By Lisa Tsakos

Common Questions About Weight Loss

Some of your most common questions about weight loss are answered here, as well as solutions to help your reach your weight and body fat goals quickly and safely.

As summer weather kicks in, many people are reconsidering their weight-loss strategies.

While we know there's no such thing as a quick fix that amounts to permanent weight reduction, there are right and wrong approaches.

The right approaches involve replacing unnecessary calories with natural, nutrient-dense foods and increasing physical activity.

Fast and unhealthy approaches to weight loss that involve a drastic reduction in calories often mean depriving the body of valuable nutrients.

Keep in mind that your goal shouldn't be about getting thin, but about getting healthy.

Some of your most common queries about calories are tackled here, as well as solutions to help your reach your weight and body fat goals quickly and safely.

Q: How much should I eat in a day? Is there a quick method to determine how many calories I need?

A: A simple way to figure out your total calorie allotment is to multiply your weight (in pounds) by 15. This gives you the amount of calories you need to maintain your current weight. If you wish to reduce your current weight, multiply it by 12.

The minimum amount of energy needed per day is your current weight times 10. This value is your basal metabolic rate (or BMR). The body uses energy for internal, physiological functioning (such as breathing, a beating heart, elimination). Hence, a minimum energy intake (or BMR) is required for these processes. Remember that if you regularly take in more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.

Q: If I eat a pound of food, do I gain a pound?

A: Two cups of water weigh one pound.

Rather than looking at food this way, consider that one pound of body fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories; therefore to gain a pound, you would have to ingest 3,500 calories over and above your current energy intake over time. The average woman eats only between 1,500 to 2,000 calories per day. The average male eats 2,000 to 2,500.

Most people gain weight gradually, noticing a one to five pound increase each year.

Having a 280-calorie chocolate bar once in a while won't make a difference immediately, but two chocolate bars a week will add one extra pound over 12 weeks.

Conversely, removing superfluous calories -- the chocolate bar, sugar in your tea, the side of fries or mayo, or other indulgences, will lead to gradual weight loss.

Q: When I diet or exercise intensely, I seem to lose weight quickly. How much weight can I safely lose in a short period of time?

A: The correct answer is one to two pounds per week.

Let's do the math: A female taking in 1,500 calories/day will ingest 10,500 calories per week.

To lose 1 pound, subtract 3,500 calories from 10,500. That leaves her with 7,000 calories, or only 1,000 calories per day! To lose 5 pounds a week, 17,000 calories would have to be removed - you get the picture.

The question is, however, not how much weight can I lose, but how much body fat.

Weight loss alone does not differentiate between pounds that come from body fat, water, or muscle. Losing two pounds immediately from an hour of cardio is not a two-pound fat loss, but rather water loss from sweat (which is quickly regained after drinking a large glass of water).

When the body is not provided with enough calories, it cannibalizes itself for an energy source (remember, we are programmed for survival). The protein in muscles is converted to valuable energy. When a muscle cell is destroyed, water is released and eventually excreted.

Q: I really enjoy my cardio workouts, but I've heard that if I weight train I can burn more calories even after I've left the gym. Is this true?

A: Yes. The calories expended (above resting values) after an exercise bout are referred to as 'excess post-exercise oxygen consumption' (EPOC), or the exercise 'after-burn.'

EPOC represents the oxygen consumption above resting level that the body is using to return itself to its pre-exercise state. It generally takes anywhere from 15 minutes to 48 hours for the body to fully recover depending on the intensity and duration of exercise. Other factors influencing EPOC include your gender and fitness level.

Various studies have shown that heavy resistance training (weight training) produces the greatest EPOC compared with circuit training and cycling. Additionally, a higher intensity resistance training program has been found to elicit a greater EPOC than a lower intensity program movements are kept constant (versus a lower intensity weight training workout that includes breaks between sets).

Any additional caloric expenditure following exercise adds up over time and contributes to long-term weight loss. To maximize your after-burn, regularly incorporate 30 minute high-intensity interval and weight training workouts.

Q: How can I measure my body fat?

A: An assessment of body fat is a more accurate measure of body composition than measuring weight alone.

It indicates what percentage of your total weight consists of body fat (compared to tissues, organs, fluids, etc.).

Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis is considered one of the most reliable and accessible methods of screening body fat. BIA measures the resistance to the signal as it travels through the water that is found in muscle and fat. The more muscle a person has, the more water their body can hold; and the greater the amount of water in a person's body, the easier it is for the current to pass through it. Tanita scales are affordable BIA tools available for home use. Visit to view a listing of various models.

The amount of body fat you carry affects your life and health in a variety of ways.

Carrying excess body fat is a risk factor for several diseases, most notably diabetes and coronary heart diseases. It also affects how you feel and how much you're able to enjoy activity. Having too little body fat also increases health risk; there is a certain amount of body fat that is considered "essential."

Q: Calorie counting doesn't work for me. I can practically starve myself for days and don't lose a single pound. Am I doing something wrong?

A: Some of us make every attempt to follow traditional weight loss principles: calories in vs. calories out, but with little or short-lived results. Healthy weight loss is not simply a matter of counting calories, but of stimulating metabolism to work for you rather than against you.

Your thyroid sets your metabolism and body temperature. If you've noticed fluctuations or abnormalities in your temperature (for example, you often feel colder than other people, or you alternate between feeling cold and hot), have your physician test your thyroid hormone levels. Natural sea vegetables like kelp, nori, and dulse contain minerals that support healthy thyroid function. Introduce more sushi to your diet and sprinkle seaweed flakes on food as a seasoning.

Other factors that may be slowing down metabolism include poor digestion and your body's toxic load. Eat each meal slowly and chew carefully to improve digestion. It takes at least 20 minutes for your brain to realize that you are no longer hungry! Embark on a detoxification program to boost liver function (your liver metabolizes fats). Clean out your colon to remove excess waste from your mid-section. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and eat greens daily to quickly process and eliminate toxins.

Lisa Tsakos is a Registered Nutritionist and educator specializing in weight management.


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Common Questions About Weight Loss

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