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The Keys to Successful Weight Loss

October 15, 2010

(Article first published as Successful Weight Loss Requires More Than Counting Calories on Technorati.)

You’ve made the big decision to lose weight and this time you want your achievement to be permanent. Traditional weight loss wisdom indicates that you need to cut 3500 calories through calorie restriction or exercise to burn a pound of fat. While the physics of this conversion are correct, the body is an adaptive metabolic machine that has evolved sophisticated means to utilize energy to ensure our survival in times of famine. Researchers have discovered that an occasional increase or decrease in calories has little effect on day to day body weight and doesn’t hamper our weight loss efforts.

An Occasional High Calorie Splurge is Normal
Many people will indulge occasionally when beginning a new weight loss program. This is natural and emerging evidence confirms that it not a cause for alarm as our body does not calculate calories consumed on a daily basis, but rather averages intake over a longer term. The key to weight loss success is to manage calories over a period of days and weeks, rather than monitoring day by day.
Averaging Calories Eaten Over Time

The result of studies performed at the National Institutes of Health show that eating as much as 600 additional calories each day had little effect on body weight over the long term, as long as the average calories remained even during any given period. This is good news for people who get an irresistible urge to overeat one day, as long as you compensate with reduced calories on a future day. The study authors were careful to note that this research doesn’t mean you should splurge often, as increasing average food intake over time leads to weight gain.

You Still Need a Calorie Goal
While the results of this research may be encouraging for those trying to lose weight that occasionally have difficulty maintaining a strict daily calorie goal, the bottom line is you still need to monitor total calories consumed over a longer period of time. Women should target 1200 to 1500 calories average per day, while men need 1500 to 1800 calories, depending on physical activity. 
If you exceed your goal one day, you should make a conscious effort to limit calories another day during the next week. The best way to keep track is to maintain a food journal or you’ll quickly lose track of the over and under calorie days and your weight will slowly creep up. The NIH study was clear that overconsumption should be an occasional occurrence, probably limited to one day a week.
Food Balance is Still Important

A common mistake made by many people attempting to lose weight is to believe that all calories have a similar effect on how our body processes calories for energy. A diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, and hydrogenated fats tips our metabolism toward fat storage as it increases blood sugar levels, triglycerides and leads to insulin resistance. Even when consumed as part of a reduced calorie diet, this evil trio commonly found in most junk food will encourage fat storage. Weight loss is best achieved with a diet consisting of plenty of fresh vegetables, lean protein and healthy unheated fats.

Over the long run, it still takes a net loss of 3500 calories to burn a pound of excess weight. Our body doesn’t monitor calories as we eat, but rather views a much longer timeframe to determine whether fat should be stored or burned for energy. It’s still important to monitor calorie consumption and eat a well balanced menu void of processed foods. Our body relies on a complex metabolic mechanism to ensure our survival and we can use this to our advantage to achieve our permanent weight loss goal.
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