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If Your Weight is an Issue, This Is (By Far) the Most Important Secret You Should Know

The grapefruit diet, the cabbage soup diet, the apple cider vinegar diet, the high-carb low-fat diet, the low-carb high-fat diet ... no matter how many fad diets you've tried it is likely you have noticed they have one thing in common: they don't work. At least not in the long run.

And that is because, as we all inherently know but like to forget (or choose to ignore), losing weight is really more about simple mathematics than it is about concocting massive quantities of cabbage soup or grapefruit. Eat more calories than your body burns off, and you'll start to gain weight. The equation is really just that simple: Too many calories + not enough activity = excess pounds.

Losing weight shouldn't be tedious. Throw away the measuring tape and pick up some healthy foods!

As the American Academy of Family Physicians puts it, "To lose weight, you have to cut down on the number of calories you consume and start burning more calories each day."

How to Eat to Lose Weight

This is key because no one will stick to a diet that leaves them feeling hungry -- nor should they. Ironically, in order to lose weight, it's essential to eat enough. The trick is to eat the right foods that will help you feel satisfied without pushing your calorie meter too high.

Keep in mind that to lose one pound of fat, you need to burn 3,500 more calories than you take in. So, the American Heart Association says that to lose weight:

  • Most women should eat about 1,200-1,500 calories per day.

  • Most men should eat 1,500-1,800 calories a day.

You don't have to count every calorie (counting calories is tedious, and eating healthy should not be). Just eat close to the ideal numbers above. Some people feel best eating three meals a day and one snack, while others feel more satisfied eating five or six smaller meals. Experiment to find out what feels best to you.

Another important tip: Always eat breakfast. "Eating breakfast can help many people manage their weight and may help curb binge eating," says the American Heart Association.

What to Eat to Lose Weight

Don't get discouraged if your weight loss is gradual. A loss of one or two pounds a week is considered healthy.

Picking healthy foods is not only important from a weight loss standpoint. Getting your calories from foods packed with nutrients (things like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish and dairy) will help you to prevent disease, increase your energy levels and keep your organs and other body systems functioning at their peak levels to fully optimize weight loss.

"You want to stay within your daily calorie needs, especially if you're trying to lose weight," says Eric Hentges, Ph.D., director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. "But you also want to get the most nutrients out of the calories, which means picking nutritionally rich foods."

In fact, changing your eating habits now can help you to lose weight while lowering your risk of future illness.

Says Walter Willet, M.D., chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, "We know that when people have health problems or their friends become ill, these are strong motivators of change. The more serious the health condition, the more serious the change. We'd rather people made changes early and prevent health problems in the first place."

As you start to transition to healthier eating, follow these tips from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

  • Most of your fats should come from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, in foods like fish, nuts and olive oil.

  • Cut down on calories by trimming the fat off meat and taking the skin off chicken.

  • Bake, grill, steam or broil food instead of frying it.

  • Eat a variety of whole fruit, rather than fruit juice. "The whole fruit has more fiber, it's more filling, and it's naturally sweet," says Marilyn Tanner, a pediatric dietitian at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

  • Eat a wide variety of vegetables, including dark greens. Along with the many outstanding nutrients, the fiber in vegetables (and whole fruits) will help you feel full.

  • When choosing grains, pick items that have whole grains listed as the first ingredient on the label.

  • Limit added sugars in your diet in foods like soft drinks, candy, cake, cookies, pies and fruit drinks.

How to Exercise Effectively

For a 200-pound person, swimming burns over 350 calories an hour.

You should strive to exercise for 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week. Vary your routine to include aerobic exercises (jogging, swimming, kickboxing) and light weight training. The aerobic exercises raise your heart rate, which helps burn calories, while weight training adds muscles mass to your body. Muscle burns calories faster than fat, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you'll burn.

If you haven't been physically active in awhile, you'll need to start slowly and work your way up to longer, more intense workout. A great way to start moving is by taking a walk outside.

Looking for the most "bang for your exercise buck"? The chart below, from the American Heart Association, lists some popular exercises, along with the number of calories you'll burn after doing the activity for one hour (depending on your weight).

Activity 100 lb 150 lb 200 lb
Bicycling, 6 mph 160 240 312
Bicycling, 12 mph 270 410 534
Jogging, 7 mph 610 920 1,230
Jumping rope 500 750 1,000
Running 5.5 mph 440 660 962
Running, 10 mph 850 1,280 1,664
Swimming, 25 yds/min 185 275 358
Swimming, 50 yds/min 325 500 650
Tennis singles 265 400 535
Walking, 2 mph 160 240 312
Walking, 3 mph 210 320 416
Walking, 4.5 mph 295 440 572

Chart Source:

You can also add more activity into your day by making some small adjustments, including:

  • Parking at the farthest end of the parking lot.

  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

  • Going for a walk on your lunch break.

  • Walking to work, school, to get groceries, etc.

  • Playing with your kids and/or pet.

  • Doing sit-ups or jogging on a treadmill while watching TV.

Don't Give Up!

By making even small changes in your diet and activity level, you'll notice yourself feeling and looking better. But don't get discouraged if your weight loss doesn't happen overnight. A loss of one to two pounds per week is considered a healthy weight loss. And, according to the American Heart Association, people who lose weight gradually are more likely to keep it off.

Recommended Reading

The 11 Healthiest Autumn Fruits and Vegetables

The 6 Most Unhealthy Foods You Should Avoid at All Costs


U.S. FDA Healthier Eating

American Heart Association

American Academy of Family Physicians

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