How to lose weight is one of the most pressing questions of the Western world.
The answer is both simple and not so simple. People lose weight by consuming less energy each day than they burn; it is straightforward mathematics.
However, the answer is also complicated because maintaining the numbers' discipline is not as easy as it may sound. Some other factors are also involved in helping you lose weight, such as metabolism, hormones, the type of food you eat, your body type and lifestyle.
Most experts stress that physical activity is as important as dieting when people want to lose weight and to keep it off. This article will look at the reasons to lose weight, the most effective methods and medical interventions.
Contents of this article:
Fast facts on losing weight
Here are some key points about losing weight. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- In basic terms, to lose weight you must burn off more calories than you consume
- Weight-loss supplements do not work
- Diets combined with exercise are much more effective
- Currently, more than one-third of Americans are obese
- A sedentary adult aged 31-50 should consume 2200-2400 calories or less, daily
- A diet needs to contain the right ratios of carbohydrate, protein and fat
- Crash diets may have short term results but are unlikely to be successful in the long run
- Sleeping for 7 or 8 hours a day may help with weight loss
- Bariatric surgery should be a last resort for obese patients.
The obesity epidemic
More than 1 in 3 Americans are obese.
America, and further afield, is facing a type of epidemic never before witnessed by humanity. For the first time in humanity's history, more people are dying from illnesses related to overeating than malnutrition.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than a third of Americans are currently obese (34.9%). They also estimate that the annual medical cost of obesity in 2008 was $147 billion.
The health risks of being overweight are well documented and include an increased risk of diabetes, stroke and certain types of cancer. If you were planning on losing weight, now is as good a time as any.
People lose weight for many different reasons:
- Appearance - they want to look fitter, more attractive or healthier, or simply feel more confident in their bodies.
- Overall health - they want to become healthier, live longer, and avoid developing diseases associated with obesity and overweight
- For a specific condition or illness - obese people with sleep apnea who lose weight have less severe symptoms - sometimes the sleep apnea goes away completely. Obese or overweight individuals with diabetes type 2 will usually have less severe symptoms if they can bring their weight down to healthy levels. One study found that overweight and obese males with diabetes type 2 who lost weight reported enhanced libidos.
- Fitness - to become fitter, to have more energy and stamina
- Sports competitions - a boxer, for example, may wish to lose weight so that he can remain within his weight category
- Fertility - obese women who are finding it hard to get pregnant sometimes are more likely to do so if they lose weight
Negative Energy Balance - in order to lose weight you need to be exerting more energy than you are consuming; this is called a negative energy balance. If you are in a state of negative energy balance, your body will seek out stores of energy, such as fat or muscle to make up for the shortfall - it will start using up your excess weight. In extreme cases, however, when the individual has little fat, more muscle and lean tissue will be used up.
Sports - some sportsmen and sportswomen will try to lose weight even though doctors would say their body weight is ideal. In some cases it might be to get better speeds or, as mentioned above, to be within a weight classification for a competition.
Losing too much weight - if you become underweight, there are also certain health risks. Your chances of developing infections might increase, there is a risk of osteoporosis, reduced muscle mass and strength, and problems regulating your body temperature. There may even be a higher risk of death if your weight goes down a lot.
Diets to lose weight
There are thousands of different diet plans on the market that make amazing weight loss claims. Some of them are well thought out, safe and effective, while others are not. Most health care professionals, dietitians and nutritionists agree that a combination of a weight-reduction healthy diet with physical activity tends to have the best results, especially in the long term.
Related reading: The eight most popular diets today
Proponents of many diets say they are extremely effective and require no effort at all. Unless they have been proven to be so in scientific studies, it is not possible to know how effective they really are.
How many calories should I consume?
The amount of calories a person needs depends on their age, gender and level of daily activity.
The number of calories per day you should consume in order to lose weight depends on several factors, including your sex, how much you want to lose, how quickly you want to lose it and your age.
Below are some estimated figures on how many calories the average person in the USA, Canada and Western Europe should consume in order to maintain their weight (neither put on nor lose weight).
Daily recommended calorie consumption for males:
- Age 19-30
Sedentary - 2400-2600
Moderately active - 2600-2800
Active - 3000
- Age 31-50
Sedentary - 2200-2400
Moderately active - 2400-2600
Active - 2800-3000
- Age 51+
Sedentary - 2000-2200
Moderately active - 2200-2400
Active - 2400-2800
Daily recommended calorie consumption for females:
- Age 19 to 30
Sedentary - 1,800 to 2,000
Moderately active - 2,000 to 2,200
Active - 2,400
- Age 31-50
Sedentary - 1,800
Moderately active - 2,000
Active - 2,200
- Age 51+
Sedentary - 1,600
Moderately active - 1,800
Active - 2000 to 2,200
If you want to lose weight, you would have to consume a little bit less than the amounts listed above. The less you consume, the faster you lose. However, it is important to follow a healthy, well-balanced diet so that you do not become ill, or lose lean tissue (muscle). Ideally, you should check with a dietitian, nutritionist or your doctor.
In some regimes, dieters consume 1,200 calories per day if they are female and 1,500 if they are male. However, do not try to do this yourself without the supervision of a trained expert.
You need to make sure your carbohydrate, protein and fat ratio is right for good health. Recommendations vary, from 20-60% carbohydrate intake for losing weight.
Some studies found that not only do people risk malnutrition if their diet is not well planned, but also loss of motivation. Most dieters drop out before reaching their target weight.
When dieters have reached their target body weight, they should gradually increase their daily intake until they reach their "weight maintenance" figure.
On the next page, we look at dieting, controlling weight, weight supplements and bariatric surgery.