I'm bumping this up again because I just answered another question that boiled down to "calculate your BMR and focus on reducing calorie intake instead of increasing exercise". Do we have a standard question to designate as duplicate, maybe?

Lately, we've been getting a lot of questions along the lines of "I want to lose weight and I do some exercise (examples of moderate exercise) but I'm not losing weight anymore". My understanding is that the state of the art is that exercise by itself does very little for weight loss and that caloric restriction combined with at least moderate exercise is really the key to losing weight for most people. Simply put, without more extreme exercise, the calories burnt are small compared to dietary intake, particularly if people are just eating when they're hungry, which has been shown to lead to people eating more calories than they burned if they're exercising. However, exercise is good for your health in general, and there's evidence that it aids in digestion, particularly if people aren't eating a diet high in all of the varied nutrients needed.

So, long story short, the best possible answer seems to be "do some moderate exercise, but really, let's talk about tracking caloric intake", which seems counter to the focus of this site, but focusing on the exercise seems like it's focusing on the wrong thing for the sake of policy.

  • How about looking at the research which shows calorie restriction also does not work in the long term, and stop giving people advice that will kill their metabolism: nytimes.com/2016/05/02/health/biggest-loser-weight-loss.html
    – michael
    Jan 3, 2017 at 17:54
  • Weight loss doesn't work in the long term period. Which... is exactly what your article states. Nothing in what you quoted contradicts that people need to have a small caloric deficiency combined with moderate exercise, and to maintain it. Unless I'm missing something you're adding to its contents?
    – Sean Duggan Mod
    Jan 3, 2017 at 18:08
  • Why would you suggest someone keep a caloric deficiency and at the same time say weight loss doesn't work? What is the point of that?
    – michael
    Jan 3, 2017 at 18:13
  • :) Because, as long as they maintain said deficit and exercise, they can take their weight down and keep it down? The article you posted is discussing extreme weight changes, which required meticulous diet and hours of exercise. Something where you drop 200 calories and do a half hour of moderate exercise each week is good enough to lose a pound or so a week and keep it off, and is something that most people don't have trouble maintaining.
    – Sean Duggan Mod
    Jan 3, 2017 at 18:20
  • Please show me a clinical trial where people have successfully kept weight off. I don't know of any and I have been following the research for a decade now. Your suggestion that most people don't have trouble maintaining weight loss (great or small) after an initial 3-6 months is not backed up by the data.
    – michael
    Jan 3, 2017 at 18:30

5 Answers 5


One thing we could do is select one representative answer such as Erik points out, and then make it a community wiki with a few different sample plans/ways/methods for weight loss, both with and without calorie reduction.

It's hard to make a comprehensive one shot question/answer, but if we have a few answers backed up with studies (I've linked some in various answers), and a rational explanation of why calorie reduction is king and how to actually calculate calories/food diaries, etc. we could have a good single resource to point to that could be updated as the science advances.

  • 1
    I definitely agree that we need one good answer that covers it. I guess the next question is, what's the best way to do that and still fave it on-topic for the Fitness site given it's largely about diet?
    – Sean Duggan Mod
    Mar 10, 2016 at 18:21
  • @SeanDuggan - That...is the million dollar question. I'll think about it, maybe we can brainstorm in chat once we have a few ideas to kick around.
    – JohnP Mod
    Mar 10, 2016 at 19:54

I use this answer a lot, which I suppose is a little selfish since I wrote it. It hits on the major theme of effective weight loss, in my opinion.


Calorie restriction only works well for obese people whose calorie intake is out of sync with their physical activity level. If you are not obese and your goal is to become fitter and leaner, then exercising harder and eating healthier and more is going work much better than calorie restriction.


Two answers, since this question isn't as clear cut as many seem to think. If the person asking the question is obese, then, as Count Iblis points out, calorie restriction may (note: may) be the best way to go.

If the person has some weight to lose, but not a great deal, then I think an answer more addressing lifestyle choices would be better. Yes, you can advise calorie restriction to them as well, but surely it's better to actually encourage them to adopt healthy habits rather than just cut down on the food they're eating?

My gym has had great success promoting a series of habits for people who want to lose weight (this is for minor and major weight loss, but then the group training sessions are pretty intense, which is going to add to it), the recommendation is:

  1. Go to bed on time and get at least 8 hours of sleep
  2. Drink enough water (1lt per 25kg bodyweight is the recommendation)
  3. Eat copious amounts of green vegetables
  4. Make sure you eat your daily protein requirement
  5. Don't exceed your daily calories

Yes, calorie counting is there, but it's only to be looked at after the other 4 points are in line.

The rational behind this is that is you make sure you're well rested and hydrated, then energy levels and appetite tend to adjust themselves naturally. There's no sleep deprivation carb craving / hunger dehydration confusion (though I'm honestly not sure if that's a real thing). Eating lots of greens (the recommendation is about 65% of your plate should be salad and veg) helps take care of things like nutrients and fibre, then the protein and calories are self explanatory.

I've had friends incrementally implement these things to great success. My friends are lazy, so telling them to count calories would be too much work. Telling them to go to bed earlier and drink more water to a measurable degree was always more likely to be adhered to.

The short answer, calorie restriction does work, but is hard and not everyone is motivated enough to do the work required.

  • Calorie restriction does not work. Long term studies show that people regain their weight even when they continue calorie restriction. (see biggest loser contestants).
    – michael
    Jan 3, 2017 at 17:52
  • Ah, but short term, it does work. But this is pretty much why I suggest a more comprehensive answer rather than simply to count calories.
    – Dark Hippo
    Jan 3, 2017 at 19:51
  • Everyone knows how to lose weight short term, but only brides care about that. Everyone else is pretty upset when they get advice to cut calories and weight comes back after 6 months along with a depressed metabolism. What you suggest above doesn't work for the long term either. Disagree? Show me the research.
    – michael
    Jan 3, 2017 at 19:54

Put on Muscle

  • The best way to burn fat -- hands down -- weight training.

Eat More

  • Meal should be -- smaller portions, evenly spaced (time between) and as frequently as you can.

  • Your resting metabolic rate will continue to decrease so you'll end up having to eat more to maintain your weight.

Adopt the mindset that you’re NOT on a diet you’re creating a lifestyle change.

Grocery Shopping

  • Slowly replace unhealthy foods with healthier alternatives.

  • This is a gradual process, DON'T this too fast and -- you’ll crash

  • Gradually reduce porition sizes
  • WORK should be required to get _______ food you crave. Make it so you have to drive to the store vs walk to the fridge.

The Inevitable

  • Understand you’re going to have break downs, over-eat and feel like you can never do this.

Mentally prepare yourself for this and realize it’s a normal part of the process. You’ll get back on track tomorrow. Remember your disturbing reason WHY.

What’s your Reason WHY?

  • You need a disturbing reason why you MUST do this. Make this your mantra. What have you lost in the past by not doing this?
  • Write down what this will cost you if you don’t change What will you gain by doing this? Why Are you doing this?

(I bought an 8 CD audio book by a motivation master and this was the foundational message) Todd Beeler: 7 Hidden Secrets of Motivation

When to Eat

  • Eat as much as you want

  • Allow yourself to eat as much as you want of any healthy food (an understanding of what’s healthy is REQUIRED).

  • STOP counting calories! STOP counting calories! STOP counting calories!


  • Eat more often
  • The smaller frequent meals the meals the better.

By starving yourself you’re teaching your body to hold onto fat The calories burned while resting (your resting metabolic rate) decreases

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