You know you want to lose weight. You probably have a general idea of how you’re going to do it: work out more, watch what you eat, cut back on sugar, that sort of thing. But no matter how motivated you are, if you don’t have a clear weight-loss plan, you probably aren’t going to reach your goals.
Weight loss takes more than just healthy eating and exercise — it also takes mental stamina and a whole lot of decision-making. (Chips or carrots? Cardio or strength? Beer or tea? Work out or Netflix?) These decisions can wear down your willpower and make you more likely to cave the next time a craving strikes. And all those little decisions you make throughout the day add up to determine whether you lose weight successfully — or whether the scale stays put.
But when you have a game plan for losing weight — not just a few vague resolutions — you’ll know exactly what you need to do each day to help you get closer to your end goal. And you won’t have to rely on willpower to help you make healthy choices when you’re hangry. Until your healthy lifestyle becomes second nature, a weight-loss plan is like a cheat sheet to keep you on track.
Creating a Plan for Weight Loss
First things first, you need to figure out exactly what you want to achieve — and what you can achieve, because “10 pounds in 10 days” isn’t going to happen. So how can you set a realistic goal? Andy De Santis, R.D., M.P.H., a dietitian in Toronto, recommends this formula:
- Set an initial goal weight that’s five to 10 percent less than your current weight. So if you weigh 200 pounds, aim to get down to 180 to 190 pounds.
- Aim to lose one half to two pounds per week. If you’re trying to lose 10 pounds, that means you should expect it to take at least five weeks.
- Don’t try to outpace that weekly goal. “Anything above that range and you’ve probably made a dietary change that is potentially drastic, restrictive, and unsustainable,” De Santis says.
Keep in mind your “big goal” doesn’t have to be a number. As you burn fat and build muscle, the number on the scale may not always reflect the results you see in the mirror.
Your weight is only one way to measure your health, so consider setting a non-scale goal like losing three inches off your waist or being able to bench your body weight. “Losing weight is valuable, but becoming healthier is even more important,” De Santis says.
How to Lose Weight with These Easy Steps
Next, for your plan to be effective, it has to be more than a motivational mantra or a vow to “eat clean.” You need an official, written-down-somewhere plan you can refer back to when you’re tempted to skip your run on a rainy day or eat a bag of microwaved popcorn for dinner, or whatever weight-loss obstacle you happen to encounter on a zero-motivation day. Writing down your plan, and tracking your progress as you go, can help you overcome those obstacles and reach your weight-loss goals.
Wondering where to start or what should (or shouldn’t) be included in your plan? Here are nine well-researched (as in, based on science) actions you can add to your plan to help you reach your goals. The key is to customize your plan to work for you.
1. Reach for protein.
Protein is a weight-loss hero in more ways than one. First, protein is satiating, as in, it keeps you feeling fuller longer, which might help you eat less. It also burns more calories during digestion compared to fat and carbs. The key is to keep it lean to limit the amount of calories and saturated fat.
2. Start a bullet journal.
Bullet journals can be a free-form mix of doodles, quotes, to-do lists, and random thoughts to keep you focused on your weight-loss goals. If food diaries and journals sound like homework to you, the flexibility of a bullet journal might be more your speed.
Keeping a food journal, no matter the application — digital, pen and paper, bullet journal, excel spreadsheets, etc. — can help you lose weight. One study found that keeping a food diary actually doubled weight loss. But if you like more structure and bullet journals aren’t your thing…
3. Download a weight-loss app.
You can find apps with calorie counters, workout trackers, in-app coaching, 5K training programs, meal planning schedules, and just about anything else you need a little help with. Research shows that tech can improve the effectiveness of a weight-loss program.
4. Make friends with fiber, especially soluble fiber.
Fiber is all the rage right now and for good reason. As if keeping you regular, supporting”good” gut bacteria, and helping to stabilize blood sugars wasn’t enough, fiber can also help you lose weight. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils are all sources of soluble fiber. Women should shoot for at minimum 25 grams a day of fiber and men, at least 38 grams.
5. Get your fluids… but be choosy.
You’ve likely heard that your body is approximately 60% water and that getting enough H2O is crucial for keeping everything in working order. All of this is true but drinking enough water might actually help you lose weight, too. A small 2010 study found that drinking two glasses of water before each meal actually helped people to eat less; the thinking is water fills you up.
But the key is to be smart about what you’re drinking. Sodas, juices, and other sugary drinks may help keep you hydrated but they’re also full of calories and won’t do you any favors if you’re trying to lose weight.
6. Join a fitness support group.
Fitness support groups often revolve around a workout program or clean-eating plan, which means less guesswork for you. And besides, nothing will keep you accountable like finding a weight-loss community and competing with — er, encouraging — each other.
7. Get plenty of shut-eye.
All of those spin classes and prepped meals aren’t going to be as effective if you’re falling short on shut-eye. Why? Sleep is crucial when it comes to shedding weight. Losing sleep messes with your appetite (not in a good way), and it can make it more difficult to make healthy choices, all the while lowering your overall energy expenditure by reducing your metabolism. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
8. Eat whole foods (and cut out the crap).
When it comes to losing weight, we can get so focused on calories in and calories out, that the quality of food can fall by the wayside. But science reminds us that focusing on whole foods versus eating ultra-processed foods is key.
New research found that participants naturally ate less (about 500 calories) when eating whole, minimally processed foods versus more highly processed foods. Interestingly, appetite-suppressing hormones were found to be higher, and ghrelin, (a hunger-promoting hormone), was found to be lower when eating the more whole foods diet compared to the ultra-processed diet.
9. Spend more quality time in the kitchen.
As if you needed another reason to get on the meal-prep bandwagon. Research shows that those who cook more at home eat less than those frequenting restaurants and drive-throughs. How much less? We’re talking about 200 calories each day— yikes. Meal-prepping may seem daunting but check out our beginner’s guide. Or, start with an easy recipe like this smoothie bowl or these chicken kabobs.