I took in less calories than I consumed.
It's that simple.
Step 1: find out how many calories your body needs in a day.
At the time, I wasn't very active, my requirement was 2600/day. Being active means getting to eat more! :)
Step 2: decide how fast you want to lose weight
Every 500 calories you take off per day translates into 1 pound of weight loss per week. I chose to target 2 pounds per week, putting me on a 1600 calorie/day diet.
Everything I've read suggests that 1200/day is the absolute minimum to get your nutritional requirements met - I wouldn't even go that low. And if you're active then make sure you account for calories burned in your activities. I also took a multivitamin to make sure I was covered.
Step 3: Come up with a way to count calories
I had a strip of paper with boxes on it, each box representing 100 calories I was allowed to eat. When I ate calories, I would rip off boxes. 500 calories, 5 boxes. No boxes left? Stop eating.
The trickier part is often finding how many calories are in the food you eat. I used this site for most basic items, it's fairly complete. Most fast food places have nutritional information available on request. Sometimes, you have to make an educated guess.
I had a postal scale I used at home to measure portions. Portion control is critical.
Step 4: plan for cheating
It's impossible to go months and never go over 1600 calories/day. You'll have birthday parties, you'll go out with friends, etc. So plan for it. I allowed myself to have my full 2600 calories in a day twice a week, usually Saturday and Sunday. This let me let loose enough to stick to it.
Decide in advance of what you will allow yourself in terms of cheating. Make a rule, otherwise you'll cheat more than you should.
- Tell people about it! Once people know what you're doing, you'll feel extra pressure to actually do it.
- Don't let others derail you. They will tell you that calorie counting doesn't work because your metabolism will slow down. This is a dangerous 1/2 truth... metabolism can slow down, but I've calculated it out based on information I found here. At worst, it would slow your metabolism by 200 calories, at best it wouldn't slow at all. Either way, you will still be losing weight. Exercise can often keep the metabolism high to offset any effect, and it burns calories. Win win! :)
- Weight yourself daily at the same time. It's best do do it first thing in the morning when you climb out of bed. You'll have daily fluctuations of a pound or even two, so don't get upset if you're doing everything right and your weight goes up a pound for a day. And get a good scale, a digital one.
Keeping it Off
The best thing about counting calories is what you learn. I'm very aware of where calories are hiding and how to avoid them, even though I'm not counting any longer. I've maintained the portion sizes I used during my weight loss. And I've kept exercising, in fact I've turned myself into an athletic person where I used to be a couch potato.
GOOD LUCK! I think anyone can do this. It's not as easy as the fad diets, but unlike fad diets this works and can be part of a bigger lifestyle change.