Losing weight can be tough, that’s no secret.
There’s so much information out there (much of it false and misleading) that it leaves many confused and frustrated. Not knowing how to proceed, they give up.
Others try diet after diet, plan after plan just to end up right back where they started. After so long, it is understandable that they start to feel like losing weight is hopeless.
If that sounds like you or you just need a “mental rewiring” on the key aspects to weight loss and dieting, keep reading!
The following 10 tips are going to help you develop a proper knowledge base and show you what you truly need to focus on in order to succeed in achieving your weight loss goals.
The 10 Key Guidelines to Successful Weight Loss
1. If you want to lose weight you must be in a caloric deficit: “The quest for the “quick fix”, the “magic pill”, or some “special nutrient combination” drives the public and researchers to find something new or different that will facilitate weight loss. However, the concept of a negative energy balance for weight loss cannot be disputed” (1).
In order to lose weight, you need to take in less energy (food) than you expend. Many things can be argued regarding what works and what doesn’t for weight loss, but this is NOT one of them.
Anyone who tells you that you can lose weight without exercise or changing your diet is lying to you. The concept is simple (take in less energy than you expend) but actually doing it can be hard. The bottom line is, generally speaking, that if you find yourself not losing weight, you need to take in less calories or increase your energy expenditure (through increased physical activity and/or exercise).
However, make sure to do this slowly (and NEVER eat below your Resting Metabolic Rate/RMR, roughly 11 x body weight in lbs).
If you find yourself not losing weight, be patient and first reevaluate your daily caloric intake. Many times we miscalculate how many calories we truly eat on a daily basis. Snacking, sodas, etc can all add up very quickly and take us out of the caloric deficit we need to lose weight. If you reevaluate and find that your calculations were correct, proceed with slightly lowering your intake.
If you’re counting calories, lower your daily intake by 200-250. If you’re not counting calories (and eat roughly the same thing everyday) simply decrease your portion sizes. For example, if you have 2 pieces of toast every morning have only 1. Don’t decrease any of your fruit and/or vegetable intake, they are the least calorie dense and not the issue. Aim to decrease the foods you tend to overeat and/or those that are high calorie dense and therefore not very filling.
No matter what, always remember that in order to lose weight you must be in a caloric deficit.
2. There are approximately 3,500 calories in a pound of fat: In order to lose 1 lb of fat/weight per week, you must take in roughly 3,500 calories less than your body requires.
For example: If you decrease your daily food intake by 250 calories while increasing your daily energy expenditure (through exercise and being more active) by 250 calories you are now (if you were maintaining weight before) going to lose about a pound of fat/weight per week (250+250=500, 500 x 7 days of the week=3,500 caloric deficit).
Losing more than 1-2 lbs (or more than 1% of your body weight) per week is not recommended, though during the first week or two you may lose a little more than that. Do not expect to have this continue thereafter, nor be discouraged that it does not. It is completely normal and expected!
Losing weight quicker than this recommendation will likely lead to higher losses of lean tissue (e.g, muscle), leaving you thinner but not much leaner.
Something else to consider is that though it is most common to create a 500 calorie deficit each day, it is not the only way. Calorie cycling can be a useful tool to create a deficit while making dieting less stressful and/or hard to sustain. In short, calorie cycling is the altering of the amount of calories you take in each day.
For example, Monday you eat in a larger deficit and Tuesday you eat at or very close to maintenance calories. Wednesday you eat in a fairly large deficit and Thursday you eat at or near maintenance calories. As with all weight loss strategies, this will work great for some and fail for others. Another way individuals do this is by eating in a slightly larger deficit during the week while eating at or near maintenance over the weekend.
Take your estimated daily weight loss calories and multiply them by 7. 2,200 x 7 = 15,400
The number you get is your weekly weight loss calories. You can split them up throughout the week any way you would like. I would not go too crazy with it though. Stick to a reasonable pattern such as the 2 mentioned above. Also, ensure that your higher calorie days are on your resistance training days and/or your highest intensity training days. Lower calorie days are better for rest/off days.
Whether done by the common 500 calorie daily deficit or by calorie cycling you must take in at least 3,500 calories less than your weekly maintenance calories per week in order to lose 1 lb per week. While the total number of calories will change as you lose weight (i.e, it will decrease as you lose weight), the necessary 3,500 calorie weekly deficit will stay the same.
3. The slower you go the better: Many times, because we want fast results we rush into things. We try to fix everything at once and/or stop a habit (such as bad eating habits) “cold turkey”.
This can work, but for most individuals it leads to many failures and ultimately quitting. It is always wiser to make small, reasonable changes over drastic ones because we tend to dislike change. We like things to stay normal and when a change is too uncomfortable or “out of the norm” we tend to go right back to our old behaviors.
Whether regarding exercise, diet, or any other behavior, it is usually best to take small steps to keep things as normal, easy, and stress-free as possible.
The easier and more normal that a change can be, the more likely it is that we will continue it. The longer we continue (or repeat) a behavior, the more likely it is to become habitual and/or automatic.
And developing healthy habits is the key to long-term success.
4. Ensure proper protein intake: There are 2 key reasons why an individual should prioritize proper protein intake, especially when weight loss is the goal.
- Moderate to high protein intake has shown to preserve lean body mass while dieting (2).
- Protein has a higher satiety factor (it is more filling) compared to carbs and fats (not including fiber).
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the recommended daily protein intake (for active individuals) is 1.2-1.7 g per kilogram of body weight, or 0.5-0.8 g per pound of body weight. Aim to include a source of protein at each meal to ensure that you hit your daily recommendation.
Some protein-rich foods that you can add to your diet are; eggs, chicken, ground turkey, ground beef, greek yogurt, navy beans, peas, spinach, whole grain spaghetti, nut butters, low-fat dairy products, and nuts.
For more on protein intake and weight loss, see this article here.
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5. Focus on a diet based around whole foods: As obvious as this may seem, many do not understand the key reasons for this recommendation (outside of “it’s healthier/better for me”). For the most part, whole foods contain less fat, salt, and sugar, are more satiating (filling), and provide higher amounts of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) compared to processed/fast foods.
Though it would be ideal, it is not necessary to completely rid your diet of processed foods. The goal is to continually increase your whole food intake while decreasing the amount of processed foods you take in until you are at a point in which your diet consists of 90% or more of whole foods.
Another key focus is fruit and vegetable intake. More specifically, having a serving of fruits or vegetables prior to each meal. You’ll notice that you eat much less when doing so. This is a great habit to develop for long-term success in weight loss and weight maintenance.
Limiting and/or cutting out sugary drinks while increasing water intake is another highly effective strategy. Many can easily drink over 500 calories each day, meaning that for those that do, they can decrease their daily caloric intake by as much as 500 calories by simply cutting out the sugary drinks (sodas, teas, juices, coffee, etc). Diet sodas, unsweetened tea, black coffee (with or without sweetener) are all perfectly fine.
As I mentioned in point number 3, the slower you go the better. Always remember, there must be a balance between leniency and restrictiveness. If you are too strict with your diet, you will likely not be consistent. Likewise, if you are too lenient you will never reach nor maintain your goals.
6. Prioritize resistance training: If you wish to be lean, strong and healthy, resistance and/or strength training should be high on your priority list. There are so many benefits that come from performing resistance training that many are unaware of (which I believe to be a key reason they neglect it in their training).
“Benefits of resistance training include improved physical performance, movement control, walking speed, functional independence, cognitive abilities, and self-esteem.” (3).
Consistent resistance exercise can also help prevent muscle loss (2), reduce fat accumulation, strengthen bones, and increase resting metabolic rate. Many who wish to lose weight make the mistake of adopting a very low calorie diet, doing excessive cardio, and skipping resistance exercise.
At the end of their program they have lost weight, however, they likely lost just as much, if not more muscle mass than they did fat tissue. This leaves them weaker than before, less toned, usually feeling very fatigued, as well as with a much lower resting metabolic rate (which makes up for approximately 60% of your total daily energy expenditure).
In other words, this individual is now thinner, but not much leaner and has a “slower” (more efficient) metabolism (so now they have to eat far less than they would if they had maintained their lean mass while losing fat).
Though we say we “want to lose weight”, many of us care less about our scale weight and much more about how we look and feel as well as how well we fit into our clothes.
Key Point: If you want to be lean, DO NOT skip resistance training.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (regarding resistance exercise), you should aim for 2-3 days a week (48 hours of rest between sessions), focus on 2-4 sets of 8-15 repetitions (2-3 minutes rest between sets), use a moderate to hard level of intensity, and focus on multi-joint exercises (e.g, squat, bench press, push up, pull up, lat pull down, deadlift, military press, handstand push ups, lunges, etc).
Note: As with any exercise, if you do not enjoy it you likely won’t continue it. And if you do not continue it, it is useless long-term. Find a form of resistance exercise that you like, stick to it, and continually implement the principle of progressive overload (i.e, continually changing the training stimulus to continue to adapt, grow, and/or progress).
For more on resistance exercise and weight loss, see this article here.
7. Get Your Beauty Sleep: Sleep is something that many do not think about when it comes to losing weight.
However, sufficient quality sleep is an extremely important aspect of any health or fitness related goal (especially weight loss).
“Sleeping less than 7 hours per night on a regular basis is associated with adverse health outcomes, including weight gain and obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke, depression, and increased risk of death”. (4)
There’s also evidence that “…short sleep duration is associated with higher total caloric intake, higher absolute intake of fat, and diets with relatively higher fat and lower protein composition, and limited evidence that short sleep duration is associated with lower intake of fruits and vegetables and diets of lower quality.” (5)
The reasons for this correlation between inadequate sleep and negative dietary behaviors are likely multi-factorial, including (but not limited to): (5)
- affected appetite-related hormones (e.g, leptin & ghrelin)
- pleasure pathways
- and increased duration of probable food intake
More research is needed, however, to determine how poor sleep truly affects diet and ultimately, weight loss.
So, how much sleep do you actually need?
The most consistently recommended sleep duration for those aged 18-60 for optimal health is seven or more hours of sleep per night (though the actual appropriate amount per individual will vary).
For more on sleep as it pertains to weight loss (and general health) see this article here.
8. Track and/or monitor your progress and behaviors: Self-monitoring is extremely underutilized and underrated. Keeping track of things such as eating behaviors, weight, strength progress, and relapses/slip ups among other things is extremely beneficial to your success in living a healthy life.
Self-monitoring has shown to have a positive relationship with successful weight management. “..although there were methodological limitations to the studies reviewed, there was ample evidence for the consistent and significant positive relationship between self-monitoring diet, physical activity or weight and successful outcomes related to weight management.” (6).
What you should monitor, to what extent, and for how long is not clear. However, I’d recommend some degree of self-monitoring to anyone who wishes to lose weight and keep it off.
Generally speaking, 3 key health and fitness aspects that I’d recommend every individual to monitor are; weight, food intake (not necessarily precise calorie counting), and workouts/workout progress.
Weekly weigh-ins can be as frequent as 5 days a week or as infrequent as once a week. However, I find that 3 times a week (such as Monday, Wednesday, Friday) to be a great frequency (i.e, not too frequent but not too infrequent).
As far as food intake goes, simply tracking what you eat can be very beneficial for your weight loss and overall health goals. Logging makes you more aware and/or mindful of your eating habits as well as allows you to more precisely recall what you had during a particular week in which you possibly had no weight loss. How long you have to or should monitor food intake will vary per individual. Some continue it long-term, others use it until they feel they habitually pay attention to what they eat, when they eat it, what foods they tend to overeat, etc.
Tracking workouts and/or workout progress/performance is a great tool for 2 key reasons. First, some weight loss phases you may find that you did not lose as much weight as you would have liked to. However, looking at your workout progress notes you may find joy, excitement, and a sense of achievement when you see that you became stronger on several lifts/exercises. Second, for those who have trouble being consistent with exercise, tracking can be a good way to stay accountable and aware of your workout/exercise habits.
So, if you’re not self-monitoring already, I suggest that you start doing so today to reap all the benefits mentioned above.
9. Practice Stress Management: Many of us experience high levels of stress due to our fast-paced environment.
This high level of stress can lead to negative consequences such as “headaches, constipation, smoking, alcohol abuse, poor diet, sleep disturbances and obesity.” (7)
Many are aware that such high levels of stress can be harmful, yet learning to manage our stress levels doesn’t seem to be too high on our priority list. However, if weight loss is your goal, you may want to start prioritizing it today.
“Under stress people display a behavioral shift to a more westernized dietary pattern i.e. emotional overeating, over-consumption of high-fat, -salt, -sugar foods and less intake of fruits and vegetables (Chaplin & Smith 2011). This dietary pattern, in the context of a stressful lifestyle has led, among other factors, to the global increase in the prevalence of obesity.” (7)
Many of us are familiar with the consequences of stress mentioned above and have experienced the effects they have on our weight and/or waistlines.
So what can you do about it?
If you feel like stress has been a hindering factor in your weight loss efforts or you just want to lower your stress levels, you can start to implement some of the strategies listed below.
Below are 13 strategies that you can use to manage your stress effectively: (8)
- Stay positive!
- Accept that there are things in life that you just cannot control.
- Be assertive instead of passive or aggressive.
- Learn about and practice relaxation techniques (e.g, deep breathing, meditation, yoga, etc).
- Exercise on a regular basis.
- Eat a healthy diet based around whole foods.
- Take the time to manage your time more effectively.
- Learn to say no when necessary and don’t take on more than you can handle.
- Make time for the things that you enjoy.
- Get your beauty sleep. Your body works hard all day and needs time to reset.
- Don’t use harmful and/or unhealthy behaviors to reduce stress.
- Seek support from honest and positive family members, friends, etc.
- Seek treatment from a mental health professional to learn healthy ways of dealing with the stress in your life.
Bottom line: Be aware of your stress levels and/or be more mindful of where you believe your stress stems from. Once you know the problem you can apply an appropriate solution. Don’t let your stress impact your weight loss goals.
10. Lastly, enjoy what you’re doing & ALWAYS consider the long-term: One of the most negated, yet most important aspects of successful weight loss is the long-term sustainability of the strategies used.
As I commonly put it, when the behaviors go, the results that they produced go with them. If a strategy cannot be maintained long-term it is of little to no use.
Many fail in maintaining their weight loss because they used short-term solutions to an issue that requires long-term changes.
The key to successful long-term weight loss is developing healthy habits over weeks, months, and years. Creating a new, healthy lifestyle.
The “best” program, plan, strategy, etc is the one that YOU enjoy and that YOU can follow for the rest of your life. Just the phrase “the rest of your life” can sound daunting, UNLESS what you have to maintain is something you enjoy!!
There is a lot of useless and misleading information out there regarding weight loss and dieting.
Such information puts many in the “lose, gain, lose, gain” cycle, commonly known as yo-yo dieting, leading them towards a feeling of hopelessness after so many failures.
It was not them that failed, but the information (and those giving it) that failed them.
The above 10 guidelines are intended to provide you with a solid foundation on what TRULY matters in achieving successful long-term weight loss.
I hope these tips aid you in your weight loss and/or fitness efforts!
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