Table of Contents:
Common barriers to weight loss
How does weight loss work? A simple formula
How many calories should you eat to lose weight?
What is the weight loss plateau?
Can you lose weight without exercise?
How can you lose weight safely?
How Forward can help you lose weight for good

Tired of trying and failing to lose weight? According to Gallup, 55 percent of Americans want to lose weight—including three in five women and just under half of all men. While reasons for wanting to lose weight vary, an increasing number of people who are overweight or obese are motivated by concerns about their health. 

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute points out that even a small amount of weight lost—between 5 and 10 percent of your current weight—makes a big difference for disease prevention. Losing weight can help lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, and it helps prevent cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and a long list of other diseases.

But according to a large Cleveland Clinic survey, while around 84 percent of American adults have tried at least one weight-loss method, 30 percent stuck with it for less than a month, and 13 percent quit in less than a week. 

That’s why we’re starting our series of weight loss articles with this primer about what might be holding you back from dropping weight—and what the science says you need to do to get rid of those extra pounds once and for all—and keep them off. 

Common barriers to weight loss

Why is it so hard for so many people to lose weight? One major culprit is misinformation. Many people don’t understand the basic science behind how weight loss works, and when they try weight-loss methods that can’t possibly work for the long-term, they blame themselves—or their metabolism—for their failure to reach their target weight. 

These are some of the barriers Americans say prevent them from losing weight:

  • 24% dislike exercise
  • 22% feel like they don’t have time to exercise
  • 46% to 60% believe their metabolism is working against them
  • 57% feel pressured by a loved one to lose weight, which they find unhelpful

Additionally, many people want to lose weight fast—and they want it to be easy. That’s why weight-loss diets, weight loss programs, and weight-loss remedies, pills, and supplements are a multi-billion dollar business in the U.S. But in the majority of cases, the only thing people lose is money when it comes to these quick fixes, because the sad truth is that sustainable weight loss is not fast, and it’s not easy. 

Although there are plenty of weight-loss mistakes people make, the biggest one is not understanding how, exactly, your body sheds pounds. The better you understand the science—of weight loss, of motivation, of human behavior—the better your chances of creating and sticking to a weight loss plan that works for you.

How does weight loss work? A simple formula

To lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you consume—or consume fewer calories than you burn. 

The food you eat is made up of three main nutrients—carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These macronutrients provide the calories that your body needs to function. But when you consume more calories than your body uses for fuel, they’re stored as fat. 

One pound of body fat contains 3,500 calories. To lose one pound, you need to burn 3,500 more calories than you consume. To lose one pound per week, this breaks down to either consuming 500 fewer calories per day or burning an extra 500 per day—or, ideally, combining a lower-calorie diet with an increase in physical activity.

How many calories should you eat to lose weight?

How many calories you should eat for weight loss depends on a number of factors, including your existing weight, how much you want to lose, and when you’d like to reach your target weight. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) provides a free Body Weight Planner tool to help guide your weight loss plan based on these and other factors:

  • First, enter your age, biological sex, height, current weight, and activity level. 
  • Then, choose your target weight and when you’d like to reach it. 
  • Next, choose how much you’ll increase your physical activity. 

The tool calculates how many calories you should eat each day to reach your weight-loss goal by your target date. Calorie and activity requirements for weight loss are different for women than they are for men, since each sex has it own special challenges and considerations when it comes to losing weight.

What is the weight loss plateau?

You know how it goes: for a few months, you’re dropping pounds all over the place, but eventually, the scale stalls at the same number for weeks—and then slowly begins to creep back up. 

This well-known phenomenon is known as the dreaded weight-loss plateau—but many people don’t understand why it occurs, and they give up, thinking that they must lack willpower or that they have a physiology that doesn’t allow them to lose weight. But that simply isn’t true. So, why does this happen?

As you lose weight, your body requires less energy—or fewer calories—to function. If you don’t adjust your caloric intake to account for this fact, you’ll hit the plateau.

For example, say you weigh 250 pounds and require roughly 2,000 calories per day to fuel your body and lose weight. But once you’re down to 200 pounds, you only need 1,500 calories per day to fuel your body and lose weight. If you continue at 2,000 calories per day, you won’t lose as fast—or at all—and you may even start gaining it back. 

On top of that, as you lose weight, your overall calorie burn decreases. This means that in addition to consuming fewer calories, you’ll need to simultaneously increase your physical activity to keep losing weight at your current pace. 

As you begin to weigh less, you need to adjust your calorie intake and expenditure to continue dropping pounds at your current pace. Since weight loss calculators like the one NIDDK offers don’t account for the declining expenditure of energy that comes with weight loss, after you lose 5 or 10 pounds, recalculate your calorie needs based on your decreasing body weight and increases in activity.

Can you lose weight without exercise?

A combination of dietary changes, cardiovascular exercise, and weight training is the best possible recipe for permanent weight loss. While you can lose weight without exercising, eventually, you’ll hit the weight-loss plateau, and the pounds will creep back on. 

If you have health or mobility issues and can’t exercise in the usual ways, you can still get enough physical activity to lose weight. Many exercise programs focus on specific limitations, including water exercises, chair exercises, and using specialized or modified gym equipment.

If you can exercise—but you get bored doing it or have a hard time getting motivated to start—we’ve got some helpful hacks for that.

How fast can you lose weight safely?

The healthiest and most sustainable way to lose weight is slowly—at a rate of around 1 to 2 pounds per week. Unfortunately, losing weight at breakneck speed isn’t healthy or sustainable. To lose weight fast, you need to consume far fewer calories—or burn many more—than is healthy.

Severe calorie restriction may result in fast weight loss at first, but your body won’t get the fuel it needs to function properly—or the nutrients it needs to stay healthy—and it won’t be long before changes in your metabolism make it difficult to continue losing weight and sustain it for the long-term. 

The most important predictor for successful weight loss is the sustainability of your weight loss plan. In order to lose weight successfully and permanently, you have to view it as a long game—and make lifestyle changes you can live with for good. 

How Forward can help you lose weight for good

As your primary care provider, Forward focuses on disease prevention and management. And one of the best ways to prevent or manage a wide range of diseases is to lose at least 5 to 10 percent of your body weight if you’re obese or overweight. Our 12-week, doctor-led Weight Management Program is open to all members and provides education, resources, and a personalized plan to help you lose weight sustainably, in a way that works best with your lifestyle. 

No long waits. No surprise bills. No copays — ever.

Fed up with a soul-sucking healthcare system? Same. With unlimited visits, personalized insights and real, actionable results, find out what it’s like to actually enjoy seeing your doctor.