Food Is Not Your Enemy

The “Math” Behind Weight Loss

If you’re looking to lose weight, you may be familiar with the magic number 3,500. That’s how many calories are stored in one pound of body fat. The logic dictates that for every 3,500 calories you burn through exercise or cut through dietary changes, you should lose one pound.

It can be a slow process–especially if you decide to hire a trainer and ramp up your exercise but don’t change your eating habits, or if you cut your daily calorie intake but don’t exercise. A combination of the two will speed up your weight loss–this is not news, of course–but patience is still required. If you eat 250 fewer calories per day (that’s equal to 1/2 cup of ice cream or two sodas, for instance) and walk for 30 minutes a day, it would take about a week to lose one pound. That may not sound like much, but think about it–at that rate, in six months you’d lose 26 pounds, and in one year you’d lose 52. All without putting yourself on any kind of radical diet or punishing exercise program.

It’s important to remember, however, that there are many complicating factors when it comes to weight loss. For some people, working with the 3,500 principle may be all that’s needed. But for many others, it’s not quite so simple.

If you’re stressed out, for example, you will have trouble losing weight. Our bodies release cortisol and other stress hormones when we’re under duress, and those hormones cause us to hold on to weight. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re also more likely to have trouble losing weight. If you have a hidden food intolerance–which is quite likely if you are bloated, gassy, constipated, or have diarrhea on a regular basis–then you won’t shed those excess pounds so easily. If your thyroid isn’t functioning properly, it can seem like nothing you do works to get the weight off. And if you’re eating the wrong types of foods, your appetite and cravings may be so out of control that it might feel impossible to not have ice cream, chips, or several spoonfuls of peanut butter every day.

So while it can be helpful to keep the number 3,500 in mind when looking to lose weight, remember that the numbers aren’t everything. Taking a close look at your broader habits, health issues, and lifestyle can be key.