The key to losing weight without feeling deprived is to make small changes that you are comfortable with. While small changes in your routine mean small changes to your physique, a gradual introduction of habits is the most sustainable way to lose weight. First, you need to figure out how many calories you need to eat every day.
Key to Losing Weight: Calculate your TDEE
Conveniently, there is a measure of how many calories you need to eat, called your total daily energy expenditure, or TDEE. Your TDEE takes into account your gender, age, height, weight, and activity level to tell you how many calories you need to eat every day to maintain your current weight. For shorter people, this can be quite low compared to the calorie-dense food offered in many restaurants. A 24-year-old woman who is 5’4″, weighs 170 lbs, and has a sedentary lifestyle needs to eat 1800 calories a day to maintain her weight.
On the other hand, a man of the same age, who is 5’9″, weighs 190 lbs, and has the same lifestyle, needs 400 more calories per day to maintain. For comparison, a Big Mac meal with medium fries, medium coke, and a vanilla cone is 1320 .calories. Take a moment to calculate your TDEE; there are several calculators available online. Remember to be honest about your activity level.
Subtract 100-200 Calories
This is going to be your daily calorie intake. You don’t want to jump into a very large deficit, because you likely are used to eating much more than your TDEE. Look up some meals and snacks that fit into your new daily intake to get an idea of what you can eat. If you find yourself feeling hungry and wanting to binge eat anytime in the first couple of days, go back to eating regularly, but track your calories. If you find you’re eating more than your TDEE, take an average of how much you eat. Every couple of weeks, subtract 100-200 calories off this average. You will slowly get below your TDEE, and start losing weight. In the meantime, you’ll be building sustainable habits. Below is an example of this process.
Key to Losing Weight: Get Below Your TDEE
- Day 0 – You calculate your TDEE to 1800 calories. You decide to start trying to eat at 1600.
- Day 1 – You reach 1600 calories a lot faster than expected. After dinner, you’re still hungry and go on an eating spree. You feel upset with yourself but decide to try again tomorrow.
- Day 2 – Repeat of day 1.
- Day 3 – 7 – You eat regularly. On day 7 you take an average of your daily counts and realize you eat about 2500 calories every day.
- Week 2 – You limit yourself to 2300 calories per day, but don’t force yourself to reach it if you feel full. You start to experiment with lower-calorie substitutions.
- Week 3 – Last week went so well you decide to go down to 2100 calories this week.
- Week 4-5 – 2100 calories was easy, so you jump down to 1900. You find this a little tough, so you give yourself an extra week to get used to it.
- Week 6 – 1700 calories per day. You’ve made it to a deficit and will now start losing weight.
Once you’re in a deficit, you may continue to go down as low as 500 calories below your TDEE. If you have a tough week, you can eat at your maintenance level for that week. If you find your weight loss starts to slow down, re-calculate your TDEE as it will decrease as you lose weight.
How to Easily Decrease Calories
Now that you have a plan to slowly decrease your calories, you probably want to know how to do so. There are two ways of decreasing your calories: you can either change what you eat, or how you eat. You can experiment with different methods, and try combining them to figure out what works for you.
Changing what you eat can be helpful for people who like feeling full, or snacking throughout the day. This is about making substitutions for what you eat. Some people drink most of their calories. A quick first step maybe not to drink soda or drinking diet soda. Diet soda can be bad for you, but cutting out soda will reduce the caffeine you’re getting, which can be difficult for people with an addiction. If you switch to diet soda, you may choose to slowly wean off of soda altogether. Another place to cut out calories is juice and milk, which can be replaced with water. If you don’t like water, you can try adding zero-calorie flavors or fruit or getting a nice water filter.
Key to Losing Weight: Eat Lots of Vegetables
You can eat a lot of vegetables for relatively few calories. If you’re a vegetable hater, it might just be because you’ve never had properly cooked vegetables. Watch some cooking tutorials or ask a friend who cooks a lot about how they cook their vegetables. Note that covering broccoli in cheese sauce isn’t a very good way to cook it. While it may taste delicious, the calorie-dense cheese sauce defeats the purpose of eating broccoli in the first place.
Key to Losing Weight: Change How and When You Eat
The other way to decrease calories is to change how you eat. This can be done by eating only during certain hours, called intermittent fasting, or by eating just one meal a day, OMAD. The idea behind intermittent fasting is that you only eat during a certain window. You may start by eating only between 10:00 am and 8:00 pm, which would be a 10-hour window. You can decrease your window to 8 hours or even lower. OMAD is essentially a more extreme version of intermittent fasting. With OMAD, you have a 1 or 2-hour window to eat one large meal with all your daily calories. This is a good strategy if you eat very calorie-dense food and don’t want to substitute, but may also just work best for your lifestyle. While some of the more hardcore followers of these two methods may disagree, you may drink things like tea or coffee without too much added, or eat a light soup in-between meal hours to help you get by.
Both changing how you eat and what you eat can help you decrease your calories, and they can be combined in clever ways. If you normally eat several low-calorie meals but want to go out to your favorite restaurant, you may choose to do OMAD for a day so that you can eat a delicious, but high-calorie, meal. You may swap your high-calorie, sugary coffee for a coffee with sugar-free syrup and skim milk to soothe your caffeine cravings while doing intermittent fasting.
Every year you put off losing weight is a year you spend reinforcing bad habits and gaining. These tips will help make your diet easy and painless, which will make it easier to follow through with. Starting in the new year is great because you get the extra boost of motivation.