Dear Doctor

Dear Doctor: I need to lose weight. Can you recommend a diet?

The most basic weight-loss plan is to burn more calories that you eat.

But, there are a few more details to that answer that we will unpack it in the following paragraphs.

First, let’s start with the basics. Instead of thinking about losing weight, you should think of your body as a calorie bank – and start thinking about making caloric withdrawals.

What is a calorie?

You can think of a calorie as a unit of heat in the same way that you would think of a gram as a unit of weight. A calorie also represents the amount of energy that a food produces once it is broken down inside of your body. This is why every food has a caloric value.

Your body consumes calories through eating; it burns or expends calories naturally by your essential daily functions and the extra movements that you make. For instance, if you woke up and did nothing all day but lay in bed, your body would burn calories because it takes energy for your heart to beat, for your lungs to expand and contract, and for your brain to work.

Research has also made a connection between a calorie and weight: 3,500 calories equals 1 pound of caloric-body weight.

When you consume more energy (calories) than you use, your body will typically store those extra calories (energy) for later use. Your body may store the extra energy in your muscles or as fat.

Conversely, if you burn more calories than you consume, your body will have to search for stored calories to use for energy. If you burn 3,500 more calories than you consume, you lose a caloric pound of weight.

The key to weight loss is to know how many calories your body burns on a daily basis. That number will be different for every human being. You can determine the number of calories that you use per day by entering in your age, weight, height and activity level into one of the numerous calorie calculators on the internet. Just type “calorie calculator” into a Google search and you will have several from which to choose.

It is important to remember that these calculators provide a guide to start your weight loss program. If you enter your information in several calculators, you may have several results. There are approximately five different formulas used to calculate calorie use. To start your program, pick the number you are most comfortable with and begin your journey to weight loss.

Next, you will also want to track your eating habits over a five-day period to determine the average number of calories that you eat during the day. A good way to do this is to write down everything you eat for five days, making sure this timeframe includes a weekend, since most of us tend to eat more on the weekends.

Take the sum of those five days and divide it by five. This is the average number of calories you consume each day. If the number of calories that you consume each day exceeds the number of calories that you expend each day, you have two choices. You can either move more to expend more calories, or you can eat less to consume less. For most effective weight-loss program, you may want to do both.

If you want to maintain the same level of activity, you can start your program by adjusting the number of calories that you eat.

Once you have your average daily calorie intake, try maintaining that number everyday for one or two weeks. After the second week, decrease your daily calories by 500. By the end of the third week, you will have lost 3,500 calories – or one caloric pound.

Each week cut another 500 calories from your daily calorie goal until you reach a 1,500 calorie allowance a day for women and a 2,000 calorie allowance a day for men. These are reasonable goals for most men and women. However, muscular people may need to increase their caloric intake to maintain body weight.

Research shows that a healthy and sustainable weight loss is between one and two pounds each week. If you are a man and your current caloric intake is 3,500 calories per day, your first week, you would consume 3,500 calories each day. The second week, you would consume 3,000 calories each day. The fourth week, you would consume 2,500 calories and if you have a more muscular body type, you could stop there or you could reduce your caloric intake one more time. Over the next few weeks, you should see a gradual decrease in caloric weight also known as fat stores.

It’s important to realize that all food has a caloric value, but not all food has nutrient-rich calories.

For example, if your body burned an average of 2,500 calories in a day and you chose to eat four candy bars to reach your intended caloric intake, you could still lose weight, but you wouldn’t necessarily feel well or be in good health.

The best way to lose weight and be healthy is to eat a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and good fats. Whole and natural foods are the best for your body. Your body was not made to consume highly processed foods, which are usually full of added sugar, salt and chemicals.

There are numerous opinions on the number of servings that you should eat from each food group and how many times a day you should eat. The important thing to remember is that if you burn more calories than you consume, you should lose body weight. However, if you are a person who visits the scale every day, you may not see an immediate translation to your scale.

Don’t be discouraged. There are several reasons this occurs. One reason is the actual foods and drinks that you consume have physical weight as well as caloric weight. For example, 32 ounces of water weighs approximately two pounds and adds two pounds of physical weight to your body if you drink it all at once. But, since water has zero calories and there is no energy to use, it only has a temporary effect on the scale.

If you track your progress by the scale, you may become disheartened. If you eat nutritious food, get moderate activity, and use more calories than you eat, you will lose weight. Your body will burn caloric energy, which cannot help but translate into pounds of calories lost.

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