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Eat less, move more: The big, fat truth about weight loss

Updated on August 19, 2016

Weight loss is really simple when you break it down to the basics. It's all mathematics: you simply have to consume less calories than your body burns. But that doesn't mean it's easy! Trying to lose weight, especially those "last few pounds", can seem like an uphill battle, but if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight.

As a society we are obsessed with weight loss, as is proven by the plethora of books, TV programs and websites all about weight loss. Many of us, myself included, have spent a fortune on a gym membership we haven't used. And who hasn't tried one of those crazy fad diets? We all want to lose 10 pounds in a week, but it's about time we realize that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The facts

  • The medical community say that a 1-2 pound weight loss per week is healthy.
  • The recommended calorie intake is 2000 kcal/day for women and 2500 kcal/day for men, but older and more sedentary people will require less energy.
  • In order to lose 1 pound in a week, you have to consume 3500 calories fewer than you burn - this means a 500 calorie reduction per day (on average) compared to the above figures.
  • This calorie reduction can be split between diet and exercise - for instance you could walk for around 45 minutes at 3.5 miles/hr and burn around 250 calories, and then reduce your energy intake by 250 calories below the recommended level, totalling 500 calories per day.

Eat less

Eating less is often the most difficult part of a weight loss plan. You don't have to count every single calorie to succeed in this part of your weight loss plan. Just have a general idea of how many calories are in your basic foods, and try to keep it to the recommended level. If you check the labels on the foods you eat and cook recipes that have low calories, you will eventually develop a good idea of the calories in your foods without having to count.

  • Banana (1 large) - 135 calories
  • Potato chips (1 serving - 1 oz / 28 g) - 139 calories
  • Roasted chicken, no skin (1 serving - 1 cup / 140 g) - 234 calories

Food is often linked to emotions, so stress can lead to eating too many calories. In order to become more healthy it is important to be conscious of what you are actually consuming, but also to be more positive about yourself and your choices.

Here are some tips that I found useful in my own weight loss journey:

  1. Don't think of it as a "diet". Just change what you eat every day so that it includes fewer calories in a way that fits in with your lifestyle. This change in mindset will make you more positive about what you eat. Think of some easy fixes that work for you; drink more water, increase your fiber intake to feel more full, cut out alcohol on week nights, eat fewer fried foods, swap chips and sweets for healthier snacks, or eat smaller meals.
  2. Eat slowly and resist the urge to go for that second helping. It takes your body around 10 minutes to send the signal to your brain that you are full, so try to wait a while to see if you really are still hungry. If you want more of something really delicious, just remember that if you don't eat it all now you can enjoy it again the next day. One easy way to keep your portion sizes down is to use a smaller plate - this really makes difference to how much you eat.
  3. Write down everything you eat. Writing down everything you eat makes you recognize exactly what you're eating - you might be surprised how much you really eat. Plus, if you're still gaining weight, later on you can look back at what you've been eating and make adjustments. You could also try using a tool like a website or iPhone application to calculate your calorie consumption and exercise and do the work for you, like or the iPhone app "Lose It!" (both are free) - it just takes some effort to input all of the foods you eat and exercise you do.
  4. Don't eat the same thing every day. Some dietary professionals will say that reducing the variety in your diet makes you eat less. Common sense says that not only is it incredibly boring to eat the same thing all of the time, but you probably won't get a good range of vitamins, minerals and all that other nutritional stuff. Also, I have noticed that varying my calorie intake slightly from day to day results in more consistent weight loss - probably because eating more calories on some days stops your body from going into starvation prevention mode.
  5. Follow the 80 - 20 rule. Eat healthily 80% of the time, but allow yourself some freedom the other 20% of the time. Not depriving yourself will help you to feel that you're not on a diet - perhaps eat healthily on weekdays and then spoil yourself a bit on the weekend. Don't make any foods taboo, because this may make you want them even more. Most importantly - don't panic! If you eat a doughnut, that doesn't mean the whole day is a write off and you can eat a plate of fries and a pint of ice cream. Accept that it's okay to indulge every now and then - you just have to try to eat a bit less for the rest of the day (or the next day) to make up for it.

Move more

There are 2 basic types of exercise: strength training and cardiovascular exercise. Any exercise is good, but if what you want is simply to shed the pounds, then cardiovascular exercise is the thing for you. This means running, cycling, and walking - exercises that really get your blood pumping. These exercises won't build much muscle - they just allow your body to burn energy (calories). Strength training - like lifting weights - is designed for building and toning muscle. Muscle weighs more than fat, BUT it also burns more calories. Therefore, if you build more muscle, then you will burn more calories even when you are at rest. Exercise (of any kind) has also been shown to help suppress your appetite. I believe that a sustainable weight loss plan includes both cardio and strength training.

Calorie burning per exercise depends largely on your weight, but here are some approximate figures for 1 hour of exercise for a 160 pound person (for more information, see the Mayo Clinic web site)

  • Aerobics, high impact - 500 calories/hr
  • Golf, carrying clubs - 325 calories/hr
  • Walking, 3.5 mph - 275 calories/hr

If you're "exercise-phobic" like many people are, then you will need to find ways to make exercise more attractive to you. Making exercise part of your daily life is the key to accomplishing this. Not all of us can go to the gym or do traditional exercise every day, so we have to find other ways to burn those calories. Changing the way you do everyday things is a good way to succeed; if you drive to work, you could try walking or cycling, or even parking at the far end of the parking lot; if you play video games, try out some Nintendo Wii or Kinect for XBox 360 games. Another great idea is trying out a new activity that you think you will enjoy - like joining a local sports league, getting your friends together to go for walks, or even taking up gardening. Every bit of extra activity counts, so get up off the couch and get moving.

Bringing it all together

So, by now you know the basics and you have some helpful hints on how to eat less and how to move more, but there are a few extra tips that will help you to succeed.

  1. Set an achievable goal with a deadline. If you want to lose pounds, then aim to lose a maximum of 1-2 pounds a week. You can also set goals in terms of general fitness, inches around the waist/chest/legs, or simply the number of times you exercise per week. Choose a goal that works for you, and be positive about achieving it.
  2. Weigh yourself at least once a week. This is an easy way to keep track of whether or not whatever you are doing for weight loss is working. If your weight goes up or doesn't go down for a few weeks running then you probably have to tweak your diet or exercise regimen.
  3. Have fun! Don't make it too serious or you will have difficulty sustaining your new lifestyle.


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    • profile image

      Natalie 5 years ago

      Thanks for the post! I agree-- fad diets are irritating. I can't keep up with who is on which diet these days in my group of friends alone.

      It does just come down to eat healthier, move more= lose weight.

      The interesting thing to me is, I have been an avid athlete for as long as I can remember. I've never really needed to lose weight.

      But recently I switched to a NextDesk (adjustable height desk) rather than sitting in front of my computer all day and it has made SUCH a difference! Better posture, more energy, and even weight loss. Honestly, I didn't even know that anything was wrong until I started standing and noticing the difference in how I felt. I just thought I was doing all I could by working out for an hour and a half a day. Not true!

      Anyway, I'm excited about it. I've been using it for 4 months-ish now, and I have been telling people about it for about 3.

      So there you are. Check it out on their site if you're interested!

      Thanks again.


    • profile image

      tried and tested 5 years ago

      weight loss is not as simple as calories in/calories out. there is plenty of scientific evidence to show that the laws of thermodynamics do not really apply to the human body, it is much more complex. If it were that simple, we would all be skinny. It is this thinking that has prevented governments and the food industry from investigating the real causes of weight gain and creating a world that supports people to lose weight forever. Low carbing is really the only way forward - and unlike low fat/low calories, more exercise, there is plenty of real scientific evidence

    • chirls profile image

      chirls 6 years ago from Indiana (for now)

      This type of diet is very achievable. It's only healthy to lose 1-2 pounds a week so the calorie deficit isn't that big, especially if you're exercising moderately. Once you achieve your desired weight, you can eat a bit more. As I mentioned to another commenter earlier, I'm just sharing what worked for me, and what makes sense to me based on what I've read and experienced.

    • profile image

      pollito 6 years ago

      And exactly how do you sustain a calorie deficit in time, Ms chirls? Everybody can resist hunger one day, one week, even a whole Lent if you are a devout Catholic, but sooner or later your body wins and get the food it craves.

      And it's even more perplexing for me how on earth do you ensure that your body will keep burning daily the desired amount of calories. By adding exercise and more exercise?

      That way you're constantly working against your body. The first thing to do is to address the altered hormonal mechanisms that are responsible for an excessive storage of fat, AND THEN spontaneous calorie restriction will ensue. So calories count (...big tautology) only they're consequences and not causes.

    • profile image

      Teenage Diet 7 years ago

      Hi Chirls,

      I enjoyed reading this hub and agree with your findings, very informative.


      P.S Don't let Razwell upset you, his motive is clear by referring to his blog twice, tells a story of self promotion.

    • chirls profile image

      chirls 7 years ago from Indiana (for now)

      Hey SaraMarieJames, thanks for the great tips! I eat a lot more healthily since I've been cooking, too. It's fun to try out new healthy recipes... and healthy does not mean boring! I eat so much tastier food than ever before. I love Jamie Oliver - his new 30 minute meals book is great!

    • SaraMarieJames profile image

      SaraMarieJames 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      Fantastic hub! I am a STRONG advocate for eating less. I think it's really about changing your mindset. Eating can be fun without the guilt. I think one of the best ways to do this is to learn how to cook! When I lost weight learning to cook made the most impact. I learned how to cook a Mediterranean/Italian foods. They are easy, fun, delicious and super-healthy for you. I recommend buying some cook books by chefs who write healthy, delicious recipes. Check out any or all of the books written by Jamie Oliver. His food is delicious and his recipes always turn out.

      There are some other books too that you can check out:

      1. Williams and Sonoma's "Taste of Italy" and "Taste of Tuscany" are two awesome cook books.

      2. Reader's Digest "The Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking" which features 1001 authentic Italian recipes (this is the book I turn to time and again).

    • chirls profile image

      chirls 7 years ago from Indiana (for now)

      @Eztranfer: Wow, what an amazing achievement! Congrats on having lost so much weight! I completely agree with you that it's all about changing your lifestyle - eating healthier and staying active. I have to confess that I do live to eat, but it's all about moderation for me! Thanks for sharing your success story and great tips.

    • Eztransfer profile image

      Eztransfer 7 years ago from Denver Colorado

      Thank you for pointing out the only true method of weight loss. The true method is to use your brain and monitor everything you put in your mouth. Learn to live with being a little hungry, it's good for your spirit. Don't live to eat, eat just to stay alive. The second and probably most important part is, you must get off your butt and be active. Step away from the couch, the computer, and the afternoon naps on the couch. Get up, take a long walk every day. Bottom line is, it's a lifestyle change. All those fad diets and crappy exercise equipment doesn't do anything except possibly tone you up a little. But the real weight loss comes from eating healthy and not sitting on your butt all the time. How do I know? I have gone from 330 pounds to 250 pounds and still dropping in the last year. Now I know weighing 250 pounds is still a lot of weight, but it's a big breakthrough for me because I never could begin to get any weight to come off. I expect another year I'll be able to pose for both before and after pictures.

    • chirls profile image

      chirls 7 years ago from Indiana (for now)

      Hey Razwell, thanks for commenting again. It's an interesting theory but I'm not jumping on your bandwagon just yet. If it makes you feel any better, I'm not making any money from my "internet crackpot" ideas, I'm just trying to help people out. These tips worked for me, so I hope they can help others as well.

    • profile image

      Razwell 7 years ago

      A calorie is NOT a calorie with regards to LOSING FAT.

      All bodybuilders know this.

      There are SPECIFIC exercises and SPECIFIC foods that helkp control fat loss and gain.

      As far as the obese, that is fat cell DISREGULATION.

      FACT: Obesity's genetic componet is the SAME as height.

      Obesity has been with us since at least 23,000 B.C. that we know for sure.

      Obesity research is FULL OF vast unknowns. Obesity is very complex and far from solved.

    • profile image

      Razwell 7 years ago

      You have a PROFOUND lack of understanding about obesity.

      The laws of thermodynamics DO NOT and CANNOT explain the chemical behavior of fat cell receptors.

      My blog shows the NUMEROUS contradictions to the caloric bank account model.

      We need to know this to cure obesity.

    • chirls profile image

      chirls 7 years ago from Indiana (for now)

      rich_hayles & That's the way: Glad you both agree that obesity is related to calorie intake. Thanks for reading. :)

    • That's the way profile image

      That's the way 7 years ago

      Great article! Too much calories is the reason of obesity. Body can't make fat if there is no sufficient calories. Saying that obesity is genetic would put Down syndrome and obesity in the same group of disorders and that is absurdly.

      Just keep writing good articles like this, Chirls!

    • rich_hayles profile image

      rich_hayles 7 years ago

      Brilliant chirls!

      Someone speaking the truth is quite refreshing. Get excercising, watch your food intake and enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

      Razwell, are you really telling me that burnng more calories than you eat will not lose you weight?

      Good stuff, keep it up :)

    • chirls profile image

      chirls 7 years ago from Indiana (for now)

      Razwell, I agree that there is a genetic component to our weight, but I'm not ready to discount the caloric argument just yet. If obesity is a completely genetic/biological problem, then why is it increasing so rapidly in so many parts of the world?

    • profile image

      Razwell 7 years ago

      FAT loss is NOT mathematics, it is BIOLOGICAL.

      Obesity is a genetic as height. My blog DISCREDITS your misinformation.

    • chirls profile image

      chirls 7 years ago from Indiana (for now)

      SEO Company - Thanks for pointing that out. While I believe that weight loss is largely about calorie intake, I agree that people should eat a variety of healthy foods. My goal with this article is to demystify weight loss, but perhaps I should have mentioned more about nutrition. Thank you for your comments.

      Graceomalley - Thank you for your kind words! I really enjoyed your hub about being a good neighbour, and I'm glad that you enjoy my writing, too.

    • graceomalley profile image

      graceomalley 7 years ago

      Congratulations on this Hubnugget & your two others! Three nuggets is quite an accomplishment. This one has good, solid information in an engaging style. I look forward to reading your others.

    • profile image

      SEO Company 7 years ago

      I agree that portion control has a place in one’s overall dietary considerations but this article failed to touch on the fact that not all foods are created equally. It doesn’t matter if someone eats over their portion of leafy greens daily, for example, but if they always eat over their portion of ice cream, then there’s a problem. You need to factor in the nutrition and fiber content of the food, almost before the portion size is even considered.

    • chirls profile image

      chirls 7 years ago from Indiana (for now)

      ToddMan - having cheat days makes a healthy diet and lifestyle so much easier to manage! It sounds like you've found a plan that works for you. Thanks for sharing.

      Wooded and fionageler - thanks for the compliments! It's nice to know that my article was useful for you both. Thanks for stopping by. :)

    • profile image

      fionageler 7 years ago from london

      Great work , you put down a lot of usefull staf

    • profile image

      Wooded 7 years ago

      These are some really great tips - Thanks a lot for putting this together.

    • TheToddMan profile image

      TheToddMan 7 years ago from Wichita, KS

      You've got the basics covered, Chris. I especially like what you wrote about journaling and the 80/20 rule. I personally take one day a week as a cheat day and I throw in 5 others throughout the year to cover the holidays and special occasions. This keeps me in control. Journaling-wise, it's all about confess, reflect and redirect. Nothing will help you do a better job of sticking to your plan than holding your accountable to your commitment by writing it all down.

    • chirls profile image

      chirls 7 years ago from Indiana (for now)

      I'm sure that weight loss surgery is very effective, but in my opinion it should only be used as a last resort. It's generally healthier to lose weight more slowly over time by making simple changes to your lifestyle. Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image

      Health Quality Ebooks 7 years ago

      I believe that food portioning works well enough, however weight loss surgery is what can really help the obese person lose the weight quickly and permanently and food portion control to be used in conjunction with the weight loss surgery.

    • chirls profile image

      chirls 7 years ago from Indiana (for now)

      mirtlesquirtle - I'm glad you found my hub useful. I often find myself eating the same fruits all the time, too. It's great that you're adding some variety but watch your calorie intake since some fruits have a surprising amount of calories.

      AllieRambles - I'm all for the non-diet. It makes my life so much easier! Thanks for stopping by.

    • AllieRambles profile image

      AllieRambles 7 years ago from Bay Area, California

      Great hub. I love your 80-20 rule. I think that is how I eat but I never thought of a name for it. And I wish we could just drop the whole "diet" word all together and just consider eating right with no name attached to it.

    • mirtlesquirtle profile image

      mirtlesquirtle 7 years ago

      I have not tried any diet cause I normally like eating fruits. However, I eat the same fruits everyday so your article enlightened me regarding eating different fruits. Thank you.

    • nikitha p profile image

      nikitha p 7 years ago from India

      great hub! I like it.

    • francismel profile image

      Melissa Francis 7 years ago from london

      That is so true, like your subtitle!

    • chirls profile image

      chirls 7 years ago from Indiana (for now)

      It really does work! Thanks for your comments. :)

    • billnad profile image

      billnad 7 years ago

      I like the list of eating tips. I know that lots of people are looking for a secret that isn't there. you know lose 20 pounds all at once without trying. Really you are right 1-2 pounds a week by eating better and getting exercise is not sexy but it really is true

    • chirls profile image

      chirls 7 years ago from Indiana (for now)

      Ibagwell, getting the exercise in can be tricky, but so worthwhile! It gives me so much more energy. Zendora, your strategy sounds a lot like mine. Good luck with it and thanks for reading.

    • Zendora profile image

      Carol Marshall 7 years ago from NC

      Wonderful hub! Your suggestions are excellent, if only folks would stick with it, it will certainly work. I stay away from fast food and cook homemade meals. I stay trim and healthier.

      Thanks for the interesting hub!

    • lbagwell profile image

      lbagwell 7 years ago

      I am a firm believer in eating less and moving more. I started a calorie reduction diet about a month ago and it's going great. I dont have to worry about how many carbs or sugars or eating or drinking particular things at the right time, I just eat what I want but stick to a certain amount of calories per day. Ofcourse I try to choose healthier options now. Counting calories is easy once you start to learn the calories in basic foods that you eat everyday. I just have to start exercising now.

    • chirls profile image

      chirls 7 years ago from Indiana (for now)

      Thanks for the HubNuggets nomination! This hub was fun to write, and I'm glad you liked it. :)

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Hmmm a lot of us are indeed into weight loss. :) I love your hub and this healthy perspective! Your hub has been nominated for the Hubnuggets! You have to check it out and join the Hubnugget festivities! Enjoy!

    • profile image

      Duchess OBlunt 7 years ago

      Good job! and congratulations on the hubnugget nomination.

    • chirls profile image

      chirls 7 years ago from Indiana (for now)

      All of these crazy fad diets really annoy me, so I just wanted to stick to the facts. Thanks for reading! :)

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

      Great hub, chirls! You really get to the heart of the matter!