How to Make the Best Start on Your Weight Loss Journey
If you want to lose weight and keep it off, without putting your life on hold, it really helps to begin with the basic fundamentals of successful weight loss.
You don't have to make it harder than it needs to be by starting a diet that tells you to eat like a caveman, or cut out whole groups of foods that you enjoy.
Losing weight does take effort, but it doesn't have to feel like some sort of punishment.
Our practical guide to getting started will help you build the foundations for successful, effective weight loss that you can maintain over the long term.
- How to get yourself into the right frame of mind
- Find, understand and leverage your motivation
- Uncover the habits that lead you to gain weight
- Make changes that suit you and fit into your lifestyle
- Set goals for yourself
Be prepared to ask yourself some questions, do a bit of thinking, and even some daydreaming!
Get Ready to Get Going
What's Your Attitude?
Research shows that one of the most important factors that influences weight loss success is your attitude towards it:
- Whether or not you believe that you can make the changes you need to make
- Whether or not you believe that the changes are worth making
Pretty much every one finds change challenging. So it makes sense to build up your reserves of motivation early on.
You need to go a bit deeper than the annual (or even daily) "I’m going to lose weight" resolution.
So here’s a couple of things worth exploring...
Your Weight Story Line
People gain weight for many different reasons, at different stages of their lives. Some of us have been a bit on the chubby side since we were children.
Of course we are all individuals, but there are some life stages and events that seem to make us particularly vulnerable to gaining weight:
- Leaving home
- Moving in with a partner
- Having children
- Being madly busy
- Times of stress or sadness
- Illness or injury
- Middle age/menopause
The list is not exhaustive, the point is to help you think about your own weight and how you have come to weigh more than you would like.
The chart below is an example of a person's weight story line:
Draw yourself a little grid to chart your own weight story line. (Or print the chart from here.) Write your ages on the bottom scale going back as far as you think is relevant. Put an appropriate range of weights on the left-hand scale.
Join the dots and think about the main points of the story your line tells. This will give you important insight that will help you on your weight loss journey.
While you're thinking about this is a good time to ask yourself another couple of questions:
- What bothers you most about your weight now?
- In what ways will losing weight make a difference to your life?
You can download a template for your weight story line, and other useful charts for getting started here. Scribbling some of this stuff provides you with some scaffolding as you start building your weight loss plan.
How Confident Are You That You Can Lose Weight?
Put a cross on the line where you think you are now.
Ask yourself the following questions - important because they’ll help you see potential problems and get ideas for solutions:
- Why have you chosen that level and not a lower level?
- What do you think it would take for you to move one notch up?
Give Your Confidence a Boost
We are all better at doing or being some things than we are at others.
Spending a bit of time recognising what you can do, or have achieved, can help you build confidence in other areas.
Some possible starting points for your thinking:
- Projects you have bought to successful completion, whether it’s redecorating a room or landing a new job
- Times when you’ve made something happen
- Family you’ve nurtured, friends you’ve helped
- Fears you’ve overcome to enable you to do things
You can find more on getting your head in the right place to lose weight, in dietitian Lyndel Costain's article here.
Getting Started on the Practicalities
How aware are you of what you eat? And, more importantly for weight loss, how much energy is what you eat providing to your body? If it’s more energy than you’re actually using in a day, your body will store it as fat.
In the last 50 years, the availability, and convenience, of food of all types has grown exponentially. Much of this food is energy dense – lots of refined carbs, sugar and fat, processed beyond its ability to satisfy hunger.
So, if you want to lose weight you have to take control and think about your choices, rather than just going with the flow and eating without thinking. The first step is to find out how many calories your body really needs.
Find Out Where You Are
A great way to do this is to keep an ultra-honest food diary for at least a few days before you change anything.
You may be quite surprised at what this shows you, even over a short period of time. Maybe...
- You didn’t realise how many calories you were consuming overall or in certain foods or drinks
- You can immediately see that some specific food/drink habits you have are over-filling the fuel tank and could be relatively easy to change.
For example, the latte and Danish that’s just supposed to be a mid-morning snack comes in at nearly 600 calories. Pretty much the same benefit could be achieved with a double espresso and a cereal bar for less than a quarter of the calories.
If you take that little scenario over the course of a year, you’re talking about a difference of around a stone in weight – and that’s just one thing that keeping an honest food diary will help you reveal.
You might not like Danish pastries, or you may not drink coffee, but there will be elements of your day-to-day eating that will jump out at you. For most of us, it’s what we do every day, without really thinking, that results in weight gain.
Here’s What Some WLR Members Discovered:
“I had no idea that I was eating a double portion of breakfast cereal every day.”
“I thought that missing lunch would help my weight. But little snacks in the afternoon, plus being ravenous enough to need instant dinner when I got home from work were a disaster. Ravenous needs big dinner, early dinner means late night snacks... ”
“I’m worried that my diet’s not very healthy, so I drink quite a lot of fruit juice – couldn’t believe how many calories in the amount I was drinking.”
Get to Know Your Eating Habits
The habits we have tend to make some kind of sense . . .
We brush our teeth because we want to keep them, go to work because we need the money, eat takeaway because we’re busy and snacks because we’re bored.
Habits help us quickly and easily navigate through daily routine without having to think about it very much.
But the very mindlessness that make habits useful can work against us when it comes to what, why and when we eat.
The next few questions will help you identify areas where you may need to give your eating habits a bit of a makeover.
Score each question 0-3 points depending on how closely it resembles you.
My Habits 1
I eat a lot of snacks (eg chocolate, crisps, pastries, bars) because I don’t have time for proper meals
I have a very hectic schedule and tend to grab food on the go or choose quick to heat up meals
I find it too much hassle to plan, and shop for, a healthy diet
Total Score for My Habits 1 ________
My Habits 2
I continue to eat food even though I know that it’s more than my body really needs
When second helpings are available I’ll have some
When I choose, or am given, only a small meal or snack, I am worried that it won’t be enough
Total Score for My Habits 2 ________
My Habits 3
I use food to try and feel better if I am feeling low, stressed or bored
I experience episodes when I can’t seem to stop eating
I eat to satisfy something other than hunger
Total Score for My Habits 3 ________
What’s Your Score?
Your score for each set of habits will give you an idea of where to pay the most attention first. The higher the score, the more to be gained by delving a bit deeper into that area.
Don’t worry if you have similar scores in two or three areas, it means you have lots of opportunity to tweak your habits and lose weight!
- Habits 1 indicates chaotic eating
- Habits 2 indicates portion size issues
- Habits 3 indicates emotional eating
The rest of this guide shows you how to lose weight by getting to work on these areas. .
- Make Order Out of Chaos
- Get Portions in Proportion
- Find Better Ways to Feel Better
Make a Plan
If you think you’ve gained weight because your eating habits are all over the place. Here’s some ideas on how you could get more control over the situation.
Planning meals and snacks can be one of the most helpful and effective things you can do when trying to lose weight.
Your lifestyle is probably the most important factor to take into account when you’re creating a plan, get that part right and you’ll be well on your way to success.
Plan for How Your Life Is
Think about your lifestyle. What sort of days do you have?
- On the run days
- At a desk days
- Going out tonight days
- Time off days
- Days out
- Family days
- Lunch date days
It’s not a complete list but you get the idea. You probably have a combination of the above or some other type of days.
The important thing is recognising that you’ll need a different plan for each type of day. Download our printable diet planning sheet to help.
The next step is to think about all the times you normally eat on each type of day.
Then the fun starts. What foods could you fit in to each of your eating time slots?
If your goal is weight loss, you’ll be looking for food you’ll enjoy, that works in the particular situation, without overloading you with calories.
If you find yourself a bit short of ideas you can get loads of tasty but healthy meal and snack ideas accessible from the WLR food diary.
Plan for Your Health
Healthy eating is more than just a slogan.
As well as your weight, what you eat affects your
- quality of life
- how long you live
- how you look
- how you feel
There’s no such thing as a healthy food, nor are single foods in isolation ‘unhealthy’.
It’s finding a good balance between all the foods that you eat that’ll make your diet healthy.
Here’s What the UK Health Department Recommends
- Fruit and Vegetables - at least 5 servings daily
- Bread, Other Cereals and Potatoes - 5 servings a day
- Milk and Dairy Foods - 2-3 servings daily
- Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs and Other Protein - 2-3 servings daily
- High Fat and/or High Sugar Foods - eat in small quantities, 0-3 servings daily
A good general rule is that food you prepare at home from basic ingredients (even when they are tinned or frozen ingredients) will be better for you than food that’s made in a factory. Here's the healthy eating basics.
Plan for Your Calorie Needs
On average, women need around 2000 calories a day, men around 2500, to maintain weight within a healthy range.
If you want to lose weight. you’ll have to eat less calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight:
- 500 calories less each day to lose a pound a week
- 1000 calories less each day to lose 2lbs a week
A diet of between 1100 and 1500 calories a day for women, and 1500-2000 calories a day for men, should produce a regular weight loss of 1 to 2lbs a week
You’ll need to juggle the number of calories you eat and drink to fit how many you need to reach your weight loss goal.
If you’re not a WLR member, A good calorie counter will make this easier – we recommend the Calorie Carb and Fat Bible as the most comprehensive.
Browsing through recipes, either online or in books, will help you generate some ideas.
If you feel you’d benefit from a bit more structure to start with, then maybe starting off with a basic, healthy diet plan would be a good idea. You’ll find lots of these on the WLR website and you don’t need to be a member to access them.
All of the plans in WLR enable you to swap things around so that you get meals that you like, that fit into your circumstances on the day.
Include a Little Bit of What You Fancy
Keep it real when you’re planning your diet - cutting out all the foods, or drinks, you really enjoy will just make you feel deprived and resentful.
Make room for favourites, just have them in smaller portions, or less often, if they are high in calories. Here’s some ideas:
- Drink a low calorie soft drink, or water, between alcoholic drinks on a night out
- Have a Happy Meal rather than a regular Meal Deal
- A handful of grapes is great for when you fancy something sweet
- Have a 25g bag of crisps rather than a 40g
- Be specific - don’t just tell yourself to eat less junk food in the evenings. Plan for proper, satisfying evening meals that will reduce the urge to snack
- Think about the upcoming week and decide what, where when you’re going to eat.
- Prepare dinners when you have free time and freeze them to use when you’re busy.
- If you’re going to be out, at work or play, pack up a tasty and healthy lunch the night before
- Make a list of healthy foods and meals you like, find out how many calories in them, and plan accordingly.
Get Portions in Proportion
Over the last few decades portions have increased in size along with our expectations; we are bombarded with ‘supersize’ and ‘all you can eat’.
Cheaply available food means what we perceive as a serving today can often be almost double what is was 20 years ago!
It’s no wonder we’re eating more than we realise – the lovely picture of a bowl of cereal on the pack could be up to 100g; yet the actual per serving nutrition info is for only 30-40g!
How can you start to control your portions? Change always starts with seeing where you are right now, so take a look at how big your portions really are.
Most people are surprised when they start to weigh what they ‘normally’ have and look at the number of calories it contains.
You might find that you’re dishing up substantially more than you think!
Dietitian Juliette Kellow says:
“The problem is that when we are presented with more food on a plate than will meet our needs, most of us will eat more without even thinking about it.
The good news is that studies showing we eat more calories when given more, also show that we still feel satisfied when given less.”
Smaller Portions Don’t Mean You’ll Be Hungry
In one study, the size of a pasta dish portion served was varied between a standard serving and a serving 50% larger.
Customers who ordered the meal were asked to rate their satisfaction and the appropriateness of the portion size.
The results showed that customers who were served the larger portion ate nearly all of it - consuming an extra 172 calories.
The interesting thing is that responses to a post-meal survey showed that customers rated the size of both portions as equally satisfying.
It seems we’re losing touch with what it means to eat as much as our bodies need, and the food environment we’re in is making us fat.
Eating out is especially difficult. Many restaurants serve portions that are far too big for most people, but leaving food on a plate can be quite hard to do – even when we know there’s really too much.
Whilst waiting for the food industry to change, those of us who want to be a healthy weight need to take control of our own portion sizes.
Deciding to eat food in amounts that our bodies really need is a good starting point.
Making Changes to Your Portion Sizes
- Weigh foods so you get to know what a quantity of food looks like and how many calories are in it
- Slow Down – take smaller bites and put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls
- Bulk meals out with veggies and salads
- Use a smaller plate
- Enjoy and savour your food so you’re paying attention and know when you’re starting to feel full
- Stop eating as soon as you think you’ve had ‘sufficient’. Don’t worry about being hungry later, you probably won’t be, and anyway you can eat something if you really are.
- See 12.5 Ways to Cut Your Portion Sizes Without Feeling Hungry
Shatter the Illusion of Food Making You Feel Better
Nearly 60% of women who want to lose weight, and over 30% of men, report eating in response to how they are feeling emotionally rather than because they are actually hungry.
Food becomes a way to deal with emotions. Stress, boredom, loneliness, sadness, disappointment or other negative emotions can be temporarily pushed to one side with some comforting food or drink.
This can be a real hurdle when it comes to losing weight. As well as the excess calories eaten, we’re often left feeling worse because on top of the negative emotion we now have to contend with feeling bad because we’ve eaten too much.
Understand Why You Eat
If you ever find yourself rummaging in the fridge even though you’ve recently eaten, then you know hunger isn’t the reason.
More than likely some negative emotion has triggered a habit of using food to feel better.
The urge to eat can be so automatic that you feel you lack willpower or are out of control. But it is in fact a learned or conditioned response.
Because this ‘non-hungry’ eating is learned, it is possible to re-programme your response to the situations or feelings that trigger it.
Increase Your Awareness
The first step is to identify when these urges strike. When you find yourself at the fridge when you aren’t hungry, ask yourself ‘why do I want to eat? What am I feeling?’
If you aren’t sure, think back to what was happening before you felt the urge. Then ask yourself if there is another way you can feel better.
Or you could ‘chat’ to your urge to eat - telling it that you aren’t actually hungry, it isn’t actually going to help, and it’s nothing more than a conditioned response.
Whatever strategy you choose, the more often you break the ‘eating when you’re not hungry’ habit, the weaker its hold.
How’s Your Self-Talk?
When you look in the mirror do you talk to yourself more like A or B?
A: ‘I’ll never be slim. I’ve only lost a measly couple of pounds in four weeks. And I broke my diet last night, I may as well just give up.’
B: ‘This is going well, those few pounds have really made a difference. I enjoyed a treat last night, now I’m really looking forward to watching the next half a stone disappear.’
Both of these examples of ‘self-talk’ (automatic thoughts, or statements all of us constantly make to ourselves) will have an effect on how we feel and act.
Self-talk may be positive and constructive (like your guardian angel) or negative and irrational (like having a destructive devil on your shoulder).
If you’ve had on-off battles with your weight over the years, it’s highly likely that the ‘devil’ is there more often.
Self-talk that says ‘you’re hopeless’, can make you feel like a failure which can then trigger you into the action of overeating and/or totally giving up trying to lose weight.
One of the most powerful things about self-talk is that the last thoughts we have are what stays in our mind. So whether we think ‘I still look fat’ or ‘wow, I’m really getting slimmer’ will stay with us until we think again.
Practise Positive Self-Talk
The trick is to listen out for your self-talk and catch it as it’s happening.
Then turn negative self-talk into positive – like in the example above where A and B see the same events in a completely different light.
Try talking to yourself like you’d speak to your best friend!
Reshaping negative self-talk helps you to change the way you see yourself - from ‘someone who can’t’ lose weight, or achieve what they want, to ‘someone who can’.
And when you believe you can... you can.
Really Choose What You Want to Eat
This strategy is like your personal brake. It also helps you manage ‘non-hungry’ eating and weaken its hold.
It legalises food, makes eating a positive choice and stops you feeling deprived.
It also helps you to regularly remind yourself why you are making changes to your eating habits, which keeps your motivation to lose weight high.
But it doesn’t just happen. Like all skills it requires practise.
Practise Consciously Choosing
Before you eat anything, ask yourself if you really want the food in front of you.
This becomes the prompt for you to make a conscious choice, weighing up the pros and cons of making that choice, and feeling free to have it, reject it or just eat some.
Remembering all the while that you can eat this food another time if you want to.
Paul’s story on the next page is a good example of how empowering this technique is when you put it into practice.
Paul is having a business lunch at a restaurant he visits regularly. His favourite dish is steak béarnaise and fries then crème caramel.
But at his last medical his doctor advised him to lose weight for his heart’s sake. He has taken this seriously and thought a lot about changing his lifestyle.
But he can’t avoid business lunches.
Faced with the menu Paul’s automatic response is the steak and chips.
But then he stops and thinks.
- How hungry is he?
- How will he feel after he eats it?
- What would be a better and still tasty choice?
After all he comes here quite a bit, so can order the steak another time.
He opts for a spicy chicken fillet with new potatoes and vegetables. He really enjoys the spicy flavour, and feels comfortably satisfied, rather than stuffed and guilty.
Paul feels great – he’s has made a good choice for himself that he really enjoyed, which boosts his confidence.
Take it Step by Step
Learning new habits and ways of thinking about things takes time.
Think back to when you learned to drive a car.
You didn’t expect yourself to pass your test after half a dozen lessons.
There were probably times when you thought that all the things you have to remember to do when you’re driving would never come naturally to you.
Step by step, you took control of the car and learned how to keep it on course. Just like you can do with your weight.
Give it Some Time
It’s really worth spending a bit of time on this, when it all ‘clicks’ good things happen...
- Mental blocks ebb away
- Motivations become clear and powerful
- Your self-worth and belief in your abilities grow
- You take control by making real choices - knowing and accepting the consequences – and no longer feeling deprived.
- You move from being someone who can’t lose weight long term, to being someone who can.
What About Exercise?
Do I Need to Exercise to Lose Weight?
Strictly speaking exercise is not necessary for weight loss.
It will, however:
- Make weight loss easier
- Conserve muscle (muscle burns more calories)
- Mean you can eat a bit more and still lose weight
- Raise your level of motivation (quite a lot)
- Give a nicer shape to your body
- Help keep your bones strong
- Help you live a better quality of life, and for longer
Getting More Active
Building up your activity levels, even just a little, can really help when you’re trying to lose weight.
Many WLR members discover that getting some exercise makes it easier to lose weight, and boosts confidence and self- esteem.
You burn more calories, you feel good, you’re more motivated.
Getting started with exercise doesn’t need to be overwhelming, and any activity you do can make a difference.
If you struggle to do much exercise activity at all, setting a realistic and achievable goal of say 10 minutes a day, or even every other day, would be a great start.
This activity could be going for a brisk walk or bike ride, or doing something simple at home like putting on some music and having a good dance around the house.
Anything that feels like exercise to you will do.
If you spend most of your time indoors, try to do something outside, the fresh air almost doubles the energy enhancing effects of exercise.
“I’ve been doing a bit of bouncing on my little trampoline. I recorded a weekend radio show that plays ‘Club Classics’ and now have a four-hour playlist of some cracking disco tracks which put a smile on my face and assist with the spring in my step(s) as I jog and ‘boing’ merrily whilst singing loudly (and out of tune).”
You don't have to give up your favourite foods, or go hungry. Mix and match the tactics that work for you and you'll lose weight and keep it off:
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