How to Lose Weight and Keep It Off
Losing weight and achieving a healthy weight can seem incredibly confusing and overwhelming. With so many diets and conflicting advice out there, it’s no wonder many people struggle to even get started, let alone keep the weight off long-term.
But it doesn’t have to be so complicated.
When you break it down, there are really only two main factors that make any weight loss diet effective:
Caloric Deficit and Adherence.
Master these two keys and you’ll be on your way to sustainable results.
Creating a Caloric Deficit is Fundamental
At its core, weight loss boils down to burning more calories than you consume. This caloric deficit forces your body to mobilize your tissue (fat and muscle) for energy.
While this concept is simple on paper, creating a consistent caloric deficit can prove challenging in real world practice. Exercise contributes to some extent (this is covered at the end of this article), but nutrition intake drives this equation.
For example, to reach a 500 calorie per day deficit through exercise alone would require strenuous, prolonged workouts that are difficult to sustain long-term. For most people, restricting food/beverage calories is the more practical pathway to create the needed deficit.
However, eating less can be hard. Hunger cues and cravings resist calorie restriction. Old eating habits tend to persist out of comfort and convenience. Environment and lifestyle also influence diet consistency.
Appetite-regulating hormones can make calorie cutting uncomfortable. Metabolic adaptation may slow energy burn during dieting. Nutrition knowledge and cooking skills impact meal prep. These factors can sabotage calorie deficit plans.
In theory, caloric deficit for weight loss seems simple. But in practice, consistently eating fewer calories than you burn turns out to be quite challenging for many people. This is why adherence is equally important, along with behavioral strategies to promote dietary compliance.
You may have heard success stories about various diets like:
Twinkie Diets & McDonald’s Diets?
At first glance, this may seem totally counterintuitive, if not downright wrong. But surprisingly, some people have succeeded in losing weight by eating mainly processed convenience foods and refined carbohydrates like Twinkies and fast food from McDonald’s.
This seems to go against all conventional diet wisdom. After all, we’ve been told that these types of hyper-processed sugary foods are the biggest culprit behind obesity. So how could eating more of them lead to weight loss?
The logic of these diets is that it’s not about eating “good” or “bad” foods – it’s about calories in versus calories out. You can still achieve a caloric deficit needed for weight loss even eating high-calorie, nutrition-poor foods. By tightly controlling portions, you restrict the total calories.
Of course, this type of diet is very hard to stick to. Cravings and nutritional imbalances make adherence difficult. These empty calories aren’t considered healthy eating, so most health experts advise against relying on these foods regularly. But these diets prove an interesting point about the power of caloric deficit above all else for fat loss.
One of the most famous examples is the Twinkie diet, popularized by professor Mark Haub in 2010. He lost 27 pounds in 2 months eating mainly Twinkies, Oreos, and Doritos along with some protein shakes. By limiting himself to 1800 calories per day, he achieved a huge caloric deficit despite curious food choices.
The bottom line is that even diet plans that seem to break all the “rules” can lead to pounds shed – as long as you’re maintaining a daily calorie deficit. It’s an excellent illustration that calories trump food types when it comes to weight control.
Low Fat vs. High Fat Approaches
When it comes to dietary fat for weight loss, the pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other over the years.
Low fat diets first rose to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s. These plans emphasized severely limiting all fats to promote fat loss. Foods high in fat were vilified as the cause of obesity. Dieters flocked to fat-free and low-fat products.
In recent years, the pendulum has swung the other way towards high fat approaches like the ketogenic diet. These plans encourage generous amounts of dietary fat from sources like olive oil, avocado, and nuts. Carbs are more restricted.
At first glance, these two approaches seem completely incompatible. After all, how could high-fat and low-fat diets both be effective for weight loss? They take opposite stances on dietary fat.
The truth is, both low-fat and high-fat diets can potentially work for weight loss. Once again, it comes back to calories. Either style of eating can put someone in a deficit. And as we’ve established, a calorie deficit is the ultimate decider of fat loss.
Neither fat nor carbs are “fattening” intrinsically. Overconsumption of any nutrient relative to expenditure drives weight gain. Moderation and balance are healthy aims, rather than vilifying any one macronutrient.
So whether you prefer lower fat or higher fat, you can make either style of eating work for fat loss simply by controlling portions and total calories. The best diet minimizes extremes while honoring personal food preferences.
The Great Carb Debate: High vs. Low
Much like the fat debate, opinions on carbs have also swung between two extremes over the years.
High carb diets rose to prominence first, based around breads, whole grains, rice, potatoes, fruit and starchy vegetables. These healthy whole food sources were encouraged.
The pendulum swung the other direction with Dr. Atkins’ wildly popular low carb revolution. Carbs were singled out as the villain behind obesity. Even carb sources considered healthy became taboo.
On the surface, low carb and high carb diets are polar opposites. How could slashing carbs and embracing carbs both lead to weight loss? The divide seems impossible to bridge.
Yet both approaches can work for weight loss because, once again, it comes down to calories. Creating a deficit is possible whether you eat 100 grams of carbs or 20 grams of carbs daily.
If you consume fewer calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight. It’s not the carbs themselves that are “fattening.” Overeating any nutrient stores fat. Moderation and balance are key.
In practice, reducing carbs often leads to a spontaneous calorie deficit since carbs are limited. But low carb is just one path to a deficit. High carb plans can work equally well for fat loss when portion controlled.
Rather than fearing carbs, focus on finding your carb tolerance level that allows a calorie deficit while optimizing energy, performance and dietary enjoyment.
Trendy Diets Like Carnivore
Fad diets like carnivore and paleo focus on a specific food group, eliminating others completely. This may raise nutrient issues.
But here’s the key point…
Calorie Balance Makes the Difference
Any of these diets can potentially lead to fat loss and successful weight loss if you burn more calories than you eat. Likewise, overeating and surplus calories can cause weight gain on any diet plan or food combination. At the end of the day, total calories in versus calories out is what truly matters for weight control.
While nutrition debates rage on, your body must abide by the simple laws of thermodynamics. According to these laws, energy cannot be created or destroyed. Your body stores excess consumed calories as body fat. To tap into this fuel reserve and shed pounds, you need to expend more energy than you take in, creating a calorie deficit.
Calories provide a quantifiable unit of energy. By controlling your net calorie balance through diet and exercise, you can predictably manipulate weight and body composition over time. A pound of fat contains approximately 3,500 calories. To lose one pound per week, you need an average daily calorie deficit of 500 calories.
Regardless of the specific foods you eat or nutrients you emphasize, maintaining a consistent caloric deficit is the foundational requirement for fat loss to occur. No dietary strategy can bypass the law of energy balance. Calories add up, and your body responds in kind.
Though nutrition debates will continue to evolve and swing in popularity, the core science of calories in versus calories out will remain constant. While nutrition quality impacts health, calories ultimately control weight by determining energy balance. Creating a daily calorie deficit is the first and foremost step required to lose body fat.
Adherence Over Time Is Equally Vital
Creating a calorie deficit through diet and exercise may seem simple enough in theory. But in reality, consistently sticking to a calorie-restricted weight loss plan day in and day out can be extremely challenging. This makes long-term adherence the second critical key to shedding pounds successfully.
Many people make the mistake of severely slashing calories for a few days, only to rebound and overeat for the next few days. They repeat this cycle of restriction and indulgence, putting in sincere effort but becoming frustrated by the lack of results.
This yo-yo pattern is often seen in folks who strictly diet during the weekdays, only to overindulge on weekends or holidays. While well-intentioned, this approach sabotages results.
It’s important to view calorie intake as a running weekly average rather than day-to-day. Dramatic low-calorie days earlier in the week can quickly be erased by indulgent high-calorie periods later on. Consistency over time drives fat loss.
The body resists abrupt, severe calorie cuts by ramping up hunger and cravings. Gradual sustained calorie reduction allows the body to adapt better metabolically. Small consistent changes add up over weeks and months without feeling overly restrictive.
Adherence means maintaining the caloric deficit day in, day out, week after week, without giving in to rebellion or extremes. Patience and persistence are required. Quick fixes and crash diets cannot outperform steady consistency for long-term fat loss and keeping weight off.
What Does Adherence Mean?
Adherence refers to your ability to follow the diet and exercise recommendations consistently, day after day, over an extended period of time. Even the most intelligently designed, personalized weight loss plan will fail to deliver results without sufficient adherence. Old habits die hard, and adopting new lifestyle habits requires dedication and discipline.
Adherence means sticking to the recommended calorie intake and activity regimen long enough to achieve your weight loss goal. This often requires months of consistency, especially for substantial fat loss. Miss a day here and there, no problem. But repeated lapses on a regular basis slow progress.
Tracking adherence means monitoring your success at sticking to the suggested strategies for calorie management, nutrition, and activity most days of the week. This data helps identify obstacles to compliance and informs any needed adjustments to improve feasibility.
But adherence is about more than just food and exercise. It encompasses the habits, willpower, support system, and mindset that allow for long-term follow through. All of these factors impact your ability to comply with the calorie deficit required for results.
Ultimately, any diet plan or fitness program requires high adherence to succeed. Even a thoughtfully designed, personalized approach cannot work miracles without your consistent effort and dedication to transforming old behaviors.
Tailor the Plan to Optimize Adherence
To maximize adherence, weight loss strategies like the diet and activity routines should align with your preferences, responsibilities, and lifestyle. Consider factors like:
- Food likes and dislikes
- Cooking skills and resources
- Schedule, social and family obligations
- Activity preferences and abilities
Understand Behavioral Science for Success
Since losing weight requires changing ingrained lifestyle habits and behaviors over the long run, insights from behavioral science are invaluable. Fields like psychology can reveal the deeper motivations that truly drive human behavior and decisions around food and exercise.
For example, psychology looks in-depth at how emotions, stress, past experiences and thought patterns influence actions.
This can provide science-backed insights into what makes people act the way they do. When applied to health behavior change, it illuminates what leads to long-term sustainable success versus frustrating backsliding.
Factors like enjoyment, ease, social support, feedback, and how behaviors align with identity and values strongly determine outcomes. These deeper motivators must align for habit change to stick.
Understanding and strategically applying behavioral science principles gives a huge advantage for losing weight and keeping it off compared to relying on quick fixes and willpower alone. Grounding strategies in evidence on human behavior leads to powerful transformation.
Incorporate Science-Backed Strategies
Strategies informed by behavioral science include:
- Pre-planning and/or meal prepping
- Tracking progress and rewards
- Social support and accountability
These techniques address the deeper determinants of behavior change compared to rigid dieting rules alone.
Leverage Expert Coaching
Specialized training enables coaches to effectively apply behavioral science strategies tailored to each client’s unique needs and psychology for sustainable success.
A Powerful Combination for Change
Programs like the Behavior Science-Powered Wellness Coaching Certification from the Healthy Behavior Institute teach these coveted skills. The combination of hands-on coaching and behavior science mastery equips graduates to elicit lasting lifestyle changes.
Optimize Your Plan with Protein, Fat & Exercise
While deficit and adherence are most important, adequate protein, healthy fats and exercise can optimize body composition as you lose, that is, they can steer your weight loss to more and more body fat loss.
Prioritize Protein to Protect Muscle
Consuming enough lean protein while cutting calories helps preserve metabolism-boosting muscle:
For many, aiming for 0.6-1 grams of lean protein per pound of body weight daily from foods like poultry, eggs, Greek yogurt, lean meat, and protein powder.
Don’t Skimp on Healthy Fats
Getting enough beneficial fats helps keep you satisfied on fewer calories while simultaneouly contributing to health:
Focus on unsaturated fats from olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado and fatty fish.
Exercise Helps Maximize Fat Loss During Weight Loss
While caloric deficit drives weight loss, adding in exercise provides valuable benefits. In particular, it helps the body retain lean muscle mass and burn a higher ratio of fat as you diet to lose weight, leading to healthy weight loss.
When in a caloric deficit, some amount of muscle loss along with fat loss is normal. However, retaining lean muscle tissue is crucial for long-term metabolism and body composition. Muscle burns more calories at rest than fat.
Without exercise and physical activity, a larger percentage of weight loss tends to come from muscle mass compared to fat mass. Strength training provides the stimulus to help maintain and even build muscle while running a calorie deficit.
Exercise is not strictly necessary for weight loss, as caloric deficit is the ultimate driver. However, adding regular strength training and cardio provides tremendous benefits. It helps retain calorie-burning lean muscle, burn more fat, boost metabolism, and improve body composition.
So while nutrition drives the caloric deficit for weight loss, exercise plays a powerful supporting role. It provides the leverage to lose maximal fat and minimal muscle, sculpting a toned, metabolism-revving physique.
While nutrition debates rage on, true weight loss boiled down to a caloric deficit you can adhere to. Choose foods you enjoy in a calorie-controlled, nutrient-dense diet tailored to your preferences and lifestyle. Supplement with daily activity you like and can sustain. With caloric deficit and adherence working in your favor, you’ll lose weight effectively and keep it off for good.