Weight Loss: Step by Step

With overweight and obesity being practically epidemics in our country, many Americans struggle to lose weight and keep it off. But what’s the best way to lose weight? Which diet will help you lose the most weight in the least amount of time? There’s certainly no shortage of options to choose from: Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, juicing, cleansing, intermittent fasting…the list goes on.

The reality is that you likely will lose weight with any “diet.” The real issue, however, is that many of these diets aren’t realistic to stay on long-term. Some diets are overly restrictive, for example, cutting out entire food groups. Others have you sipping on smoothies or other liquids. There’s nothing wrong with that, but smoothies day in and day out can get old real fast. And while some programs are indeed healthful and effective, the cost can be prohibitive, especially if you’re buying packaged foods or supplements.

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If you’ve had it with stringent diets, consider another approach: losing weight step by step. It’s not exciting or glamorous, and the weight isn’t going to melt off of you. On the other hand, it’s inexpensive, won’t deprive you, and best of all, it works. Perhaps most importantly, a stepwise approach helps you to form new habits or behaviors around eating, physical activity, stress, and sleep. Ready to start?

1. Decide on your motivation

Who doesn’t want to look good in a bathing suit or wow everyone at a wedding or reunion? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look nice, but what happens when beach season or the reunion is over? Instead, think about what will keep you on track long after you’ve packed your summer clothes away. Maybe your incentive is to be able to play with your grandchildren, dance at your daughter’s wedding, or avoid having to go on medication. Doing everyday chores or tasks, like climbing stairs, bringing in groceries, or riding a bike, might be important to you. Think about your internal motivation and write it down to refer to later.

2. Decide on your goal

How much weight do you really need to lose? If you’re not sure, talk with your doctor or a dietitian to help you decide on the amount of weight loss that’s best for you. A good way to get started is to aim, initially, to lose 5% of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, a 5% weight loss would be 10 pounds.

3. Set mini-goals

One reason why people easily get discouraged with losing weight is that they set the bar too high for themselves; in other words, they try to lose a large amount of weight in a short amount of time. For the most part, this doesn’t work. Weight that you lose quickly is usually water weight. It takes time to lose fat weight, which is really what you’re striving for. To keep you going, set small or mini goals for yourself. For example, you might aim to lose 5 or 10 pounds at a time, rather than 50 pounds all at once. The best types of goals to set are around your behaviors: eating, exercise, sleeping, etc. Set goals that are specific, realistic, and that are time bound. A good example is:

I will walk for 20 minutes after dinner five times a week for the next two weeks.

I will eat a vegetable with my lunch and dinner at least three times a week for the next month.

Specific? Yes. Achievable? Yes (hopefully). Time bound? You got it.

Heed advice from the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR).

The NWCR is a database of more than 10,000 people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept the weight off for at least a year. Here’s what makes them successful:

• Limiting calorie intake to between 1300 and 1600 calories daily (Tip: Your calorie needs may be different so talk with your dietitian).

• Eating about 4–5 times a day — no skipping meals!

• Eating breakfast every day.

• Exercising for 60–90 minutes daily. (Tip: Start out slowly with any type of exercise and gradually build up your time and intensity — remember those steps!)

• Weighing themselves often — at least once a week and even every day.

• Tracking food and activity. Keeping a food and activity journal, whether on paper or using an app, is a key part of any weight loss — and weight maintenance — plan.

Turning off the television. On average, Americans watch about 28 hours of TV a week! Watching TV is linked with weight gain. Use the time not watching TV to be active, to plan your meals, to meditate, or to go to bed a little early!

4. Buddy up

A family member, friend, or co-worker can be helpful as you work on losing weight. This person can serve as a coach and cheerleader, especially on days when you’re not feeling very inspired. In addition, he or she can join you in a little friendly competition to make things interesting and provide motivation.

5. Catch some zzzs

According to a Gallup survey, Americans average about 6.8 hours a night, with 40% of those in the United States getting less than the recommended amount of sleep. Not getting enough sleep does more than make you feel groggy and grumpy the next day; it can throw off hormones that regulate appetite, as well. End result? Possible weight gain (by the way, a lack of sleep can wreak havoc with blood sugar control, too). Sleep experts recommend aiming for seven to nine hours a night.

6. De-stress

Everyone has stress in their lives, but some are able to manage it better than others. As with a lack of sleep, chronic stress can lead to higher blood sugar levels and weight gain, thanks to a hormone called cortisol. And, not surprisingly, people often turn to eating as a way to help deal with stress. Stress interferes with sleep, making time for physical activity, and overall self-care. There are a lot of ways to handle stress, such as journaling, meditating, doing yoga, and making time for yourself. If your level of stress seems like too much to deal with, reach out to a professional, like your doctor or a counselor, for help.

The above six steps are just a few of many ways to tackle weight loss. The key is focusing on those that make the most sense for you and that you believe are doable at any given time. Try not to make too many changes at once, either. Remember the old saying: Slow and steady wins the race!

Want to learn more about weight management? Read “Tried and True Weight-Loss Techniques,” “Strategies for Weight Management,” and “Why Can’t I Lose Weight?”

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  • RAWLCM

    It’s amazing what a difference tracking can make. Just writing down everything you eat and all the activity you get raises your awareness of what’s going in and being used. Most people will be surprised that they consume more than they think they do. Large portions, “reflex” eating -having food because it’s available even when you’re not hungry- “clean up” eating -finishing that last piece of cake so you don’t have to put it away (or throw it away), having a caloric beverage when water would be just as good -all ads up to a lot of calories. We’re often less active than we think. Until I started tracking, I wasn’t aware that I would often spend hours at work without leaving my chair. Of course an app can quickly convert both steps and food into caloric counts so you can more easily compare what’s consumed with what is burned away. It also makes those mini goals easier to track and adjust if needed. We all know we should take an extra walk if we eat a big meal, but there’s something extra motivating about watching the graph go back into balance or even a surplus of calories burned.

    • acampbell

      Hi RAWLCM,
      I agree! Tracking may seem tedious, but it’s a truly valuable tool, especially if you’re struggling to lose weight — or even improve blood sugars!