Best Way to Lose Weight

What’s the best way to lose weight?  Counting calories and moderation.

I get asked from time to time if I had it all to do over again (you know, the whole lose 125 pounds in 10 months thing) if I would still choose to lose weight by counting calories.  Honestly, I’m taken aback a little bit.  It’s like asking the winner of the World Series a few minutes after winning the championship whether they would’ve done anything different to get there.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

Sure, I know that there are many ways to lose 125 pounds, but not only did my way work alright for me, I think it’s the best way to lose weight period.

Why is calorie counting the best way to lose weight?

Because it’s better than all the other ways, of course.  What are all the “other ways,” you might ask?  Well, here goes, and try not to get offended:

  • South Beach Diet
  • Medifast
  • Nutrisystem
  • Slimfast
  • The Diet Solution
  • Sonoma Diet
  • No/low carb diets
  • Atkins
  • The Zone Diet
  • Paleo Diet
  • Raw Food Diet
  • Mediterranean Diet
  • Weight Watchers (not the points, but the money/life membership part)

I strongly believe counting calories is the best way to lose weight for most people.  While a couple of diets listed above might be appealing or best for those with certain conditions or set goals in mind (Paleo Diet, for one), for John and Jane Smith in Bangor, Maine or Boise, Idaho counting calories is going to be the best way for them to lose weight.

Remember, this is just my opinion (even though every health organization and government agency agrees with me). Don’t worry though, this post is the first of a two part series — I’ll back my talk up shortly with actual reasons.

For now, though, what do you think is the best way to lose weight?  Why?

58 thoughts on “Best Way to Lose Weight”

  1. Completely agree and moderating bad foods and exercise, counting calories are the only way to lose weight for the long term.

  2. Agree completely with calorie counting. Also, weigh everything! No guesswork. It’s amazing how much you can underestimate how much you are eating if you guess portion sizes.

    I would also say try to eat back to the majority of calories that you have burned in the gym or sports, as I remained completely stationary until I started to do this. Eating more turned out to make me lose more. It’s a strange world!

    1. I think weighing is an option for beginners, as long as they know that it’s not necessarily down the road. Eyeballing it all because an art form and it’s not required to write down calories or weigh things 1, 2, 3, years down the road and so on.

      Counting calories becomes second nature.

    2. No David, it’s nothing strange. We all have to consume calories for our basal metabolic rate AND for our Activity level to maintain our current weight. Then we cut out a LITTLE for weight loss, hence the slow process that most don’t accept. If you don’t consume enough kcals, your body will actually hold on to body fat, you lose muscle and your metabolism goes down and the food you eat is stored as fat rather than used as fuel for the muscle that you no longer have! It’s all just physiology but they don’t teach you this anywhere. We’re just told crazy things like stop eating, do crazy diets like Atkins or take supplements and lose 30# in 30 days! Glad you figured out the right formula to achieve better health!

  3. Calorie counting, but also eating “clean”. Eating 1500 calories worth of junk won’t help your body. I don’t recommend any diet where you eat “what you want”.

    1. You’re right, not all calories are made equal. As far as losing weight is concerned though, you absolutely could eat 2 fast food meals a day as long as your calories were in order and still lose weight.

      You may get high blood pressure, diabetes, etc, but you’d lose weight. That’s why moderation is key.

  4. Calorie counting, with balanced nutrition, all the way. I have tried other “diets” in the past and failed. I finally came to the realization that any type of “diet” based on deprivation was doomed to fail for me. Sure, people lose weight all the time on “diets”, but I decided that if I was going to be successful this time, I needed a lifestyle change–something that was not based on deprivation and that was sustainable for the long term. None of the fad “diets” could do that for me.

    So far, following Tyler’s lead, and adopting a no-nonsense approach that really is nothing more than eat less, eat right, and exercise, I have dropped right at 40 pounds since July 1. And I have never felt deprived, never felt like I was starving, never had insane cravings–I still allow myself a fried chicken basket once per week. This approach works for me, and I can see that as a lifestyle change, it will continue to work for me.

    1. I am a fan of counting calories, though I did join Weight Watchers this summer and just this week arrived at my goal weight. I didn’t have a ton to lose (only 25ish pounds) but Weight Watchers (online only) really provided some much-needed structure to my previously inconsistent efforts. I mean, Weight Watchers in essence is basically a system of counting calories that gives you a little extra credit for healthy, fiber-rich foods and slightly penalizes you (from a “points” standpoint) for eating fatty foods. Believe it or not this small adjustment was really helpful for me. Even now that I’ve met my goal, I’m happy to remain an online member (it’s only about $15 or $17 dollar a month!) so I can continue to track my food as I figure out how to hold steady at this weight–something I have always really struggled with. Keeping a blog or being involved in some other support community (family, weight watchers meetings, overeaters anonymous, etc.) is a big part of the puzzle too!

      1. I don’t mind Weight Watchers, simply because it is based on the calories system for the most part, even though it calls it points. I just don’t like the whole money thing, as it’s a barrier that some people aren’t able to cross… counting calories is and always has been free, and that will never, ever change.

  5. Agreed. Once you do it enough it becomes sort of second nature. And if you really pay attention you can get a good sense just by looking at something (bc if you know that 1 g of fat has 9 cals and carbs and proteins 4 cals.) you can sort of guestimate based on portion size and witha general idea of what’s in it. That may sound like a lot, but it just becomes route. Information is power and do know how much energy your body gets from a particular food is powerful. It’s what took 185 pounds off of me and 6 years later. It’s still gone.

    I know that some people take this to extremes. But all diets can be taken to extremes. Do that on any diet and you are bound to fail. Counting calories allows you to cut back not cut out foods.

      1. That’s what I do these days — I look at something and have a good idea, as long as it wasn’t cooked in a restaurant. I also take a look at the label for sodium, fat, protein, etc, not just calories.

        And some days, I don’t just care at all. Those are rare, but they’re still there to keep me sane.

  6. Brotherman, when it comes down to it you are absolutely right. The diets are great and all, they provide structure to weight loss endeavors. but when people start to think of them as absolute dogma, diets can become these edifices that have the potential to hinder weight loss, in this humble former fat kid’s opinion.

    I thank you for not taking the dogmatic approach and stressing a utilitarian method to it all. Occam’s Razor and all, word.

  7. Agree. I despise counting calories…mainly because I feel much more accountable for what I eat when I do, it shows me the true price of what I really like to eat and helps me learn better food choices. I just started counting calories (again) one week ago. I always lose more weight when I do but once I start losing, I’ll get in the mindset that I can continue without having to keep count of my calories. WRONG. For me, this is the cheapest way to go, the one that gets me the best results and the one I can best incorporate into my daily lifestyle. Add that to working out most days of the week, as I have for the past 4 months, and I’ll start losing weight easier. I’ve lost about 10 pounds and toned up a lot by just working out and *sort of* watching what I eat but now that I’ve hit a plateau that I’m struggling to pass, I’m going back to what I know will work for me.

    1. It’s shocking how many calories are in your every day meals, even if you’re just eating your basic 3 meals a day. A serving at dinner (spaghetti with some garlic bread for example), maybe a lunch of burger and fries at a local diner, and a breakfast of cereal with milk can be 3,000+ calories without a problem.

      Add drinks on top of it, you’re looking at a lot of calories.

  8. From your list Tyler, I’ve tried Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, and Slimfast. All of them would net me x amount of weight loss over n amounts of months, but for me these were never sustainable solutions, because once I got off these diets I would just gain all my weight back.

    I lost 200lbs in 15 months by counting calories and working out at the gym4-6 days/week just like you. Continued moderation, balance, and a healthy routine at the gym are what I’ve been using to maintain my weight for the past 2 months. Both the journey and the maintenance are certainly not easy, but it can be done!

      1. Thanks! As I write this I’m sitting at 190lbs, but within the past two months I’ve fluctuated from as low as 186lbs to as high as 192lbs. I’m fine with that for now, but plan on re-evaluating my goals very soon, as I want to start building more muscle….lots more. ;-) I also have WAY more loose skin than you, and for me surgery might be the only fix for that. I don’t plan on jumping the gun on that right now, but it’s definitely something I’m thinking about. It sucks losing all this weight and still not wanting to go shirtless at the beach, etc.

  9. While South Beach/Paleo/Atkins get results, it’s often through “tricks” like setting your body into Ketosis.
    And to get your body to do that, there are often major sacrifices, in the sense that certain things cannot be eaten ever.
    For me, personally, any diet that excludes certain things every time, all the time, is not sustainable.

    For me, the diet that works is the one that makes me feel like I can “cheat” – eat the piece of cake at the party – while still following the rules.

    1. That’s a good “diet,” I follow it too. Moderate, eat well most of the time, and have the cake at the party. It keeps you sane and is actually a realistic way to lose weight and keep it off.

  10. My only personal observation has to do with Nutrasystem. I’ve eaten their food – pretty good. It does help with portion control and becuase of that – controls calorie intake. I lost 56 pounds. The problem is you really learn nothing. Stop eating the expense food and you are right back where you were. I have to be resposible for my weight and my health and the only way you do that is with knowledge and self control. Just my thoughts.

  11. I really like to strive for the primal/paleo lifestyle. Particularly, Mark Sisson’s (Mark’s Daily Apple) daily emails and book both have really great tips on staying active without making a concerted effort.

    A couple of things that I really like:
    – the 80/20 rule: Humans are not perfect, so if you strive to eat paleo 80% of the time, it doesn’t force you to completely ignore the food that you love. For me, it has manifested itself as paleo breakfast/lunch, and non paleo dinner once every 2 days. I’m not super strict, but i’ve lost 15 pounds/4% body fat
    – Play: making sure to stay active in fun ways. Rather than going to the gym and doing things that i don’t truly enjoy, I focus on full body/usable motion exercises that i like and have recently gotten into road biking for pleasure. I also take the stairs whenever i can (no matter how big – within reason).
    - Listen to your body: Eat when you are hungry (truly hungry, not wants), drink when you are thirsty (you get lots of water from eating fruits and veg so you don’t need “8 cups a day”). It sounds a little bit strange, but your body will tell you when to fill it up. Ever notice that you’re not hungry for hours after a big meal or even the morning after? thats your body telling you “the tank is still full, you can keep driving for a little while longer”. The way i got a better feel for what my body was telling me, I used intermittent fasting to help understand my hungry/full signals (http://www.marksdailyapple.com/fasting/). Here’s my personal interpretation…. Most days, if I’m not dreadfully hungry, I skip breakfast and eat lunch whenever I get the urge (not at a pre-specified time of day). That immediately chops my overall intake in a day and also stops me from sticking specific meal time-windows, but, rather, bodily requirement.

    All the while, i’m truly not paleo; i STRIVE to be paleo, but I like to say that I aim high and miss conservatively, so it helps keep me on track :)

    1. I completely agree. I started off simply counting calories and it worked very well for me. I lost ~ 80 pounds. There’s no doubt the only way to lose weight is to be in a negative calorie balance. Maintaining the loss was tough, though. It’s harder to find a maintenance calorie balance than to just find a number that puts you in a deficit. Combining Mark Sisson’s 80/20 primal with occasional intermittent fasts has really simplified my life and improved my health. I can’t speak to the weight loss advantages of these approaches but they’re great for maintenance. I eat to satiation and generally have a lot of energy. Most importantly for me, I’ve gained a lot of muscle and feel great. I’m now effortlessly maintaining ~9% body fat. I never thought the sight of myself in the mirror could make me smile with pride.

      I can’t speak to the effectiveness the other diets in your list of inferior approaches. I also agree that the only way to lose weight is to be in a calorie deficit, whether that’s achieved through “tricks” or through guesstimation of calorie intake. However, I’ll tentatively say that a combination of primal/intermittent fasts has simplified my approach to maintenance and made me aware of the way my body responds to different types of macro-nutrients.

      Thanks for keeping this wonderful site, Tyler; you’re an inspiration. I was expecting this thread to be filled with controversy but I’m glad to see your readership is so civil.

  12. I like the term “paying attention” to what you’re eating or “commit to healthier eating” a little better that counting calories. Yes, calories in vs calories out ultimately determines your weight but I’ve had students and clients keep it at 1,600 and eat nothing but junk! Quality is just as important as quantity and when you start putting healthy foods in your system on a regular basis and commit to your HEALTH, you really do lose those constant cravings for junk and sugar!
    Denise Cazes, M.A., LWMC
    http://www.onebodyonechoice.com

  13. Diets don’t work. I do weight watchers, and why it works for me is because I don’t know how to limit my portions or eat appropriately. I need guidelines and I need to learn about portion sizes and matching exercise to what I eat. For anyone losing weight I think the most important thing is changing habits and learning to be healthy and use moderation.

  14. I know I need to count calories… but what is the best way to do it? I’m really stumped and I just can’t figure out how to go about it. I am a gadget person, I love my Palm Pre – I’ve looked through the Palm apps and nothing really seemed wonderful. Is there a website with a mobile component that anyone could recommend?

    1. Kim, I’m not sure about mobile components but Fitday and Calorieking are great. I think calorieking may have an html5 mobile component. hopefully WebOs2 will bring more interest from developers and lead to great apps for that platform.

    2. I am using an app from FatSecret.com on my Droid smartphone. I always have my phone with me, so I can enter food where ever I am. It also will use the phone’s camera as a barcode scanner so I can just scan an item and the app will add the nutritional info to my food diary for me. The phone app syncs up to my online account. Best part, it was free. I don’t know if there is a version for the Palm, but you can use the website without having the pone app.

      1. Tyler,

        Love the site, both content and design. I also use Thesis and am always tweaking and looking around for new design ideas. This is how I discovered your site, btw.

        As for weight loss, congrats on your success. I’m 45yo, 5′ 10″ and weigh 185. I play tennis and run and my ideal weight is about 170 so I need to lose 15.

        I know nobody will consider this a problem but man, let me tell ya this is the tough zone here. This irritating 15 responds to almost nothing.

        I was that 170 forever then had a growth spurt about 3-5 years ago and now I sit here at 180. The extra 15 is NO good for my two sports.

        Anyway, great site. Would be interested in discussing the design of it with you off the blog (OTB) sometime.

        RMa

  15. Calories really are the bottom line – so make them count by trying to eat nutricious foods and burn more calories by making a point of moving your bodymore.

    Education is a great help to me. The more I learn about how the body reacts to different foods – the easier it is for me to choose to eat healthy.

    Some of the most nutricious foods are low in calories, and if you learn to cook and prepare them well – they can be delicious too.

    1. I worked in Japan for 9 years and during that time I spent a lot of time in an office. I worked beside a 60 year old Japanese man who was in great shape. One day I asked him what he did to stay in shape – he looked at me and said – ‘Don’t put food in your mouth.’

      I know this is a bit military like thinking – and I would never stop eating of something silly like that – but his point was clear and made me laugh.

      1. It’s a very clear, and valid point. So many people get worked up in the details, swear they have slow metabolism (which could be true!), etc, but at the end of the day if you don’t put food in your mouth, you won’t gain weight.

  16. If you are just talking nutrition, sure, counting calories is THE way to go. I personally LIKE low(er) carb – but nothing as severe as Atkins. And even then, I am still counting calories.

    I suspect, however, when people ask if you’d do it differently, that they are referring to the complete lack of resistance training for the majority of that weight loss.

    A lot of people that do hours and hours of cardio as you did to lose a ton of weight have regretted not introducing the free weights MUCH earlier. Had you done that from the beginning, your weight might be a bit higher than you are now, but your fat % and overall appearance would be MUCH improved.

    I don’t think there is much argument about that, although I’m sure someone will try.

    1. No, I read the e-mails I get. When I’m asked, “Would you have lost weight by counting calories again or would you do Weight Watchers?” I’m fairly sure they’re referring to counting calories.

      Not being defensive, it’s just pretty ridiculous for you to assume you know what’s in my inbox unless you read it too.

  17. Well, to be fair, Weight Watchers is really just another method of counting calories. You have a set number of points to eat in a day, and as long as you don’t exceed that you’ll lose weight.

    I have counted calories and I’ve done Weight Watchers, and WW is just way easier. It’s far simpler for me to keep a bunch of points values in my head.

  18. I have to respectfully disagree. All calories are not created equal, and this is why i don’t have much use for prgrams like Weight Watchers, where people are told they can continue to eat “all the foods they love,” even though they are, for the most part, empty calories that do no good and, arguably, do harm to the body. Weight loss/maintenance and HEALTH maintenance are best achieved by giving your body what it NEEDS, not what your brain thinks it WANTS. And that is achieved by eating clean; i.e. whole, non-processed foods — lean protein, unsaturated (olive oil, avocado, nuts) fats, fiber from vegetables, fruits, whole grains like brown rice, plain oatmeal, quinoa, etc. 1,800 calories of eggs, oatmeal with cinnamon and flaxseed, almonds, an orange, natural peanut butter, grilled shrimp with lime juice and cilantro on a bed of kale, fresh vegetables. lentils, a chicken breast with hummus on a whole wheat wrap, chopped fresh pineapple — is a whole lot different to your body than the 1,800 calories of a Big Mac meal or 2 slices of pizza and a “salad” of iceberg lettuce drowned in sugary, salty store bought dressing. Simply put, you only get one body…WHY would you put crap in it? As someone who has lost and maintained a 60 lb weight loss for three years, eating clean breaks the cycle of craving/bingeing and improves your overall health in such a way that cannot compare to “dieting” and eating frozen meals with 54 ingredients (count the ingredients in a lean cuisine some day. See how many of them you can actually identify.)…and, as my very hardcore competitive fitness friends say, no workout can out-work a bad diet. You have to eat quality foods that fuel your body…fats it can use for cell growth, protein to sustain muscle, complex carbs it can burn for energy…why eat fake foods with additives, chemicalsm, preservatives? Don’t give me the “eating well is expensive” argument. Chicken breast is on sale somewhere every week for $1.99 a pound. Dried beans are DIRT cheap. Oatmeal is $3 for a huge canister. A dozen eggs is under $2 and can be used at any meal. Frozen fruits (no sugar added) and vegs are EXTREMELY inexpensive and often have more nutritional value than fresh. Making calories COUNT is what leads to lasting weight loss and health…eating mindfully and evaluating your choices (with the obvious VERY occasional small indulgence) and addressing your food issues (WHY is having a doughnut/cake/nachos SO important to me?) rather than blowing your calorie “allowance” on “treats” and “forbidden” foods (again, WHY do you want them?) is, to me, a much more sensible and sustainable way to live.

    1. Perfect.

      This is what I do because it is the right way for me, as it made the most nutritional and scientific sense…to me. I am a sometimes food addict, sugary foods (not fruits) are often a slippery slope for me, (moderation through calorie counting did not work for me). They also affect my mood, my sleep patterns, my energy level etc. Its more than just about losing X number of pounds, I think.

  19. I think for the average person who got his or herself fat in the first place, your ‘diet’ is the best way for them to lose weight because it is the easiest. Unfortunately, what you outline is also the most inefficient and counter-intuitive. It is slow.

    A calorie isn’t just a calorie, and calories are just one small part of the weight loss equasion. When people decide to eat just a little cake here, just a swallow or two of pop there, they’re keeping their insulin levels up. With insulin levels up, there’s a higher fat-muscle ratio lost, whereas low insulin means almost exclusive fat loss.

    If people would actually study how their body functions, they would be amazed at just how powerful a finely tweaked diet is. Eating virtually no carbs is the BEST way to lose weight (as long as the calories aren’t excessive, but that just requires a person not to be a glutton, nothing special), because insulin stays so low. With insulin so low, fat loss is elevated to the #1 source of source of energy. A person can take a caffeine tablet in the morning (equivalent to a cup of coffee) because it is a lypolitic. A lypolitic is worthless if you have any other than low insulin, but is very powerful when you have low sugar levels.

    Overall, a person can completely transform their body in a short period of time if they’re crack open a biochem book and learn about how their body works.

    But most people don’t care that much. Most people don’t want to become all they can be.

    Most people just want to fit into smaller jeans and look good, even if they’re not getting too much healthier, even if they’re not vastly improving their weight loss.

    For most people, then, just reducing calories and exercising, which is common sense and is what everyone should be doing as a basic means of existence, is the best way to lose weight.

    Counting calories is the lowest common denominator. Most people are also the lowest common denominator, never reaching for anything more elite than average.

    1. “Most people are also the lowest common denominator, never reaching for anything more elite than average.”

      Well Frank, why don’t you display some of your elite qualities and let us all know what you have achieved and accomplished that’s so “elite” and above average. Just provide a few links. I’m sure someone of your stature has been well covered in the press and or on the internet.

      What you just wrote (the low carb part, not the rest of the BS) is in about 50% of the thousands diet books already written. The other 50% generally exactly oppose these views. Many are written by PHd types with a lot more knowledge and actual studies than what’s in your little biochem book.

      So, what you are telling us is you are basically a no-carb biggot.

      That view is perfectly fine but you don’t need to attempt to personally insult people, piss on their accomplishments and generally try to label them all as underachievers and average – all because they may or may not go for the no-carb plan.

      Ridiculous!

  20. I think what will work for “you” is the best way, so I understand why you would say counting calories is the best way. You lost a lot of weight that way, and not only that, have the courage and knowledge to keep it off. As I emailed you before, it does work for me to lose weight, but tough to keep it off for a long time.

    Keep it up though! I think that counting calories is a smart way to really visualize how much you eat, it helps you make better choices, and really see how much a 3oz piece of chicken really is!

  21. The biggest “yay” for calorie counting is that it’s easy to eat real food and count calories. There’s no special food to buy, no diets, etc. Things like Jenny craig and Medifast work only as long as you buy their products. What happens when you start eating real food again? You gain it all back (and sometimes more).

  22. for me i have not really calorie counted yet but i know i will have to soon. Moderation and portion control is what has helped me lose 58 pounds since june 19th. my goal is to go from 335 to 224 i am over half way there. i know calorie counting will be a big team player soon how soon i feel after new years. i will still be careful over the holidays and watch what i eat i do miss all the pizza i use to eat and i know someday i will be able to eat more just never like i use to i had weeks were 5 large pizzas were part of my intake and a ton of hot wings those where days i am happy to have behind me. other night i went to order pizza i decided to go out and make a smoothie instead made me smile. i agree with you Tyler 124%

  23. I disagree that counting calories leads to an inclination to eat 1600 cals of fast food a day. I realized that rather than have a small order of french fries from a fast food place, I could eat 4-5 bowls of homemade veggie soup for less calories and fat. At that point, I was no longer willing to settle for such an unsatisfying quantity (and also quality!) of food. In my experience THE magical ingredient to quiting any addiction including fast food is a decision to do so, NO MATTER WHAT! Even if you think the cravings or the smell of your coworkers lunch is going to kill you. Even if it feels like a live wire just went thru your body bc you overheard someone say the word sausage and you dont even like sausage! No person or thing can help you with your addictions, whatever they may be, until you are finally “sick and tired of being sick and tired”.

  24. Tyler,
    Found you today on Problogger, great timing as my hubby and I are planning a weight loss challenge beginning Monday. I have about 25 pounds to lose and he needs to lose about 60, but is shooting for 40 to begin with. We may join Weight Watchers as we(he) may need the accountability. I am going to send him here to see if he can be motivated by your success!
    I do want to mention about the “eating 1600 calories of junk” debate. I used a free online program at sparkpeople.com. One thing I learned to watch was not just calories, but the fat, protein and fiber. If you are eating junk, you will get nowhere near the fiber you need. I found that if I worked on getting my fiber up, it helped me eat much healthier overall.
    Looking forward to reading more!
    Bernice
    http://livingthebalancedlife.com/2011/what-is-valuable-to-you-j2b-week-1/

  25. I’m sorry i have to disagree, counting calories is not the best way to lose weight. It is certainly ONE tool you can use to measure how much you eat. All calories are not the same, just because you eat a certain amount of calories doesn’t mean it actually gets into your bloodstream or your body actually digest’s it. Everyone digests foods at different rate and that is why counting calories is not 100% accurate

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