Woman showing how much weight she lost. Healthy lifestyles concept

(This article originally appeared on Livestrong.com on 11/23/11.)

In their quest to lose weight, many people choose fads and shortcuts they think will lead to permanent weight loss. In fact, these things set them up to gain the weight back, and sometimes they may even gain more than they lost. To successfully achieve permanent weight loss, you must get back to the basics of good nutrition and exercise and avoid the common pitfalls that sabotage long-term success.

How Weight Loss Occurs

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand how you lose weight — it’s fairly simple. You must consume fewer calories than you burn doing your activities of daily living and exercise. One pound of weight loss equals 3500 calories, so you must create a 3500-calorie deficit for each pound lost. Remember, your body consumes calories all the time just to stay alive, so it’s not as daunting as it seems. Ideally, combining healthy eating habits and exercise produce a slow and steady weight loss over time, and experts agree that the maximum weight loss to strive for is two pounds weekly.

Tracking Your Calories

Read labels at the grocery store and when you prepare food. Carefully look at the nutrition information for the prepared dish and not just the packaged one. For raw foods or meats without labels, consult a resource book for calorie counts or an online calorie estimating tool. Restaurants often have nutritional information available, but many dining out options rack up more calories in one meal than you should consume all day, so eat out with caution. Once you have the information needed, you can compile it through a written journal, or an online tracking site to calculate calories eaten. Many of these also offer tools for estimating calories burned through various forms of exercise to make an estimate of your daily caloric deficit.

Shortcuts that Produce Temporary Results

Extremely low calories diets backfire by slowing your metabolism into starvation mode, where it conserves energy and calories for survival. As soon as you resume normal eating patterns, the weight loss returns, and you may gain even more weight because of your slowed metabolism. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 1200 calories daily for women and 1800 calories minimum for men, which maximizes weight loss without risking the dangerous side effects from extremely low calorie diets, such as heart arrhythmias, electrolyte imbalances, and dehydration. Other temporary short cuts include diuretic medications that accelerate water loss, but the weight loss returns as soon as fluid levels return to normal.

Realistic Goals and The Big Picture

You must be patient for long-term weight loss. The weight didn’t build up overnight and won’t come off any quicker. Developing consistent diet and exercise habits that you can live with for a lifetime is the key to permanent success. Avoid fad diets that set you up for failure with temporary short cuts. Track your calories and make exercise a priority to stop the yo-yo cycle of weight loss and support a healthier and happier life.