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Here’s the bottom line on weight loss: unless more calories are being used than consumed, no weight loss will happen. There’s no magic. There is plenty of confusion and struggle, however. Simply eating less backfires and it’s because of hormones. Your body really doesn’t want your weight to change. Oh, you’re eating less? Ok, we’ll just slow everything down to make sure you don’t waste away! To win you need to maintain a high metabolism. You have Calories In on one side of the equation and you have Calories Out on the other, but Calories Out comprises your total burn rate, not just how many minutes you stayed on the treadmill. Increase that total burn rate, i.e., your metabolism, and you’ll get way farther ahead. Here are six key actions to take to lose weight.

  1. EAT REAL FOOD! Real food is what grows in the ground or has a mother. Does this mean never eat a potato chip, cookie, or cake again? Of course not, you’re allowed treats. But the majority of the time, eat REAL FOOD! Your body thrives on real food. You’ll feel satisfied from the nutrients, it will minimize cravings and you’ll naturally find your weight doing what it should do. You won’t last in weight loss by simply eating less of the crap.

  2. EAT PROTEIN! Be sure to get protein every time you eat. Healthy fats (olive oil, nuts) and proteins (peanut butter, nuts, lean meats, eggs, beans, dairy products) keep you satiated longer and enter the blood stream at a much slower rate. This means you use up the energy (calories) as you need it rather than having it broken down and into the blood stream right away. Which is what happens when you eat something that’s all carbs.

  3. EAT FREQUENTLY! Eat 4-5 mini meals a day, about three hours apart. Long periods of time without eating cause hormones to slow down metabolism and majorly increase the chances you’ll be ravenous and eat more. And don’t eat within a few hours of going to bed. Your body’s not ready to use calories then. It’s winding down and you’ll only store them as fat. (UPDATE 2014: We’re not so sure about this anymore! It may technically be true about hormones and whatnot but it’s a second-order effect. The first-order effect is simply how much you’re eating. So any meal you skip or delay, that’s overall a win for weight loss!)

  4. EAT ENOUGH, but not too much! Metabolism will respond negatively to undereating. Eat to satisfaction and when you feel hunger again, eat to satisfaction again. Think of a scale from 1 to 10 where 1 is starving and 10 is really uncomfortably full. If you tune in to true hunger feelings (stop and assess before just grabbing something!) and try to eat when you’re at a 3 (first physical feeling of hunger) and eat until you hit 7 or 8 (satisfied/content), you’ll stay in the right range for maximum metabolism and you’ll find you have to eat every three hours to stay in that range. (UPDATE 2014: See update to #3.)

  5. EAT VEGGIES! Having trouble with #4 above? Then eat more vegetables (the green, the leafy, the carrot — this is not a call to eat all the potato you want). Think of them like packing peanuts for your stomach. The more veggies you eat, the less room for other stuff. If you struggle with getting enough veggies, try heating up frozen veggies with dinner and lunch. Serve yourself tons of veggies and eat them first; you’ll be satisfied without getting seconds of the other stuff. Finally, don’t fret about putting olive oil on them, or salt (it’ll be less than the amount of sodium you’d get from the canned equivalent, for one). The fullness to calorie ratio in the veggies will more than compensate for the calories in the olive oil and the heart healthy fats are good for you.

  6. MOVE! The more intensity, even in small bits, the higher your metabolism will be. (Higher metabolism means more calories that you’ll burn during and after the workouts.) Completely turned off by intense workouts? Take walks, play, clean the house, etc. Do anything that gets you moving because any extra calories burned will help.

Whatever you do, don’t feel overwhelmed by the information here! Take one call-to-action away with you and work on it for a while. Don’t expect to change multiple habits at once. Take one tip and experiment with incorporating it into your life. Come back later and try another. Also, take it day by day, thinking about what you can do to go in the right direction today. Worry about tomorrow tomorrow. Beeminder is a great tool for helping you focus on one day at a time. Just be on that Yellow Brick Road tomorrow and you’re all good.

by Melanie Reeves-Wicklow, HFS
Beeminder’s Resident Fitness Expert

PS: Related reading: “Unhappy Meals” by Michael Pollan.