For years we’ve known that the simple truth of weight loss is that you must burn more calories than you take in (called creating a caloric deficit) in order to lose weight. In fact, you can get very mathematical about weight loss.
According to The Mayo Clinic, a pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories. Therefore, to lose one pound, you need to create a 3,500 calorie deficit. If you create a 500 calorie deficit daily, you’d lose a pound by the end of a week.
Now, of course, there are other factors that affect weight loss, but the basic principle of managing calories out and in will provide some weight loss for everyone. And for many, this strategy alone, when implemented and maintained properly, will provide remarkable weight loss results.
So, armed with the knowledge that this is the best strategy for weight loss, how do we implement a program to track and monitor our progress and success? This is the key to our success, after all, the science won’t fail us – if anything fails us, it will be our consistency, accuracy or commitment to the process.
Let’s assume you want to lose some weight and you’ve chosen the caloric deficit method as your strategy. The easiest way to implement your strategy is to start tracking the calories you consume (what you eat) and the calories you expend (what you burn). As a first step, the simple task of tracking your calories will make you more aware and accountable.
The first step in tracking is to determine what method you want to use. The most basic option is to grab a pen and a notepad and start writing down what you’re eating. Another option is to use an app. The advantage of using an app is having access to a database of food items and their caloric content saving you the trouble of having to determine or guesstimate those values.
We recommend MyFitnessPal as its free version is incredibly robust and the database of foods is unmatched.
The most important part of tracking your food, though, isn’t the method you choose, it’s the consistency. You must, must, must log every calorie that you consume in order for this strategy to be effective.
Once you’ve master tracking the calories in, you’ll want to start tracking the calories out. This requires a little more work because you’ll either be using estimates and averages (like doing a Google search for “how many calories does a 190-pound male burn in an hour of jogging?”) or you’ll be using some equipment that may need some calibration in order to turn out accurate data.
Our recommendation for tracking calories out is going to be the high-tech option again, for its accuracy and simplicity. Because it’s accurate it will work. And because it’s simple you’ll stick with it.
We recommend using a heart rate monitor that measures caloric expenditure during your workouts. By using a monitor you can simply pull the number of calories burned from your device at the end of a workout and plug it into your tracker (like MyFitnessPal).
If you’re able to answer the all of following questions with a YES relative to your tracking method (notebook, spreadsheet, app, etc.) then you’re on the right path the successful weight loss!
1. Is this method easy for me to access throughout the day as I eat and/or workout?
2. Is this method easy enough that I can use it quickly and easily without interrupting my day?
3. Is this method something I can commit to using every single day, sometimes multiple times per day?
4. Am I excited about getting started with this method of tracking?
Great! So you’re tracking your calories in and out. Now what?
Now it’s time to create and MANAGE a daily deficit. The formula for determining a deficit is simple:
CALORIES IN – CALORIES OUT = CALORIC SURPLUS OR DEFICIT
Now, this begs an important question: how does the basal metabolic rate figure into this equation? Basal metabolic rate or BMR is the calorie burn required by your body to sustain basic day-to-day life.
Some people include their BMR in the equation and that okay, but know that if you choose this method it may slow your progress as BMR can be tricky to determine and it can vary wildly from day to day.
Instead, we recommend clarifying the above formula to mean the following:
CALORIES EATEN – CALORIES BURNED DURING EXERCISE = CALORIC SURPLUS OR DEFICIT
This removes a lot of guesswork and provides you with easily obtainable data to work with. It’s also likely to create more dramatic results as you’ll have to work a little bit harder to create that deficit using this formula.
Now to MANAGE your deficit, you’ll want to determine how much weight you’re going to lose and in what time frame. We recommend no more than two pounds per week (on the aggressive side of things) as anything more brings A LOT of additional variables into the equation that can affect your results.
Let’s use a pound per week (a very good goal for most people looking to lose weight, in our opinion). We determined previously that you’d need a 3,500 deficit at the end of the week to achieve this goal. Now you can set out to create a plan to ensure you achieve this.
If you’re looking for a more aggressive weight loss program, you’ll want to work with a fitness professional who is trained to create and manage aggressive strategies. A great example of this type of training is the Elevate Fitness 6-Week Weight Loss Challenge, where past participants have lost as many as 8 pounds a week*!
*Results not typical.