Square one. Stop thinking about diet, diets, dieting, on a diet, fad diet, latest diet, celebrity diet, diet pills, diet plans, diet programs... ad nauseum... literally!
A diet is simply what you eat! Your diet can consist of chocolate donuts or alfalfa sprouts, but most "Diets", with a capital "D" will not set you free. Instead, they lock you in a cage. Eat anything other than what they prescribe, and you are a failure... at least, so reads their literature.
Of course, what we eat and when we eat it can play a big part in weight loss or weight gain. Even where we eat can be a factor. Ever eat too much at Grandma's on Thanksgiving? I have. How about that cocktail party when you went wandering over to the snack trays, and drank one more drink because someone offered it to you? Okay, for me it would be sitting at the bar ordering one more beer (light, of course) because the game's not over yet. Oh yeah, pass the chips.
FORGET THE WORD "DIET"
Let's just eat healthy and live healthy, OK, Sister Mary Fides, healthily. I know. It's an adverb.
HERE'S THE LOWDOWN ON WEIGHT LOSS.
If you take in more calories than you use, you gain weight. If you burn more calories than you take in, you lose weight. Proven scientific fact. No ifs, ands, or buts. Although we are all different and our bodies shuffle quantities of calories and file them a little bit differently from our neighbors' bodies, we can all contribute to weight loss by taking in fewer calories or by burning more calories... or both.
You've already figured out that using both techniques simultaneously will be more effective than trying to accomplish successful weight loss with only one.
I'm going to assume that the reason you want to lose weight is to improve your quality of life. You are concerned about your health. Being over fat can contribute to major and minor health problems. Yes, you honestly believe it would be great to lose weight, but you don't want to be miserable, and neither do the people around you.
By the way, I said over fat, rather than overweight, because healthy people can weigh more than what the charts and tables say they should weigh. Weight per se is not the problem. It's the fat that cripples and kills people, so I was just making a point. According to the charts, when he was in the best physical condition of his life, Arnold Schwarzenegger was "overweight", but I doubt he was "overfat".
WELL, YOU CAN CUT CALORIES BY DIETING. RIGHT?
First, if not at the beginning, then somewhere in the diet, you will begin to feel deprived, depressed, and desirous of dessert. (Neat trick with the d's, eh?) You might even feel like you're being punished. Can't eat the things you like. Can only eat asparagus, or bean sprouts, or three from this column and two from that column; except on the third Tuesday when the moon is full. Is it any wonder you and any other living human might quit a diet simply because of this nonsense?
THE REAL REASON DIETS DON'T WORK.
As if discomfort and stress were not enough, there are actually a couple of hidden reasons why diets don't work. I'm not even going to go into the effects of stress and cortisol on your weight. That's a book by itself, and is too large a topic to go into here.
IN FACT, DIETING CAN MAKE YOU GAIN WEIGHT.
Most diets are structured on one principle, cut calories taken in. Most of us burn calories at a given rate based on our age, physical makeup, activity, and heredity. The rate at which we burn calories is called the "metabolic rate". Our metabolic rate is unique to each of us, and is simply the measure of how fast we burn, or metabolize, calories. As we grow older, the metabolic rate slows down and eating the same number of calories as last year will cause us to gain weight. As we age, we also tend to become less active, and our body gradually changes its metabolic rate based on our activity levels as well.
When you begin to cut calories drastically, as in most diets, your body responds by lowering your metabolic rate. Even though you've cut your calorie intake, it now takes fewer calories to maintain your weight. While eating less, you might even find yourself gaining weight.
What usually happens when someone gets on board with an extreme diet? Well, eventually, they usually fall off the wagon and go back to their old eating habits, perhaps even bingeing a little, or a lot! If their body has learned to get by on fewer calories, what's going to happen to the calories that are now excess? They will be stored as more fat.
If calories are cut too drastically, the body may actually begin eating itself, and it only wants the best! It's going to go after muscle tissue. The problem with this is that muscle burns calories more effectively than other body components. When you lose muscle tissue, or muscle mass, you burn fewer calories. You are also probably not going to feel as well or as energetic, so you will become less active. So again, simply cutting down on calories might create a double whammy working against you.
By the way, one of the sources of muscle tissue that the body might begin to break down is called the heart! There's no way that can be good for you.
Okay, you've slowed down your metabolism and lost muscle mass. Now you're disillusioned and depressed because you're not losing like you thought you would. You have less energy and you're hungry all the time. You're fed up with eating the same old stuff, you're miserable, your family doesn't understand, there's nobody to talk to! Oh! One little dish of ice cream won't hurt, will it?
YOU KNOW THE ANSWER TO THAT ONE!
Next thing you know, you're in the gutter surrounded by burgers and fries and chocolate milk shakes. Lo! How the mighty have fallen.
Nope, you're just human. But now you're depressed (which can contribute to weight gain) because you failed again. On top of everything else, you're gaining again. How did that happen?
Remember what we said earlier about your metabolism slowing down and the body depleting it's supply of muscle tissue? Well, with less muscle tissue you burn fewer calories, and, as you saw earlier, the body has slowed down its metabolic rate and doesn't need as many calories to survive. Go back! It's a trap!
IT'S A VICIOUS CYCLE, ISN'T IT? WHAT CAN YOU DO?
I suppose you could hire a dietician to help you plan meals. You can take pre-prepared menus shopping to help you buy the specific ingredients needed for healthy, nourishing meals. You could take some college courses and learn how to do all this yourself.
There's where the diet problem lies. To control calorie intake properly, somebody has to be in charge of the nutritional side of a planned weight loss program. You can take the responsibility on yourself, but be prepared to spend a lot of time planning, preparing, and compensating.
There are organizations and companies who can provide the guidance, planning, and/or products to help. You might want to look at: NutriSystem, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, or TOPS International.
These can provide you with a broad range of delicious planned meal choices which can help you stay on target.
EXERCISE AND WEIGHT LOSS:
Remember that part about metabolism and muscle mass?
When you engage in physical activity; gardening, walking, weight lifting, swimming, biking or dance aerobics, for example, you burn more calories during the activity than during times at rest or most other less strenuous activities.
This is good, but it gets better. If the activity is strenuous enough, your metabolic rate can remain elevated for some time after the activity has ended. Uh Oh! I said "strenuous", didn't I? Look, what is strenuous enough for you is what YOU can handle, not what some Olympic miler can do. Do what you can, and your body will figure it out. In fact, your body is going to get all upset and team up with your mind and convince you that this is JUST TOO HARD if you try to do too much at first. That's one of the reasons many well intentioned exercise programs don't last. The other main reason is that people expect too much in too short a time. It took years to get out of shape, you aren't going to reverse that in a week, a month or more.
The degree to which the metabolism is raised, and the length of time it remains raised, will depend on various factors, of course, but one key factor is obviously the intensity and duration of the activity. However, the bottom line is that if you want to lose or control your weight, some sort of activity is important.
SO, HERE'S THE SOLUTION:
Combine increased activity (okay, exercise) with a controlled calorie intake, and you have the basic ingredients for healthy weight loss. Forget the pills, fad diets, and, except in the most extreme cases, surgical procedures. Now, exercise is a broad field, and so is nutrition, and there is no way I can go into all the possible variations on those themes here.
The programs mentioned above, NutriSystem, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, and TOPS Club, Inc. provide guidance on nutrition and exercise. Additionally, they provide one other highly important ingredient for success... SUPPORT!
Some have meetings, some have online support, but the key is that you can communicate with others who know what you are going through.
No one weight loss program is necessarily right for everyone. Take a look at these programs and decide which will work for you, or work out your own weight loss program. Remember also, we are all human, so please forgive yourself if you slip and fall. It's the getting up and moving forward again that's important.