Want to Lose 5 Pounds? Here’s How to Actually Do It.

Published On 10/26/2015 Published On 10/26/2015

Just because you can lose 5lb by Friday drinking nothing but cayenne pepper- and lemon-laced water doesn’t mean you should. Sure, quick-fix diets are tempting -- and frankly, they’re effective.

For about a minute.

Then you realize you can’t actually survive solely on cabbage soup or grapefruit, and you relapse to your previous eating habits. And the cycle continues.

Losing 5lb following a legitimate plan certainly isn’t as seductive as the promise of dropping a full size today, but it works. Give yourself five to eight weeks to achieve your goal -- basically forever in Internet time, but not so bad in real life -- and you’ll see results.


Develop (and follow) a personalized plan

Before you run off to dive into a 1,200-calorie diet plan based on some random article you read in some random magazine, stop and breathe. To achieve successful weight loss, you have to follow a plan specific to you, not whatever “average human prototype” that generic article was created for.

Take a minute to estimate your own daily caloric needs based on height, weight, age and activity level. The Mayo Clinic has a good calculator to get you started.

This calculator provides an estimated number of calories you should consume to maintain your current weight at your current activity level. To lose weight at a rate of one pound per week, you need to knock 500 calories off the provided estimate to create a 3,500-calorie deficit over the course of a week (a pound of fat is the equivalent of 3,500 calories).

Once you know how many calories you should aim for to start losing weight, create a plan -- either on your own or with a professional’s help -- that you’ll actually stick to. Don’t try to lose weight faster by reducing your calorie consumption too much and starving yourself. It’s a plan that always backfires.


Keep an honest account of your habits

Humans have an uncanny ability to underestimate calories consumed while overestimating activity level. The result? A steadily growing belly.

To make sure you’re actually sticking to your calorie-controlled healthy eating plan, you must track your consumption. I know it sounds terrible and time-consuming, but it’ll pay off in weight loss, especially when you’re first getting started. Try an app like MyFitnessPal to track your meals electronically. If you prefer old-school pen and paper, pick up a fitbook, an excellent 12-week fitness and nutrition diary.

But this only works if you’re completely honest with yourself! You need to record everything you eat and drink, including your late-night Cheetos binge and the regrettable third margarita. It shouldn’t feel like you’re punishing yourself -- you’re simply gathering all the relevant information you need to make a change.


Stop drinking your calories

Glass of orange juice? 120 calories.
Venti soy cafe mocha, no whip? 370 calories.
Single serving of an Odwalla Super Greens juice? 130 calories.
Glass of red wine? 120 calories.

And just like that you’ve added more 800 calories to your diet. Yikes, right?

The trouble with drinking calories is threefold:
1. You tend to forget about them.
2.They’re often packed with simple sugars and devoid of substantial nutrition.
3. They don’t fill you up. Research has shown that drinking calories and eating calories is substantially different when it comes to hunger and satiety. You’re more likely to feel full after you eat a meal, making it easier to stick to a calorie-controlled plan.

A simple way to avoid this trap is to keep drinking water, and lots of it.

Stop believing that all calories are equal

Seriously, stop. That whole “a calorie is a calorie” lingo is nonsense. There’s a big difference between 100 calories of refined, chemical-laden cookies and 100 calories of broccoli or grilled chicken.

By consuming whole foods -- high-quality proteins, unrefined carbohydrates (including 100% whole grains, fruits and veggies) and good-for-you fats (healthy oils, nuts and seeds), you’ll give your body what it needs to rev up your metabolism.

If you feel like this will be IMPOSSIBLE, you may want to clear out your pantry of all the tempting, delicious goodies you have on hand. I know, I know; it sucks!


Train smarter

The exercise physiologist in me hates admitting this, but exercise is secondary to diet when it comes to weight loss. While exercise is fabulous for many reasons, unless you’re watching what you eat, it’s probably not going to help you reach your initial weight-loss goals.

That said, exercise can help speed your progress by increasing your daily calorie burn. The trick is to get the biggest bang for your buck by engaging in a combination of strength training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). These two forms of exercise don’t just burn calories while you work, but they significantly increase EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), boosting your post-exercise calorie burn. That’s free calories, folks!

If you’re feeling especially ambitious, try a 30-minute high-intensity interval program that includes strength-training moves, such as squats and pushups, four to five days a week. Not only will you burn calories during and following each routine, you’ll also gain muscle mass, helping you achieve a toned physique as the weight starts coming off.

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Laura Williams is an exercise physiologist and fitness writer who rarely eats crap and loves herself naked. Follow her fitness musings on Twitter: @girlsgonesporty.



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