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How To Lose Weight

sharonesapir March 17, 2021
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Did you start the New Year resolved to finally lose some weight, only to feel that you’ve come to a screeching halt? If so, you’re not alone. Approximately 80% of people who make New Year’s resolutions have dropped them by the second week of February.

In this article we take an objective look at weight loss – what exactly is necessary to achieve it? By gaining a fundamental understanding of how to lose weight, I hope that you feel armed and ready to give it a go for good this time.

Understanding the calorie deficit

You can’t lose fat without being in a calorie deficit, but what the heck is a calorie deficit? A calorie deficit is achieved when you burn more calories than you take in. Let’s talk about how many calories you burn in a day.

Your BMR

If you think exercise is the best way to burn calories and lose weight I’m about to blow your mind, because get this: the calories you burn just staying alive, keeping your organs functioning, and so on if you sat on the couch all day is 60-75% of your total daily calorie burn. This calorie number is called your basal metabolic rate (BMR) or your resting metabolic rate (RMR). These two terms are used interchangeably. The average BMR for women is 1400 calories per day and for men is 1800.

Factors that affect BMR include:

  • Gender: females burn more than males
  • Age: in general, the older you are the fewer calories you burn
  • Height: generally, the shorter you are the lower your BMR
  • Your body size: having a larger body will burn more calories
  • And of course genetics (proof you can blame your parents for just about anything).

Your TOF

Your what now? TOF = Thermic Effect Of Food. Yup, digesting your food burns calories. It’s thought to contribute to about 10% of your overall calorie burn. Digesting fat burns the least amount of calories while digesting protein burns the most.

Let’s look at it this way: if you eat 100 calories of protein, about 25-30 of those calories will get burned up just from digesting that protein. If you eat 100 calories of fat, you will only burn 0-3 calories of it during digestion. Lastly, if you eat 100 calories of carbs, you will burn 5-10 calories during digestion. You need all three macronutrients to really thrive, but don’t neglect protein – it’s a burner!

Your TEPA

TEPA = Thermic Effect of Physical Activity. Your physical activity accounts for about 10-15% of your overall calorie burn, and most of that falls into the Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) category. Activities like walking around your house, gardening, getting up and sitting down, fidgeting – that’s all NEAT (pretty neat, isn’t it?). NEAT calories make up most of your physical activity calorie burn.

The other part of TEPA is exercise, and you likely don’t burn as many calories during exercise as you think – the calorie burn reads on smart watches and machines are well-known to overestimate. And when you overestimate how much you burn and underestimate how much you take in, as we all naturally do, this tends to result in a calorie surplus – and therefore weight gain.

How to lose weight: setting yourself up for success

So now that you have a good understanding of calorie burn, you might realize why a 1200 calorie diet plan is not ideal for most people, because for most people it creates a really big deficit! You should only consider going that low with calories if you are a petite women (under 5’2″) who is sedentary and perimenopausal or post menopausal.

If you don’t fall into that category, think about it: if you’re burning about 1800 calories each day between your BMR, TOF, and TEPA, then a 600 calorie per day deficit is unlikely to be sustainable. Think hunger, crabbiness, and you move a whole lot less because that’s what you naturally do when you don’t have as much energy (due to eating less than usual). Instead, a 200-300 calorie deficit is definitely more doable, you’re more likely to stick with it, and it’s not as stressful on your body.

Weight loss, and how to lose weight, has more to do with consistency than intensity. If you keep up a 200-300 calorie deficit for long enough and don’t get frustrated and quit, you will lose weight. Once you are at a lower weight, you will burn fewer calories, so why reduce your intake early on more than you need to? The trick to weight loss is not eating as little as possible, but eating as much as possible while still losing weight.

Must you count calories?

With all this talk of calories, you might be wondering if you need to count them in order to lose weight. The answer is no, you do not have to count calories, but calories always count. I suggest getting familiar with portion sizes and their caloric values. It took me years to realize that the serving of peanut butter I was eating nightly was actually three servings, not one! Digital food scales are cheap and a great way to become familiar with how many calories you’re actually taking in. Even weighing out your food for a week or two is incredibly insightful.

The point of all diets – whether calorie counting, intermittent fasting, or low carbing – is to create a calorie deficit. Different plans work for different people, and the most important thing is that whatever method you choose is something that’s sustainable for you.

The concept of a calorie deficit is so simple, yet because food is everywhere, because we use food as both a distraction and comfort, and because we’re biologically programmed to hoard food, well, it can be really hard to achieve that deficit. Although different methods work for different people, there are some universal tips that everyone can find helpful when they’re learning how to lose weight.

Universal Tip to lose weight: emphasize protein and fiber

That’s right, move over JayZ and Beyonce, this dynamic duo is powerful! Together, protein and fiber control hunger and cravings, helping you achieve that calorie deficit more easily and comfortably. While you eat for more than just satisfying your physical hunger, this is step 1.

Protein: 

  • Sends the right signals to your brain and gut that you’re full
  • Displaces others foods such as simple and refined carbs, which are a whole lot harder to stop eating
  • Burns more calories during digestion than carbs or fat (remember TEF of food above?)
  • Preserves muscle mass as you lose weight so that more of your weight loss is fat rather than metabolism-boosting muscle

Protein is also harder to overeat. I mean, how often do you find yourself craving chicken and Greek yogurt? In fact, many of my female clients have a difficult time adding protein to their diet. Need protein ideas? Below is a sampling of protein options:


Include at least a palm-size amount of protein at every meal and snack to ensure you’re getting enough each day. 

Fiber: 

  • Helps you poop (and who doesn’t feel on top of the world after a good poop?)
  • Lowers your LDL cholesterol (your “bad” cholesterol)
  • Feeds your beneficial gut bacteria. An optimal ratio of good/bad bacteria positively impacts your immune system and even your weight.

Where to find fiber:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds

The more whole foods you eat the more fiber you will naturally ingest. Beware of fiber-infused processed foods – there is no evidence that they benefit you in the same way that natural fiber does, and if you are sensitive to these processed fibers, you may experience some digestive upset.

What about this diet or that diet?

The point of any diet for weight loss is to create a calorie deficit, often while distracting you with different rules. If you’re curious about a certain diet, I absolutely encourage you to look into it and check it out for yourself – just don’t get swallowed up in the fear-mongering tactics many use (I have met too many people absolutely petrified of bananas!). Use this article as a resource. Does the diet you’re looking into take BMR or NEAT into account? Are protein and (natural) fiber emphasized? Is the overall calorie deficit sustainable for you and your lifestyle?

Perhaps some components of a specific diet will work for you, and others won’t. Take what fits, adjust if needed, and throw out the rest. Over time you will figure out what works for you and your unique needs and goals. Remember that this is a long-term process, not a quick fix, and use these tools to set yourself up for success in the long run!

About Shapa:

Looking to sleep better, eat a bit healthier, build a practice of self-care, or just want to feel more energetic each day? Let Shapa be your virtual coach. Shapa focuses your program based on YOUR lifestyle and YOUR goals so you can build healthy habits and achieve lasting results. Learn more about the Shapa difference.

About the author: 

Sharone completed her Masters of Science in Nutrition and Education at Columbia University. Having overcome her own not-so-great relationship with food, she is passionate about helping others achieve their health and weight loss goals while finding balance. She enjoys hanging out with her two daughters, husband, giant dog, and cat, especially all together when shenanigans are involved. To learn more about scheduling a nutrition counseling session with Sharone, click here. For more tips and tricks for nutritious living, check out Sharone’s Instagram and Twitter.

Check out more of Sharone’s articles on the Shapa Blog here.

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