On this page:
- Is weight reduction right for you?
- Physiology of weight reduction
- Reject a diet mentality
- Tips for safe weight reduction
- Serving sizes
- Mindful eating
- Physical activity
- Maintaining your new weight
- Less safe methods of losing weight
- Campus Resources
Safe weight reduction takes time and effort, but by making lifestyle changes that incorporate proper nutrition and physical activity, you can lose and maintain your weight for the long-term.
Before making changes, it is a good idea to think about several important questions:
Why do you want to lose weight? If you have made a clear, sound, decision to lose weight and have support of a physician, it is important to understand that permanent, safe weight reduction takes time.
Do you really need to lose weight? We weren't all born to be thin or conform to society's definition of the ideal body. Your body size and shape depend on multiple factors, including your genes, eating patterns, Resting Energy Expenditure (see definition below) and exercise. The ultimate goal is to accept and Love Your Body while trying to improve your health.
What is a realistic amount of weight for you to lose and maintain? Every individual is different, however studies show that it is safe to lose approximately 1-2 pounds per week for success in maintaining weight loss. Consult with a physician or registered dietician.
To lose weight you must burn more calories than you eat. Basic body functions (e.g. breathing, manufacturing cells and maintaining body temperature) use 50-70% of your calories. The rate at which your body uses calories for basic body functions is called the Resting Energy Expenditure (REE).
Your genes, age, gender and body composition largely determine your REE. In this way, much of your energy use is predetermined. However, the amount of energy you burn each day also depends in part on how much exercise you get, which you can affect.
For safe weight loss, it is recommended that you lose no more than 1-2 pounds per week. To lose one pound of fat per week, you would need to burn and/or reduce your intake by about 3500 calories, or about 500 calories per day.
If you adopt restrictive, negative thinking that accompanies diets, you may feel deprived and ultimately defeated, and this can actually trigger overeating or the development of an eating disorder. To reach a healthy weight, don't diet. Instead practice eating well and moving your body to serve you best long-term.
- Keep a food and exercise diary. People who log their intake and activity tend to be more successful at weight loss. Here are some free tools: ChooseMyPlate.gov, LoseIt.com, FitDay.com, MyFitnessPal (use the phone app to access information about foods in Residential Dining)
- Eat a variety of plant-based foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. At each meal, cover one-half (or more) of your plate with vegetables, cover one-quarter with whole grains, and cover one-quarter with protein.
- Eat regularly timed meals (especially breakfast) and snacks because skipping them can lead to overeating later in the day.
- Attempt to stop eating once you feel satisfied, but before you feel uncomfortably full.
- Often cravings disappear, so if you still feel hungry or unsatisfied after a meal or snack, wait at least 10 minutes before you have more food.
- Plan meals and prepare snacks ahead of time. Snack on fresh vegetables for crunch and fresh fruits to satisfy your sweet tooth.
- Limit the amount of alcohol (beer, wine and liquor) that you drink.
- Try to limit screen time (computers or television) to two hours or less per day. Increase physical activity instead.
- Sleep 8-8.5 hours per night. Studies show that lack of sleep is linked to weight gain.
- Eat your favorite high-calorie foods like desserts less frequently and in smaller portions (you don't have to eliminate them altogether).
- Know your daily calorie and serving size "budget." Any weight reduction plan should include more than 1400 calories per day. Take care when eating out, because restaurants are notorious for large serving size. Get customized nutrition information at ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Grains: Serving size is 1 slice bread, 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal, 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta
Fruits: Serving size is cup fresh fruit, 1 cup fruit juice or 1/2 cup dried fruit
Vegetables: Serving size is 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked
Protein: Serving size is 1 egg or 2 egg whites, 1/4 cup cooked dry beans or tofu, 1 tablespoon nut butter, 1/2 ounce nuts or seeds, 1 ounce cooked meat, poultry or fish
Dairy (calcium-fortified foods and beverages can be substituted): Serving size is 1 cup milk or yogurt, 1.5 ounces cheese (choose low-fat or fat-free products)
Fat: 1 teaspoon oil, 2 tablespoons light salad dressing, 1 tablespoon low-fat mayo, 1 teaspoon soft margarine
Drink: 6-8 (8-ounce) cups per day
- Make a conscious effort to be present during meals.
- Honor your hunger. Hunger pangs are your body's way of saying that it needs energy. If you are hungry, eat. Ignoring your feelings of hunger often leads to overeating later.
- There are ways to cope with uncomfortable emotions without using food, and some options are: going for a walk outside, listening to music, drawing/coloring, or talking with friends & family. However, it is important to acknowledge that stress eating is very common, and can be an opportunity to practice self-compassion and forgiveness.
Regular physical activity has many benefits. It can help with losing and maintaining weight; increasing Resting Energy Expenditure (REE); strengthening, growing muscles; and improving mood. Three types are recommended:
- Aerobic exercise
For more information, see Exercise.
Even though you are eating well and exercising, you may reach a plateau where your weight stays the same. Plateaus are mainly due to decreased resting energy expenditure (REE). When you consume fewer calories, your REE decreases, thus your body's need for energy decreases. Keep exercising and eating well to help you get through periods with no weight loss. Sometimes a plateau is the body's way of saying that you may not need to lose more weight. Weight loss is not linear, and has complex biological consequences. If you are experiencing physical or emotional distress because of weight loss efforts, reach out to friends, family, or a clinician.
Once you have lost weight, maintaining your weight might be difficult. If you wish to maintain your weight it is important to prioritize physical activity and making nutritious choices.
To maintain your new weight you need to make sure that you are utilizing as many calories as you are consuming. You may need to experiment with the amount of food you need to maintain your current weight. Make sure to keep exercising regularly and eat plenty of nutrient-dense foods.
Before trying a new diet, consult a clinician or dietitian.
Low-calorie diets: It is harmful to reduce your daily calorie intake lower than 1400 calories per day, because your body adjusts to a semi-starvation state and looks for alternative sources of energy. In addition to burning fat, your body will eventually burn muscle tissue. Because your heart is a muscle, prolonged starvation will weaken it and interfere with its normal rhythms. Low-calorie diets don't meet the body's nutritional needs, and without nutrients your body cannot function normally.
Appetite-suppressant drugs and other diet pills:"Wonder" products that permanently reduce weight do not exist. Products that promise immediate or effortless weight loss will not work in the long run. Appetite suppressants, which often contain a stimulant like caffeine, are associated with side effects including nausea, nasal dryness, anxiety, agitation, dizziness, insomnia and elevated blood pressure. With any product, side effects may be worse if you exceed the recommended dosage.
Fad diets: Many fad diets emphasize eating a lot of one kind of food rather than a variety of foods, and can be very dangerous. These types of diets are often used to trick people into spending money on ineffective and unproven products. The safest way to eat involves consuming a variety of foods, which ensures that you can obtain all the nutrients your body needs.
Liquid diets: Liquid diet drinks or shakes that provide less than 1000 calories per day should only be used under close medical supervision. These diets can be unsafe and are not nutritionally beneficial due to high sugar content. There is a very low amount of fiber, which causes a sugar rush and crash. Additionally, liquid diets may not alleviate hunger, resulting in overconsumption of other foods.
- UHS Nutrition Clinic offers individual nutrition counseling.
- Counseling and Psychological Services provides free, confidential counseling and workshops to students. Call 734-764-8312. Free and confidential for UM students.
- U-M Department of Recreational Sports offers a wide variety of exercise and recreation opportunities at multiple locations on campus.
- U-Move Fitness sponsors exercise classes.