Need to lose weight but don’t know where to start? This is a step by step guide to help you plan for success:
1. See your health care provider
If you are currently sedentary and planning to adopt an active lifestyle it’s a good idea to see your doctor prior to getting started. Based on your current health status you will be given the go-ahead, or you may be given some restrictions to follow. This may seem trivial, but it’s especially important to follow this advice if you have health conditions at risk of being exacerbated by exercise.
2. Determine how much to lose
To determine the healthy weight range for your height refer to the body mass index (BMI) chart below:
As can be seen from the chart, a healthy weight for a person who is 5’10’’ (178 cm) is between 130 lbs (59 kg) and 173 lbs (78.5 kg). If your BMI is 30 or higher, set a short-term and long term goal for your weight, with the short-term goal being the most easily obtainable. Setting your first goal at the upper weight range of what is considered healthy for your weight is the most easily obtainable. After reaching this goal you can decide whether this is a weight you are comfortable with, or decide that you want to set a new weight goal.
You will occasionally hear someone say that BMI is inaccurate in determining one’s health risks related to weight. It is true that especially muscular individuals, such as professional bodybuilders and some athletes, can have a high BMI, but as long as their body fat is low their weight alone will not put them at risk for diseases normally associated with high BMI. For the large majority of the population however, BMI is an easily available and accurate tool for determining health risk relating to weight proportional to height.
A waist circumference of >31.5 in (80 cm) for women and >37 in (94 cm) for men is considered to carry increased risk of metabolic disorders according to the World Health Organization (WHO). A waist-to-hip ratio of ≥0.85 for women and ≥0.90 for men carries a substantially increased risk for metabolic complications.(1) To maximize health benefits, aim to get your waist size and waist-to-hip ratio below the danger zone.
3. Rate of weight loss
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers a useful free online tool to help determine your daily calorie allowance in order to reach your weight goal within a set time frame. When setting your time goal, keep in mind that the larger the daily calorie deficit (calories consumed minus calories burned), the more you will lose. However, accelerated weight loss can come at the price muscle mass. As mentioned in part one, muscle mass is related to metabolism, so lower muscle mass means lower metabolism. Most experts agree that a slower rate of weight loss combined with adequate protein intake preserves a higher amount of muscle mass compared to a rapid weight loss.(2) With that in mind, we want as much as possible of the weight loss to come from fat while minimizing the loss of muscle mass.
4. SMART action plan
In order to maximize your chances of success you need a solid game plan. The game plan should be goal-oriented and SMART: specific - measurable - attainable - realistic - time-based.
Let’s look at an example:
Meet Tim. Tim is a 40 year old accountant, husband, and father. He has decided that this is going to be the year he will lose weight and keep it off. Tim is 5’10’’ and weighs 200 lbs (BMI 28.7, overweight). His waist circumference is 40 in in and his waist-to-hip ratio is 1.0.
Tim makes the following SMART game plan:
- Based on BMI, his first goal is to slim down to the highest healthy weight, which for his height is 173 lbs.
- Based on the recommendations from WHO, his first waist circumference goal is 37 in (94 cm) and his waist-to-hip ratio goal is 0.85.
- He uses the body weight planner to set his new daily calorie allowance and to give him an idea of how much he has to increase his activity level to reach his goal in time. More on this below.
Tim plans to measure his starting point and weekly progress by using a scale and a measuring tape. He will log his food intake and his activities using on the Supertracker website. He will also take monthly progress pictures.
Attainable, realistic, and time-based:
Tim wants to reach his first weight goal by his 41st birthday in early July (time-based). He plugs his birthday into the body weight planner which shows that he has 185 days to reach his goal. Since he is looking to shed 27 lbs (from 200 lbs to 173 lbs), having 185 days to do so means that he needs to lose 1 lbs (0.5 kg) per week to reach his weight goal in time. Tim uses the body weight planner to estimate that he needs to consume about 2400 calories daily to reach his goal by his birthday, based on the added activity level he entered in the body weight planner calculator (increasing activity level by 23% compared to his current sedentary lifestyle by adding brisk walks and intense cycling four days each week). For Tim this means reducing his current calorie intake by about 500 calories per day, in addition to the brisk walks and intense cycling four times a week that he has committed to.
Tim plans to add resistance training to his schedule two times per week to maximize muscle mass retention and maintain his metabolism as much as possible while losing weight. He also expects the resistance training to help him burn some extra calories.
Good news for Tim: After reducing his calorie consumption by 500 calories per day (from 2900 calories per day to 2400 calories per day) for six months until he reaches his goal, provided that he keeps up his more active lifestyle, he can adjust his calorie intake to 2800 calories per day to maintain his goal weight of 173 lbs, unless he desires to set a new goal and lose more weight.
Seeing results is the fun part. At a minimum, measure your weight and waist circumference (measured at the narrowest point on your waist). Keep a log of your starting measurements and keep up with weekly measurements to make sure you stay on track. Remember to measure under similar conditions each time, for example in your underwear first thing in the morning using the same measuring tools each time.
Although less specific than weight and waist size, pictures are a great way to visualize progress and stay motivated. Snap a few shots, front, side, and back wearing something that shows your figure. Keep taking pictures monthly wearing the same, or a similar, outfit. If you are have made a vision board, print and attach your progress pictures every month.
7. Be patient
Fat loss takes time. That’s why so many people fail. Be prepared to lose your motivation at times and plan for what to do when it happens. See my post about staying motivated. You are likely to hit a plateau at some point. Don’t give up if there are times with no progress. Once you have a plan, stick to it, make changes as necessary, but do not give up. Consistency and perseverance will get you there.
A word on spot reduction
“Where is the stuff about losing belly fat,” you may ask. Well, the recipe for losing belly fat is the same as losing any fat. Every one of us have our own fat storage patterns. Some store more fat around their hips (pear shapes), others store more fat in their mid-section (apple shapes). Less commonly, some people carry more fat in their upper bodies (inverted triangle), or less around their waist and more in their limbs (hourglass shapes). Regardless of our body shapes, we have one thing in common - we cannot choose where to lose fat as it is largely genetically determined. Once we reach a healthy weight there should not be any excess fat anywhere on the body, but that doesn’t mean that our fat storage patterns have changed.
No amount of abdominal exercises is going to result in a flat tummy as long as there is excess fat present. But even if you can’t presently see your abs, it doesn’t mean that you should not train them. A strong midsection is important for posture, movement and spine health. And that you need just as much now as when you have achieved your weight loss goal.
Looking to maximize your results? Visit online coaching and select the customized fitness coaching plan that best suits your needs.