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Is weight reduction right for you?

Safe weight reduction takes time and effort, but by making lifestyle changes that incorporate proper nutrition and physical activity, you can lose and maintain your weight for the long-term.

Before making changes, it is a good idea to think about several important questions:

Why do you want to lose weight? To improve your health or your appearance? Is it for a special event? Permanent, safe weight reduction takes time.

Do you really need to lose weight? We weren't all born to be thin or conform to society's definition of the ideal body. Your body size and shape depend on multiple factors, including your genes, eating patterns, Resting Energy Expenditure (see definition below) and exercise. You may want to accept and Love Your Body while trying to improve your health.

What is a realistic amount of weight for you to lose and maintain? For individuals who are overweight, just a 5-10% weight loss can improve health.

Physiology of weight reduction:

To lose weight you must burn more calories than you eat. Basic body functions (e.g. breathing, manufacturing cells and maintaining body temperature) use 50-70% of your calories. The rate at which your body uses calories for basic body functions is called the Resting Energy Expenditure (REE).

Your genes, age, gender and body composition largely determine your REE. In this way, much of your energy use is predetermined. However, the amount of energy you burn each day also depends in part on how much exercise you get, which you can affect.

For safe weight loss, it is recommended that you lose no more than 1-2 pounds per week. To lose one pound per week, you would need to burn and/or reduce your intake by about 3500 calories, or about 500 calories per day.

Reject a diet mentality: 

If you adopt restrictive, negative thinking that accompanies diets, you may feel deprived and ultimately defeated, and this can actually trigger overeating or the development of an eating disorder. To reach a healthy weight, don't diet. Instead practice eating well and moving your body to serve you best long-term.

Tips for safe weight reduction:

  • Keep a food and exercise diary. People who log their intake and activity tend to be more successful at weight loss.Here are some free tools:,,
  • Eat a variety of plant-based foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. At each meal, cover two-thirds (or more) of your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and/or beans, and cover one-third (or less) with protein.
  • Eat regularly timed meals (especially breakfast) and snacks because skipping them can lead to overeating later in the day.
  • When you feel like you have eaten enough, stop.
  • Often cravings disappear, so if you still feel hungry or unsatisfied after a meal or snack, wait at least 10 minutes before you have more food.
  • Plan meals and prepare snacks ahead of time. Snack on fresh vegetables for crunch and fresh fruits to satisfy your sweet tooth.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol (beer, wine and liquor) that you dirnk.
  • Try to limit screen time (computers or television) to two hours or less per day. Increase physical activity instead.
  • Sleep 8-8.5 hours per night. Studies show that lack of sleep is linked to obesity.
  • Eat your favorite high-calorie foods like desserts less frequently and in smaller portions (you don't have to eliminate them altogether).
  • Know your daily calorie and serving size "budget." Any weight reduction plan should includ more than 1400 calories per day. Take care when eating out, because restaurants are notorious for large serving size. Get customized nutrition information at
Serving Sizes:  
Grains: 1 slice bread, 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal, 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta
Fruits: 1 cup fresh fruit, 1 cup fruit juice or 1/2 cup dried fruit
Vegetables: 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked
Protein: 1 egg or 2 egg whites, 1/4 cup cooked dry beans or tofu, 1 tablespoon nut butter, 1/2 ounce nuts or seeds, 1 ounce cooked meat, poultry or fish
Dairy (calcium-fortified foods and beverages can be substituted): 1 cup milk or yogurt, 1.5 ounces cheese (choose low-fat or fat-free products)
Fat: 1 teaspoon oil, 2 tablespoons light salad dressing, 1 tablespoon low-fat mayo, 1 teaspoon soft margarine
Drink: 6-8 (8-ounce) cups per day

Mindful eating:

  • Pay attention to what you eat. Sit down and savor the taste, texture, aroma and appearance of food. Al foods may be enjoyed in moderation.
  • Honor your hunger. Hunger pangs are your body's way of saying that it needs energy. If you are hungry, eat. Ignoring your feelings of hunger often leads to overeating later.
  • Cope with emotions without using food. Tune into your feelings and reward (or comfort) yourself through other activities.

Physical activity:

Regular physical activity has many benefits. It can help with losing and maintaining weight; increasing Resting Energy Expenditure (REE); strengthening, toning and shaping muscles; and improving mood. Three types are recommended:

  • Aerobic exercise
  • Strength-training
  • Flexibility

For more information, see Exercise.


Even though you are eating well and exercising, you may reach a plateau where your weight stays the same. Plateaus are mainly due to decreased REE. When you consume fewer calories, your REE decreases, thus your body's need for energy decreases. Keep exercising and eating well to help you get through periods with no weight loss. Sometimes a plateau is the body's way of saying that you may not need to lose more weight. If you are meant to lose more weight, eventually weight loss will come.

Maintaining your new weight:

Once you have lost weight, maintaining your weight can be tricky. If you wish to maintain your weight you cannot go back to eating the way you did before you lost the weight. By weighing less now you will need fewer calories to maintain your weight.

To maintain your new weight you need to make sure that you are burning off as many calories as you are consuming. You may need to experiment with the amount of food you need to maintain your current weight. Make sure you keep exercising regularly and eat plenty of nutrient-dense foods.

Less safe methods of weight loss: 

Before trying a new diet, consult a clinician or dietitian.

Low-calorie diets: It is harmful to reduce your daily calorie intake lower than 1400 calories per day, because your body adjusts to a semi-starvation state and looks for alternative sources of energy. In addition to burning fat, your body will eventually burn muscle tissue. Because your heart is a muscle, prolonged starvation will weaken it and interfere with its normal rhythms. Low-calorie diets don't meet the body's nutrition needs, and without nutrients your body cannot function normally.

Appetite-suppressant drugs and other diet pills:"Wonder" product that permanently reduce weight do not exist. Products that promise immediate or effortless weight loss will not work in the long run. Appetite suppressants, which often contain a stimulant like caffeine or hoodia, are associated with side effects including nausea, nasal dryness, anxiety, agitation, dizziness, insomnia and elevated blood pressure. Alli reduces fat absorption; following the package directions will reduce risk of side effects, which may include oily diarrhea and anal discharge. With any product, side effects may be worse if you exceed the recommended dosage.

Fad diets: Many fad diets emphasize eating a lot of one kind of food rather than a variety of foods, but eating a variety of foods ensures that you can obtain all the nutrients your body needs.

Liquid diets: Liquid diet drinks or shakes that provide less than 1000 calories per day  should only be used under close medical supervision.

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