In order to lose weight, you must use more calories than you take in. If you do this, you will lose weight over the long term. This is often summarized by the term “Calories in, Calories out”, or CICO. The “Calories In” side of the equation, your food intake, is the one we have the most control over, and should be the focus of any weight loss plan.
This guide is a simple way to get started with sustainable weight loss. Remember that diets rarely work. Programs and lifestyles do!
- The Ideal Weight Loss Program Isn’t a Diet – Start Now!
- WEEK 1: COMMIT TO LOGGING YOUR FOOD
- WEEK 2: SET A GOAL FOR YOUR INTAKE
- WEEK 3 AND ON: MAKE A SMALL IMPROVEMENT EACH WEEK
- How To Stick With It
- WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
The Ideal Weight Loss Program Isn’t a Diet – Start Now!
Don’t wait until the perfect day to start comes; it will never come. Don’t think that you will be more motivated tomorrow; motivation comes and goes. Don’t wait until you know everything, that day also never comes. You don’t need the perfect diet or exercise plan. Just start now and refine as you go along.
Download the free MyFitnessPal app for logging your food intake, and create an account:
Enter your current stats
Choose Sedentary for normal daily activities (If you work out like on a program like Crossfit, there are diets for you, you can add it in separately for more accuracy)
For now, set your goal to Maintain my Current Weight. Your goal for this week is just to get in the habit of logging.
Note: You can also use one of these Other Options for calorie counting.
WEEK 1: COMMIT TO LOGGING YOUR FOOD
For this week, just log your food intake every day. Don’t worry about any calorie goals just yet. Get used to the process; Read the information on your food packaging, weigh all of the things you eat and drink, and accurately record the amount of calories you consume in your calorie tracker.
Consider using a food scale to measure portions, at least for the first couple months of counting. You can also use your hand to estimate portion sizes.
From this week on, log every day no matter what. Life is full of detours. Plans change. It’s okay! Keep logging. If you’re logging, you haven’t quit. If you are logging through a crisis, you’re back on track as soon as your next meal. Don’t quit. It is your log, it is not your judge. The goal isn’t to have the perfect log, it is to have the information that will help you gain awareness and then control over your eating and your weight.
[Further Reading: Studies Show that Logging Helps Lose Weight]
WEEK 2: SET A GOAL FOR YOUR INTAKE
Now that you are used to logging, you can start focusing on a calorie goal. Enter at most 1 lb/week weight loss into myFitnessPal, and it will provide you with a calorie goal. For this week, do your best to stay within 100 calories of this goal, but don’t worry if you go over. You will be gradually working toward this goal in the coming weeks.
If you haven’t already, take progress pictures of yourself, and start recording your weight every day. Remember that your weight will fluctuate quite a bit day to day, so enter your weight into your calorie tracker to see the long term trend.
WEEK 3 AND ON: MAKE A SMALL IMPROVEMENT EACH WEEK
For weight loss to be permanent, your plan needs to be sustainable. It is best to make slow, gradual changes that will cause you to develop better eating habits. Overhauling your life may get you quick results at first, but you are much more likely to gain back any weight you lose in the long term.
Each week from now on, make a small, actionable change to your lifestyle . Keep in mind that it is a lot easier to replace things than to eliminate them. A few examples:
replace a nightly bag of chips with a bag of air popped popcorn or an apple
replace a side at dinner with a vegetable
order a healthier option at a restaurant you frequent
walk for 20 minutes a couple days this week
Use your logs from the previous couple weeks to see where you can make small changes to get closer to your calorie goal. Look for the “low hanging fruit” that give you more calories for smaller changes.
How To Stick With It
MAKE THE GOOD CHOICE THE EASY CHOICE
Losing weight takes discipline, but the less you have to exert your willpower, the better. Always have low calorie, filling foods easily available to you. A few examples are apples, oranges, and light popcorn. Keep these front and center. Don’t buy large packs of junk food. If you want to get junk, go to a convenience store and get a single portion. It is easier to use willpower once at the store than for the rest of the week at home.
If you have a serious workout program then supplements can help. We wrote a bulk supplements review that you may find useful.
When I lost weight, I found it easiest to start with small dietary changes – buy skim milk instead of whole, buy whole wheat bread, instead of two slices of cheese on your burger just use one, start buying leaner meat, stop drinking coke, switch to bourbon on the rocks instead of with coke, etc.
Then once I had some momentum going, I started swapping out certain foods. Instead of cereal in the morning, try oatmeal, instead of cookies for a snack, try different Greek yogurts to find your flavors, instead of chips with my burgers I grill an ear of corn and asparagus, stuff like that.
Working out hardly does a damn thing without the nutrition to back it up.
I also refuse to buy things I can’t help myself from eating. Won’t buy Oreos or Cheez-Its, stuff like that. If I have access to it, I’ll eat it. Cut off the easy access, and then you’ve just gotta fight the urge once a week at the grocery instead of every day at the cookie jar.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO HUNGRY
You should be able to eat your target calories without constantly being hungry. Making good decisions is much easier if you aren’t hungry. If you need to slow down your progress, so be it; it is better to lose slower than to give up. It can also help to eat more filling foods, typically food with more fat, protein, and fiber. Simple sugars are less filling and can even make you hungrier.
Additionally, keep in mind that cravings and hunger are different. To identify if you are really hungry, think about if you would eat an apple or other fruit. If not, you are experiencing a craving; these will get less severe in time as your body adjusts to changes you are making.
Eating the same thing for a meal most days (for example having the same lunch at work each day or the same afternoon snack) makes it the choice you don’t have to think about, so you are more likely to keep having it and stay away from less healthy choices. We are very inclined to choose something that our brain considers a default
Many people prepare a week’s worth of meals over the weekend and have them for lunch and dinner throughout the week. If you eat out often, look at the menu online before you go and decide what you will order beforehand.
WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
You will inevitably have days where you do not follow your plan, but keep in mind that these days will only be a problem if you let them derail you. The ideas in this section will help keep you on track through the tougher times.
HAVE A BASELINE
When starting weight loss, you will probably feel very motivated to keep going. But as you progress, your initial motivation will wane and it is easy to get discouraged. As you progress, have a baseline for things you do when you are feeling discouraged or unmotivated, things you do no matter what. For example, you might stop going to the gym for a couple weeks, but you maintain a baseline of logging your calories and eating 200 calories below maintenance.
HAVE A SUPPORT SYSTEM TO KEEP YOU ACCOUNTABLE
It is helpful to be a part of a community of people who are also losing weight, such as a subreddit, TOPS, or weight watchers. This is not the same as posting about your weight loss plans to your Facebook friends. Joining a LoseIt challenge, posting your questions and concerns, and commenting on other’s posts will build momentum to keep you going. I always advocate to a program. Try one of Best Ketogenic Diet Books if you need inspiration.