How to Choose to Lose Weight on Your Own or With a Program
Truth be told, you could be totally successful losing weight by decreasing calorie intake and increasing energy output all on your own. And it’s not that complicated. One pound of stored fat contains roughly 3,500 calories. So, if you take in 500 calories less than you use up each day, after one week you will have dropped one pound. Alternatively, you can burn off 500 calories per day through exercise, or use a combination of calorie restriction and exercise. That’s all there is to it.
Okay, okay! I can hear the objections now. It’s not that simple, you say. I get hungry. I get frustrated. I don’t have time to exercise. I don’t want to give up the foods that I love. I’m always on the go, and I just HAVE to eat fast food. I would have to change my behavior too much, and that will be uncomfortable. I’d have to eat differently than my friends. I don’t have time to cook healthy food. I can’t resist temptation. And on, and on, and on.
I get it. I totally do. Weight loss is way more challenging than weight gain, and a lot less fun. My point is that unless you have a bona fide medical issue for gaining weight, shedding those excess pounds is really just a mathematical formula. If input is less than output, you will lose weight. That’s the harsh truth of it all. Everything else is behavior change.
You can either let somebody else direct your behavior change, or you can plan the behavior change yourself. Either way, you are the one that needs to do the work. Nobody can do it for you, even if you hire a personal trainer and chef. You still have to do the work. So why not cut out the middleman, save money, and keep all of the rewards for yourself?
Let Me Be Specific
Back to the math for a moment. If you do 30 minutes of low-intensity aerobic exercise (e.g., take a walk), you will burn around 200 calories. Then substitute a few foods where you will barely notice them, like swapping one cup of mushrooms for 4 ounces of pork in your spaghetti sauce, for a savings of over 300 calories. Boom! You’ve achieved your 500 calorie reduction for the day. Do this seven days in a row, and you’ve taken off one pound of stored fat.
Other simple swaps include substituting zucchini slices for noodles in your lasagna (210 for 3 noodles, down to 20 calories for the veggies), or using unsweetened apple sauce instead of vegetable oil in your own favorite baking recipe (53 calories vs. 970 calories). There are literally hundreds of other examples.
Another way to cut out calories is to eliminate a few “high ticket” items from your daily menu. In just one Starbuck’s café latte grande, there are a whopping 190 calories. There are 360 calories in a café mocha grande. There are 150 calories in a 12 ounce coke. A McDonald’s Big Mac packs 563 calories all by itself. I could go on, but you catch my drift.
All that is required is something to record your information (paper and pen, or a computer), access to google for research, and a little creativity. And, of course, the desire and determination to shed a few pounds.
Where to Start?
This may sound obvious to some, but to start losing weight, you’ll need to begin by stopping weight gain. This means that you’ll need to determine how much you “need” to eat in order to maintain your current weight. For this you will need to know your age, gender, height, and weight. Then google “how many calories do I need to eat” or some version of those words. A good place to begin is to spend a few days eating just what you need to maintain your weight, so that you can get a feel for that level.
There are free calorie counters all over the internet, and you can even access them from your phone! Write down everything that you eat or drink, and how much (get as close as possible). Look up the calories, and then add up your intake on a daily basis. Some people find the simple act of writing down what they eat to have a restricting effect, which is an added benefit.
After that, you can start your weight loss program. Using your maintenance calories as your starting point, deduct 500 calories, and that will give you your “budget” for the day. Alternatively, decide how much you will burn by increasing exercise, and then deduct the remaining calories to add up to 500 calories per day. Or do it all with exercise. You will lose one pound per week doing this. Actually, you may lose more initially, as your body adjusts to eating well.
Beyond the “calories in, calories out” thing, you will also need to pay more attention to what you eat and drink. If you eat a boiled egg (roughly 80 calories), drink some black coffee or tea (0 calories), add 8 ounces of orange juice (about another 100 calories), and top it off with a slice of whole wheat toast and jam (135 calories), you will have a nice breakfast for just over 300 calories. Or you could eat one apple fritter for around the same number of calories, and be hungry again in about an hour. It’s all about balancing fat, carbohydrates, and protein, while limiting sugar.
This is not rocket science. And there are hundreds of articles online that can help you with this (for free). Go to the American Diabetes Association, and you will find a ton of resources. That’s just for starters.
If you are still not convinced that you can do it on your own, then go ahead and sign up for a “program.” There are so many to choose from, it’s hard to know what to pick. There are a variety of programs that will do the all of the thinking for you (for a fee, of course), and some that will just guide you. Some emphasize more protein, so that your digestion slows down and you don’t get as hungry as quickly. Others emphasize smaller, more frequent feedings. At the end of the day, it’s still all about taking in less, and using up more.
I’ve gathered information on some of the more well-known programs, for your convenience. I don’t endorse any of them, but my personal favorite is Weight Watchers. Let’s begin with that one.
The basic theory behind the Weight Watchers program has four parts: healthy rate of weight loss, a realistic method, educating participants in making informed choices, and taking a comprehensive approach. This comprehensive approach includes food choices, behavior modification, increased activity levels, and a supportive environment. You can follow the program in person (going to meetings), or completely online. This is my favorite program because you learn how and what to eat in a way that you can continue indefinitely. The program may vary somewhat from year to year, but this is the essence.
Nutrisystem takes all of the “guess work” out of weight loss. It emphasizes portion control, balanced nutrition, and frequent meals. It does this by prepackaging most of the food that you will eat while on their program. They never mention this on the TV advertisements, but you will still need to buy fresh vegetables to supplement the plan, but everything else is provided. Just follow the directions on when to eat, and how much to eat. This is a great way to “jump start” your diet, but when it’s over, you are back on your own with very little training on how to eat in the “real world.” For this reason, I’m not much of a fan.
Jenny Craig also sends prepackaged meals to their customers. They emphasize losing weight by restricting calories, fat, and controlling portions. They are also heavy on having personal consultants to guide their members, which is optional on Nutrisystem. This means that you will gain knowledge on how to continue eating balanced meals after you leave the program, which a definite plus. This is closer to Weight Watchers, but with more emphasis on the prepackaged meals.
South Beach has a thing about “good” and “bad” carbs and fats. Their signature technique is to eliminate unhealthy saturated and trans fats, while controlling carbohydrates and increasing lean proteins. The goal is to keep your blood sugar and metabolism steady, so that you feel fuller longer. This is a wonderful idea, but you will probably need to radically change your diet. There are also three phases to this program, so it is somewhat more complicated than the “prepackaged” approaches. Also, because of the drastic reduction in carbs, you may wind up with ketosis (a side effect of your body breaking down fat), which can lead to health issues.
Slim-Fast is the “meal replacement” program. You buy their products (readily available at the grocery store), and use them for all but one of your daily meals (typically dinner). Also, their plan calls for an intake of just 1,200 per day, which is quite low. It will definitely help you take off the weight, and since the products are nutrient-fortified, you will be getting what you need in that department. This would be my least favorite approach, since it’s a very strict regimen to follow, and radically different from “normal” eating patterns. Also, there is no “support system” to help you out.
I’m going to sound like all of the advertisements out there when I say this, but if you are planning to diet (especially for the very first time), you should definitely seek medical advice. Get yourself checked out, and make sure there aren’t any health problems that might impact your weight loss efforts. For example, make sure you are cleared to increase your activity level before you do so (and you really should increase this if you can). After that, pick your approach and go.
One more thought, just from my own personal experience. If you drink alcohol, stop. This is the single worst use of calories on the planet. You can add it back (in moderation of course) once you’ve reached goal or have made significant progress. But cutting out these nutrition-free calories is the smart thing to do while you’re trying to lose weight.
Regardless of whether you do it on your own, or pick a paid program, it’s still up to you to do the work. Take heart, however, in the knowledge that you’re not alone. Good luck!