Our bodies are incredibly dynamic, undergoing constant change throughout our life span. One of the most natural changes is weight fluctuations caused by age, genetics, lifestyle habits, and hormonal shifts. Our bodies are designed to adapt to the changes that life brings, and weight fluctuations are often part of the process.
It’s important to note that these changes are perfectly normal. However, excess weight may play a role in the development of chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and elevated blood pressure. If weight loss would benefit your overall health and wellness, this beginner’s guide to sustainable weight loss can help you pursue your goals safely.
Why is Weight Loss Difficult?
Weight loss can be challenging for a variety of reasons, including genetics, environmental influences, metabolism changes, and emotional disturbances. Plus, other factors can add to the difficulty. For example, unrealistic expectations and lack of support can make it difficult to stay committed to your weight loss goals.
Weight loss involves creating a calorie deficit, but it requires more than just eating fewer calories daily. No two weight loss journeys are the same, so there’s no one-size-fits-all way to shed pounds. If only it were that easy!
Why Dieting is Not Always the Best Approach
Dieting may not always be the best approach to weight loss, as extreme measures are typically unsustainable and dangerous. Restrictive diets aren’t realistic and often leave you lacking many essential nutrients.
And those fad diets? They often lack the scientific research needed to back their claims, leaving many health experts questioning their safety. Diets like intermittent fasting and keto might give you the results you want in the short term, but they’re not sustainable and may cause other health issues down the line.
The Importance of Food Choices and Goal Setting
When working toward your healthy weight, it’s important to set realistic and specific goals to keep you motivated throughout the journey. Plus, it helps you see your progress along the way.
Additionally, be mindful of your food choices. Nutrition selections are a cornerstone of any successful weight loss journey. Opt for nutrient-dense foods and include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats in your diet.
How to Start Your Weight Loss Journey
Starting a weight loss journey can feel both exciting and daunting. It’s a complex adventure that may require changes in several parts of your life. To set yourself up for success, consider these simple tips:
Set Realistic Goals
Embrace the journey ahead, no matter how long it may look. Research continues to indicate that changing habits requires repetition over the long term.1 Give yourself realistic goals to work towards, and don’t rush the process.
Consult a Pro
Losing weight can be challenging on your own. Healthcare professionals and certified personal trainers offer science-backed guidance and support from someone who isn’t family or a friend. A registered dietitian can help you calculate your macronutrient needs to ensure you’re meeting your daily requirements while also working toward your weight or fat loss goal.
Create Your Weight Loss Workout Plan
Regular exercise is a critical part of weight loss for many people. Aim to create a workout plan that is realistic and appropriate for your fitness level—and ensure you can stick with the plan!
Assess Your Lifestyle Habits
Body weight is affected by more than calories in versus calories out. Identify lifestyle habits that trigger weight gain and may derail select health goals. Common habits that may affect weight loss efforts include poor sleep hygiene, stress, dehydration, and poor mental health care.
Identify Your Triggers
Knowing your triggers can be a game changer. What causes you to eat when you’re not truly hungry? Triggers can stem from environmental, emotional, and social, often derailing your focus and slowing down your progress. Make note of instances that overshadow your weight loss goals, and try to set yourself up for success by avoiding those triggers.
Seeing and smelling foods can make you want to eat, even when you’re not hungry. Examples of environmental triggers include:
- A bag of chips sitting on the counter.
- Coworkers in the break room having a snack.
Sometimes triggers are emotional. Examples of emotional triggers include:
- Grabbing a salty, high-calorie snack when you’re stressed.
- Mindlessly eating after an upsetting phone call or message.
Social triggers can be hard to break because they commonly involve other people. Examples of social triggers include:
- Eating more food when dining with friends at restaurants.
- Having dessert when a family member makes it for you.
- Having a partner pick up takeout on the way home from work.
To control triggers and avoid temptation, avoid buying high-calorie, processed foods that offer little nutritional value. Stock your kitchen with nutrient-dense, delicious foods that can serve your body well.
Almost 60% of the calories in an average American diet come from processed foods.2 Processing removes fiber and vitamins from foods and adds salt and sugar, which fuel food cravings. Processed foods may also spike your blood sugar and then cause it to crash, leaving you hungry. These types of foods are engineered to taste more delicious, which makes it harder to stop eating them.
Consider Tracking Your Food and How You Feel During the Process
Logging your calorie intake and monitoring how you feel during the weight loss process can help you understand your progress and adapt as needed. Food logging, continuous glucose monitoring, and measurement changes can be helpful tools.
A registered dietitian can help you calculate the number of calories you need to consume and expend daily to support your weight loss efforts. If you have questions about your weight loss, you will have a log of your nutritional intake, giving them important data to assess your needs moving forward.
6 Weight Loss Nutrition Tips for Newbies
1. Indulge in Fiber
Fiber keeps you fuller for longer, helping to satiate your hunger and reduce the risk of overeating at your next snack or meal. It also offers other health benefits, including support for your cardiovascular and gut health.
2. Get Adequate Amounts of Protein
Our bodies use protein to build muscle, bones, and skin. Its role in thermogenesis and muscle protein synthesis makes it an essential nutrient in weight loss journeys. A recent study showed that those who eat a high-protein diet experience fewer food cravings, leading researchers to believe that protein helps suppress your hunger hormone.3
3. Limit Processed Foods
Highly processed foods tend to be high in sugar or sodium. Opt for fresh, whole foods when possible and limit your intake of processed snacks and meals.
4. Monitor Calorie Intake and Portion Sizes
Calorie counts don’t often support sustainable weight management; however, it’s important to monitor your portion sizes and calorie trends. Be mindful of the serving sizes you consume and adjust your intake daily to reach your estimated nutrition needs.
5. Avoid Empty Calories
While all foods can fit into a well-balanced diet, some foods serve our bodies better than others. Opt for nutrient-dense foods that provide calories and other essential nutrients, like fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins.
6. Minimize Added Sugars
Added sugar may help the product taste better, but it doesn’t offer many health benefits. For those following a low-calorie diet, added sugar may cause you to exceed your calorie or carbohydrate goals for the day.
4 Lifestyle Tips to Optimize Weight Loss
Optimize Your Sleep Hygiene
Adequate sleep is essential to our overall health and necessary for many bodily functions. Not getting enough sleep can increase your risk of developing serious health conditions, affect your mental health, and lead to weight gain.
Many body processes rely on proper hydration. To metabolize your food efficiently, the cells in your body must function optimally. Your body is about 60% water, so drinking plenty of water maximizes your ability to metabolize foods.4 Good hydration also increases body fat metabolism and decreases appetite.5
While hydration is important for effective weight loss, it’s equally important to choose the right drinks.6 Sugary drinks, like fruit juices, can eat up your calorie budget and still leave you hungry.7 Sugary drinks have no protein, healthy fats, or fiber. More troubling, you might be more inclined to choose unhealthy, high-calorie foods when eating a meal consumed with a sugar-sweetened carbonated beverage.8
It’s best to drink water, flat or sparkling.
Don’t Overlook Stress Management
High levels of cortisol, especially in the long term, have been linked to an increase in abdominal obesity. Some people turn to eating to cope with their stress, and others might move less.
Increase Your Daily Activity and Exercise
Exercise is a critical component of weight loss for many people. Creating an engaging and realistic workout routine can help you lose weight gradually and build lean muscle mass.
For example, rather than jumping into 10,000 steps per day, start with 2,000 steps and increase it by 1,000 each day. Consider walking throughout your day rather than all at once. Moving in frequent, short bouts throughout the day can help you keep your blood sugar stable.
Here are some tips to increase your steps throughout the day:
- Park your car farther away when running errands.
- Walk instead of driving.
- Pace when talking on the phone or scrolling social media.
- Walk through the store instead of using online shopping.
- Set an alarm on your watch or phone to remind you to get up and walk every 30–60 minutes.
- Walk the stairs whenever possible.
When you’re ready, try incorporating different exercises into your routine. Aerobic physical activity can improve your cardiovascular health and decrease your risk of diabetes and heart disease.9 Strength training can increase your muscle mass, which increases your metabolic rate and helps you burn more calories, even at rest.10
Want to take your workout up a notch? Consider trying a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) class.
Weight Loss-Friendly Meal Ideas
Weight loss-friendly meals focus on more than just calories. Well-balanced meals provide a combination of complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats. They’re nutrient- and fiber-dense, meaning they are filling, nutritious, and delicious. Here are some examples:
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Whole grain toast (try sprouted whole grains)
- Salad topped with tuna or chicken breast
- A broth-based soup
- Brown rice and vegetables (add a plant-based protein or lean animal protein if you’d like)
- Baked or grilled fish with roasted vegetables
- Salad topped with a lean source of protein
- Sheet pan-baked chicken breast with vegetables
Beginners’ Exercise for Weight Loss
Exercise is important for your overall health and can help you reach your weight loss goals. However, to maximize your weight loss efforts, it’s important to design a workout routine that fits your individual needs. Incorporating a mix of aerobic and strength training activities into your routine can help you create a calorie deficit and build lean muscle.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of intense exercise each week in addition to two days of strength training.11
Cardio Exercises for Weight Loss
Consider taking a walk around the block between work tasks or after dinner. Walking is a low-impact movement that can work for all fitness levels.
Once you build stamina walking, you might consider kicking your workout up a gear. Running can help build your cardiovascular system, improving heart health and blood sugar management, among others.
Biking is an excellent way to log some cardio training without straining your bones and joints. If you can, consider biking to work, school, or small errands.
If you are dealing with joint pain of any kind, swimming might be an excellent workout choice for you. Swimming is a full-body workout that doesn’t require harsh impact on the ground or training equipment.
High-intensity interval training involves short bursts of exertion followed by short periods of lower-intensity movement or total rest. HIIT can be a great full-body workout that involves strength and cardio.
Strength Exercises for Weight Loss
- Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell swings can work multiple muscle groups at once. There are multiple variations of this strength training exercise, but one of the most popular involves hinging forward at the hips with the kettlebell between your legs. Load the swing by bringing the kettlebell back between your legs, knees slightly bent. Drive the kettlebell forward using your hips and thighs while straightening your knees to bring yourself to an upright position.
- Mountain Climbers
If you need a core exercise that also works the chest and arms, mountain climbers might be your go-to. Start in a plank position, hands under your shoulders. While engaging your core muscles, alternate driving your needs towards your chest. You can increase your speed to up the intensity.
Start in a standing position with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart. Bending forward, palms to the ground, slowly inch your hands out to a plank position. Hold for a moment and inch your way back to the starting position.
Sample Weight Loss Workout Plan for Beginners
How Fast Can You Expect to Lose Weight?
No two weight loss journeys are the same. The rate at which you can lose weight can vary based on several factors, including age, genetics, body composition, activity levels, and lifestyle choices. You may lose weight quickly during the first week or two. However, this is like water weight, and you will notice your weight loss gradually taper to a consistent rate and eventually to a plateau.
Remember that nutrition and physical activity needs are very individualized. If you have questions about how nutrition can play a role in your weight loss efforts, consult a registered dietitian. If you’re not sure where to start with your workouts, consider working with a certified personal trainer.
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Topics discussed in this article:
1. Qiu, M., Zhang, Y., Long, Z., & He, Y. (2021). Effect of Protein-Rich Breakfast on Subsequent Energy Intake and Subjective Appetite in Children and Adolescents: Systematic Review and Meta–Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients, 13(8), 2840. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13082840
2. Baraldi, L. G., Steele, E. M., & Canella, D. S. (2018). Consumption of ultra-processed foods and associated sociodemographic factors in the USA between 2007 and 2012: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study. BMJ Open, 8(3), e020574. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2017-020574
3. Benjamin Gardner, Madelynne A. Arden, Daniel Brown, Frank F. Eves, James Green, Kyra Hamilton, Nelli Hankonen, Jennifer Inauen, Jan Keller, Dominika Kwasnicka, Sarah Labudek, Hans Marien, Radomír Masaryk, Nicola McCleary, Barbara A. Mullan, Efrat Neter, Sheina Orbell, Sebastian Potthoff & Phillippa Lally (2023) Developing habit-based health behaviour change interventions: twenty-one questions to guide future research, Psychology & Health, 38:4, 518-540, DOI: 10.1080/08870446.2021.2003362
4. USGS. (2019, May 22). The water in you: Water and the human body. https://www.usgs.gov/special-topics/water-science-school/science/water-you-water-and-human-body
5. An, R., & McCaffrey, J. (2016). Plain water consumption in relation to energy intake and diet quality among US adults, 2005-2012. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 29(5), 624–632. https://doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12368
6. Bracamontes-Castelo, G., Bacardí-Gascón, M., & Jiménez Cruz, A. (2019). Effect of water consumption on weight loss: a systematic review. Efecto del consumo de agua sobre la pérdida de peso: revisión sistemática. Nutricion hospitalaria, 36(6), 1424–1429. https://doi.org/10.20960/nh.02746
7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, June 7). Rethink your drink. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/drinks.html
8. Ann, R. (2016). Beverage Consumption in Relation to Discretionary Food Intake and Diet Quality among US Adults, 2003 to 2012. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(1), 28–37. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.08.009
9. Vanhees, L., De Sutter, J., Geladas, N. D., Doyle, F., Prescott, E., Cornelissen, V., Kouidi, E., Dugmore, D., Vanuzzo, D., Börjesson, M., & Doherty, P. (2012). Importance of characteristics and modalities of physical activity and exercise in defining the benefits to cardiovascular health within the general population: recommendations from the EACPR (Part I). European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 19(4), 670–686. https://doi.org/10.1177/2047487312437059
10. McPherron, A. C., Guo, T., Bond, N. D., & Gavrilova, O. (2013). Increasing muscle mass to improve metabolism. Adipocyte, 2(2), 92–98. https://doi.org/10.4161/adip.22500
11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, June 2). How much physical activity do adults need? https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm