Trying to lose weight can feel absolutely overwhelming. With so much information out there and so many conflicting ideas about weight loss, it can be difficult to even know where to start.
Whether you’re struggling to lose weight, want to lose weight faster, or have been finding it difficult to maintain weight loss, here’s a guide to get you started.
Set SMART Goals
Set SMART weight loss goals:
- Specific – Do you want to lose weight, gain muscle, get fit?
- Measurable – How much weight do you want to lose?
- Attainable – Can you healthily lose weight in the specified time?
- Realistic – Are you able to make the effort for the goal you have set
- Timely – Set a reasonable time in which to reach your goal.
Then break this weight loss goal down into smaller SMART goals, such as for diet and exercise. Specifying exactly how you’re going to change your diet, and what, when, and how much exercise you plan to do. You can make goals for 6 months, monthly, and weekly. Breaking it down into smaller goals makes weight loss more manageable.
Determining your body type can help you set realistic weight loss foals. For example, the ease with which each body type gains and loses weight varies. Also, a person with a large fram should not aim to weigh the same as a small-framed person.
You can get a rough idea of your “ideal weight” based on your frame size/ body type. We’re not all built the same. However, BMI does not distinguish between muscle, bone, and body fat. Instead it takes a one-size-fits-all approach. This calculator highlights that different people even of the same height, do not necessarily have the same “ideal” weight.
Track your results, keep a fitness dairy, and generally write things down so you can see your progress. It’s an incredible motivator.
Steady Does It
Fat loss occurs slowly and steadily. Losing more than 2 pounds of weight per week means that you are likely losing a lot of water weight or muscle tissue, and less body fat. If weight is lost any more rapidly than this, it is most likely a sign that you need to eat more.
To lose weight permanently, lose weight slowly and steadily. Weight loss should be roughly between 1 – 2lbs a week. At the beginning, weight loss may be a little more. Fast weight loss is generally to be avoided.1
There are 3500 calories in 1lbs. (0.45kg) of fat. Therefore, to lose 1 lbs. of fat per week you’ll need to burn 500 calories more than you consume each day through a combination of diet mostly and to a lesser extent exercise.
500 calories x 7 days = 3500 calories/ week (1lbs of weight loss/ week)
Diet creates a much larger calorie deficit than exercise, and so is the most important means to lose weight.
Create a calorie deficit by lowering your caloric intake by 15 – 20% below what you normally need to maintain your weight. You can use the calorie calculator to find out your calorie needs. Steer clear of crash dieting and extremely low calorie intakes, these strategies tend to backfire in the longterm.
There is no one best diet for everyone. You may work best joining a structured weight loss program, following a popular diet, or by simply adopting healthier eating habits. Different things work for different people.
Choose a diet that will help you break poor eating habits, learn a better way of eating, and that is healthy. Therefore, don’t just think of going on a temporary diet, but also about making a healthy lifestyle change. It’s difficult to lose weight and keep it off, if after a few weeks of dieting you revert back to the same habits that made you want to lose weight in the first place. You’ll regain the weight right back. Research shows that people who keep weight off for at least a year tend to continue eating a diet lower in calories compared to before they started dieting.23
A structured weight loss plan can be helpful at the beginning especially to help get weight loss started and identify unhealthy eating habits.
- Count calories for the first month to get a good understanding of the calorie content of most foods. Keep a food diary at the start, keeping a record of everything you eat. This helps you to become more aware of what and when you’re eating, which can help cut down on mindless eating.4
- Moderation is key. Overly restrictive eating is difficult to maintain long term.
- Eat regularly to avoid getting very hungry, including breakfast.
- Keeping low-calorie foods accessible.
- Drink enough water. Thirst is commonly mistaken for hunger. Therefore, try drinking a glass of water when hunger strikes between meals and see if the craving passes. Drinking water before eating can also reduce calorie intake and increase weight loss.56
- Don’t drink your calories. Avoid consuming high-sugar drinks regularly, as they do not make you feel full, are devoid of healthful nutrients, and are likely to negatively affect blood sugar.
- Practice mindful eating, which centers on being cognizant of your cravings, physical sensations, emotions, and eating habits. It teaches you to eat slowly and without distraction, to understand your physical hunger cues. Mindful eating can help reduce unhealthy eating habits and aid weight loss.78 If you’re struggling with your eating habits a great book to read is “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works”.
- Tweak your macronutrient ratios. Try adding more protein and fibrous veggies to increase satiety. Research shows that eating more protein significantly decreases hunger, increases feeling of fullness, and reduces calorie intake.910 If you’ve cut right back on fats, add a little extra healthy fat to your meals.11
Food cravings often throw a spanner in the works of losing weight and maintaining weight loss. To combat cravings clean out all the unhealthy, high-calorie foods from your kitchen. That includes secret stashes, wherever they may be. It makes cravings much easier to deal with. If you don’t have it to hand, you can’t eat it and the craving will pass.
You make the decision to eat cookies, chocolate or whatever your treat of choice when you buy them in the store, not when you grab it from the cupboard. And whatever you do: Never go grocery shopping hungry.
To lose weight and keep it off permanently implement dietary changes that are moderate, sustainable, and healthy.
Most of the calorie deficit to lose weight comes from diet. However, the role of exercise goes beyond that. While dieting reduces body fat, exercise will improve muscle tone and increase metabolism. The boost in metabolism is important, because dieting decreases metabolism and muscle mass. Cardio helps counteract that decrease, thereby helping weight loss.
Even more importantly perhaps, exercise appears to be key to maintaining weight loss.1213 Increased physical activity is one of the best predictors of long-term weight loss success. Research shows that 90% of successful maintainers exercise every day.14
According to the CDC to lose more than 5% of body weight or keep the weight lost off may require 300 minutes or more of moderate-intensity activity a week. This would be less (about 150 minutes) if you’re doing high-intensity exercise.15
Strength training. Incorporate strength training to tone up, increase strength, and aid weight loss. Strength training will help stave off the loss of muscle that usually occurs during dieting and increase metabolism.1617 It improves fitness, strength, bone density, and health.
HIIT. Add HIIT (high-intensity interval training) to your exercise routine. HIIT improves fat-burning, boosts metabolism, burns a lot of calories, and can increase muscle mass. It’s is a sure-fire way to lose weight.181920
HIIT involves short bouts of intense exercise separated by short periods of recovery. In all HIIT only lasts only about 20 minutes. But studies suggest it is as, if not more, effective than a steady-state 40-minute workout.2122
HIIT works best when you mix it up with traditional cardio. For example, if you exercise 5 days a week, do 2 sessions of HIIT on non-consecutive days.
Read more: 5 Science-backed HIIT workouts
Incorporate regular exercise into your schedule to aid weight loss and keep it off.
The scale is not always the most reliable tool during weight loss. That’s because it doesn’t measure fat loss. The scale doesn’t distinguish between fat, muscle, bone, or water.
During weight loss not all the weight lost is fat (some will be water or muscle). Also, some weeks it may seem that you’re not losing any weight, but if you have been exercising you may have actually lost fat and gained muscle, which is great. The scale can’t show you that.
There are several ways to find out where you are now and to keep track of your weight loss:
- Body fat percentage. Ideally get your body fat percentage measured professionally. To get a rough idea you can use the body fat calculator – but still get measured!
- Body measurements will help you keep track of inches lost. Even when the scales don’t budge you can see the changes in these metrics, which will help you notice the positive changes in your body composition.
Research does shows that people who weigh themselves regularly tend to have more success losing weight and keeping it off.23 And that makes sense, especially once you’re into the weight maintenance phase. The scale can catch slips early before it turns into a larger re-gain.2425
However, your weight can fluctuate for a variety of reasons (e.g. hydration levels, salt intake, and time of day). Therefore think of your body weight within a roughly 3 to 4 pound range. Weighing yourself once a week can give you a good sense of things.
Some helpful calculators to help set goals, understand calorie requirements, and aid exercise.
Find your Why (and Make it Bigger)
Figure out why you want to get fit or lose weight. Find out what it is you want and why you want it, because whatever it is that is driving you to get fit, healthy and lose weight is the motivator you will have to call on when the initial excitement wears off, you are discouraged and deflated by a couple of set-backs, and the going is getting tough.
If you are able, try taking up a new sport in which you can progress and have an ultimate goal. For example, if you start running make a goal to run a 5-K. It’ll mean you’re learning a new activity and have a concrete target so you will feel a real sense of accomplishment, and all the while you’re losing weight.
Also, taking up a sport like running will see you through weight loss to weight maintenance. You won’t just be running to lose weight, but also because you enjoy it, have become good at it and like participating in events. Following something like a beginner running program, which guides you through walking to jogging to running, allows you to break down your goal into smaller more manageable stages.
Having a long-term plan helps you to avoid feeling overwhelmed and that all-or-nothing mindset. And if you fall behind, you can deal with it easier.
Write down your goals, this makes everything more real. It’s not just an idea in your head. Make a list of what you’re setting out to achieve and the reasons why. You can stick this list on the fridge or somewhere you’ll see it regularly. Also, unlike weight loss, you can’t see weight maintenance. Therefore, reminders about your purpose become even more important during the stage.
If you find that exercise and your healthier eating habits make you feel better, hold on to that. Write it down and stick it up somewhere to remind you. If you suffer with migraines, back pain or some other health condition and find it improves, do the same. The feeling of wellbeing, of being pain-free, is a much stronger motivator to persist and maintain your healthy habits than weight loss could ever be.
Don’t just think about losing weight, have a plan for what you’re going to do once you’ve lost it. Whichever way you choose to lose weight, slowly start making preparations to maintain that weight loss.
Research on people who were trying to learn new habits such as eating healthier and going running, found that on average it took 66 days for the behavior to become unchangingly automatic. In other words, forget the 28 days you’ve heard it takes to form a new habit, you need to work hard creating a healthy lifestyle for at least 2 months.26
Therefore, it’s best to implement healthy lifestyle changes while you’re losing weight, so that by the time you’ve reached your goals you’re firmly rooted in the habits that will help you maintain your weight loss.
Learn What You Like
To successfully lose weight, immerse yourself in what you’re trying to achieve. Become expert in understanding your likes and dislikes and learning how to eat better.
If you don’t know how to already, learn how to cook food that you like, that is tasty, but healthy and lower in calories. Learn the calorie content of your favorite foods. You’ll be shocked.
Learn which exercises you like and don’t like. Don’t stick with exercises or workouts you dread doing. Find what you love. Be proactive.
Read more: How to find an exercise you’ll love
Have a support system in place. Choose friends and family who you can talk to, who are supportive and will make you accountable, which will help keep you on track. When you’re facing temptation, feel disheartened or want to give up, having the encouragement of friends who are cheering you on can help you get through.272829
If you don’t have family or friends who can cheer your efforts, think about joining a weight loss support group. Having an exercise buddy is another great source of support. Research shows that having a friend you can exercise with, helps you stick to your exercise routine.30
The Long Game
Be mentally ready and up for a challenge. That way you’ll be looking for solutions when you face the inevitable setbacks. Don’t think of weight loss, exercising regularly, or eating healthily as an all-or-nothing affair. It will have ups and downs.
Once you get the hang of healthy lifestyle changes they become just that, a lifestyle – not a chore or an inconvenience. You learn new important skills such as how to prepare food that is nutritious and delicious. You get to the point that if you haven’t exercised for an entire week you start to miss that endorphin high you always hear people talking about.
This is backed up by research. Healthy behaviors and maintaining the weight loss becomes progressively easier with time, requiring less intentional effort.34 So be patient and kind to yourself.
Remember, before you start a new nutritional and/ or exercise program clear it with your doctor. If you have any questions about healthy weight loss your doctor will be happy to help.