As exciting as it can be to think about slipping back into your favourite summer dress 10 kilos lighter and feeling healthier, the immediate question of “how the hell do I actually lose the weight?” can be straight-up scary.
Take a deep breath. You’ve got this. Here, we ID the eight things you need to do to reach your healthy weight — and stay there for good.
1. Strategise A Long-Term Plan
"Substantial weight loss is not a sprint. It’s not even a marathon. It’s the rest of your life,” says exercise physiologist Janet Hamilton. “It is your new normal.”
When you're trying to lose a sizeable amount of weight, it’s extra critical to find a weight-loss approach that you can envision yourself using, well, forever. After all, a meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that the best diet is one that you can stick with over the long term.
Crash dieting is a surefire way to derail your goals.
“Your body wants to maintain homeostasis; it wants to stay the same. So if you cut [kilojoules] your metabolism goes, ‘we’re losing weight really fast here, we better slow the hell down’,” warns Harrisberg. The result? It takes on a snail’s pace – then struggles to adjust when you increase your food intake again. Hello, weight gain.
Adopting a “new normal” always feels a bit challenging at first. But it shouldn't include deprivation, ditching social events, or blacklisting entire food groups. So, make small changes to your diet that you can sustain over time. Valakas’ general rule is to aim for half to one kilo of weight loss per week. Slow and steady wins this race.
2. Master The Big Stuff
“I always look at trying to lose a large amount of weight like making a sculpture," says Albert Matheny, a registered dietitian and trainer. "When you sculpt something, you have to build a base before you get into details, he says.
Translation: Start with general changes, like integrating more veggies into your meals and eating breakfast every day, as opposed to the nit-picky stuff like switching up the creamer in your coffee. You can work on the finer points after you get the big stuff down pat.
3. Don't Obsess Over The Scale
The 500g to 1 kg of weight loss per week rule applies whether you have 2 or 10 kilos to lose, says Matheny. (FYI: Cutting 500 calories a day by eating healthier and exercising will get the job done.)
But if you're trying to drop a substantial amount, that timeline can seriously delay your goal-weight gratification.
Instead of getting hung up on the scale, zone in on other payoffs associated with your new and improved lifestyle. Maybe it’s sleeping better, having more energy, or being able to run a mile, says Baltimore-based trainer Erica Suter. These are all signs that you’re making huge progress and getting healthier—which is the point of losing weight in the first place.
4. Start Weight-Loss Boosting Habits
The silver lining of having a lot to lose is that you can achieve a healthy energy deficit with relatively small changes to your overall eating habits and exercise routine.
Dr Gina Cleo, Accredited Practicing Dietitian and researcher at Bond University’s Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice, has led a number of studies proving that it’s not punishing diets or gruelling workouts that equal outcomes, it’s methods for altering behaviour.
“If we can work at small little habits that are healthier for somebody’s lifestyle then over time they can do those without thinking about it and gradually lose weight… That’s when we see long term change as opposed to just short term.”
The biggest culprits? Gina says being sedentary, snacking mindlessly and incorrect portion sizes are the most common issues that lead to bad health.
Don’t underestimate the benefits of taking your conference calls standing, parking farther from the supermarket’s entrance, or having a refillable water bottle on you at all times. Sure, it's not the same as a solid sweat session or eating salads every day, but it will make a dent in your calorie burn.
5. Progressively Cut Calories
To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn per day. But as you drop kilos, your body doesn't need as many calories to subsist as it did before.
Here's why: Calories are energy. And the smaller your body is, the less energy you burn through each day. Plus, through the process of slimming down, you'll probably lose some muscle, the furnace fueling your metabolism. Finally, the more weight you lose, the harder your body works to hold onto every calorie you consume, a phenomenon known as starvation mode, says Hamilton.
“Basically, you require fewer calories to maintain your new weight than someone of the same weight who was never overweight,” she says. This last sucky side effect frequently happens to people who lose 10 percent or more of their body weight.
For that reason, staggering the amount of calories you cut as you lose weight can help your body adjust to its new energy intake. Try cutting 500 calories from your daily food intake when you first start out. If a month or two in you start plateauing for two weeks or more, you might need to cut another 100 calories, says Matheny. Still, it's important to make sure you never get below 1,200 calories per day.
6. Lift Something Heavy
We beat this drum a lot around here because, hey, strong is the new sexy. And when it comes to weight loss, more strength training = more fat loss. Like we said, as you lose weight, your basal metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn just breathing) drops, along with your lean muscle mass.
Strength training is your best bet to combat both issues, says Suter. Aim to hit the weight room three to five days per week, depending on your resistance training experience and how hard you plan to work out during each session.
Pumping iron may not blast the kilos like cardio (a 2012 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found resistance trainers lost less weight than cardio bunnies), but that’s not a bad thing: what you lose in fat, you gain back in muscle mass. Why this helps with long-term weight loss? The higher your muscle mass, the higher your resting metabolic rate (that is, the amount of energy you burn doing nothing at all), explains Harrisberg.
“Resistance training is a way of depleting glycogen from the muscle, which then makes space for the carbs you eat, rather than your body saying ‘OK, we’ve got excess, let’s convert it to fat’.” In short, more muscle equals more kJ-torching power.
7.HIIT it up
Yeah, you’ve heard it before, but interval training really is your superhero here. Researchers from the University of New South Wales agree it’s an effective weight loss strategy for women: subjects who did intervals for 20 minutes, three times a week, trimmed down faster than steady-paced exercisers who worked out for twice as long.
Intervals prompt excess post-exercise oxygen consumption – basically, because you’re working so hard during your sesh, you can’t breathe quickly enough and so your body works anaerobically (without oxygen). “It’s priming your body to burn fat later in the day to repay this debt that you’ve created during your session,” Harrisberg explains. Meaning you have an “afterburn” effect, torching kilojoules hours after you’ve finished training. Winner.
RELATED: 11 Lazy Ways To Burn More Kilojoules
8. Love Your Body
Getting down on yourself does absolutely zero to fuel your weight-loss results. On the flip side, research shows that loving your body can actually help you lose weight.
“Confidence in yourself is critical for staying motivated in your pursuit to drop pounds,” says Suter. Focus on nurturing your body and giving yourself props for all of the strong, awesome things you can do. Simply looking in the mirror and saying, “I am loving my body toward a healthier weight,” is a good place to start, she says.