For many, one of the hardest parts about losing weight is determining where to begin. Clients often ask, “Should I start to exercise more or eat healthier or both?” For most, the answer lies somewhere in between. To start, go on a fact-finding mission about your own eating and activity habits.
First, weigh yourself. The best evidence shows weighing in the morning, preferably before breakfast but after going to the bathroom, is the most accurate. In most cases, people like to weigh themselves around the same time each week to get the clearest picture of what’s happening. I recommend weighing at least once, but no more than three times per week. It’s good to be aware of the scale, but not live and die by the numbers. Keep weigh-ins in moderation along with everything else in your diet and exercise plan.
Next, determine how many calories you’re eating. This can be done in a number of ways- there are several online food trackers that allow you to input all the foods and beverages you take in, and better yet there are several phone apps with the same functionality. The old pen and paper method works well too, as long as you have access to a food database in which you’ll enter a day’s worth of foods and drinks to determine calories, fat, protein, etc. It is important to track several weekdays and at least one weekend day to begin to understand your habits, but more is better. If you can consistently track for 2-3 weeks, you’re well on your way to being a more educated eater. Once you’ve determined how many calories you take in, make a plan for where to go from there. Though every person is different, generally speaking women should aim for 1,500 -1,800 calories per day and men should aim for 2,000-2,300 calories per day, depending on activity level, resting metabolic rate, desired weight loss, etc.
Another rule to remember is that there are 3,500 calories in pound. To lose a half pound per week, cut 250 calories (or burn off 250 calories through exercise); to lose 1 pound per week, cut 500 calories per day; to lose 2 pounds per week, cut 1,000 calories per day. Much beyond 2 pounds per week is not desirable as you start to lose tissue rather than fat in rapid weight loss.
Lastly, track your activity for 2-3 weeks. Your target should be about 180 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Note: gauge moderate exercise by your ability to converse. If you’re too out of breath to hold conversation, then you’re likely engaging in vigorous activity for your body. If you could talk all day, then this exercise is less light. Try to find that happy-medium to maximize weight loss and cardiovascular benefit from your workout. Remember, these 180 minutes are eventual targets and can be achieved over time. Also, exercise can be broken down to 10-minute bouts. So whether you choose to aim for 6 days per week of 30 minutes of exercise or 18-10 minutes periods is entirely up to you. Just fit it in!
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.