Weight loss: 6 strategies for success

Follow these proven ways to lose weight and boost your health.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Hundreds of fad diets, weight-loss programs and outright scams promise quick and easy weight loss. But the best way to lose weight and keep it off is to make lasting lifestyle changes. These healthy changes include eating a balanced diet and moving more each day.

Here are six tips to help you start your weight-loss journey.

1. Make sure you're ready

Long-term weight loss takes time and effort. So be sure that you're ready to eat healthy foods and become more active. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have a strong desire to change habits to help me lose weight?
  • Am I too distracted by other pressures?
  • Do I use food to cope with stress?
  • Am I ready to learn new ways to cope with stress?
  • Do I need other support — either from friends or healthcare professionals — to manage stress?
  • Am I willing to change my eating habits?
  • Am I willing to change my physical activity and exercise habits?
  • Can I spend the time it takes to make these changes?

Talk with your healthcare professional if you need help taking charge of stress. Lowering stress can help you make long-term healthy lifestyle changes.

2. Find your inner drive

No one else can make you lose weight. You need to make diet and physical activity changes to help yourself. What will give you the burning desire to stick to your weight-loss plan?

Make a list of reasons why weight loss is important to you. The list can help you stay inspired and focused. Maybe you want to boost your health or get in shape for a vacation. Think of your goals on days when you don't feel like eating healthy foods or moving more. Find other ways to stay on track too. For instance, you could post an uplifting note to yourself on the refrigerator or the pantry door.

It's up to you to make the changes that lead to long-term weight loss. But it helps to have support from others. Pick people who will inspire you. They should never shame you or get in the way of your progress.

It's best to find people who will:

  • Listen to your concerns and feelings.
  • Share your goal to lead a healthy lifestyle.
  • Do active hobbies with you or help you make healthy menus.

Your support group can help you stick to your healthy changes.

If you prefer to keep your weight-loss efforts private, take some steps to stay on course. Track your diet and exercise in a journal or an app. Also track your weight. Review your progress and make changes as needed.

3. Set goals you can reach

Aim to lose 1 to 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilogram) a week over the long term. To do that, you'll need to burn about 500 to 750 calories more than you take in each day.

Losing 5% of your current weight may be a good goal to start with. If you weigh 180 pounds (82 kilograms), that's 9 pounds (4 kilograms). Even this amount of weight loss can lower your risk of some long-term health conditions. Those conditions include heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

It can help to set two types of goals. The first type is called an action goal. You can list a healthy action that you'll use to lose weight. For instance, "Walk every day for 30 minutes" is an action goal. The second type is called an outcome goal. You can list a healthy outcome that you aim to have. "Lose 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms)" is an example of an outcome goal. An outcome goal is what you want to achieve. But it doesn't tell you how to get there. An action goal does. You set action goals so that you can make healthy changes.

4. Enjoy healthy foods

To lose weight, you need to lower the total calories you take in from food and drinks. But your meals can still be tasty and simple to make.

One way that you can take in fewer calories is to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These are known as plant-based foods. They're low in calories and high in fiber. Fiber helps you feel full. You can eat many kinds of plant-based foods to help you reach your goals.

Follow these other diet tips too:

  • Eat at least four servings of vegetables and three servings of fruits a day. Snack on fruits and veggies if you get hungry between meals.
  • Have whole grains, such as brown rice, barley, and whole-wheat bread and pasta. Eat fewer refined grains, such as white rice and white bread.
  • Use healthy fats, such as olive oil, vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, nut butters and nut oils. But keep in mind that even healthy fats are high in calories.
  • Limit foods and drinks that have added sugar. These include desserts, jellies and sodas. The natural sugar in fruit is OK.
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
  • Focus on eating fresh foods. They have more nutrition than processed foods. Processed foods often come in a box or a can. And they tend to have more fat, sugar or salt.

It's a good idea to be mindful while you eat. Focus on each bite of food. This helps you enjoy the taste. It also makes you more aware of when you feel full. Try to not to watch TV or stare at your phone during meals. You may eat too much without knowing it.

5. Get active, stay active

You can lose weight without exercise, but it's harder to do. Regular physical activity helps burn off extra calories.

Exercise has many other benefits. It can lift your mood, lower blood pressure and help you sleep better. Exercise helps you keep off the weight that you lose too. Studies show that people who maintain their weight loss over the long term get regular physical activity.

How many calories you burn depends on how often, how long and how hard you exercise. One of the best ways to lose body fat is through steady aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking. Work up to at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week. Some people may need more exercise than this to lose weight and keep it off.

Also aim to do strength training exercises at least twice a week. You could lift weights, use exercise bands or do pushups.

Any extra movement helps you burn calories. So think about ways to move more during the day. You could:

  • Use the stairs instead of an elevator.
  • Park at the far end of the lot when you shop.
  • Stand instead of sit while you talk on the phone or check email.
  • Walk laps around the room or march in place while you watch TV.

6. Change your mindset

It's not enough to eat healthy foods and exercise for just a few weeks or months. To keep off extra weight, you should make these healthy changes a way of life. Lifestyle changes start with taking an honest look at your eating patterns and daily routine.

Think about negative habits or other challenges that have kept you from losing weight in the past. Then plan for how you'll deal with them going forward.

You'll likely have some setbacks on your weight-loss journey. But don't give up after a setback. Simply start fresh the next day. Remember that you're planning to change your life. It won't happen all at once. Stick to your healthy lifestyle. The results will be well worth it.

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June 22, 2024 See more In-depth