Are You A Weight Loss Warrior… Achieve Sustainable Weight Loss!

With all of the information on weight loss, how can we be sure what is really going to achieve goals and be sustainable indefinitely? We work so hard at one type of diet plan and then succumb to old habits. This creates a yo-yo dieting scenario that is unhealthy and very frustrating. The very simple formula for weight loss is to reduce calories you take in from food, and increase the calories you burn through exercise. If you take in more calories than you burn, you gain weight. If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you lose weight, and if they are equal, you maintain weight. That is the simple truth about weight loss & maintenance. It is very simple to understand, yet very difficult to achieve.

“The Food You Eat Can Be The Most Powerful Form of Medicine Or The Slowest Form Of Poison.”

~Ann Wigmore~

Sifting through much research from top Registered Dieticians and Physicians, the following provides a guide for sustainable weight loss.

Getting Started

Determine your metabolic rate to understand how many calories you need to eat each day to provide energy to perform bodily functions. The basal metabolic rate (BMR) is individual and shows us how many calories it takes for our heart, brain, digestive system and all other bodily organs and systems to function each day. Even when we sleep we burn calories and that is calculated as part of our basal metabolic rate. So, it is the number of calories you burn to stay alive, even if you remained in bed all day. It is based on age, gender, height and weight, and as such needs to be calculated per individual. Approximately 60-65% of calories burned each day are attributed to BMR.

The remainder of calories is burned via digestion of food and exercise/physical activity. The sum of BMR + Digestion + Exercise = Total Daily Energy Expenditure in the form of calories burned. This is important when determining how many calories you need to sustain or lose weight.

There are factors that influence BMR. For example, physical activity raises BMR, causing you to burn more calories at a faster rate for a longer period of time throughout the day, and age decreases BMR causing a reduction in the calories burned as well as the rate at which they are burned. This is why as we age, most people cannot eat the way they did when they were young. Metabolism slows with age and that means fewer calories burned each day. Exercising is a great solution for the decline in metabolism with age, as it speeds up the metabolism, and defies the aging process regarding the amount and rate at which we burn calories.

Calculating BMR

As a gross estimate, we burn about 1 calorie per minute each day to stay alive. As there are 1440 minutes per day, we can estimate that we burn 1440 calories to perform bodily functions. This estimation does not account for age, gender, weight or height. For example, a 55- year old female 5’5” tall and 125 pounds burns approximately 1200 calories per day to stay alive, less than the estimated 1440 calories per day, demonstrating the importance of accounting for height, weight, gender and age.

The above example of a 55 -year old female suggests that she needs to consume at least 1200 calories each day to perform essential physiological functions. If she consumes less than 1200 calories, this might sabotage weight loss. We believe if we cut calories, we will lose weight, yet the opposite may be true if we cut too many calories. The body will protect itself at all cost, and will begin to hoard calories if the number is less than needed to sustain bodily function. In other words, the body thinks it is starving and as a result, will hold on to calories and store them as fat rather than burning them, defeating the purpose. 

One pound is equivalent to 3500 calories of food, so in order to lose one pound of fat per week, you need to have a 3500- calorie deficit per week. That is equal to 500 less calories per day x 7 days for a total of 3500 calories lost or one pound. To create the 500- calorie per day deficit, it is recommended to reduce calories in your daily meal plan, as well as increase your amount of exercise and physical activity. This may be achieved with a 250 calorie per day reduction in food, and an increase of 250 calories burned via exercise, for example.

Tracking calories in, versus calories out, is a realistic way to achieve this goal as it holds you accountable. Most people believe they consume fewer calories than they actually do, and believe they burn more calories during exercise & activity than they actually do. Tracking creates awareness and helps achieve goals. Tracking does not mean that you have to be a slave to writing every single thing you eat down. There are simple ways of achieving this and consulting with a fitness/health professional ensures that you are eating the right amount of calories to sustain life and accommodate your activity level, and burning enough calories via exercise to maintain or lose weight, depending upon your goal.

In addition, if there are co-morbidities, meaning you have other medical diseases or conditions, it is recommended that you seek physician approval before working with a fitness/health professional. The physician will either create a plan for you, or refer you to a clinical fitness/health professional experienced in clinical nutrition and exercise

There are clinical approaches to determining an accurate basal metabolic rate, as well as less invasive measures, such as a weight scale that estimates BMR, Body Fat % and other parameters. Omron sells a variety of these scales that are inexpensive and easy to use. In addition, there are online Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) calculators to estimate your BMR:

Another method for determining BMR for those who enjoy math is using these formulas:

Mifflin St. Jeor Equation

For men: BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) + 5

For women: BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) – 161

The equations use the metric system, so conversion from English to Metric for height and weight is needed.

Note that the scales and online BMR calculators and BMR equation provide an estimate regarding body fat % and metabolic rate. This is acceptable, as it provides a benchmark to compare future results to. For example, you step on the scale and it calculates 35% body fat. Even if this may not be 100% accurate, if after some time you measure yourself again and that number changes to 25% body fat, you lost 10% body fat regardless if the numbers are perfectly accurate. This proves that you are achieving goals, and as such, these types of scales are acceptable tools to use to determine body composition even though they are not 100% accurate.

BMI or Body Mass Index is another indicator used to determine health risk and body composition based on body weight and height; however, is not a sole indicator as it is not accurate for certain populations. For example, if you are a generally healthy, average person, BMI using your height and weight may predict your health risk based on your results. If you are an athlete or exercise enthusiast with excessive muscle, BMI will overestimate your body fat, as muscle weighs more than fat, and classify you as a risk for disease.

The point is, use BMI with caution and for general purposes it is used to estimate your risk for disease; however, it is not a good indicator for overall body fat percent. If you are told by a healthcare professional that your BMI is too high and risk for disease is greater, taking measures to reduce your BMI to a healthy range through nutrition and exercise will help reduce your risk for disease. Every 5- point increase in BMI increases risk for disease/death by 31%. 

BMI is calculated using standard Height and Weight tables, online BMI calculators, and mathematical equations, similar to calculating BMR.

English BMI Formula:

BMI = (Weight in Pounds / (Height in inches squared)) x 703

Example: (125 pounds/65"x65") x 703 = (125/4225) x 703 = 0.02958 x 703 = 20.8 BMI.  This is in the Normal range for health.

Metric BMI Formula:

BMI = (Weight in Kilograms / (Height in Meters) x (Height in Meters))

Upon determining BMR/BMI, what diet is the best choice? The best weight loss plan is the one that works! Finding a balance will make it sustainable. All or nothing practices lead to failure. Using basic nutrition principles of balance, variety and moderation of whole foods from each food group, with an occasional treat of our favorite foods, ultimately is sustainable. Establishing a healthy relationship with food is important regarding how we think and feel about food. Eat for the appropriate reason. Ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” Sometimes we eat for reasons other than hunger such as, bored, tired, sad, happy etc. Food is not an emotional crutch and you must come to terms with what underlying issue is causing eating for reasons other than physiological hunger and health. Working with a wellness coach/fitness professional is a great option to create realistic goals and uncover underlying issues that might sabotage weight loss and maintenance.

Determine If The Plan You Choose Will Achieve Sustainable Success!

 An overall effective nutrition plan will:

 • Assess and evaluate individual needs

• Provide education on caloric needs, balance and variety from each food

   group, portion control and food labeling

• Set realistic goals and expectations

• Provide a tracking method for accountability and awareness

• Include regular exercise and physical activity

• Incorporate support and coping skills via wellness coaching

Nutrition Bites:

• Avoid quick fixes

• Ask yourself, “ Can I sustain this nutrition plan indefinitely?”

• Incorporate 3 small meals and 2 small snacks each day

• Avoid food 3 hours before bedtime

• Eat treats occasionally

• Eat whole grains, nuts, seeds, lean protein, fish, fruit and vegetables

• Avoid processed and packaged food

• Avoid sugar, simple carbohydrates (white flour, rice, pasta), and enriched

   or bleached flour

• Grab almonds, apples, edamame, walnuts, cut vegetables, yogurt for a

    quick snack

• Drink water and green tea with lemon

• In addition to general nutrition education, incorporate planned meals into

   your day for success

• Environmental changes (behavior changes, choices, what people do) as

  opposed to genetics, is as powerful as some medications. 

  • Spending less time watching TV is an environmental change that is powerful for health.

• It is great to add whole foods and grains and avoid processed foods, yet

   this is not a substitution for controlling portion sizes.

  • Cutting calories is still needed if you increase healthy food into the diet as a calorie is a calorie, and the body cannot discern between 2000 calories of carrots and 2000 calories of chocolate. At the end of the day 2000 calories were consumed and that is what the body responds to. The point is eating healthier food does not give you the green light to eat more food.

• Exercise is needed in addition to proper nutrition to lose and maintain


  • Exercise is even beneficial to an overweight or healthy weight person even if no weight is lost as a result. The body is receiving health benefits even if no weight loss is achieve. Keep exercising!!

• Obesity or trying to lose weight is a chronic condition. You cannot stop the

    new habits once weight loss goals are met. It is a lifelong commitment.

• Soliciting support is beneficial to weight loss. Getting family and friends

    involved will help with goals and accountability.

These are but a few topics in the world of nutrition, weight loss and maintenance.   As there is a plethora of information to choose from, the goal of this article is to shed some insight into a few healthy options for sustainable weight loss. It may be confusing to a lay- person and it is recommended to speak with a fitness/health & wellness professional before choosing a plan that is going to achieve lasting success.  

In addition to achieving sustainable weight loss, the risk for many diseases associated with excess weight (heart disease, hypertension, cancer, obesity, diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, mental disorders, stroke, metabolic syndrome, osteoarthritis, gallstones and reproductive disorders) is reduced.  Taking control of your body is the first step towards prevention of many diseases.  Sustained weight loss and habitual exercise are two great behaviors to adopt to take control of your body and preventing disease.


Marianne E. Morano, M.S., ACSM, CWC serves on Cancer Schmancer's Medical Advisory Board. She is a Clinical Exercise Physiologist and the CEO and Founder of Fit or WHAT, Inc. Her mission is to empower clients and the community to achieve their personal best through healthy lifestyle programs, creating longevity and quality of life.