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How to get started on dieting - steps to take to improve success

Thomas Secrest's picture
Thomas Secrest

A journey of a thousands miles starts with planning the first step; the same is true of weight loss. Your diet must start with certain information (your caloric BASELINE) and a plan.

This is part 7 of a series on the fundamentals of dieting. Today it’s time to start your diet, but not necessarily the food restriction part. Your diet begins when you decide to take steps to reduce your weight and there is a small amount of planning the must precede your first day of living, eating and exercise changes. Links to all previous articles can be found at the bottom of the page.

Let me briefly recap yesterday's take home message: You can’t lose fat weight quickly. In an earlier article we discussed, at length, the physiological reasons your body will fight any rapid weight loss and yesterday we looked at a hypothetical person, named Jane, to demonstrated conclusively that, for Jane’s age, weight, height and daily activity, that if she fasted for one week, her absolute maximum weight loss would be less than 2 pounds -- assuming she stayed hydrated. The question is: How long can she fast?

Of course if she dehydrates, she can lose much more, but as we discussed, what’s the point of losing water weight?

FACT: Very overweight people lose weight faster than less overweight people.

Before we jump into the deep end of the pool, let me illustrate one more point, I think it is important and can affect your success. Yesterday we used Jane as an example, today I want to use a nice person who wrote and asked me to help her calculate her BMR and lifestyle calories. With her permission, and a name change, I would like to present Mary.

Mary is 47 years old, 5’ 9” tall, is 280 lbs and has a ‘moderately active’ lifestyle. Mary works at a daycare center and herds children 12 hours a day, which is what puts her the ‘moderately active’ category. Her BMR is 1976 calories/day and her BMR + lifestyle = 3063 calories/day.

REMEMBER: One pound of fat is equal to 3500 calories.

Now let’s compare Jane and Mary. Recall that we showed that if Jane fasted for one week she could, in theory, lose about 2 pounds. If Mary fasted for one week she would lose a tad over 6 pounds, but remember, part of that would be muscle mass that was converted to glucose to sustain her brain and a few other body functions. If we give the nod to Mary, she probably lost about 4 pounds after one week of fasting.

What is the weight loss PLATEAU?

As you can see, Mary can lose weight twice as fast as Jane, at least at first. The reason is Mary’s BMR is higher than Jane’s (1976 cal vs. 1560 cal) and Mary's lifestyle is more active than Jane's. However, as Mary’s weight goes down her BMR will go down as well. This is part of the PLATEAU effect.

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When you reach a plateau, you’re eating the exact same number of calories, but your weight loss is slowing down. It is caused by the steady change in your BMR.

Think of it like this: if Mary needs 3063 calories/day (without exercise) and she consumes 1872 calories/day (which was the number of calories Jane burned each day) Mary would immediately begin to lose weight. She is clearly consuming fewer calories than she burns each day (1872 vs. 3063). However, over time, as Mary loses more and more weight there will come a point where her new BMR x ‘moderately active lifestyle’ will equal 1872, at which point, Mary’s weight loss will come to an abrupt stop!

If Mary wants to continue her weight loss (without exercise) she will have to reduce her caloric intake well below 1872 calories.

Is the above sequence of events even remotely possible? No!

When Mary reaches Jane’s caloric use number (1872), she will have already lost 110 pounds and her body will be in a FULL physiological revolt. If she were able to reach this level, when she dropped her caloric intake further to, let’s say, 1500 calories/day, her body would mutiny and that would be the end of her diet.

Determine your BASELINE

Now it’s time to start your weight loss program!

  • Step 1: Use the BMR calculator to determine your BMR. This is a must have number and it is one you will need to recalculate every 10 pounds of weight loss.
  • Step 2: Determine your activity level. The more accurately you do this part the better. However, DON’T overestimate, if you do it will set you up for a big disappointment. This part will take a little effort, but on the upside, you’ll be burning calories while you do it.
    • Easy method: This is a rough estimate -- I’m not keen on this method unless you pick ‘sedentary lifestyle’ as your activity level. The others include exercise and I think it is better to calculate exercise separately and not mix them together.
    • Preferred method: There are 2 excellent web sites (web site 1) and (web site 2) for this. I would suggest using both and averaging the numbers. For both you need to enter your weight and select an occupation. The web page will show you a long list of work activities and the calories burned per hour. Try to account for every waking hour of your life -- be honest and accurate. For example: perhaps you stand for 4 hours per day, do light cleaning for 2 hours, cook for 2 hours, are walking (to work, from office to office, etc.) for 1 hour, reading for 3 hours, lifting for 1 hour, do laundry for 1 hours, …

As you can see, this part takes thought and a little time, but it is time well spent -- you need to carefully analyze each of your work days (even it they are different e.g. you have 2 jobs) and weekend. Don’t forget your weekends. Then add all the days together and divide by 7. This is the number you will add to your BMR to determine the total number of calories you burn each day (without optional exercise). This is your BASELINE.

Tomorrow we will look at what comes next. I know you are anxious to dive in and start dieting, but not yet. By doing the above you have started your weight loss program. Tomorrow we will have a reality check -- something that you must do. Without this reality check, you will reduce your chances of success dramatically -- it is the first step of any good diet.

Remember there are lots of people who want to lose weight and not all of them have stumbled onto this series of articles. If you think they’re useful, share them with your friends. I hope to see you tomorrow.

Link to Previous Articles.

If you have any questions you want answered as part of this series of articles, please let me know and I will address your question in one of the upcoming installments or email you an answer. You can contact me at: Thomas Secrest