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College 101: The Good, Better, and Best of Weight Loss

What’s the best way to lose weight?

I know that’s a super simple question, but if you’ve ever tried Googling it, you know that you end up in a maze of ridiculous scam sites, blog posts, instagram inspirations, and fad diets. So I thought I’d ask the experts and see what they had to say. Is one way of losing weight better than others? Is there a particularly fast way to lose weight?

People have been trying to lose weight for as long as there has been enough food around for us to get fat in the first place--and for just as long, people have been struggling to pull it off. There are a few unfortunate truths that cause this. For one thing, it’s easier to gain weight quickly than it is to lose weight quickly. For another, those of us who find ourselves overweight tend to be heavy because of our habits, and habits are hard to break.

So how can you lose weight? There are plenty of different opinions on that subject. Nearly all of the various weight-loss schemes you’ll find online and elsewhere can work, at least in theory. But not all of them will work most of the time, and many are quite unlikely to give you the results that you want. Let’s examine a few.

The simplest way to look at weight loss is with the old formula of “calories in, calories out.” Calories, in layman's terms, are fuel for our bodies. Food gives us calories, and exercise burns calories. Leftover calories become fat, and when your body is short on calories, it burns the fat. So if you burn more calories than you eat, you lose weight--simple as that! There’s only one problem: this isn’t (entirely) true. The reality is more complicated: not all calories are created equal, and calorie-free substances can fatten us up by interacting with caloric ones.

On the other hand, “calories in, calories out” still works as a simplified vision of how our bodies work. But then there’s more bad news: calorie deprivation diets tend to fail. Eating less is tough, and we tend not to stick to these diets--and even if we lose the weight, we gain it back when we stop dieting. These aren’t sustainable changes.

What about just eating the same stuff and exercising? More bad news: exercise is a vital part of our health, but you might be surprised how long it takes to burn off that bag of Doritos. Running a mile burns about 150 calories in a 200-pound person. So it’s about a mile per tiny snack-sized bag of Doritos--further if you’re under 200 pounds. Yikes!

And those fad diets--the ones that have you cut only certain foods, or eat like cavemen? Many of them are based on nutritional truths like macronutrients (if you want something better than calories to track, try the macronutrients--carbohydrates, fats, and proteins), but they tend to oversimplify things. There is no one enemy when it comes to weight loss, and many of these diets are just deprivation diets in disguise. In fact, sometimes these diets can even be dangerous!

Specialty diets, “weird tricks” from the internet, and diet pills can help you lose weight, sure, but they’re not healthy or sustainable on their own. A simple “calories in, calories out” diet is better (assuming you’re losing weight at a healthy rate, and no faster), but it’s still deeply flawed. But there is a “best way” to lose weight, and it’s this: lifestyle change.

That means eating healthier, but not depriving yourself too much. It means exercising, but not pushing yourself so far that you quit. In other words, it means sustainable changes--not a temporary diet, but a long-term change that involves regular exercise that you can enjoy or at least commit to, as well as a healthy diet that features lots of vegetables and other whole foods (counting macronutrients and calories should be a secondary goal, at most).

Yes, other things can be a part of your weight loss journey. You can count calories and restrict them a bit (the eating habits you’ll use to maintain your new weight will work, too, but a little calorie restriction can speed things up). Even diet pills like ephedra diet pills and Lipodrene can help. But whatever you do, make sure that it doesn’t interfere with the underlying and more permanent changes you’re making. Those are the things that will help you stick to your guns and keep the weight off!

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” -- George Eliot

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