When you look in the mirror, do you find yourself asking, “Why haven’t I been able to lose weight?” Maybe you’ve tried dieting and started an intense exercise routine, but you either never lost any weight or you gained it all back.
If you are sick and tired of struggling to lose your weight fast, we’ve got the essential weight loss guide for you. When you follow our guide, you are giving yourself the advantage to weight loss the right way and keep it off for the long term.
In this article, we will lay out all the best ways on how you can achieve your goals effectively. Not only are these methods backed by research, but they’re also clinically proven in practice by Registered Dietitians like myself.
This article will provide you with a comprehensive guide. What’s even better is that you will be equipped with some tools so that you can create your own customized weight loss plan.
It’s time to stop being unsuccessful with losing weight. If you’re ready to kick start (or restart) your weight loss story the right way and lose it in the long term, keep on reading! We will discuss the most common mistakes and the basic keys to losing weight successfully.
Please be sure to read the step-by-step checklist to start losing weight. This guide can help you start losing weight today! We’ve also included a calorie guide and portion size guide to help make your weight loss journey easier!
The Most Common Weight Loss Mistakes
If you can’t seem to lose weight, or always seem to put it back on after you go off a diet, you’re not alone. Many people end up sabotaging their own weight loss goals because they don’t understand the science behind weight gain and loss.
Weight loss isn’t just about willpower and physical effort. There’s a mental side to it, too, and putting your intelligence to work can get you over the hurdles that have halted your weight loss in the past.
Before you can jump into our 8-step weight loss plan, it is essential to understand the most common weight loss mistakes and why they don’t help you lose the weight (or keep it off). Check out the list below and ask yourself if you’ve ever made these weight loss mistakes:
Mistake #1: You jump on the latest fad diet.
These sound so simple and so black-and-white. These fad diets often promise to give you exactly the results you want: the fastest way to weight loss.
Oftentimes, you see success stories of people who have reached their goals in no time on these diets, and you want the same. Here is a list of common fad diets. Have you ever tried these?
- Abs Diet
- Baby Food diet
- Body Reset diet
- Detox diet (i.e. tea detoxes)
- Dukan diet
- Flat belly diet
- General Motors diet
- Juice Cleanses
- The ketogenic diet (research supports the use of this diet for pediatric epilepsy and possibly as a means to manage type 2 diabetes)
- Paleo diet
- Raw Food diet
- Whole 30
- Zone diet
You shouldn’t be ashamed that you want to find the quickest solution to your weight loss problem. You may be surprised, but nearly everyone would love to find the fastest way to lose their weight! The real issue here is that fad diets and extreme diets are not the solutions to weight loss at all.
Fad diets are meant to be extreme and yield quick weight loss. As a clinician, however, I see people either never lose weight on a fad diet, or they only lose their weight for a short time before gaining it all back (1).
Why don’t fad diets work?
Fad diets are often highly restrictive, meaning that you have to cut out certain foods or a whole food group. They are typically not backed by substantial research and are often not sustainable for the long term. For example, the Paleo diet is a common fad diet that asks you to restrict certain foods, putting you at risk for nutrient deficiencies.
According to experts, there currently is not enough evidence to even support the Paleo diet for weight loss (2). Similarly to the Paleo diet, most fad diets currently do not have enough research behind them to be used in practice.
Mistake #2: You start an intense exercise routine too quickly.
Day after day, they post videos and pictures of themselves lifting weights and engaging in intense cardio. That must be how they look so good!
Naturally, you may think that to look like them, you have to do what they’re doing. While that may work in theory, another common mistake people make for weight loss is that they jump into a really intense exercise routine when they’re not ready.
As you can imagine, those who haven’t exercised in months (or years) who decide to start a crazy daily exercise routine, rarely stick with it. This is where fitness quotes could inspire you.
Mistake #3: You avoid certain foods.
Perhaps you’ve had some success completely cutting out certain foods like bread, carbs, sweets, or fried food. Contrary to popular belief, an effective weight loss meal plan does not completely cut out certain foods.
What’s wrong with cutting out certain foods?
If you’re like many, you may love sweets. What if someone told you that you can never eat sweets ever again for the rest of your life? Sure, you might be fine the first few days, but you’ll start to crave sweets again at some point.
When the holidays come around, you’ll either have to deprive yourself of your favorite family foods or you will “cave in” and eat them. It seems like a lose-lose situation!
For an effective and sustainable weight loss plan, the only thing you should be losing is the weight itself! On the flip side, you should be gaining a lot of positive things from a weight loss plan: gaining better nutrition, gaining weekly exercise habits, gaining awareness about your personal relationship with food.
Use our step-by-step checklist below to help you get there. Also, make sure you refer back to our easy calorie guide and portion size chart.
The Basics to Have a Successful Weight Loss Journey
Now you understand what doesn’t work for weight loss, and you may be feeling a little discouraged. However, have no fear! Keep reading to find out what does work for weight loss. Also, don’t forget to start your journey with our step-by-step checklist to weight loss below. As you will see, it’s loaded with practical weight loss tips that anyone can do!
The first key to a successful weight loss journey is understanding how our metabolism works. Our metabolism is the system that keeps us going day-to-day. Like a car, our metabolism needs fuel to work properly. We get this fuel, or energy, from the food we eat in the form of calories.
To function properly, our metabolism acts like a balance. What we eat translates into the energy we burn off. If we eat just the right amount of calories to sustain ourselves, our weight remains the same. Eating too many calories for our needs is what causes weight gain since the unused energy is stored as fat. For weight loss, we need to make sure our body is using more calories that we are taking in.
How do we create a calorie deficit?
There are a couple of ways we can create a calorie deficit for losing weight:
- Eat below the calorie threshold for weight maintenance. If you know how many calories you need to maintain your weight, decrease your daily calorie intake by 250 to 500 calories per day. Doing that alone will create a weekly deficit of 1750 to 3500 calories per week! Remember, it takes a deficit of 3500 calories to lose a pound.
- Burn off the calories consumed (and more) with exercise. If you’d rather try the exercise-only approach to losing weight, consume the amount of calories you do for weight maintenance and then increase your exercise burn by 250 to 500 calories per day. For those of you who already work out, you will have to increase from your current exercise level. Some people prefer to focus on exercise for rapid weight loss. This way they don’t feel food-deprived, yet they are still burning fat before and after workouts. Unlike restricting calories alone, physical activity will help you lose weight and be more physically fit.
- Use a combination of reducing calories and increasing your exercise. If you want the ultimate and fastest way to lose weight, do a combination of a calorie deficit with more exercise (3). These two methods go hand-in-hand to amplify your efforts. However, make sure you do it the right way! In a 2017 study, women who participated in a combination-type weight loss program did not lose as much weight as they were hoping, plus they lost muscle tone. To prevent muscle tone loss, keep reading to find out the best diet for weight loss.
Take Action by Exercising to Lose Weight
According to the American Heart Association, adults should be getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio per week (6). This is for weight maintenance and health. Are you currently getting 150 minutes of cardio in?
If you’re not, that may be a huge factor as to why your weight is staying the same (or increasing). For weight loss, adults should be getting 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity cardio exercise.
If you’re not getting the 150 minutes, then you’re definitely not getting the 300 minutes! You can also modify the minutes based on intensity. If you are working out at a higher intensity, you can work out for fewer minutes. Here is a table that helps consolidate all of this information:
Exercise and Physical Activity Recommendations Based on Weight Goals
|Moderate Intensity Cardio||High Intensity Cardio|
|Exercise for Weight Maintenance & Health||150 minutes per week||75 minutes per week|
|Exercise for Weight Loss||300 minutes per week||150 minutes per week|
That may seems like a lot of exercise! You can break down these exercise goals into as short as 10-minute spurts several times per day. However, most people do well with exercise that lasts between 30 minutes to an hour. Check out this breakdown to help organize your exercise for the week:
- 150 minutes (moderate intensity) = Five 30-minute workouts per week to maintain your weight
- 300 minutes (moderate intensity) = Five 1-hour workouts per week to lose weight
As always, you should consult your doctor before starting any exercise routine, and work up slowly to your fitness goals. It may take several weeks before you are consistently working out at a rate for weight loss, so consider pairing weight loss exercise with a meal plan for weight loss. To lose weight faster, add 2 days of strength training into your routine. This will help you get fit and burn more calories!
Create Your Weight Loss Meal Plan: What to Eat to Lose Weight
Thinking back to previous diets you’ve tried, have you ever restricted yourself from your favorite food and then wanted it so bad that you binged on it? An effective and sustainable weight loss meal plan never cuts out certain foods but rather emphasizes more nutritious foods to eat more often.
If you want to know which foods to eat more often, this is the section to read. Current research is mixed as to what specific diet, food, intervention, or meal plan is the best for weight loss (7). That begin said, however, there are several key things you can do to make your diet more effective for weight loss.
Determine Your Calorie Needs
For weight loss, it is helpful to know how many calories you should be consuming. Some food logging apps may automatically generate your calorie goal, but you can do it yourself. As a registered dietitian, I determine my clients’ needs all the time. Here are the equations I use to create weight loss meal plans and determine calorie goals.
- Hypocaloric Equation (based on weight): Consume 20 to 22 calories per kilogram body weight.
- Mifflin St. Jeor Equation (MSJ; determines your resting metabolic rate [RMR]): Subtract 250 to 750 calories from the MSJ result to determine weight loss calories.
- MSJ for Men:RMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5
- MSJ for Women: RMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161
- Remember to then subtract 250 to 750 calories for weight loss. Or, you can use an online MSJ calculator.
If you use both equations, you may get different calorie goals, which may be confusing. As a general rule, however, women shouldn’t consume fewer than 1200 calories per day. Men should eat at least 1500 calories per day. Contrary to what you may believe, consuming less than these gender-specific calorie amounts may actually deter weight loss.
As a clinician, I am equipped with determining the best calorie goal for my clients’ needs. If you want to make sure that you are getting the most accurate and individualized weight loss meal plan, talk to your local registered dietitian. If you’ve recently had a c-section, then check out our 15 ways to get rid of lower belly fat after c-section delivery.
Option #1: Diets to Model
Once you have a calorie goal, try to stick to that goal as much as possible. If you find you are still not losing weight, determine if it is because you are eating over your calorie goal or if the established goal is still too high for you. Knowing the proper calories will help determine how to structure your food intake.
The common question from my weight loss clients is: “What foods should I eat, and what foods should I not eat?” As mentioned before, a sustainable weight loss diet emphasizes certain types of foods and limits (not avoids) other types of foods.
The goal is to consume a lot of the preferred foods so that you have minimal room to include foods that will not help you lose weight.
If you are looking for some dietary structure, here are some diets to model. These diets promote long-term success, health, and/or teach you the skills to continue healthy eating for weight loss after the diet is complete. These types of well-rounded, education-centered programs yield the best results for those trying to lose weight (8).
- DASH diet*
- Mediterranean diet*
- MIND diet*
- TLC diet*
- Volumetrics diet
- Weight Watchers
- Mayo Clinic diet*
- Jenny Craig (a meal-delivery service)
- Spark Solution diet
- Medifast (utilizes meal replacements)
- Slim Fast (utilizes meal replacements)
- Engine 2 diet*
- Nutrisystem (a meal-delivery service)
- Health Management Resources (HMR) diet
*Indicates diet should be coupled with your current calorie restriction.
Other diets like the Atkins, Eco-Atkins, and South Beach can be used as well since they aim to limit certain foods, rather than avoid them completely. Along with intermittent fasting for weight loss, more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of these diets (9, 10).
Option #2: Try the HealthyPlate Method
If you would rather not feel bound by the complex guidelines of these diets, consider trying the simple HealthyPlate method. In this method, you learn to structure your meals based on how it looks on the plate:
- Make ¼ of the plate whole grains + starchy vegetables. Whole grain foods: Whole grain bread, rice, pasta, tortillas. Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, corn, peas.
- Make ¼ of the plate lean protein. Lean proteins: Chicken, turkey, tuna, shrimp, eggs, fish, soybeans/products, beans, lentils, tofu.
- Make ½ of the plate non-starchy vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables: Asparagus, carrots, broccoli, lettuce, kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, green beans, edamame, artichoke, tomato, bell peppers, bean sprouts, baby corn, cabbage, celery, cauliflower, cucumber, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, zucchini, summer squash, sugar snap peas, 100% vegetable juice (i.e. V8).
- Eat fruit for breakfast, as a dessert, or as a snack later on. Fresh and plain frozen fruit is best.
- Have a dairy/dairy alternative for breakfast, as a dessert, or as a snack later on. Choose nonfat or low-fat dairy more often (skim, 0%, 1%, 2%). Dairy alternatives: Soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, hemp milk, rice milk, coconut milk.
- Cook foods in healthy unsaturated fats, use as a garnish or incorporate into snacks. Healthy unsaturated fat foods: Seeds, nuts, olive oil, canola oil, avocado, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, salmon, tuna, soybean oil.
Easy Tips for Reducing Your Calorie Intake
Along with a healthy diet, here are some simple and quick tips to help you immediately decrease your calories! Adopt 1 to 2 of these tips at a time, master them in your daily life, and then move on to another tip.
Do not skip meals.
Skipping meals can make us really hungry. If you have skipped meals before, your next meal was probably huge due to your excessive hunger. Excessive hunger makes us consume lots of foods at once, more so than if we ate consistently throughout the day. Strive to eat about every 4 hours while awake to prevent overeating and excessive hunger.
Choose whole grain products.
Whole grains are full of fiber, which helps us feel full long after we eat. Compared to white grains, whole grains have more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The first ingredient on your grain product should say “whole wheat/grain/rye/oat flour.”
Fill up with fruits and veggies.
Fruits and vegetables are full of fiber and water. As we mentioned with whole grains, fiber(and water) in our food can help us stay fuller longer. Fruits and vegetables are also low in calories, which is great when you’re on a calorie restriction.
Reduce your fat intake.
Choose lean proteins like poultry, eggs, fish, and lean cuts of beef. These give you protein without a lot of fat. Along with lean meats, choose low-fat or nonfat dairy. When cooking, use cooking spray rather than pouring olive oil into the pan. Opt for lower-fat cooking methods like grilling, poaching, steaming, and broiling. Avoid fried foods.
Keep healthy snacks on hand.
Having healthy snacks available will help you refrain from eating junk food when you are hungry. Consider snacks that are low in calories, however, some research shows that calorie-dense nuts may actually help control your weight since they are satiating. Other snacks to include: air-popped popcorn, fruit, veggies, and low-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese).
Avoid drinking your calories.
When we drink our calories, we often don’t feel like we consumed hundreds of calories in one drink! Decrease your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (juice, regular sodas, fatty coffee/tea drinks, sports drinks).
Also, decrease and/or moderate your alcohol intake. Alcohol contains lots of calories and interferes with our hunger/fullness cues. Opt for low-calorie drinks like water, sparkling water, and unsweetened tea.
Thirst cues can be mistaken for hunger. Set a daily water goal for yourself so that you know you’re meeting your goals. To help you get your water in, drink a glass of water before every meal.
Step-By-Step Checklist for Successful Weight Loss
Now that you have read and understand the mechanics of successful weight loss use our checklist below. Start today and check off a few tasks!
- Write down your long-term goals.
- Write down your action plan to reach those goals. Use SMART goals.
- Establish an exercise routine and stick to it. Strive for 300 minutes of moderate intensity cardio per week. Consider adding at least 2 strength-training workouts for building muscle and burning more calories.
- Make your non-exercise time more active. See the tips in the “Be More Active When Not Exercising” section.
- Determine your calorie needs using the equations provided.
- Determine how your diet will be structured. Decide whether you will model an existing diet (“Option #1) or try the HealthyPlate Method (“Option #2”).
- Master the “Easy Tips for Reducing your Calorie Intake.” Start slowly by choosing 1 or 2 tips to incorporate into your lifestyle before moving on to the other tips.
- Troubleshoot, brainstorm, and remedy setbacks you encounter on your weight loss journey. Do not give up! Nothing good ever comes easy. To be successful with long-term weight loss, you have to be resilient from setbacks.
Cheat Sheet: Calorie Guide for Weight Loss
Counting calories can be really tedious, but with our easy calorie cheat sheet, you can learn how to estimate the amount of calories you are consuming. The next time you eat a meal or snack, refer back to our calorie guide to see how many calories you are eating. The better you can estimate calories consumed, the better you can stick to your calorie goal.
All foods can be categorized into several food groups. Here’s a breakdown of each food group, examples and estimated calorie amounts per serving. To find out what a serving size of each food group looks like, jump down to the portion size guide.
Grains, Starches and Starchy Vegetables
Examples: bread, pasta, cereal, crackers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, corn, peas, beans (pinto, kidney, cannellini)
Estimated calories per serving: 80 calories
Examples: asparagus, broccoli, bell pepper, carrots, green leafies (spinach, kale), Brussels sprouts, artichoke, bamboo, green beans, beets, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, green onions, onions, radish, summer squash, zucchini
Estimated calories per serving: 25 calories
Examples: beef (fatty cuts and lean cuts*), pork, poultry*, salmon, veal, shellfish, tuna, cheese (regular and low fat*), cottage cheese (regular and low fat*), tofu, beans* (count as a protein if you are vegan or vegetarian), egg*, sardines*
Estimated calories per serving: 55 calories for lean proteins; 75 calories for higher fat proteins
*These proteins are usually considered a “lean protein” since they offer protein for less amount of fat.
Examples: milk, yogurt, cheese (for all dairy, there are low fat and higher fat options)
Estimated calories per serving: 90 calories for fat free and/or low fat dairy; 100-150 calories for full fat dairy; 150+ calories for flavored dairy
Examples: apple, banana, berries, cherries, cantaloupe, watermelon, peach, mango, 100% fruit juice
Estimated calories per serving: 60 calories
Examples: oil, butter, margarine, salad dressing cream cheese, avocado, olives, bacon, mayo
Estimated calories per serving: 45 calories
Cheat Sheet: Portion Size Guide for Weight Loss
While it is useful to know just how many calories are in one serving of a certain food, perhaps the most important thing is to know what a “serving size” looks like. Before we discuss serving sizes of different foods, it is essential to know the difference between a serving size and portion size.
A serving size is a set amount or unit of a food item. Serving sizes are usually in the form of cups, ounces, tablespoons or even metric measurements. That being said, however, you may see serving sizes listed as “1 each” or “1 container” of a food item.
Regardless of what the serving size is, the serving size is used to formulate all of the information on the Nutrition Facts label on that food item (if applicable).
Portion size can vary greatly from the serving size of a food item. The portion size is the actual amount of food we eat. While the serving size of macaroni and cheese may be a ½ cup cooked, we may actually eat 1 to 2 cups of macaroni and cheese in one sitting! As you can see, you may consume 2 to 5 servings of a particular food item.
Why is knowing portion size versus serving size important for weight loss?
Depending on how your portion size relates to the serving size, you may be consuming way more calories than what is listed on the Nutrition Facts label! For example, if a ½ cup of rice is 80 calories, but you eat 2 cups of rice, you have actually eaten 320 calories of rice!
As you can see, portion size can wreak havoc on your calorie goal if you don’t account for how much food you are actually eating.
You may be saying, “Eating a ½ cup of cooked rice or 1 slice of bread is just not feasible for me.” Have no fear! A serving size is not the “suggested” amount of food you should be eating, but rather it is a way to measure and monitor your food choices.
If you are watching your calories, however, consider reducing the portion sizes of your food to cut down on calories.
Here is a breakdown of how we measure servings sizes of the food groups. As a reminder, we included the calories per serving as well.
Estimated Calories per Serving
|Grains, Starches and Starchy Vegetables||1 slice
½ cup cooked pasta, corn, peas
1/3 cup cooked beans
½ English muffin, bun
¾ cup cold cereal
3 ounces potato
3 cups popcorn
|Non-Starchy Vegetables||½ cup cooked
1 cup raw
½ cup 100% vegetable juice
|Proteins||1 ounce chicken, turkey
1 ounce lean beef
¼ cup cottage cheese
1 ounce lunch meats
1 ounce mozzarella cheese
4 ounce tofu
|55 calories for lean proteins
75 calories for higher fat proteins
|Dairy||1 cup milk
¾ cup yogurt
1 ounce cheese
|90 calories for fat free or low fat dairy
100-150 calories for higher fat dairy
150+ calories for flavored dairy
|Fruit||1 small banana
1 medium apple, peach
1 cup berries, melon
4 ounces 100% fruit juice
½ of a grapefruit
|Fats||1 teaspoon oil, butter, margarine, mayo
2 Tablespoon cream cheese, dressing
1 slice bacon
1/8th of an avocado
Easy Ways to Measure Serving Sizes
While serving sizes can help us measure how much food we are eating, it may be hard to really know what a ½ cup looks like, let alone a tablespoon! So, here is a quick way to estimate serving sizes so that you can know how many servings you are eating (and how many calories). To increase accuracy, use these “reference items” next time you are trying to visualize a serving size.
|1 ounce = 2 Tablespoon||Golf ball|
|1 slice of bread||Cassette tape|
|3 ounce of meat (beef, pork, poultry)||Deck of cards|
|3 ounce of fish||Checkbook|
|1 ounce of lunch meat, sliced cheese, pancake||CD|
|3 ounce muffin or biscuit||Hockey puck|
|1 ounce of cheese||2 dice|
|1 baked potato||Computer mouse|
|1 Tablespoon||Poker chip|
The Bottom Line to Weight Loss Success
Regardless of how many diets you have tried in the past or how many pounds you want to lose, when followed correctly, our guide and step-by-step checklist can help you finally lose weight successfully.
As you can imagine, accomplishing a weight loss program is much easier said than done, but by taking small steps and using our weight loss guide, you can start the process of reaching your goals today.
Thinking back, which diets have you tried in the past? Based on your experience, what makes a weight loss plain fail? Let us know in the comments.
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- Franz, Marion J. Ms/RDN/LDN et. al. Lifestyle Weight-Loss Intervention Outcomes in Overweight and Obese Adults with Type 2 Diabetes: A systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, September 2015.
- Clifton, Peter. Assessing the evidence for weight loss strategies in people with and without type 2 diabetes. World Journal of Diabetes, 15 October 2017.
- Trepanowski, John F. et. al. Effect of Alternate-Day Fasting on Weight Loss, Weight Management, and Cardioprotection Among Metabolically Healthy Obese Adults: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Internal Medcine, 1 July 2017.
- K Koehler, MC De Souza, and NI Williams. Less-than-expected weight loss in normal-weight women undergoing caloric restriction and exercise is accompanied by preservation of fat-free mass and metabolic adaptations. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 26 October 2016.