How to Lose Weight (to keep it off)
By Tracey Walton wlr team
If you want to lose weight and keep it off it really helps to start your journey with reliable directions and a good road map.
Our practical 4-step guide will help you build strong foundations for a successful weight loss journey, to a goal weight you can maintain over the long term.
- Know Your Energy In VS Energy Out
- Understand Your Eating Habits
- Eat Fewer Calories than You Burn
- Troubleshoot Along the Way
1 ~ Know Your Energy In VS Energy Out
How aware are you of how many calories you eat and drink? Or how many you burn on an average day? Most of us undercount the ins and overcount the outs.1
If there is more energy going in than is being burned in a day the excess gets shunted into fat stores.
It's super-easy to eat and drink more calories than you need without realising.
Losing weight and keeping it off means getting 'calories in' and 'calories out' into balance. Eat fewer calories than you burn while you lose the weight, then eat the same as you burn to maintain your weight.
The rest of this article will show you how ...
Find Out How Many Calories You Need
On average, women need around 2000 calories a day, men around 2500, to maintain weight within a healthy range.2
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
So it's important to know the daily calorie intake needed to maintain your current weight as a starting point. Then you can decide what calorie target to set yourself depending on:
- The rate of loss you choose (speed)
- The calorie allowance you and your body can get comfortable with (stickability)
The relationship between speed and stickability are especially important if you have more than a few pounds to lose.
You need to find a level you can live with for the time it's going to take to get to your goal weight. Also be prepared to make adjustments along the way.
It's important to remember that any amount of calories below your 'maintenance calories' will result in weight loss over time - however small.
People have different calorie needs according to things like height, age, sex and average level of physical activity. You can see how many calories you would need at different rates of loss in wlr, take a free trial.
2 ~ Understand Your Eating Habits
For most of us, it’s what we do every day, without really thinking, that results in weight gain.
You need to know the what, when, where and why of your food and drink intake - and how many calories it gives you.
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.
Some habits wlr members uncovered
“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.”
Take notice of yours
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.
Try to become more aware of your eating and drinking habits, pay special attention to:
- Eating and drinking in response to stress
- Eating until overly full
- Not having time to have 'proper' food
- Eating because you're bored
- Skipping meals
- Eating mindlessly (eating the nibbles just because they are there)
3 ~ Eat Fewer Calories than You burn
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.
A good calorie counter will make this easier, there are now quite a few sites and apps available including wlr's with it's UK focus (free trial here).
If you prefer books, the Calorie Carb and Fat Bible is comprehensive and updated every year.
If you feel you’d like a bit more guidance before jumping into DIY calorie balancing, try starting off with a healthy diet plan you can adapt to suit yourself.
Do Some Planning
Keep it real when you’re making plans - cutting out all the foods, or drinks, you really enjoy will just make you feel deprived and resentful.
Try to include some ideas for all the different occasions you would normally eat in a day.
You may find that you need to make adjustments in meal sizes and composition (go for more protein, veg and fibre, less fat and sugar) to minimise hunger that can lead to snacking between meals.
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
For more ways to cut calories see: 10 Easy Ways to Reduce Calories for Weight Loss
- Be specific - don’t just tell yourself to eat less junk food in the evenings. Plan for proper, satisfying main meals that will reduce the urge to snack
- Think about the upcoming week and decide what you're going to eat, where and when
- 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
Eating healthily Helps a Lot
You don't have to be saint, but it's a happy coincidence that following healthy eating guidelines makes it easier to lose weight.
Plenty of fruit and veg, good quality carbs, whole grains and lean protein all help to give your body exactly what it needs to be healthy - and keep you from feeling hungry.
As well as your weight, what you eat affects your
- quality of life and mobility
- health and 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 will make your diet healthy.
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 our healthy eating basics.
Get Portions in Proportion
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!
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 can be 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 Ways to Cut Your Portion Sizes Without Feeling Hungry
Exercise is not strictly necessary for weight loss, but it is vital for good health and will help you get more calories into the burned side of the equation.
Getting some exercise will:
- 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
- Make it more likely you'll be able to maintain your new weight
Getting More Active
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.
4 ~ Troubleshoot Along The Way
Let's face the music.
If weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight was easy in today's environment, most of us would be slim.
There will be problems on your weight loss journey.
The following tactics will help you recognise and overcome some of the main issues we find when helping people to lose weight.
Be your own best friend
Never beat yourself up for what you see as 'bad days'.
We haven't published a single success story by someone who never went over their calorie allowance.
If you’ve had on-off battles with your weight over the years, it’s highly likely that you're prone to 'negative self-talk'.
Self-talk that says ‘you’re hopeless’ can make you feel like a failure which can lead to downward spiral of overeating and even giving up.
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'm a fat lump’ or ‘I’m really getting slimmer’ (both of which could describe the same situation), that thought will stay with us until we think again.
The trick is to listen out for your negative self-talk, catch it as it’s happening and stop doing it. Talk to yourself like you'd speak to your best friend instead.
Build your confidence
Everyone is naturally better at doing or being some things than they are at others. But all of us can do pretty much anything when we put our minds to it.
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.
Tackle Emotional Eating
More than half of women who want to lose weight, and over a third of men, report eating in response to how they are feeling emotionally rather than because they are actually hungry.
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.
Question non-hungry eating
If you find yourself wandering into the kitchen for food 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 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.
The first step is to identify when these urges strike.
Ask yourself ‘why do I want to eat? What am I feeling?’
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.
Educate yourself about the nutritional value of food
Feed your brain with the knowledge it needs to help you make good decisions about what to eat.
Who's got time to look up every single choice?
You'll find loads of reliable info here on wlr, and there are many other good websites and publications offering news and adivice about nutrition.
The simple act of keeping a calorie-counted food diary will grow your store of knowledge.
Slowly but surely, the more you know, the more your sub-conscious can help you to make good decisions about food automatically.
Feed your motivation
If you want to lose weight, or take on any life-changing goal, you need to get some substance around what achieving your goal would mean to you.
There are the positive aspects of getting to goal, for example:
- feeling comfortable with photos
- being 'up for' more stuff
And the negative aspects of what you want to avoid, for example:
- reduced mobility, frailty
- disease associated with being overweight
It's worth spending some time pondering both, since we are naturally motivated to move away from things that cause pain and towards things that result in pleasure.
If you need some inspiration to get you started see Know Your Whys
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.
- 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.
The tools in wlr can help you make the advice in this article work for you in a practical way. Try it free!
1 - Evaluating Calorie Intake Data Science Campus
2 - Cut down on your calories, NHS Eatwell