In theory, dieting is relatively simple -- you must burn more calories than you consume, which forces your body to burn fat stores for energy, meaning you lose weight. Everyone requires a different amount of calories each day, depending on height, weight, activity levels, age and a number of other factors. A sedentary woman can lose weight on 1,200 calories per day.
Track your calories using the nutrition information on food packaging or on a computer or mobile phone app. While you may be able to roughly guess the calories in some of the foods you eat, trying to guess a whole day's worth of food is virtually impossible. Aim to hit within 50 calories either side of your 1,200 daily target.
Divide your 1,200 calories by four and consume a 300-calorie meal every three to five hours. While you may be familiar with the concept of small, frequent meals being beneficial for weight loss, this isn't necessarily the case. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, increased meal frequency does not promote weight loss, so there's no need to eat every two hours. Likewise going for more than five hours without food will probably make you feel extremely hungry and more likely to stray from your diet.
Split your plate into four portions at mealtimes. Fill one quarter with a lean protein such as chicken, lean beef, beans, tuna, cod, or low-fat dairy and a second quarter with a grain. Pick higher fiber grains such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta or whole-grain bread. Fill the other half of your plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Snack on protein-based foods if you get hungry. Protein digests more slowly than fat or carbs and keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Factor your snacks into your daily calorie intake to stay within your 1,200 limit.
Pick foods that have a low energy density. Twelve hundred calories isn't a huge amount, and some foods that seem healthy can quickly add up. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain 190 calories, while a standard bagel has 245, for example. Green vegetables, white meat, fish and seafood and low-sugar fruits such as berries contain far fewer calories per gram though, meaning they give you more volume but make less of a dent in your daily intake.
- Journal of the International Society of Sports NutritionPosition Stand: Meal Frequency
- USDA Choose MyPlate: Food Groups
- United States Department of Agriculture: Household Commodity Fact Sheet: Peanut Butter, Smooth
- United States Department of Agriculture: Nutrient data for 18968, Bagel, Wheat
- IDEA Health and Fitness Association: Food Journals Can Help Women Lose Weight
- Mayo Clinic: Fast Weight Loss: What's Wrong With It?
- Keep a food journal. Women who keep food journals consistently lose more weight than those who don't, according to Sandy Todd Webster of the IDEA Health and Fitness Association.
- Weigh yourself once a week. A healthy, sustainable rate of weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds per week, according to MayoClinic.com. Increase your calories slightly if you're losing more than 2 pounds, or drop them by 50 to 100 per day if you're losing less than 1 pound a week.
- Speak with your doctor before changing your diet or reducing your calorie intake and consult with him should you feel unwell in any way.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.