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How Diets Work

If you’ve tried everything, yet weight loss continues to elude you, don’t give up. There are ways to up the odds and increase your chance of success. The first step is to understand how dieting causes weight loss.

It's a matter of energy balance. If the number of calories you consume is less than what you need to maintain your body weight, you’ll lose weight.

Conversely, if you take in more calories than you burn, over time you’ll gain weight. In general, you’ll take in excess calories if you eat high-fat foods because fat, at nine calories per gram, is calorie dense. Protein and carbohydrates, on the other hand, provide only four calories per gram.

When it comes down to losing weight, developing an eating plan that contains fewer overall calories is the first step. To get the proper amount of nutrients you need, you should make sure your eating plan breaks down into these proportions: Fat should make up 20 to 35 percent of your diet; carbohydrates, 45 to 65 percent; and protein, 10 to 35 percent. If your eating plan is lopsided toward only one of these categories, you may lose weight, but you also will lose out on important nutrients.

Keep track

To lose weight, you must cut calories, increase the calories you use, or both. One way to do this is to keep a food diary to track portion sizes and your calorie intake to trim 500 calories a day. As an alternative, you could also increase your amount of daily exercise to burn those 500 calories.

If you need 2,000 daily calories to maintain your current weight, cutting back to 1,500 should yield a weight loss of one pound a week. But not everyone feels comfortable losing weight at that rate. For some, losing half a pound a week may be more realistic.

Plan on plateauing

After four to six months of dieting, your weight loss is apt to level off, because as you lose weight, the rate you burn calories and the number of calories you need to maintain your weight tend to lessen.

Plateauing is caused by the loss of muscle mass; muscle burns more calories than fat, and some muscle loss is inevitable during weight loss.

To keep losing weight at that point, you’ll need to keep cutting calories, or increase your exercise. If you’ve stopped weighing or measuring portions in conjunction with your food diary, now’s a good time to start again.

You also might decide you’re done losing weight, in which case, you can afford to eat a little more because you’re no longer trying to lose.

But whichever you decide, keep exercising by participating in physical activities you enjoy. People who have lost weight maintain their weight through exercise, the CDC says.