What weighs more, a pound of rocks or a pound of feathers? This common riddle is actually quite easy to figure out if you just take a moment to think about it. The answer, of course, is that they both weigh the same. So why do people over think the answer?

I use this riddle as an analogy on how people view their diet plans when trying to shed a few pounds of excess baggage, also known as fat, from their aging bodies. People over think the question of what is the best method of losing weight by participating in extreme diets such as Atkins, South Beach or even Jenny Craig. All claim to have the secret formula. However, there is only one formula that you need to learn:

Calories consumed – calories burned = X

If X is a positive number, you will gain weight. If it is negative, you will lose weight. If it equals zero, you will maintain your current weight. There might be some people that have to watch specifics such as their sodium or saturated fat intake based on their current health condition. However, for the majority of us, this simple formula will be all you ever need.

In past years, fat was the culprit—don’t eat it. Then carbs were evil—stay away. Many doctors also are concerned about what too much protein will do to you over the long haul. As a result, people keep switching from diet to diet looking for the magic formula. Guess what? There is no secret formula.

Food is not bad for you. Eating too much of any one thing is not nutritionally sound, so you should not exclude anything or try to force a eating lifestyle on yourself that cannot be sustained for the long term. You should be eating a balance diet of the most natural foods you can get your hands on and monitor your caloric intake.

Most people get fat from doing things we know will make us gain weight. We dine at restaurants too much. We eat too much in frequency and in portion size. We skip workouts. We partake of a little too much alcohol. Everyone knows this makes you slip into an unfit state. So, why is it so many people are perplexed on how to lose the weight you have gained from doing it?

So, if you are looking for the answer to this problem, simply do the opposite of what made you heavy. Eat less. Reduce portion sizes. Exercise more. Reduce the number of drinks you have a week and times you go out to restaurants.

Trying to find the secret formula of what types of foods to eat or what diet program to follow is like arguing over whether the pound of rocks or feathers weighs more. It all equals out in the end. Think of rocks as food heavy in fat, sugar and calories. You do not get to have many before you get to a pound. However, foods low in fat sugar and calories are feathers. You can have a lot more of them before you reach that pound. Concentrate in reducing your caloric intake by eating many feathers, combined with burning more calories for exercise and you will feel more satisfied. You can make that elusive X a negative number and find that your diet plan works every single time.