition of gut bacteria. There is a specific type responsible for keeping of weight and people who have it in abundance are more likely to stay lean.
  • Lack of sleep. It causes body to overproduce leptin, a hormone responsible for hunger. As a result we eat more and gain more weight which in a few years can lead one to become significantly overweight. People who sleep less than 7-8 hours a day usually put on 2-3 extra kilos a year.
  • Eating habits. When you do not stick to an eating schedule you usually allow a lot of time between your meals which means the chances of overeating later are quite high. If you wait more than an hour to have breakfast in the morning (coffee does not count), you body starts producing hunger hormones in excess which results in overeating at night. Alcohol increases cravings for fatty foods and can slow down the weight process as it is high in calories and sugar (especially cocktails, which can contain syrups and soda).
  • Hormonal disbalance. Hormones can influence our mood, cravings, and memory, affecting our overall quality of life. A lack of serotonin, the happiness hormone, can cause sugar cravings, while excessive insulin causes your body to store more fat and not use it as an energy source.
  • Stress. Stress can also mess up your hormones, in particular cortisol, which causes you to overeat and gain weight. You need to monitor your HRV, which, basically, should be high. A decreased HRV indicates a high level of stress, inflammation, or overtraining.

A simple conclusion you can draw from all of this: to lose weight and burn fat you need to plan your diet depending on your daily activity level and stick to it. Even if you eat 5000 calories a day but still manage to burn it off, you will lose weight.

So I can just stop eating and lose weight?

Absolutely not. Many people cut their calorie intake to the minimum or even begin fasting. However, any change in your schedule and daily routine is a stress for your body and it is really important that this transition goes as smoothly as possible.

Dieting works like this: when you cut your calorie intake drastically, your body turns on its stress mode and starts sending all the extra energy straight to your fat deposits. At the same time, it can adjust to changing conditions, which means that you’ll have to cut your calorie intake more and more to keep losing weight. In her book Food for love, Catrin Finkenauer calls this ‘a vicious circle’  and notes that it is not so easy to break in the future.

So, let’s say you’ve lost a couple of kilos and stopped dieting. But your body is still stressed and in saving mode and is not going to turn it off that easily. In this case you are likely to gain back even more than you lost: your body is trying to save as much as possible.

During the famous Minnesota Starvation Experiment, a group of young men volunteered to starve for six months to help figure out how to treat victims of mass starvation in Europe. Their caloric intake went only as low as 1200 calories but the results proved the same: when you do not consume enough calories your metabolic rate goes down by 10-15%. The participants also experienced other side-effects, like anxiety, lack of motivation, indifference, and mood swings.

Basically, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anywhere up to two pounds a week is considered a healthy rate of weight loss. As long as you stay within these limits you can be sure that it will not take a toll on your health and you will not gain the weight back.

But I have tried eating 800 calories a day and lost 3 kilos in one week. How can you explain this?

You just lost the water your body was retaining. In the first couple of weeks you usually lose weight very fast. This happens because when we do not watch our diet we tend to eat a lot of salt and sugar which causes our body to retain water.

When we start eating healthy (or stop eating at all for that matter), the body releases the water and we lose weight which is actually water weight rather than fat weight. When you get into a routine and start eating healthy all the time, you stop losing water and your weight loss rate slows down. Which is why you should not get euphoric over losing weight during the first couple of weeks and remember that slow but steady wins the race. It is the quality not speed that matters. Anywhere up to one kilo a week is considered a healthy weight loss rate and this is what you should aim for.

If you cut your calorie intake too much, here’s what will happen:

You also need to consider that even if you do everything by the book you will still lose some muscle weight, which is why it is extremely important to control your diet, especially protein intake and train regularly to restore the muscle mass.

To sum up, you need to know that you are in this for the long haul and that there is no easy or fast way to do it. Stick to your normal calorie intake and do not get discouraged if you do not lose weight as fast as you thought you would. As long as you do everything by the book the results will follow — you just have to be consistent and passionate about it.

How many calories can I eat?

It is pretty easy to calculate but it depends on your age, height, and activity level. To plan your diet properly, first of all, you need to calculate your daily caloric needs. To do that you need to know what a Basic Metabolism Rate (BMR) is.

BMR is the amount of calories your body burns to sustain its functions while resting. So even if you spend your day at home not doing much you body still burns a considerable amount of energy. For every person the BMR  is different and it depends on your age, height, and weight. When calculating your daily calorie intake (use this calculator first) you also need to factor in your activity level, the nature of your work and the way you spend your free time.

If you lead a sedentary lifestyle you need to multiply your BMR level by 1.2, if you are just doing light exercises 1-3 times a week, then multiply it by 1.375. You can find a good table to use for reference here.

The rule of thumb is: you can’t consume less calories than your BMR if you want to avoid health complications, stress, and a weight-loss plateau.

When you’ve calculated your BMR you can break it down into carbs, fats and protein which you can consume and then plan your diet accordingly. The best carbs, fats and protein ratio is 50%/30%/20% but you should use this just for reference: slight alterations are perfectly acceptable.

A high-protein diet has been strongly connected with weight-loss, but protein should not make up more than 40-50% of your daily macronutrient intake, otherwise you may face serious kidney and other health problems. Carbs are a source of energy so do not cut them to less than 30%, just make sure you are eating mostly slow carbs. As far as fat is concerned, there are different kinds. You should avoid trans-fats, typically a product of deep-frying, but the fats that come from vegetables, seeds, raw oils, and fish are perfectly fine.

Once you’ve figured out the ratio use apps like Lifesum (iOS/Android) or FatSecret (iOS/Android) which will help you not to overeat on certain macronutrients and control your diet. If you stay within limits, your body would not care about where your food is healthy or not, nor will it care about the time when you eat it.

Basically, even if you only eat cake and candy, as long as you don’t exceed the required amount of calories and nutrients, you will still lose fat. Medical News today has published an article about a nutrition professor from Kansas State University who managed to lose 27 pounds in two months eating only Twinkies and Oreos. And though we do not recommend trying it, it still proves the theory.

Do I have to work out a lot to lose weight?

It can come as a surprise but, actually, not at all.  There is no immediate correlation between doing sports and losing weight. Caloric deficit still remains the most important element in the weight-loss process. ‘You can’t out-exercise a bad diet’, says Rachel Talbott, a nutrition expert, in her interview to Huffington Post.

In other words, if you go to the gym a lot but still eat too much, you will not lose weight. Workouts can, however, help you burn more calories to create a deficit and lose weight faster.

Cardio exercises will burn more calories at first, which can contribute to the amount of weight you lose. You should not count on it too much, though and here is why:

  • our body can adapt to the workout routine which means that after a while you will have have more workouts and turn up the intensity all the time just to keep up your results;
  • running or jumping rope can do the most to burn calories but they are correlated with knee and joint problems;
  • cardio training does not have a significant effect on muscle building and you can’t really have a great body without developed muscles.

Strength training, on the other hand, has significant benefits:

  • it will help you gain muscles and you’ll be able to burn more calories when resting as muscles require more energy to function. That’s a nice bonus even if we’re talking about just one extra dessert a week;
  • it will help you have a strong and beautiful body — you cannot really have a six-pack without having developed muscles;
  • research have shown that strength training leads to improvements in overall health and well-being and can even boost your brain performance.

Overall, staying active is very important if you want to have a healthy body. You need to have a considerable muscle mass for it to function properly and to avoid joint problems, impaired movement, and a slow metabolism in the future. Exercise also help increase HRV, which will help you cope with stress and have more energy, which is important for losing weight.

Can I burn fat in specific places?

We hate to break this to you but targeted weight-loss is impossible. The thing is, muscle growth and exercise can, overall, contribute to weight loss, but training a group of muscles will not lead to the reduction in fat in that specific area. Again, it only works if you create a caloric deficit, then you body will start to burn fat all over your body. You may, of course, notice that some areas slim down faster than others (for women it is typical to lose fat in the upper-body first), but it depends on your sex and individual characteristics, like hormones and genetics.

Exercise is, indeed, responsible for an increased blood-flow and lipolysis in the area near the contracted muscles, but in fact it does not contribute to the weight-loss process in the targeted area.

So if you think that overall you look well, it’s just the tummy you need to take care of, we have bad news for you: doing abs exercises will not help you get a six-pack faster. How visible the shape of your muscles is (which is exactly what a six-pack is — the shape ab muscles take when they are toned-up) depends on you overall fat percentage.

It all boils down to this: some parts of your body may become leaner a little faster than others but you will still lose weight more or less evenly all over your body. Just make sure you:

  • calculate your caloric intake,
  • create a caloric deficit
  • make sure your diet contains enough nutrients and vitamins
  • and the results will follow.

Will sports nutrition and workout supplements help me lose weight?

There is no supplement currently on the market that can burn fat specifically. Most of those you see marked as “A Unique Weight-Loss Pill/Tea/or any kind of supplement” are, basically, diuretics, i.e. they cause the body to release the water it’s been retaining. But not just the ‘excess water’ but all the water in your body, causing dehydration and other harmful effects. They also cannot promise a long-term effect: as soon as you stop taking the supplement your body will start retaining water again and you will gain the weight back.

There are, however, supplements, which, although do not directly contribute to weight loss, can increase the level of energy expenditure. As a result, your metabolism spikes, you spend more energy, and you lose fat. A study conducted in 2009 showed that the following food supplements can increase energy expenditure up to 8%:

  • caffeine
  • capsaicin (a component of hot peppers)
  • bioperine (an extract of black pepper)
  • vitamin B12
  • vitamin D
  • chromium
  • green tea
  • olive leaf extract

Supplements like whey protein can be a good low-calorie food substitute. You can have it as a snack or even instead of a regular meal once in awhile if you are short of time. It will make you full for a couple of hours and also contains less calories and a lot of protein.

A study by the Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed that protein can improve the overall body composition of both men and women.

Although some supplements, like L-carnitine are marketed as weight loss aids, research has shown that there is no direct connection between taking L-carnitine and burning fat, though taking it does have other advantages.  So there is no supplement or sports nutrition product that will help you burn fat, but if you want to enhance your performance and overall wellbeing, you can work some of them into your diet. Of course, you need to talk to your doctor first, but basically these are all elements that can be found in regular food.

I have decided that I need to lose weight

You need to have some more information before you start to be able to track your progress and see what you are doing wrong.

  • Calculate your BMR. There is a formula that you can use which is BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) – 161. But, in fact, you can just use BMR Calculator, enter your details and the program will do it for you. When you know your BMR you need to add extra 300-400 calories to it if you are trying to lose weight and 500-600 if you want to just stay in shape.
  • Do a body composition analysis (BIA). Find out how much fat and muscles you have. You can do it in fitness and medical centres where you live, using special BIA devices. If you are a woman, anywhere between 20-30% of fat is considered normal, for men the normal figures should be within 15-25%. Here you can see what people who have different fat percentage look like. At home you can use a special measurement instrument called a skin caliper. Of course,  the results you get are not as accurate but it can give you a starting point.
  • Download an app like Lifesum or FatSecret to count your calories intake. You won’t have to spend a lot of time counting calories — just type in what you’ve eaten and the app will do it for you.
  • Take monthly measurements. Measure your chest, waistline, hips, thighs, upper arms and calves using cloth measuring tape; this is more accurate. They are the only indicator of the weight loss process. You can still track your weight if it feels right to you, but measurements is what you need to concentrate on. Basically, if you notice that your waist is shrinking you are doing everything right.
  • Track your HRV readings. Measure your stress level using Welltory to prevent gaining weight and reduce your level of stress.

Do I need to schedule my meals?

No, you do not have to set specific hours and eat only within the allowed time.

There are, however, some ground rules to be followed:

1. Breakfast

Try not to skip breakfast. Make sure you get some complex carbs for breakfast: that way you won’t feel hungry right after you’ve eaten and it will give you energy to start your day effectively.

2. Snack

When you feel hungry in between meals next you can have a snack (normally it should be within 3-4 hours after eating)

3. Lunch

Get some complex carbs and do not forget about vegetables, try to introduce as much of them as possible into your new diet

4. Dinner

try to avoid eating anything heavy for dinner as you should let your body rest at night rather than process the food. There is no specific time of night after which you can’t eat anymore. Just try to have dinner three to four hours before going to bed: that way you will not overload your digestive system and will not be hungry.

You need to learn to feel your body and teach it to eat only when you are really hungry. As long as you are sure that your hunger is not emotional or caused by boredom, you can basically eat whenever you want.


I’ve started eating healthy and I am hungry all the time

It is ok to feel a little hungry at first because your body is still adjusting to the new routine. However, there are a few things you can do to help you ease in.

Plan your diet

Alan Aragon, a nutrition expert and author of ‘Lean Muscle Diet’ says that you can eat as many times a day as you want as long as you stay within the allowed limit. If you know that taking large breaks between meals leads to you overeating, try to eat 5-6 times a day, i. e. every 2-3 hours.

That way as soon as you feel hunger you can eat something that will last another couple of hours. Conversely, if you feel comfortable just eating bigger portions twice a day you can still lose weight provided you stay within the limits.

You can arrange your meal in a number of ways:

  • two large meals a day
  • three big meals and two or three snacks
  • five to six equal-sized meals

Always carry healthy snacks with you just in case you have an emergency and break your schedule.

Here are some ideas for you:

  • a protein shake or bar
  • a granola bar (make sure it has no sugar or fructose syrup)
  • vegetable chips
  • low-fat natural yogurt
  • a whole wheat cheese sandwich
  • a piece of fruit

Start eating more complex carbs. 

These are carbs which your body takes longer to process and does not cause your insulin level to spike (as do fast carbs) and the feeling of hunger starts gradually and won’t catch you off-guard.

The most common slow carbs are:

  • whole wheat pasta
  • wholewheat bread
  • rye bread
  • brown rice

Get enough protein

If you are suddenly craving sugar in the middle of the day, this might be because you are not eating enough protein. The recommended protein intake is 0.8-1 g per kilo. If you look at the ingredients list of the food you eat you’ll notice that most of it has more carbs than protein, sometimes ten times or so more. So try to look at the nutrients list of the food you eat and see what the carbs/protein ratio is. You want to choose food with the ratio close to 1:1 and try to avoid those with 5:1 or more. The latter are mostly chips, fries, and junk food. This may not be the most accurate strategy but at least you can be sure you are not eating too many carbs.

If you follow these recommendations you won’t feel hunger as much and your insulin level will stay stable through the day, which means you won’t binge-eat.

I have a tight schedule and do not have much time for cooking or planning my diet

Actually, you do not need to do that much. You only need to take your measurements and calculate your calorie intake when you start and also take just a couple of hours to plan your menu accordingly.
  • Spend the first couple of weeks keeping track of what you eat and how healthy your daily diet is compared to what’s required. Soon you will know what the normal portion size is (usually equal to the size of your hand – that is the size of the stomach)
  • Try cooking at least some of your meals in advance, e.g., bake five chicken breasts instead of just one or boil more than one portion of grains – they can last in the fridge up to seven days.
  • Choose baking, boiling, and steaming over frying, and try to eat some vegetables with every meal.
  • Arrange the food in the fridge so that healthy food is right where you can see it. If we put, say, vegetables at the bottom of the fridge as we normally do, we might forget that we need to eat more of them.
  • At least try eating less processed food. Opt for fresh vegetables, leafy greens, and beans.
  • Use menu planning services or order menu kits for the whole week. You can choose the foods or plan that you prefer, including healthy or weight loss options. This way you get the meal plan and the full set of ingredients delivered to your doorstep and all you have to do is to prepare the food using the recipe.

After making these changes, you will notice the difference in how you look and feel. But remember that you need to change your habits gradually — do not try to cut out anything unhealthy all at once.

I often eat out. What is safe to order?

Basically, the same rules apply here. The rule of thumb is to choose food that is processed as little as possible:

  • go for grilled or steamed food instead of fried
  • always order a salad but ask for dressing on the side as it is often high in calories
  • avoid other cream/cheese/ketchup or mayo-based sauces
  • the more vegetables the better; try to choose them as a side instead of fries or rice
  • give up fruit juices and soda. Water or green tea are the best choices — they do not contain any sugar or, for that matter, calories and have a bunch of other health benefits.

Even if you had no choice and ate too much or could not resist having a dessert, remember that there is still time to make it right. Try to plan the rest of your day so that you do not exceed your caloric limit and you will be fine. Alternatively, try to be more restrictive the next day, that way you’ll compensate for overeating the day before and restore the balance.

I love eating and it is hard for me to stop. What can I do?

There are a number of tricks you can use to stop yourself from eating too much:

  • drink a glass of water 20-30 minutes before every meal. It is hard for our brain to differentiate between hunger and thirst and we can end up overeating when in reality we are just thirsty
  • try to substitute unhealthy food with a healthier alternative. For example, use skimmed milk instead of whole milk, stevia or agave syrup instead of sugar and brown rice instead of white. That way you will consume less calories but will still be able to eat the same food
  • cut your portions by using smaller plates and tall skinny glasses
  • do not eat in front of the tv or while cooking. When you are distracted you eat more because you do not not notice when you are actually full
  • keep snacks out of sight, or better, do not keep anything rich in calories or unhealthy at home at all and you won’t be tempted to have an extra cookie after dinner.

The most important thing to do is try to really feel your body when you are eating. If you pay enough attention you will learn to notice when it is sending you signals to stop eating and can use them in the future. It does require practice but once you’ve learned to understand what you body is telling you, it will rule out emotional hunger and you will stop overeating.

I spend most of my day at the office. How can I increase my activity level?

Tools to lose weight

First of all, do not panic. We know it is a lot to take in, but remember that you do not have to start a completely new life all at once. We are all individuals with our own specific traits and physical characteristics and there is no universal solution for everyone. The more reasonable you are at the initial stage, the more durable the results will be in the long term.

Save this checklist to start your losing weight:

  1. Analyze what you have to work with: take your measurements, do a body-composition analysis and calculate how and what you normally eat.
  2. Make all the necessary calculations like BMR, daily caloric intake and nutrients ratio and see what you need to work on.
  3. Start by introducing small changes every day and do not rush to start a completely new life all at once.
  4. Do it step by step. As far as nutrition goes, you can modify these recommendations to fit your daily schedule and preferences. For example, if you do not like dairy, do not try to force yourself to eat it, it will only cause an adverse effect. You should rather try and find a source of protein which you can enjoy.
  5. Try to incorporate exercise into your weekly schedule. Start with twice a week and see how it goes.
  6. Find a trainer if you have just started working out. Take it slow and make sure you know how to do the exercises properly before you start using heavy weights. Ideally, you need to use a trainer. But if you can’t, download workout apps that will help you set up a plan and schedule, like JEFIT(iOS/Android), Nike +Training Club(iOS/Android) or Workout Trainer(iOS/Android). And remember, do not work out because you want to impress someone with your results. Do it because it makes you healthy.
  7. Take monthly measurements to track your progress.
  8. Do a body composition analysis every six months.
  9. See a doctor if something feels wrong after you’ve changed your diet and exercise pattern.

Remember: these rules are not set in stone and what you need to do is find a method and pace that is comfortable for you. Stick to what makes you feel and look good and do not rush the process.

How can Welltory help me track my weight progress?

Regular measurements in the morning will indicate how your body reacts to a lower caloric intake, workouts, and other changes in your routine.

  1. If you see that your stress level is always high in the morning, it is very unlikely that you will be able to lose weight. First, change your habits and lifestyle: stick to a sleep schedule, limit overtime at work, and try to find time to relax
  2. Once you’ve started eating differently (and, probably, less) you need to measure your stress level regularly. If it is within the normal range, it means that your body is adapting to change well. If it increases, it means you might have cut your caloric intake too much.
  3. Take measurements after workouts or any physical activity. If your stress level stays the same, it means that you are doing everything just right.

Welltory Team, 23 Dec. 2021

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