5 Things You Need to Know for Weight Loss

things you need
The seasons are changing again. For Pittsburgher’s, this shift is only giving us a few more weeks of warm weather. No matter the season, people tend to have a bit of apprehension about body weight and composition. It is important to keep in mind that you are a work in progress, and remember that these figures do not define your self-worth as a person. It is also ok to want to work on yourself and be proud of your progress throughout the entire process. That being said, if you do wish to lose some weight and get in shape, these are the five things you need to know as you get started!

1. Energy Balance and What It Means for Weight Loss 

Energy balance: calories in = calories out. If you are consuming (eating) as much calories are you are expending (burning), then you will maintain your current weight. If you are consuming more calories than you are burning, this results in a caloric surplus (weight gain). Expending more calories than you are consuming leads to a caloric deficit (weight loss).


Taking in fewer calories than your body needs = caloric deficit. We can control this through diet and our activity level. It is well established that exercise burns calories! This is great news to help us increase energy expenditure. However, we can control more calorie restriction by what we consume on a day to day basis. This can be accomplished by lowering the total amount of calories consumed.

2. Find Out What a Healthy Weight is For You

Our bodies need energy in order to perform our daily activities (cellular processes like breathing, breaking down food, using energy to move around, etc). Resting metabolic rate (RMR) is the number of calories our bodies need to perform these daily bodily functions. Our calorie need is based on the RMR and other variables such as gender, age, body size, hormone level, activity level, and partly genetics. Some of these factors are out of our control, however, we can always control our activity level!

But first, how do we know what our RMR is? Traditionally, direct measurement of the RMR is expensive and impractical, so many people use an equation to estimate the RMR. It is important to keep in mind these equations are not exact, but they do provide a general estimate that is more individualized to each person and their unique characteristics.

The Harris-Benedict equation takes gender, age, height, weight, and activity level into account!

Now that we have a rough idea of how many calories your body actually needs, how many calories are you actually eating on a daily basis? Using a food tracker (an app like myfitnesspal works just fine) can give us an estimate of our calorie consumption and our daily physical activity. A good rule of thumb for weight loss is a reduction of 500 calories per day. While 500 calories may sound like a lot, there are a number of ways to reduce our calorie consumption by just making some simple swaps!

3. Make Healthy Swaps

Calorie dense food: A food that is high in calories, low in nutrients. These foods tend to be highly refined and processed. For example, a burger and fries and a soft drink would be an example of calorie dense food. Easy to eat, but they lack vital nutrients and don’t fill you up for a long period of time, increasing the likelihood that you will keep eating and snacking throughout the day – leading to overeating. This is why it’s difficult to eat these kinds of food during a diet. However, instead of just decreasing portion size, think about choosing nutrient-dense foods in place of calorie dense foods.
Nutrient dense foods are low in calories, high in nutrients. Examples include fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, lean proteins. These foods provide essential vitamins and nutrients! Since these foods are lower in calories, you can eat a larger amount of food than you could compare to eating calorie dense foods, allowing you to feel full and prevent overeating. Click here for more information about choosing foods that support a healthy diet!


Replacing soft drinks with water can save you hundreds of calories. One 12oz serving of Coca-Cola has 140 calories, and 36g of sugar. Eliminating one coke every day for one week would reduce calories by almost 1,000 calories! It’s important to remember that the little decisions we make every day contribute to our overall weight and body composition and that small swaps can make a big difference if you stay consistent!

Replace processed foods with fruits or vegetables to fill you up for fewer calories: For example 1 serving of zucchini noodles: 15 calories vs 1 serving cooked spaghetti noodles: 220 calories
Not only does the zucchini save you calories, but it also provides vitamin C and anti-oxidants! Eating your vegetables doesn’t have to be boring either. Freshen up the taste with citrus, herbs, and spices.
(P.S. there’s a recipe for zucchini noodles on the blog!)

4. Pick Up the Weights

Strength training will increase muscle mass – TONED MUSCLES comes from lifting weights! Applying a stimulus to the muscle (training) signals the body to produce more muscle tissue (aka gains). This results in the growth of muscle! Lifting weights does not make you bulky (it’s ok to lift, ladies!), it requires a high volume of frequency, intensity, and an increase in calories to gain a significant amount of muscle tissue.

You don’t necessarily have to go heavy if your goal is to tone a muscle or increase muscle size (this is called hypertrophy in science language!) Hypertrophy: 1-3 sets, 8-12 reps, 67-85% (moderate-somewhat heavy) 1RM (maximal amount of weight you can lift one time). If your goal is to gain strength, then you should be training with heavier weights. (Reference: Haff, G., & Triplett, N. Essentials of strength training and conditioning).

During strength training, muscle tissue breaks down and rebuilds back up in response to exercise. The body needs an adequate amount of protein to help it rebuild muscle tissue.

General protein guidelines based on activity:

1. Sedentary (inactive) adults: 0.8g/kg
2. Recreational athletes: 1.0g/kg
3. Endurance athletes: 1.2-1.4g/kg
4. Ultra-endurance athletes (marathon/Ironman): 1.2-2.0g/kg
5. Strength athletes: 1.2-1.7g/kg; 1.5-2.0g/kg
(Reference: Dunford, M., & Doyle, J. Nutrition for sport and exercise).The more strength activity a person does, the more protein the body needs for recovery!
Example: a 150 lb female who lifts weights 3-4 times per week
150lb/2.2 = 68kg
68kg x 1.5g = 102g of protein
This can be calculated with the help of a food tracker app! Find an activity that you actually enjoy! If you don’t like going to the gym and lifting weights by yourself, find a gym that offers a group fitness class. A high-intensity class that incorporates resistance exercises and increases the heart rate is a great way to burn calories and build strength at the same time (hint – click here for classes like this!)

5. Be Patient

One pound of fat has an estimated 3,500 calories, so a reduction of 500 calories a day would result in about 1 lb loss per week! Weight loss takes some time, so don’t get discouraged. It’s better to start where you are and make lifestyle changes that support a healthy weight over a long period of time than doing diets that aren’t sustainable.

Weight loss also doesn’t just consist of fat. All of the tissues in your body contribute to your overall weight – this includes bone, muscle mass, water content, organs, and fat tissue. Be mindful of diets that claim to lose weight quickly, because it takes a consistent caloric deficit in order to reduce fat overall. You may be losing weight, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s fat – it could also be water content (I’m looking at you, “detox teas”).

The physical activity guidelines recommend 150 minutes of aerobic activity (low intensity, longer duration) plus strength training 2-3 times per week and flexibility training. Aerobic activity can include brisk walking, biking, swimming, jogging, or another activity that you can perform at a low intensity for an extended period of time!


You can do all the crunches you want but the truth is if you’re not losing overall body fat, you’ll never see those abs. It is possible to increase muscle mass in an area (ex: squats will increase the size of the quads/thighs), however, we cannot determine where our body loses fat (must reduce calories to reduce body fat). In other words, a combination of reduced body fat plus increased muscle mass (through diet and exercise) is the best approach for producing definition.

Adding cardio is a great way to increase energy expenditure. This helps to maximize the caloric deficit (burning more calories than you take in, again leading to weight loss over time!).

So, the important thing is to stick to a healthy diet and exercise frequently! I know, I know – not as exciting as buying a magic tea to do all the work for you, but it’s what works. An even better bonus is that it has lasting benefits for health besides just looking great and feeling your best in a swimsuit.

The Things to Take Away:

1. Estimate how many calories your body needs on a regular basis
2. Track how many calories you’re eating and see if this matches your needs. Try using an app like MyFitnessPal
3. Include a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, legumes in your diet (aka nutrient dense foods which are low in calories!) For more info and ideas of food choices, click here!
Pick up the weights to build muscle.
5. Be patient and trust the process
6. Make these habits a lifestyle to lose the weight and keep it off
7. You are a work in progress, it’s ok to love yourself at every stage! 🙂

We’re Here to Help You!

While your fitness goals, injuries, health history, and path in life are unique to you, personal trainers here at the Pittsburgh Fitness Project can guarantee that we hold you accountable when it comes to reaching your goals.  As part of this process, we have instituted monthly fitness assessments for all clients so they can track progress, reassess goals and add new ones.

Schedule your free fitness evaluation today by clicking here!  Let’s get started.

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