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Expert Q&A: Getting Started With a Weight Loss Plan

An interview with James O. Hill, PhD.

Do I really need to exercise to lose weight?

No. If you cut way back on your calories, you can lose a lot of weight without doing a lick of exercise. But you absolutely need to exercise to keep the weight off. I tell people that if they’re not prepared to substantially increase their physical activity, they shouldn’t even bother trying to lose weight. It won’t have any lasting benefit. Exercise is the key.

How much exercise should I be doing?

My recommendation is to shoot for about an hour a day. We’ve found that people who successfully keep off lost weight tend to exercise for 60 to 90 minutes daily.

Now, people will say, “60 to 90 minutes a day? That’s terrible!” But the people in the National Weight Control Registry have maintained an average weight loss of 70 pounds. I think a lot of people would say that giving up an hour a day to keep off 70 pounds is not a bad deal.

The good news is that you can spread out the exercise throughout the entire day. You don’t have to do it all at once. Most people still have some planned exercise at a specific time each day. For instance, they take a walk or a bike ride right after work every day.

You could also try using a step counter, which I think is a wonderful tool. They give you immediate feedback and make setting goals easy. We find that people in the National Weight Control Registry take an average of 11,000-12,000 steps a day, which works out to about five to six miles. But when you’re just starting out, take it slowly. Work up to an hour a day slowly in 15 minute increments.

Getting in your physical activity will never be easy. Even people who have been doing it for years will tell you that they still have to force themselves to get out there every day. But if you want to keep off weight, exercise has to be a priority.

How many calories should I be eating?

To lose weight, you can go on a 1,200- or 1,400-calorie diet. Eating that amount will work very well for weight loss. The problem is that although you can eat 1,200 calories for a few months, you can’t eat that way forever. You won’t be satisfied by so few calories and won’t be able to keep it up.

So I have a radical idea. I think you should eat as many calories as you can. But the only way you can eat more calories is if you balance them with increased exercise. The more exercise you do, the more you can eat.

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