Whether it’s a fad diet or a celebrity like Adele and Rebel Wilson’s new weight loss regimes, it’s hard to go online without encountering weight loss tips promising all sorts of quick fixes.
This can lead to a lot of confusion about what really is the best way to lose weight. At mamabella, we believe everyone is beautiful exactly as they are – nobody should feel pressured into losing weight or changing their appearance but if you are interested in knowing more, at least base your decision on facts.
Below, we explain more about the truth about weight loss and give you weight loss tips that actually work because they’re based on science.
Disclaimer: Before you embark on any drastic changes to your diet or lifestyle, please consult an expert.
Let’s get back to basics. Forget Syns, Points, Keto, Atkins – you lose weight when your body is in a calorie deficit. This means that you’re consuming fewer calories than you’re burning.
We’re going to repeat that: the only way to lose weight is to be in a calorie deficit.
This means that while the likes of Slimming World, fasting, Keto, etc may result in weight loss it’s because, overall, you are consuming fewer calories than you’re burning. Or you’re restricting nutrients in a way that isn’t sustainable.
There are examples of low-carb diets, in which more calories are consumed, being as effective as low-fat diets. Yet the general rule still applies, reducing your calorie intake in a safe way while eating everything in moderation is the only true way to lose weight. And keep it off.
Where examples like this are particularly useful, however, is when people have more complex issues than simply wanting to lose weight. “If you think your insulin surges are particularly harmful, then the ketogenic diet might be for you.
“If you’re worried about triglyceride [a constituent of fat] levels in your blood going up too high after meals, then clearly the low-fat diet was better,” Kevin Hall at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Maryland, told New Scientist.
A calorie is a way of measuring how much energy something has. Just like wood, gas or coal contains energy that can be released when it’s burnt, food contains energy that our bodies use. One calorie is commonly used to mean 1,000 calories, or one kcal. If you’re looking for a scientific definition, one kcal would raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius at sea level.
Calories are necessary for our bodies. “If we don’t get enough of those nutrients [that calories provide], there are negative consequences, whether it’s losing lean muscle mass, not being able to concentrate or not having the energy we need on a day-to-day basis,” said Jennifer McDaniel, a registered nutritionist dietitian in Clayton, Missouri.
According to the NHS, an average man needs around 2,500 calories a day to maintain healthy body weight, while women need around 2,000 calories a day.
To be in a calorie deficit, you need to eat fewer calories than your body needs to maintain its weight. However, these figures are an average, people’s existing weight, their height, their gender, how much exercise they do, their job and, among women, even their time of the month can impact how many calories to lose weight.
To give you an idea, you can use a calorie calculator. These are online calculators that ask you for your height, weight, age and lifestyle stats before generating a calculation.
Based on our readings, we’d need to eat 2,177 calories to maintain our body weight, 1,927 to lose around 0.25kg (or half a pound) a week, 1677 calories to lose 0.5kg/1lb a week, and 1,177 calories to lose 1kg/2lbs a week.
It can be tempting to opt for the lowest one, to lose weight the fastest but you shouldn’t eat fewer than 1,200 calories a day. Certainly not without guidance from a doctor.
Choosing this route and restricting your diet so heavily can also be detrimental in the long term. It’s hard to stick to, plus there’s nowhere else to go from there.
Experts recommend dropping your daily calorie intake by about 500 calories to lose weight, and this figure will adjust and be flexible as you lose the weight. This also means the weight is more likely to stay off.
The body releases energy from food through a series of steps, depending on the type of food.
When the body burns fat, the liver produces chemicals called ketones. They’re produced when people go for long periods of time without eating carbohydrates – for example, people on low-calorie diets like the ketogenic diet or the Atkins diet.
There are many different types of intermittent fasting diets, but most involve severely restricting the calories you consume for a period of time.
For example, the 5:2 diet involves taking in only 500 to 600 calories two days of the week, and eating normally the rest of the time.
Other kinds involve limiting what you eat one day, then eating normally the next, and repeating. Some intermittent fasting plans involve only eating between certain hours of the day. These are called time-restricted eating.
Intermittent fasting works on the principle that restricting calories forces your body to burn fat.
The idea being that if you only fast on certain days, then eat normally on the other days, you will be able to stick to the plan more easily while reducing calories.
Fundamentally though, the reason you’re losing weight is that you’re in an overall calorie deficit.
Over the course of a week, if your weekly total of calories is less than what your body is using then you’ll lose weight.
Plus, fasting is largely not sustainable.
A three-month study, published in 2020, found much of the weight people lost while on an intermittent fasting diet was muscle.
Muscle weighs more than fat and muscles provide a lot of health benefits while having too much body fat is linked to increased chances of heart disease. This means it’s best to lose fat instead.
With any diet plan, if your goal is to lose weight you need to pick something you can stick to. Highly restrictive diets are difficult to adhere to, and in many cases can lead to people putting weight back on after they end the diet. This is particularly true if the weight is lost over a short period of time with extreme diets.
However, the likelihood of you putting weight back on after an extreme diet is also linked to your hormones, according to a 2011 study.
The researchers analysed the levels of hormones including ghrelin, leptin, and insulin on weight recovery in over 100 overweight people after a hypocaloric diet – eating fewer calories than you burn. After eight weeks, the group that had regained more than 10% of the weight lost was found to have higher levels of leptin and lower levels of ghrelin.
If you are interested in losing weight, it’s important to make a plan that you can keep to and remember, there’s no single regime that will work for everyone. Plus, not everyone will be able to stick to the same plans. What is most important is you are getting enough nutrients for your body, and you are eating in a healthy way. Sadly, there is no quick fix.
Abigail is a leading science journalist writing about space, sustainability, technology and culture. She is author of The Art of Urban Astronomy, a must-have guide to the night sky that guides you through the seasons and learn about the brightest stars and constellations, the myths and legends of astronomy and how to identify star clusters and galaxies.