Q1: Do I have to count calories or fat grams?
A: No. Counting calories or fat grams can be helpful, but it’s not necessary for everyone.
Most people get tired of counting after a few days or weeks. You can learn a lot about your eating habits by just writing down everything you eat each day on a food diary.
Q2: My diets don’t succeed because I can’t give up sweets. Can I have low-calorie sweets?
A: Yes, but you have to read food labels to find them.
Look for items with less than 150 calories per serving and do not have a lot of added sugar or sodium. Be sure to check the serving size so you don’t eat too much. Reach for things that will satisfy your sweet tooth and provide you with some nutrients too such as fresh fruit and yogurt.
Low-calorie sweets include angel food cake, fresh fruit, sugar-free gelatin, pudding made with fat-free milk, and frozen fruit juice bars.
One serving of each of these items contains about 150 calories and 0 to 1 gram of saturated fat.
Q3: How often should I weigh myself?
A: Some experts recommend that you weigh yourself once a week. Others say to weigh every day.
We recommend choosing the schedule that works best for you. If you have heart failure, you must check your weight every day to look for sudden changes.
Q4: How can I get enough nutrients without consuming too many calories?
A: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourages you to choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages to help achieve recommended nutrient intakes.
Foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein foods can help you get the nutrients you need without excess calories. Avoid excess calories by limiting consumption of foods high in added sugars and solid fats, and alcoholic beverages; these provide calories but are poor sources of essential nutrients.
See USDA’s MyPlate Web site to learn more about choosing nutrient-dense foods. And, because calorie intake must be balanced with physical activity to control weight, stay active.
Q5: When I eat more than I need what happens to the extra calories?
A: Consuming extra calories results in an accumulation of stored body fat and weight gain. This is true whether the excess calories come from protein, fat, carbohydrate, or alcohol. See CDC’s Balancing Calories web page to learn more about the calorie balance equation.
Q6: How can I burn off my stored body fat?
A: We all need some body fat, but if stored fat is excessive it may increase risk of diet-related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. This is particularly true if excess fat is in the abdominal area. Check out Ways to Be Active, a publication from Fitness.gov, to learn more.
According to the CDC, a body mass index, or BMI, of 25 or higher is an indication that your weight may be unhealthy. And a waist circumference of over 40 inches in men and over 35 inches in women indicates excessive abdominal fat if BMI is 25 or higher. Calculate your BMI and find information on measuring your waist size from CDC.
The best strategy for losing excess weight and stored body fat involves calorie reduction, increased physical activity, and a behavior change plan. See Interested in Losing Weight? from Nutrition.gov to learn more.
Q7: How many calories do I need to burn to lose a pound of weight?
A: You need to burn off 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound.
This translates into a reduction of 500 calories per day to lose 1 pound in a week, or 1000 calories per day to lose 2 pounds in a week. (1-2 pounds per week is generally considered to be a safe rate of weight loss.)
This can be achieved by eating fewer calories or using up more through physical activity. A combination of both is best. See CDC’s Balancing Calories web page to learn more.
Q8: I’m on a diet to lose weight. Do I still need to exercise?
A: Physical activity is a key component of helping you move toward a healthier weight, as it can help you achieve the appropriate calorie balance.
People who exercise regularly may be more likely to keep the weight from coming back after losing weight.
Q9: Is it better to exercise at high intensity for shorter periods, or lower intensity for longer periods?
A: A little of both or whatever works for you.
The best way to lose weight is to exercise consistently, says personal trainer and physical therapist Rick Olderman, “If a higher intensity workout leaves you unmotivated or exhausted, work at the intensity that will keep you coming back,” he explains. “Remember, weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Personal trainer Chris Freytag believes in the consistency theory as well, but is a big fan of high intensity workouts because “most of us don’t have the time to work out for long periods.” She points out that working at a higher intensity will burn more calories but working out at lower intensities burns more fat.
Both trainers are big fans of interval training, which means mixing high intensity exercise with low intensity (a.k.a. active recovery) exercise during your workout. “It gets results and keeps it interesting,” says Olderman.
Q10: Does strength training make you bulkier and gain weight?
A: Not really, but it depends.
Freytag says unequivocally “No!” but Olderman says it really depends on your body type. “If you tend to be a person who bulks up easily, try higher reps with lighter weights,” he recommends.
Both trainers say bulking up is actually so difficult to do (think of all the grunting body builders do when they workout!), most women shouldn’t worry about it. Freytag points out that women’s estrogen levels inhibit bulking up, while testosterone in men makes it easier to build muscle mass.
Olderman does warn, however, that women who tend to bulk up may want to skip typical leg strengthening exercises like squats, lunges and leg presses. “Let your cardio program be your leg strengthening routine, because it’s enough to build muscle and will help you slim down,” he says.
It’s important to note, however, that strength training has far more benefits than drawbacks when it comes to weight loss. Most important is the fact that muscles burn more calories than body fat does at a resting heart rate. “The more muscle on your body the more calories your body turns through every day at rest,” says Freytag. “Adding more muscle to your body is going to increase daily metabolism or daily calorie burn, tighten and tone your flabby areas, and make you feel better and more capable.”
Q11: Does eating before bed make you gain weight?
A: Depends on what you eat.
Weight loss does ultimately come down to calories in versus calories burned. So eating a small healthy snack late at night will not interfere with weight loss, unless you’re consuming more calories than you need for the day. But the experts we talked to point out that usually, those who get the urge to hit the fridge late at night are more likely to reach for something unhealthy — in large quantities.
“In my experience people tend to eat sweets late at night, and their good intentions go out the window,” says Suzanne Farrell, M.S., R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. The trick, Farrell says, is to eat throughout the day so that you’re not tempted to eat at night when you’re more tired and your willpower is diminished.
“I always recommend that if you’re going for a late night snack, or if you need to take food with medication or something, you try to keep it to less than 200 calories. Once you go over 300 calories it’s like adding another meal.” Some healthy snacks she recommends include lowfat yogurt or cereal, or a lowfat Fudgesicle or pudding to satisfy a sweet tooth.
Q12: Does eating breakfast help you lose weight?
“There is no better way to get your metabolism moving than eating a healthy breakfast,” says Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., R.D.
She explains that food actually increases your metabolic rate, and skipping breakfast can make your body think it’s going to be starved — sending it into “conserve” mode and slowing your metabolism down.
Research shows that people who consume breakfast regularly are at healthier body weights. Why? Not only will your metabolism speed up, but eating breakfast helps with appetite control. “If you skip breakfast, you tend to feel hungrier throughout the day,” says Farrell. “And once you get too hungry, you tend to choose less-healthy meal options.”
Q13: How many meals a day should you eat to lose weight?
A: Three to six meals per day.
James Rouse, N.D. advocates eating five small meals a day and is adamant that you should not skip one. “This five meal ideal will keep your metabolism burning brightly, and your brain will enjoy a steady source of fuel,” he says.
On the other hand Ayurvedic expert John Douillard, D.C., Ph.D., recommends eating only three meals a day, without snacking, in order to encourage your body to burn more fat. “Between meals, your body burns fat, which is your stable, non-emergency fuel,” he says. “If you snack then, there is no need for your body to burn its stored fat.”
Farrell’s take: Again, it’s the calories that count. Some people find that eating five to six smaller meals spread out over the course of the day is the best way to keep hunger at bay, while others find eating so frequently to be too challenging.
Eating three larger healthy meals, without snacking in-between, is often easier for those with hectic schedules. Ideally, says Farrell, you should aim to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with two small snacks in between.
But, it’s really a matter of what works best for you given your metabolism and lifestyle.
Q14: Will yoga help you lose weight?
Yoga and meditation have a tremendous potential to help weight loss, says Amit Sood,.M.D., internist at the Mayo Clinic. “The mindfulness that yoga brings, you keep that mindfulness, not only during the time you’re doing yoga, but you carry it through the day,” he explains. “When you’re practicing yoga, you create a disciplined lifestyle.”
Dr. Sood also points out that yoga makes you fitter and more flexible and therefore enables you to do more aerobic activity. “So, from a number of perspectives, a program of yoga with meditation incorporated in it is likely to help with weight loss,” he says.
In addition to the healthy lifestyle choices it encourages, yoga also burns calories. Depending on the type of yoga you do, you can burn as many as 180 to 360 calories per hour. Vinyasa, Ashtanga and other forms of “power yoga” or “yoga fusion” are the best yoga styles for calorie burning. But any style of yoga can help you lose weight because it will help you get more in tune with your body, which in turn will result in a healthier lifestyle.
Q15: Are all calories created equal? Do 50 calories of Godiva [chocolate] cause the same weight gain as 50 calories of grapefruit?
A: Yes, although the fruit calories might be more filling.
Q16: Does it matter what time you eat?
A: No. If you’re looking at 2,000 calories over a 24-hour period, it doesn’t matter what the clock says when you swallow them. But the evening hours have a way of tempting many people to overeat.
Q17: Does eating breakfast really help you diet?
A: Yes, according to a study of almost 3,000 successful dieters in the National Weight Control Registry—not because it helps you eat less during the day, but because it tends to make you a little more active.
Q18: Why are those last five to 10 pounds so hard to lose?
A: Weight loss is like blackjack—the cards are stacked against you. As you get lighter, your metabolism becomes slower. And maybe there’s a good reason those last pounds are holding on for dear life: Maybe you really don’t need to get rid of them.