The Basics of Weight Loss - Practical Strategies

Posted by Janine Wong MS, RD on October 15, 2012

The Starting Line:

What is the best way to approach safe weight loss?


The science of weight loss is simple: burn more calories than you consume. This caloric deficit can come from a combination of exercise and dietary modification. According to the CDC, roughly one pound of weight is equal to 3500 calories; therefore a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day will lead to 1 pound of weight loss per week. Healthy weight loss is approximately 1-2 pounds per week, although people who are heavier may lose more than 2 pounds per week.

Sustainable weight loss occurs through behavior modification and lifestyle change. The slower weight is lost, the longer it stays off. It is common to have setbacks or hit a plateau in weight loss. Do not get discouraged, continue moving forward. Start by choosing 2-3 of the tips below and implement them in your daily life. Make sure that you pick things that you can keep up with for the long term. Once you master those, choose 1-2 more and keep going!

- Track your calories: Keep a daily food log so that you can see where your calories are coming from. Use websites and smartphone apps like MyFitnessPal, an activity tracker, or a simple pedometer to measure and record your daily activity level.

- Don’t drink your calories: Liquid will leave you hungry, and it can be a dense source of calories.

- Don’t skip meals: Research shows that people who skip meals tend to overcompensate for those calories at their next meal.

- Snack smart: Fruits, vegetables, and yogurt are a great way to keep your appetite in check.

- Increase your fruits, vegetables, and whole grains: High fiber food keeps you satisfied longer. When planning meals, try to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.

- Change to low fat (1%) or skim dairy products: One cup of whole milk contains 146 calories, while one cup of skim milk contains 86 calories.

- Read food labels: Often times there are similar food products available that are lower in calories. Fooducate is a smartphone app and website that can help you choose better products while shopping.

- Portion control: Try using smaller plates. Serve smaller portions and leave the rest in the kitchen away from the dinner table.

- No more plate-cleaning: Once you are satisfied, stop eating!

- Focus on your food: Do not eat while distracted or multitasking.

- Increase your regular daily activity level: Park farther away, walk to errands, take the stairs, get a standing or treadmill desk. Try walking in place during commercials.

- Only eat when hungry: Be mindful of your appetite. If you eat in response to stress or powerful emotions, try to find a new coping mechanism - walking for example.

- Prepare ahead for unusual situations: Traveling and eating out are trouble areas for many people. Plan ahead and bring your own food if needed.


The Finish Line:

Safe weight loss for most people is one pound per week. Make practical changes that you can live with for long term success.



1. Centers for Disease Control. Healthy Weight: Losing Weight. August, 2011.

2. Fooducate.

3. Myfitnesspal.

Photo credit:David Reber's Hammer Photography via photopin cc

*Note: This general information is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment or advice. Always consult a professional before making changes to your health and wellness practices. 

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