Whether you maintain, lose, or gain weight all depends on the principle of energy balance — or, as most others call it, calories in VS. calories out.
Specifically for weight loss, you want the calories you consume to be less than the calories you burn. This is otherwise known as negative energy balance, or a state of a caloric deficit.
But, while the concept behind it is simple, the question remains:
Is weight loss easy?
It’s a matter of personal opinion. To the lucky few, it can be. But from where I and many others are standing, it’s not, largely because losing weight requires people to step out of their comfort zones, change their lifestyles, and develop new, healthier habits.
Plus, the basic calories in VS. calories out equation isn’t as easy to follow for some people, partly because of different metabolisms, genetics, hormonal imbalances, and other circumstances.
But while it can be difficult, it’s certainly not impossible. You can even make it easier if you sift through truth and myth, be realistic about your goals and timelines, and know what types of food have a strong impact on your weight.
We’re talking about all these today, as well as a few tips and tricks to make losing weight smoother. Let’s start with facts and myths.
Facts about weight loss
Each person has a different metabolism
We’ve touched on energy balance earlier but here are a few more details:
First, it’s easier to keep track of the calories you take in relative to the calories you burn because you can physically track the number of calories in virtually any food you eat.
However, metabolic rates can be different for everyone, even among people with similar builds and lifestyles. Hence why some people generally burn more calories than others, and vice versa.
The main reason behind this is what’s called resting metabolic rate (RMR) or resting energy expenditure (REE). Whatever you decide to call it though, RMR/REE is essentially the number of calories you burn outside of physical exercise.
According to research, your sex, age, and obesity status affect your RMR. These factors are also what make it different for everybody and partly why losing weight is easier for others but harder for some.
Exercise can speed up your metabolism
…which, in turn, makes it easier to lose weight.
On that note, any type of exercise will have you move more, leading to more calories burned. Different types of exercise also have different benefits, with cardio vs. strength training being the most common topic for debate.
To keep it short though, cardio sessions typically burn more calories than strength training. So, if your goal was to burn as many calories as you can while you’re working out, cardio might be the best choice.
On the other hand, the metabolic effects of strength training can last hours after your session has ended, especially with more intense workouts. In the gym, we call this the afterburn effect but in more scientific terms, it’s known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).
In any case, cardio is generally better for overall weight loss whereas strength training is far superior for muscle growth. Choose whatever type of exercise better fits your goals and personal preference. Or, better yet, do them both.
Muscle boosts your metabolism (but not as much as you might think)
You’ve probably heard of this already, and yes, building muscle does speed up your RMR. However, it’s not as drastic a change as these muscle-bound social media influencers make it up to be.
Research says gaining 2 kg of muscle would only increase the number of calories you burn by around 50 kcal per day. Also, the amount of time you need to gain that much muscle is different from person to person but, on average, it’d probably take around 3 months.
I’m not saying that building muscle is all for naught though. After all, 50 kcal per day adds up in the long run. In a month, that’s an added 1400 calories burned. Build more than 2 kg of muscle, and that’s an even greater boost to your RMR.
Not all calories are equal
Here’s something else you might have already heard. This one’s true, too.
Simply from a number’s standpoint, the USDA says carbs and protein each hold 4 calories per gram. Fat, on the other hand, holds 9.
From there, it should be fairly understandable how overconsumption of fatty food can lead to weight gain. Surprisingly though, recent studies have shown that carbs, not fat, are associated with the uptick in obesity over the past few years.
Added sugar, the kind that’s added to food and drinks, in particular, is the most troublesome since it can alter your biology and ultimately lead to insulin and leptin resistance. Consequently, these imbalances increase your appetite and make you feel tired all the time, leading to weight gain.
If we take it a step further, not all carbs, fats, and proteins are equal either. There are “good” and “bad” kinds of these micronutrients.
For carbs, you want to avoid refined carbs like white rice, white flour, and any product made with white flour and stick to whole grain. For protein, lean sources such as chicken and whitefish are generally preferred but fatty fish have their place because of their omega-3 content. For fat, you want food rich in unsaturated fat rather than its saturated and trans-fat counterparts.
Weight loss myths
Myth #1: Losing weight should be a steady process
It’s not, but to paint you a better picture, are you familiar with what a weight loss curve is?
It’s a graphic representation of your daily weight loss patterns. You can log your weight daily on apps like Libra (for Android users) and Happy Scale (for iPhone users) and they’ll automatically show you what your weight loss curve looks like.
Having said that, the graphs of people who have successfully lost weight look bumpy rather than straight. It rarely ever is, according to research.
Several factors are responsible for this but it’s largely because of fluid retention. This can happen to both men and women but studies have also shown how it may be more evident in women because they hold on to more water during their red days.
So, don’t worry too much if your weight fluctuates a little every time you step on the weighing scale. Realistically, just make sure your weight loss curve shows a downward trend despite these bumps.
Myth #2: Saunas and steam rooms will help you burn fat
I try to stay away from gyms with saunas (largely because I think it’s unnecessarily more expensive) but whenever I do become a temporary member, I always come across people who spend more time in saunas and steam rooms than they do on the treadmill or the weight rack. They believe it’s a no-effort way to lose weight, but it’s really not.
It’s partially true because it does tip the scales but that’s all because you sweat out a good bunch of water weight, not fat.
Plus, there’s a chance you’re going to just regain that water weight on your next meal anyway, putting you back in square 1.
Myth #3: Spot reduction works!
Uh, news flash: no, it doesn’t.
Another thing I frequently come across in nearly every gym I go to are people training specific body parts in hopes of burning fat away from that specific area and that area only. It doesn’t work that way.
For example, research comparing the amount of fat and muscle between the arms of tennis players found out that while their dominant arms (i.e. the arms they use to swing the racket) were more muscular, the amount of fat in both arms was the same.
Had spot reduction been real, the dominant arm would’ve had less fat, too.
Case in point, working solely on your abs isn’t going to flatten just your stomach, it’ll result in weight loss everywhere else.
Myth #4: Supplementation is the key to weight loss
This is something I can relate to because back in my early college days, I was told that if I was in the gym and I wasn’t supplementing, it was pointless.
I didn’t have any money for supplements then so I went about my exercises without it. Years later, I’m better for it.
Don’t get me wrong though. I am not condemning the use of supplements. They have their place in body transformations, too, but their place is not above good and nutritious food, consistent physical activity, and overall healthy habits.
Myth #5: Carbs and fat make you, well… fat.
Wrong. Excess calories make you fat. It doesn’t matter if those calories come from carbs, fat, or even protein. However, I won’t deny that there is some historical truth to this myth.
As previously stated, carbs — or, more specifically, added sugar — have been associated as one of the main reasons for modern-day obesity.
Fat, on the other hand, is the most calorie-dense macronutrient and the unhealthy kind is found excessively on virtually every type of junk food we eat.
But, the real culprit is excess calories. It doesn’t matter if those calories come from fat, carbs, or even protein. As long as you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.
This brings us to…
Myth #6: Go big or go home
This probably isn’t a myth per se, but it’s something I hear a lot. Not only do I think it’s unrealistic for most people, but it can also be unhealthy.
Thing is, not everyone can hit the ground running. A lot of people with excess weight, in particular, may also have some health issues that don’t allow them to train as intensely as most people would on their first day.
For example, knee pain may make squatting heavy loads impossible. Lack of conditioning from being chronically sedentary may make jogging a nonviable option. Exercising with insulin resistance or diabetes may lead to hypoglycemia without taking the necessary precautions.
The list goes on and on but, from a medical practitioner’s standpoint, my point is that no one’s effort should be dismissed regardless of how small those efforts may be relative to the perspective of others. They may seem insignificant but to the person doing it, it could be a huge step.
Myth #7: A healthy lifestyle costs more money
Honestly, there’s some truth to this. Research says healthier diets cost $1.48 more per day compared to their less healthy counterparts. Granted, that’s not too much of a difference but it can feel amplified if you’re already functioning on a limited budget.
That doesn’t include fees for whatever fitness class you enroll in either.
But, if you stop and think about it, people with less money than you have maintained a healthy weight and physique. So, it doesn’t always have to be more expensive.
For one, you could use cheaper cuts of meat. They’re tougher and take more time to cook but they can be just as good. More tips about losing weight on a budget later in the article, so keep on scrolling.
Myth #8: Weight loss food tastes bad
Since we’re talking about food, weight loss food doesn’t have to taste bad.
Trust me, I get where this is coming from. I mean, after all, most of us think that a pepperoni pizza with extra cheese tastes so much better than broccoli and spinach, right?
But the truth is that you just need to learn how to cook healthy but delicious food. It doesn’t even have to be the healthiest out there, just healthier than the junk you’re used to.
For example, a meal with banana pancakes with berries and yogurt on the side is going to get you a good dose of protein, fat, and carbs for breakfast. Sure, you get some refined carbs from the pancake but that meal is still going to be healthier and more weight loss-friendly than reheating 2 slices of leftover pizza. Tastes pretty darn good, too.
Here are a few other foods you might want in your pantry:
Weight loss friendly foods
Unsurprisingly, the best weight loss-friendly foods are also considered some of the healthiest. These include whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fat that are also terrific sources of various vitamins and minerals.
Have these foods at the ready, learn how to prepare them, and you shouldn’t have to worry about bland food while shedding pounds ever again.
To me, eggs are perhaps the closest thing to perfect when it comes to weight loss-friendly foods. They’re loaded with nutrients, inexpensive, widely available, and have a ton of easy ways to prepare.
Specifically, when it comes to nutrients, it’s an excellent source of protein and healthy fat which I think makes for a good way to jump-start your day.
Research suggests that a high protein breakfast (they used eggs and beef) may improve satiety and cravings which can help make weight loss easier.
Honestly? I’m not the biggest fan of seafood but there’s no denying how effective they can be for weight loss.
For one, a study says that seafood has functional components such as omega-3 fatty acids that you can hardly get anywhere else. EPA and DHA, in particular, are found in fatty fish like salmon, trout, and herring.
Harvard says that these omega-3 fatty acids are key parts of cellular health, hormonal production, and genetic function. It’s also because of these that omega-3 is known to help prevent and regulate certain chronic diseases like heart diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and several others.
Whitefish and shellfish, on the other hand, have relatively lower levels of omega-3 but they also serve as amazing substitutes for lean meat.
Speaking of lean meat…
Like eggs, it’s relatively cheap, widely available, packed with protein, and can be prepared in numerous ways.
I think it’s bland on its own but add in some herbs and spices, grill it, and you’ve got yourself an easy, quick, and flavorful meal.
You could also use it as the main dish, chop it up into bite-sized pieces to add to your salad, or use it as an ingredient for soup.
Whatever way you want to cook it, I think the versatility of chicken breasts rarely disappoints.
Moreover, many experts believe that protein is more filling than both fat and carbs. There’s hardly any research that proves this (that I know of) but one study does show how a high protein diet is better at boosting metabolism compared to a high carb diet.
In any case, this makes chicken breasts and other lean sources of protein (e.g. whitefish, lean beef, venison, etc.) effective weight loss foods.
All sorts of fruit!
From apples to watermelons and everything in between, fruits are packed full of vitamins and minerals without having too many calories. They’re also amazing sources of dietary fiber, water, and naturally occurring sugar which not only makes fruits filling, but also incredibly delicious and healthy.
For example, tomatoes.
A cup of chopped tomatoes gives you over 2 g of fiber, a whole lot of vitamins A, C, and K, and about 95% of its weight is water. All that for only 32 calories. Not too shabby, eh?
Other fruits have similar profiles, too, with perhaps the biggest difference being vitamins and minerals.
Guavas, for example, are packed with vitamin C and you already know how bananas are rich sources of potassium.
It’s a fruit, too, I get it, but allow me to single out avocados for a bit.
Unlike your typical fruit, avocados are calorie bombs because they also come with a whopping amount of fat. According to The SelfNutrition Data, a single avocado has nearly 30 g of fat, contributing to a total of 322 calories.
However, each fruit also comes with almost 14 g of fiber. So, while it’s heavy on calories, it helps you consume less food overall.
Moreover, research shows how avocado consumers were more likely to eat fruits and vegetables, had better diet qualities, higher levels of unsaturated fat, and had lower weights and BMIs.
Let’s be honest: we all expected vegetables to be on this list, so don’t act surprised.
Like fruits, vegetables are great for weight loss partly because of their fiber, water, and nutritional content. This helps keep the calorie count low while still delivering crucial vitamins and minerals.
Not only that, the MayoClinic cites green vegetables as examples of low glycemic index (GI) food. This means these kinds of vegetables are going to help give you a steady source of energy, so you don’t bottom out and crave for some quick, unhealthy source of sugar.
Some examples of these are spinach and kale, of course, but collards, swiss chards, broccoli, asparagus, celery, and several other vegetables also fit that mold.
Fruits and vegetables aren’t the only way you can get watery food in your system. Soup does that, too!
Research says that consuming soup at the start of your meals reduces calorie intake overall.
Moreover, you can flavor your soup in whatever way you want to. You want it beefy? Use beef bone broth. You could add vegetables to your soup for more fiber as well. You could even use herbs and spices like cayenne, black pepper, turmeric, and several others more as they all have properties that boost weight loss.
Check out the 20 Best Herbs and Spices for Weight Loss right here.
Before we move on though, if you decide to make soup, try to keep your salt (or anything else that adds sodium) to a minimum.
I’m talking yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, and all other types of fermented food.
These foods are rich in probiotics, or gut-healthy bacteria.
According to an article from the Cleveland Clinic, there isn’t much research supporting probiotics as weight loss agents but it does work well with a nutritious diet to help keep you healthy.
And, if you ask any medical professional, personal trainer, or anyone with any expertise on weight loss, being in tip-top shape is going to make weight loss easier over the long haul.
Coffee and tea (no added sugar)
If you’ve ever scanned through the ingredients of weight loss supplements, there’s a good chance you’d find coffee and/or tea on the list.
The reason is that both these drinks are considered effective natural fat burners particularly because of their caffeine content.
Research says that caffeine helps keep your appetite on the down-low while also boosting your metabolism.
Moreover, green tea is a rich source of EGCG. Like caffeine, research says that this compound is well capable of also increasing your metabolism while also promoting the use of fat for fuel.
There are more weight loss friendly foods that you can choose from and they’re all on our list of healthy foods to eat every day to lose weight. After you’re done checking that out, we also have a list of delicious recipes that utilize them as individual ingredients, so you might want to visit that, too.
Moving on from food, let’s talk about eating.
How often should you eat to lose weight?
Like a lot of things about weight loss, opinions about this topic are divided. Moreover, scientific experiments have ended in mixed results, making all this seem more confusing.
For one, some experts say that eating itself boosts your metabolism.
In theory, this makes eating more frequently better for weight loss.
There’s some truth to this but I think it’s overblown. Research says that your diet is capable of increasing your metabolism by around 5-15%. That’s a considerable number especially if you consider the long-term value, but the problem with increasing feeding frequency is that it can also lead to consuming more calories.
A lot of times, the 5-15% increase in metabolism won’t be enough to make up for a possible massive uptick in ingested calories. So, not only does this require some discipline, the lack thereof could halt your weight loss, if not make you gain weight.
Should I eat less frequently then?
Again, mixed results.
There are certainly studies pointing towards low-frequency diets leading to better appetite control and faster metabolisms. However, there are also several accounts where people skip certain meals and end up overcompensating on the next ones. Such is commonly the case for intermittent fasting dieters who’ve failed to lose weight.
So, the bottom line here is…
Quality and quantity reign over frequency when it comes to weight loss.
In other words, what you eat and how much you eat has a bigger impact on weight loss success compared to how often you consume your calories.
Choose good, healthy, and satiating food, stay in a state of negative energy balance, and your weight loss curve should be showing a downhill trend.
How to make weight loss easier
I’ve already said this, but weight loss is hard for most people. Moreover, the difficulty can feel amplified if you’re not fully devoted — but that itself is hard to do as well.
I mean, it’s easy to say “I’m going to lose weight” but doing the necessary steps like eating right and regularly exercising takes significantly more effort.
That being said, I think learning how to commit to losing weight is key. Below are a few easy to follow weight loss tips that can hopefully coerce your mind into helping you lose weight:
1. Work hard in silence
It’s become a cliche quote these days but, yes, keep your goals and efforts to yourself.
Rather than announcing your weight loss goal in public as a way to sort of pressure yourself into getting in shape, there’s research saying that doing so might give you a false sense of accomplishment instead.
Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone but I find that it works for me. If you’re more the “speak it into existence” kind of gal (or guy), you can do that, too.
2. Dress like an athlete
Even when you’re just working out at home, dress the part.
The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology coined the term “enclothed cognition” back in 2012 which means that both the symbolic meaning and physical experience of wearing a uniform influence how you think, act, and feel.
For example, let’s say yoga is your exercise of choice. You could always just wear pajamas and practice your poses on your bed. However, the principles behind enclothed cognition say that if you wore yoga pants, did your poses on the mats, and maybe even put on some calming music, you’d likely be more focused and do better.
The same concept goes for weight training, running, or whatever it is you do. Consider this a mental hack that you can do to innately stay motivated to lose weight.
3. Set smaller goals that help you achieve the bigger ones
Another psychological hack that you can do to make weight loss seem easier is setting smaller, more realistic short-term goals.
You see, your motivation runs on dopamine — the “feel good” hormone. Every time you accomplish something you worked for, your brain releases these hormones to make you feel happy.
But, what if your goal weight still has a long way to go? You deprive yourself of dopamine and soon enough, you feel demotivated. And, when that happens, your goal may start to feel out of reach.
By setting smaller goals (and achieving those goals), you keep yourself happy, and when you’re happy, everything feels easier.
For example, let’s say you want to lose about 100 lbs for your wedding next year. That’s a lot of weight to lose and it’s going to take a lot of time to achieve. So, maybe aim to lose 8-10 lbs every month instead. This way, you feel rewarded every month and, hopefully, resets your motivation back to higher levels.
4. Use modern technology to your advantage
We’ve touched on apps that map out your weight loss curves like Libra and Happy Scale but they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
MyFitnessPal, for example, helps you keep track of your calories and it also automatically sets a limit to those calories depending on how much weight you want to lose. It’s a food diary and a calorie calculator in one app, basically.
It’s not just apps either. Gadgets work wonders, too! Research says that activity trackers, such as those that come pre-installed in smartwatches, help sedentary people walk around 2500 more steps per day. That means more calories burned!
5. Use smaller plates
I heard this advice years back from my trainer. I was doubtful so I never really followed it but, lo and behold, there’s scientific truth to it.
Research says that smaller plates can make you feel more satiated with less food. This effect is evident in both normal weight and overweight individuals, though the latter group still ate relatively more calories.
Nevertheless, I think it’s a neat trick.
6. Drink 2 glasses of water before your meals
You feel hungry because your empty stomach sends signals to your brain, letting it know that your body needs food.
In that case, drinking water before your meals pre-fills your stomach and helps stop it from sending those hunger signals. In turn, you eat less food and, therefore, consume fewer calories.
Now, you might be asking: Why 2 glasses?
Well, that’s because science says so. According to research, drinking 500 ml of water (roughly 2 glasses) before your main meals will lead to better weight loss precisely because of the subsequent reduction in the calories you eat.
7. Sleep for 7-8 hours
That’s right. Not less, not more.
Research says that people who slept more or less than 7-8 hours were more likely to gain weight in the form of fat.
Another study explains why this happens but, in short, it’s because the amount of sleep you get also influences the hormones leptin (the “satiety hormone”) and ghrelin (the “hunger hormone). Specifically, an abnormal amount of sleep will lead to reduced leptin and higher ghrelin which, in turn, amplifies your appetite.
8. Lose weight within your budget
Earlier, I mentioned how it’s possible to lose weight without spending more money and gave the example of using tougher cuts of meat. Here are a few other ways you can lose weight on a budget:
Buy “regular” meats and produce
Organic, free-range, grass-fed… they’re all great. But they’re also significantly more expensive.
So, if you’re hard pressed on cash right now, don’t feel pressured into buying these special meats and produce. The regular ones may not be as healthy, but they’re still going to be better than eating junk food.
Compare prices online
From food to equipment to clothes, there’s always going to be more choices online compared to your local store — and some of these choices might actually be cheaper.
Bulk buying and bulk cooking can work wonders
They also go hand-in-hand. I mean, you can’t cook if you don’t have ingredients, right?
That being said, buying in bulk will help you save at least a few pennies every time you visit the store. Granted, it won’t be a lot of money but set those savings aside and they add up fairly quickly.
Cooking in batches, on the other hand, can help reduce the temptation to order takeout because you know you have food at home that you can easily microwave. Not only is this budget-friendly, but it’s also healthy.
What to expect after losing weight
You’ll look better
It’s vain, but let’s face it: most of us try to lose weight for aesthetic reasons anyway. Even if there are underlying health implications, the truth is that we all want to look good.
And, when you’re not satisfied with how you look right now, losing weight could help change that.
Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not saying slimmer people look better but if that’s your reason for thinning down and you successfully lose the weight you want to lose, how you see yourself might change for the better, too.
You’ll have a better appreciation for food
For one, numerous studies have associated obesity with weakened taste sensitivity. This is one of the reasons why people carrying extra weight tend to choose food with more intense flavors that, more often than not, also pack on more calories.
As a study suggests, this may be because the chronic inflammation that comes with obesity also reduces the number of taste buds.
Luckily, getting back to normal weight also resets your sense of taste, giving you a better appreciation for food.
Sex is going to better
According to research on the sex lives of obese men and women, heavier people tend to be less satisfied with their beneath the sheets than their slimmer counterparts.
Moreover, another research shows how obesity is linked to lower testosterone. This can lead to lower libido and perhaps even erectile dysfunction (yikes!).
Luckily, both these studies say that the negative effects that obesity has on sexual quality are reversible once the extra weight is lost.
Your day might feel incomplete without exercise
I can tell you from personal experience that this is true and probably more common than people realize.
As long as it’s not a full-blown addiction, I think this is a good thing. It helps you maintain an active lifestyle, after all.
From what I gather, craving physical activity isn’t necessarily because of a quest for further progress. Rather, it’s more because of how exercise makes you feel better.
As per the MayoClinic, exercise stimulates the release of endorphins — our body’s feel-good hormones. It also improves mood and stress levels.
You will be healthier
It’s no secret that obesity is linked with multiple diseases but a lot of these illnesses are also reversed with weight loss.
As summarized by a report from the NIH, the health benefits of weight loss include:
- Lower blood pressure
- Better lipid/plasma levels (i.e. cholesterol, triglycerides)
- Improve glucose and insulin levels
Also, losing weight is going to help you sleep better and improve your mood.
How to maintain weight after losing it
Quite frankly, this stage can be more challenging than weight loss itself. Research even says that most people gain more than 50% of their weight back in 2 years. Stretch that out to 5 years, and most dieters will have gained 80% of their original weight back.
But, again, it’s not impossible as I’m sure you know people who have managed to sustain their now slimmer figures.
This all circles back to energy balance. But, instead of being in a state of imbalance where the calories you consume are less than the calories you burn, now you’ll want to have both those in equilibrium.
It’s not just about calories though. You’re going to want to keep your newly found healthy habits, too. This includes being more mindful of what you eat and exercising regularly.
Better yet, rather than maintaining the way you are now, perhaps it’s better to set newer goals like building more muscle, for example. You could also pass on your knowledge and help someone else in their weight loss journey. The way I see it, both these should help keep you on your toes, so you don’t get too comfortable.
While the principles behind losing weight are simple, the process itself can be bumpy. But, with the right knowledge, you should at least be able to avoid common pitfalls like spot reductions, confusing water weight with actual weight loss, and waning motivation.
I sincerely hope you found answers to your weight loss questions here. If I at least gave you something new to think about, do me a favor and tell your friends about us, okay?