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 want to lose weight or have been finding it difficult to maintain weight loss, here’s a guide how to lose weight and get toned the right way.
Set the Right Goals
It’s easy to get caught up in the social media hype that paints a very idealized, not always entirely accurate picture about weight loss, fitness, and diet. While it can be tempting to follow these plans that promise fast weight loss in 10 days, they often lead to disappointing results.
To achieve success and get lasting results, it’s important to approach your weight loss plan with the right mindset. Because one of the most important factors that determine whether your weight loss will be successful is your attitude. And a key step to doing this is knowing how to set weight loss goals.
How to Set Weight Loss Goals
You weight loss goals should be:
- 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 goals. For example, the ease with which each body type gains and loses weight varies. Also, a person with a large frame 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. 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 ideal weight 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.
Play the Long Game
Fat loss occurs slowly and steadily. Losing more than two 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
The 3500 Calorie Rule
A very simple rule of thumb that is often quoted is:
There are 3500 calories in one pound (0.45 kg) of fat.
Therefore, to lose 1 pound 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. So one week of a daily 500-calorie deficit would look like this:
500 calorie deficit per day x 7 days = 3500 calories per week
While this rule is very broadly true, it does tend to overestimate weight loss. How many calories it takes to lose a pound of fat, will vary from person to person.
Various factors affect how much fat you will actually lose, such as how your metabolism responds to weight loss, and your eating and exercise habits (as you’ll see next). Furthermore, weight loss is not exclusively fat loss – it tends to be a combination of fat and muscle.
And for most people weight loss doesn’t occur at a constant pace over time, making the 3,500 calorie rule less accurate over longer periods of weight loss. This means as you lose weight you have to be patient, because weight loss isn’t always linear. Some weeks you’ll lose more, others less.
Prevent Muscle Loss
When you lose weight – no matter how successful – it will never be 100% fat, some of it will be muscle. But, what you can do is minimize muscle loss. Don’t forget that when you lose muscle your metabolism slows down. Therefore, take steps to reduce muscle loss as much as possible. This means weight training to help weight loss.
Weight Loss Workouts
A good weight loss workout plan will help prevent the loss of muscle, and may even be able to increase muscle mass. So, you’ve hit two birds with one stone. You lose weight, but simultaneously increase your muscle mass, adding shape and strengthening your body.
In conjunction with balanced diet this will improve health and energy levels, unlike extreme or very low calorie diets that result in fatigue, irritability, insomnia, muscle weakness and vitamin deficiencies.
Basically, when you come out of a good weight loss program you should be feeling the best of your life in a long time. Your stamina should improve, you’ll see an improvement in your ability to exercise, you will feel stronger, you’ve lost weight and your breathing and quality of sleep is better, your complexion is improved, your skin glows, and the list goes on.
This is the only way to achieve a healthy, permanent weight loss. It requires a permanent change of lifestyle – not just a 2-week diet.
Don’t Cut Calories Too Much
Avoid extreme calorie restriction (around less that 1200 calories for women). Starving yourself is stressful for the body. Stress in turn increases cortisol and cortisol increases belly fat.
As far as your body is concerned, you’ve dropped your calorie intake so severely it slows down all unimportant processes to save energy, i.e. it slows metabolism. Saving energy means you burn less calories. While this always occurs to some degree when cutting calories, it becomes much more significant with extreme calorie restriction.
Cutting calories too much can also lead to nutritional deficiencies, which not only increases your risk of medical problems, but can also make weight loss more difficult.
The Right Way to Create a Calorie Deficit
In order to lose weight – body fat – it is vital to do as much as possible to protect your metabolic rate. You can do this by:
- A moderate reduction in your daily calorie intake through diet.
- Incorporating cardiovascular exercise to burn calories to increase the calorie deficit, and to improve fitness and health. All of which support the weight loss process.
- Adding strength training to prevent the loss of muscle to aid weight loss, improve strength, and get toned.
Include Nutritious Foods
A reason that people often fail on their weight loss diets is the nutrient content of their diet. You might not think about the nutrient content of what you’re eating, but your body does. If you drop your calorie intake without maintaining your nutrient intake, it can disrupt sleep and increase fatigue and adversely affect metabolism, hormone balance, and gut health. This means nutritional deficiencies may lead to weight loss resistance and your weight loss efforts are more likely to fail.
On weight loss diets, nutrient content can be make-or-break. Fruit and vegetables are high in nutrients, as well as fiber, and should form a central part of your diet to lose weight.
Track Weight Loss the Right Way
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.
Ways to Measure Progress
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.2 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.34
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.
Find and Stay Focused on Your “Why”
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.
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.
Adopt Permanent Lifestyle Changes
Don’t just think about losing weight, but also have a plan how you’re going to maintain that weight loss. 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 or 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.5
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.
How to Turn Exercise into a Lifestyle
If you can join a group, such as a walking group, which allows you to meet with like-minded people who can support you and will wonder where you are if you don’t show up – gentle pressure to keep you going and motivated.
Alternatively, take up a 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.
Furthermore, joining a group or taking up a sport in which you can have non-weight loss related goals will see you through weight loss to weight maintenance. You won’t just be doing it to lose weight, but also because you enjoy it, have become good at it, and like participating in events.
If you’re interested in running, try following a beginner running program, which guides you through walking to jogging to running, and breaks down your goal into smaller more manageable stages.
Learn What You Love
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 might be shocked.
Have A Cheerleading Squad
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.678
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 and can help make exercise a habit. Research shows that having a friend you can exercise with, makes it more likely that you’ll stick to your exercise routine.9
Be Patient & Kind to Yourself
Don’t expect perfection from yourself, but be ready for the 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.13 So be patient and kind to yourself.
Some helpful calculators to help set goals, understand calorie requirements, and aid exercise.
Weight Loss Resources
Learn more about body type, belly fat, and general helpful tips to lose weight.
Remember, before you start a new nutritional or exercise program clear it with your doctor. If you have any questions about healthy weight loss your doctor will be happy to help.