A few days ago, the NYT ran a story suggesting that the old yardstick of 3500 calories burned/saved = 1 pound lost is in fact inaccurate, and that if you use that as your benchmark, you're not going to lose as much weight as you think you should:
If the 3,500-calorie rule applied consistently in real life, it would result in twice the weight loss that the new model predicts, the authors wrote. This helps to explain why even the most diligent dieters often fail to reach weight loss goals that were based on the old rule.
A more realistic result, he said, is that cutting out 250 calories a day — the amount in a small bar of chocolate or half a cup of premium ice cream — would lead to a weight loss of about 25 pounds over three years, with half that loss occurring the first year.
I've noticed that, according to the calorie tracking program that I've been using for several months now, that I routinely run calorie deficits of 1200 to 3000 calories per week, but my weight has been stable for the past two months. One possibility is that I underestimate my calorie intake, but I try to err on the side of guessing high rather than low. Another possibility is that I overestimate my calorie burn rate, but I don't use the treadmill's calorie count (which I know is too high). A third possibility is that I've overestimated my daily calorie burn rate, which is certainly possible since I have a sedentary job.
The NYT story provides the cleanest answer -- it's harder than you might think to lose weight quickly via caloric deficit.
Still, a goal of losing 25 pounds over 3 years (with 12 in the first year) seems to me to be unduly pessimistic. I managed to shed about 20 pounds in 6 months. It took some changes in eating habits and a lot of exercise, which might not be totally realistic for people without jobs that permit flexibility in work schedules, but even so, half that rate would be 20 pounds in one year.