I get asked from time to time by people seeking to lose weight how they should get started.
Drawing on my own experiences, here's what I think.
First, you have to drop the "losing weight" mindset. Saying "I've got to lose weight" constantly creates pressure and stress on yourself that is unnecessary. Your objective should be to improve your health. Losing weight is a beneficial side effect of that, but it shouldn't be the main goal. So here are my tips:
1.) Weigh once, then throw away the scale. The best way to get discouraged and give up is to constantly weigh yourself. Your body weight fluctuates too much on a regular basis to get any sort of accurate reading of your progress if you weigh every day. My recommendation: Weigh once when you get started, then don't weigh for a couple months. Then, once you're able to to start noticing a difference in your body size, weigh once a month. After awhile, weigh every 2 weeks (which is what I do.)
2.) Do not set a timetable for your weight loss. Setting some artificial deadline for how long it is going to take you to lose a certain amount of weight is absolutely creating a recipe for failure. You're putting unnecessary pressure on yourself. Saying "I'm going to lose 20 pounds by summer!" is ridiculous, because what happens if you only lose 19? You will then consider yourself a failure, despite all the good progress you've made. Improving your health is like a long-term investment. You're not looking to make a quick buck, but rather for slow and steady returns. It takes as long as it takes. As a matter of fact, there is substantial research that shows the longer it takes you to lose weight, the more likely you are to keep it off.
3.) Shoot the television set. OK, don't actually shoot your TV (unless you want to.) Food companies and restaurant chains have gotten very good at knowing what to put in TV commercials to make you want to eat. Every 5 minutes, there is going to be something on TV that will make you want to eat. This is what is known as a bad influence. So turn it off and do something else. Watch a movie. Go outside. Avoid the TV because you will be hypnotized into wanting to eat, eat, eat. You could have had a great day where you're eating has gone well and you plop down in front of the TV and it all begins to unravel. Cut back on your TV watching or watch movies instead.
4.) Do not starve yourself. This really should be #1 on the list, because it is the biggest mistake I believe people make. Since this is a lifestyle change and since you are trying to improve your health, eat the amount of food that you would eat to maintain your ideal weight. According to the US Government's MyPyramid.gov website, a sedentary female aged 31 to 50, should eat 1,800 calories. That goes to 2,200 if she's active. For a male aged 31-50, it's 2,200-2,400 for sedentary and up to 3,000 for an active man.
These diets where people eat 800 or 1,000 calories a day are insane. Yes, you will quickly lose weight, but where does that leave you long-term? Nowhere. You add the constant weighing on a scale in with the starvation and you have quick weight loss with absolutely no plan for the future. Disaster.
5.) Stay out of the restaurants for awhile. Chances are, if you're like I was, eating out is what got us into trouble so many times. Restaurants have one goal: to get you to spend as much money as possible. The way they do this is to get you to eat as much as possible. People don't realize that when they eat out, they are eating 4 and 5 times the amount they should. That basket of bread you've been enjoying while waiting for the server to take your order? That should really be your whole meal. And that's before the appetizer. And the salad. And the entree. And the dessert. The amount of calories are absolutely ridiculous. Say nothing of the nutritional quality of the food.
So stay out of the restaurants for awhile. You'll eventually be able to go back. Just not for awhile. Just like an alcoholic should not go into a bar, I believe somebody who struggles with their weight should avoid eating out constantly.
6.) Measure your portions and write it down. I know this is tedious...I get tired of it myself. But you wouldn't build a house without measuring along the way. Your mind is going to try and trick you into eating more all the time, so you have to measure. What you see on the plate may not really be one serving. But if you use a measuring cup or a scale, you know it's one serving. Writing things down allows you to get an idea on a regular basis how much you're eating. I use a small notepad and a pen. There are numerous apps for smart phones that allow you to keep track of this as well. But thinking something is one serving just because that is what it looks like is a slippery slope.
7.) You do not have to kill yourself in the gym. What people think they need to do in the gym to lose weight and be healthy bears almost no resemblance to what they actually should be doing. You don't need to run on the treadmill for an hour. Or ride the bike for days. Or any of that.
Start out slow. Walk for 30 minutes a day, 3 times a week. Whatever you're able to do. Slowly increase it over time. Work with a professional, if you have access to one. As a matter of fact, if you're really heavy like I was, avoid the gym in the beginning. Walking on sidewalks is free. If you go into the gym looking for a quick fix, your expectations will be incorrectly set and you'll be set up for failure.
8.) There is no quick fix. There is no pill, magic diet, no weight-loss patch (unless you put the patch over your mouth) or any other quick fix that is going to work. All of it is a giant scam. Some of it might work short-term, but long-term...none of it will. So don't even bother. The entire weight-loss industry should be arrested for false advertising. Know this: none of it works, so stay away. There is no quick fix.
9. Consult professionals. If you need your car worked on or have a health problem, we all want to find the best. Yet for some reason, when it comes to our health...we look for solutions on TV or on the Internet or in a pill bottle. Instead, the best thing to do is consult a registered dietitian. Talk to your doctor. Get a personal trainer. Read good books written by real health professionals. You know, the kind nobody buys and you never hear about.
10. Get used to drinking water. Since I've given up my gallon-a-day diet soda habit, my quality of life has really improved. Somehow, some way, water needs to become your beverage of choice. It has tremendous health benefits and also will help you feel full. So do what you have to do. Use Crystal Light drink packets, whatever. But ditch the soda, dump the coffee and start pounding the water.
So there you have it...10 things that have helped me. As always, your mileage may vary.