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Fad diets that focus on specific foods aren't needed for healthy weight loss.
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Forget all the fad diets and food schemes. Healthy weight loss boils down to one quick calculation: subtract the number of calories you burn any given day from the number of calories you've eaten that day. If you burn more than you've eaten, then you are on the right path for weight loss. What's more, you get to include both the calories you've burned through exercise and the calories you've burned just by living. It's a concept called calorie balance, and it will help you lose weight in a safe and effective manner.
Calculate Basal Metabolic Rate
Your body burns calories just to keep your heart beating and your lungs breathing. Your basal metabolic rate represents that factor: the calories you would burn if you stayed in bed all day and didn't move at all. These basic bodily functions account for between 50 to 70 percent of your total daily calorie burn. There are many calculators online to help figure out your basal metabolic rate. Most will ask you to enter your current weight, height, age and sex.
Calculate Calories Burned Through Movement
Next, figure out the number of calories you burn by moving. Even sedentary folks who putter around their houses will burn a certain amount of additional calories every day -- generally about 20 percent of their basal metabolic rate. Exercise adds even more calories to the "burn" side of the equation, so also tack on calories you've used by playing sports, running, riding a bike or pursuing other physical activity. If your treadmill or exercise bike doesn't track calories burned, you can use an online calculator like the one maintained by the Calorie Control Council.
Count Caloric Intake
You also need to maintain a daily log -- a food diary -- of everything you eat or drink. The Nutrition Facts label found on most food products will come in handy; multiply the calories per serving by the number of servings you eat. When eating out, ask the waiter if the restaurant has nutritional information available for the dishes it serves. For produce, non-labeled foods and home-cooked meals, consult the U.S. Department of Agriculture's SuperTracker website.
Do the Math
Add up the calories you ate or drank. Subtract the calories you burned, both by existing and through physical activity. If you have more days where you burn more calories than you take in, you will lose weight. To lose 1 pound per week, which most experts feel is a safe rate of weight loss, you need to have a deficit of about 3,500 calories by the end of the week. Don't overdo it -- cut your caloric intake below your basal metabolic rate and you will slow down your metabolism by causing your body to enter "starvation mode." If you're still having trouble losing weight after a few months, reconsider your calculations. Make sure you are counting all the calories you consume and aren't giving yourself burn credit you don't deserve.