The New (Science-Based) Paradigm for Losing Weight and Keeping it Off

I just returned from the amazing Fitness & Health Blogger’s Conference (FHBC) and I have so much to share with you (thanks to MeYouHealth for sending me!). Conference attendees, hosted at the beautiful and innovative Anschutz Health and Wellness Center in Aurora, CO, were able to spend hours listening to and asking questions of highly regarded experts. I felt privileged to talk one-on-one with researchers from the University of Colorado Medical Campus about cutting-edge fitness and health information. 

While this is a primarily weightlifting blog, I would be remiss to neglect the subjects of weight loss and nutrition. I discuss these here because although some people are obviously strong and fit yet have more body fat and are satisfied with that, many, many people struggle with losing weight. And we know that in order to see muscle definition and become a mean, lean hard body, you need to reduce body fat.

But there’s massive confusion out there about what works. That’s why the expert speakers at FHBC are so passionate about getting the science-based facts out there and hope we bloggers will do that as well. Weight loss and obesity are complex subjects, so here I’ll share what the experts said about calorie reduction and exercise.

Losing the Weight: Calorie Reduction Works

Everyone knows you have to reduce calories to lose weight – energy intake needs to be less than energy expended. But according to Dr. James Hill and Dr. Holly Wyatt, physicians and clinical researchers at The Center for Human Nutrition, University of Colorado School of Medicine, there is a new paradigm – losing weight should be tackled very differently from keeping the weight off.

For weight loss, cutting calories should be your primary focus, according to Hill and Wyatt, instead of trying to exercise it off. It’s been shown that creating an energy deficit of 500 to 1,000 kcals per day is most effective for losing weight. When it comes to losing weight, most people find that cutting 500 kcals per day is easier than burning off 500 calories in an hour of exercise every day. This might be because their level of conditioning is low, plus it’s not a lifestyle to exercise that frequently.

You definitely need exercise to be fit, however, and burning calories during exercise can aid in weight loss. Your best exercise plan for weight loss, according to Dr. Inigo Milan, also a researcher at CU, is to do endurance-type exercise 3 to 4 times per week, resistance training 1 to 2 days per week, and 1 to 2 days off. You can make one of your cardio days an intervals session.

Does what you eat bear any importance in weight loss? If you read any number of diet books you would be led to believe so. But according to Hill and Wyatt, the bottom line is the number of calories you eat, not the composition of your diet. Low-fat diets do work better because people on high-fat diets tend to eat more, but studies show that there is not one particular diet that works any better than another. In fact, the best diet for you is the one you’ll stick to.

Keeping it Off: Exercise is the Star

So how do you keep the weight off? Hill and Watt say that’s where exercise comes in. Dr. Wyatt recommends 60 to 90 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise most days of the week. Sound insane? I thought so too. But Dr. Wyatt points out that most people have trouble maintaining a reduced calorie diet, and that’s why they fail. They may have learned healthier habits while losing (if they took it slow), but continuing a restricted calorie diet is both unpleasant and infeasible for most.

That’s why exercise becomes the crucial component after the weight comes off. Perhaps you won’t need quite that much exercise to maintain your weight after your metabolism has returned to a healthy state. Once your metabolism is healthy you can also eat whatever you want –  including carbs – if you continue to exercise. Exercise is the “one thing we can do to fight aging,” according to Dr. Hill, so it can’t be a bad thing to get copious amounts.

What Type of Exercise Works

I asked this question of Dr. Hill and Dr. Wyatt because I was curious about their opinions of the benefits of resistance training (of course). Their response was that it’s the quantity of exercise that’s important, not necessarily the type. Although it’s not clear why, they both said that resistance training is beneficial to weight maintenance, however, so it’s important to integrate 1 to 3 days per week.

My favorite take-away from this discussion was from Dr. Hill: “If anyone tells you weight loss is easy and simple, run the other way.” And Dr. Wyatt added, “Obesity is hard too. Choose your hard.”

Even if you only need to lose 10 pounds, you should understand the science behind what you’re doing. Otherwise you could be setting yourself up to be disappointed, and subsequently, unmotivated if the weight comes back. There’s much to cover when dispelling myths about weight loss – more to come!

19 thoughts on “The New (Science-Based) Paradigm for Losing Weight and Keeping it Off

  1. Science rocks! You’re spot on. I think reducing calories by 1000 a day is a little much, but I guess it depends on if someone is eating 3,000 a day or 6,000 a day at the starting point!

    I started exercising to lose the weight and grew to love it. Now I do it because it’s a part of who I am now. I like to be fit and active and I feel better when I exercise consistently. I think both diet and exercise have to be address for weight loss and maintenance. Neither can be a long term fix without the other.


  2. Suzanne, what a great summary of some key points regarding weight loss and strength training. I especially like how you reported that while exercising frequently is hard, so is obesity. I’d much rather choose my “hard” to be healthy living. Now that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you, I did want to let your other readers that while you seem down-to-earth, awesome, inspirational and just plain fun from this blog, you are even more TERRIFIC in person. 🙂


    • Awww, thanks so much Shira. I could say the exact same about you – so fortunate to meet such a warm, vibrant, SMART woman as you. I am so glad we’re IRL friends now too!!


  3. Very nice summary 🙂 My favorite quote from this lecture also was Dr. Wyatt’s clever insight that losing weight is hard, but obesity is hard too – we must choose our “hard.” Ahhh! What a brilliant quote!

    I am incredibly eager to begin spreading all the info I learned at FHBC12 as well!! I’m honestly feeling pretty overwhelmed with all that I want to do… I feel like I’m currentlt being pulled in 100 directions at once!


    • Thanks Shanti! And talk about inspiring – just your courage in vlogging your journey in such a candid way is inspirational in and of itself. I feel lucky to have met you in person and hope we can stay connected always!


    • I wish you’d been there too Tara! I was amazed to have access to researchers and cutting info… should get continuing education credits for it as a trainer! 🙂


  4. My favorite take-away from this discussion was from Dr. Hill: “If anyone tells you weight loss is easy and simple, run the other way.” And Dr. Wyatt added, “Obesity is hard too. Choose your hard.”

    YES to that! Losing is hard & maintenance is harder! Having been at this so long, I know that you need both reduced calories & exercise since it is hard to eat so little as stated above. BUT you really need both for maintenance! 🙂

    I do more than stated above but I also have had to work harder & eat less with age so… the below, I don’t so much agree: I understand why they want to say that but for me & many others, not so much…. we all have different bodies. Plus I have been everything right all thru the years so with age, I am already eating clean & cardio & weights so all I could do was start slowly cutting back calories to adjust to the hormones. I still eat more calories than some BUT I have had to cut back little by little since 50. I refuse to go super low though! 🙂

    Even when I was young, I still had to watch what I ate after I lost weight. I never could eat anything I wanted & I think that is the issue with some – they think they can but it is not so…

    From your post & what I am talking about above:
    Once your metabolism is healthy you can also eat whatever you want – including carbs – if you continue to exercise. Exercise is the “one thing we can do to fight aging,” according to Dr. Hill, so it can’t be a bad thing to get copious amounts.

    Great info though! 🙂


    • I hear you Jody! It’s hard to believe that you can eat anything you want as long as you exercise enough. I think the amount you have to exercise is large indeed. Personally, I cannot work out “60-90 min most days of the week” due to time. But also I think I’d feel tired and creaky! However, since most people fail at weight loss because calorie restriction doesn’t work in the long term, I see why they’re making this recommendation. It must also have to do with individual differences, as you say. Personally, I don’t need that much cardio to maintain my weight. I have an ultra-killer metabolism evidently that may be partially genetic. At any rate, thanks for stopping by – love your input into the discussion!


  5. Suzanne, what a fabulous recap of the science presented to us this weekend!
    Perhaps the thing that shocked me the most was that there was no difference in the weight loss profiles of people choosing vastly different commercial diets. I’ve been trying to carb-limit lately, but am thinking that may not be the way to go. More exercise is certainly easier (and more palatable) for me!
    Loved meeting you this weekend; you are as lovely in person as on your blog!
    Looking forward to seeing you at the next fitness blogger conference!


    • Ah yes! Low carb diets were certainly maligned at this conference, weren’t they? Especially for those involved in endurance activities. I think we were all super impressed with the material – we should’ve gotten CEUs for it! 😉 You’re an absolute doll, by the way… Thank you for all the info you gave me about online biz. So glad we met!


  6. Great and inspirational text, I have been doing weight loss diets since I was a child, and after some really nice results, I have to say that all the diets have only got a temporary result without some necessary changes in life. I really like your point on exercising, that’s much more important than the diet.


    • Thanks so much for taking the time to comment Anne. I’m glad you agree that if we focus on science instead of quick fixes and fads, we’ll understand better what it takes to maintain our weight.


  7. Suzanne, I simply loved this one. Thanks for sharing such an amazing post. Though i am a big foodie and find it difficult to cut huge calories in my diets, i exercise 4-5 days a week to maintain my weight.


  8. Love, love, love this excellent post! Thank you for helping to spread the word about what really works! I’m hoping that if I make this conference next year I’ll also be able to hear Dr. Hill. He and Dr. Rena Wing are my heroes for their work with the National Weight Control Registry.


    • It’s so cool you know of Dr. Hill! He was simply the most energetic, passionate person, and what struck me the most was how friendly he was. No pretense! We also heard Dr. Holly Wyatt give an excellent presentation on obesity – another winner.


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