Ask An Expert·3 min read

Is Weight Loss As Simple As Calories In, Calories Out?

Dear Expert,

Is weight loss as simple as calories in, calories out?

Dear Anonymous,

To an extent, weight loss will always require some form of a calorie deficit. But there are so many factors that contribute to sustained weight loss. Your specific health goals, underlying health conditions, or history of dieting can all impact your metabolism and how you approach weight loss. 

There are about 3,500 calories in one pound, and healthy weight loss typically looks like one to two pounds per week. Depending on a number of factors like what you're eating and the amount of energy you're expending, you can adjust your calorie intake based on those guidelines. 

It’s important to remember that weight loss is also not an overall indicator of health. And it doesn't necessarily mean you're getting the nutrients you need. Aim for nutrient-rich foods since calories don’t give us the whole picture. A hundred calories of apples will provide more nutrients than a hundred calories of French fries, for example.

People often cut too many calories, and then compensate later on by eating more food than they originally needed. A balanced profile of nutrients — generally keeping half your plate full of non-starchy vegetables, one-fourth full of protein, and the other fourth full of carbohydrates — can help keep you full throughout the day. 

We also don't want to stay in a weight loss season forever. It's better to choose healthier habits you can sustain. A lot of people on a weight loss journey will say, “My body just hit this point where it stopped losing weight.” That's not necessarily a bad thing. Once our body hits an equilibrium, it might just be healthy at that set weight. Ultimately, it's really about healthy habits that serve each individual specifically.

Featured Expert

May Zhu

May Zhu - May Zhu is a Chicago-based registered dietitian nutritionist.

Ask an Expert is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a question, you are agreeing to let theSkimm use it—in part or in full—and we may edit its answer for length and/or clarity.

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