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How to Lose Weight

Summary (TL;DR)

Count your calories burnt (BMR + exercise) and your calories consumed. You will lose ~ 1 lbs for every 3500 calories you go into deficit. Basic math works. If it doesn't work, you're probably counting wrong (calories are hard to count even for experts).
calories eaten - (BMR + exercise) = calorie gain or deficit

The Matrix is Real: Your Body is a Battery

Just like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix, your body is a battery. It stores energy in the form of fat and protein. You charge it up with food. Charge it up too much, and it starts to swell. To lose weight you have to drain the excess energy stored.

The Math

In broad strokes (every body is slightly different), you need to know two things to lose weight:

When your body consumes excess calories, it gets stored as fat (or protein, this is important later). 1 pound of fat is equal to roughly 3500 calories (again, broad strokes).

So to lose 1 pound of fat per week, you need to burn 500 calories a day in excess of what you eat.

500 calories x 7 days = 3500 calories = 1 pound of fat/week

Calculate Base Burn

To calculate burn, we need our BMR (or Basal Metabolic Rate). This is an estimate of the amount of energy your body expends just... being (breathing, sleeping, walking, moving your spoon to your mouth, etc.). There are plenty of online BMR calculators. Here is a one: Calulator.net One of the many unfair things about life is that your body uses less energy the smaller it is. This means that...

In other words, if you have a lot of excess fat, you will probably have an easy time losing it as you start, and it will get harder and harder the smaller you get.

6 foot 2 inch 250 lbs male statistics

For example, a 6 foot 2 inch, 250 lbs man burns more calories just sitting all day than a 5 foot 2 inch, 120 lbs womain burns with very intense exercise.

5 foot 2 inch 120 lbs female statistics

The patriarchy is real.

Exercise Burn

You also need to track your calories burnt via exercise. This is difficult to do accurately. Modern technology like an Apple Watch can estimate it for you. But remember to take it with a grain of salt.

It is tricky to separate out actual exercise calories from your BMR calories. It's not like you stopped burning those calories you get just for being a living human while you were exercising.

A common mistake for beginners is to add their calories in and out and then complain they didn't lose weight. But remember, the numbers are only estimates! The basic principle works, but if you have bad numbers in, you get a bad result out.

Calculate Intake (Food Calories)

Now that you know your BMR and your exercise burn, we need to start counting your calories from food.

There are many apps that can help you do this. MyFitnessPal is one of the most popular apps for this. It's free and fairly intuitive, and comes pre-loaded with millions of foods.

Pro-tip: People are very bad at estimating how many calories they eat. If you are counting calories eaten and calories burnt, and you still aren't losing weight, keep in mind that even professional nutritionists are bad at measuring calories eaten. Reduce your calories until you see weight loss. But, and this makes it especially hard for smaller women, it's generally not recommended to go below 1200 calories a day.

Weigh-ins and Water Weight

When making lifestyle changes, the first weight you lose is often water weight. It is not uncommon for larger people to be able to lose 5 pounds in their first day of working out just by shedding water weight. This is a freebie (if you see it at all), not to be repeated, and you will not see dramatic changes beyond the first couple of days.

Also make sure to weigh yourself as near to nude as possible, at the same time every day, preferably first thing in the morning when you wake up. Clothes can make your weight vary by several pounds. Going to the bathroom can change your weight by several pounds. Even sleeping can alter your weight. If you want an apples to apples charting of your weight, make sure you are consistent in when and how you weigh yourself.

Weigh yourself first thing in the morning after going to the bathroom.

Protein & Muscle

In broad strokes, for every 3500 calories you burn at a deficit, you will lose a pound. However, your body doesn't particularly care where the energy comes from. Protein can also be burnt for energy. Protein is what makes up your muscles. You probably don't want to lose protein.

Unfortunately, losing some muscle mass is inevitable during weight-loss. You can minimize this by eating lots of protein and lifting weights.

Combat muscle loss by eating 1g of protein per lbs of body weight and lifting weights.

NOTE: 1g of protein is the common advice for building muscle, though the research is a bit more varied (here is a good article).

The bonus of building muscle is that your BMR goes up with more muscle. Muscle burns energy. Fat stores energy. One of the ways to burn fat is to build muscle. Counterintuitively, if you build muscle, your weight may go up even as your body fat percentage goes down.

Summary

Weight loss is a simple concept at it's core. Burn more calories than you take in and you will lose weight. Count your calories in. Count your calories out (BMR + exercise). Make sure you run at a deficit. Build muscle. Get good nutrition. Don't go crazy and drop below ~1200 calories a day. And remember, controlling your diet is usually the single biggest lever for you to pull to control your weight.

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