Weight loss can be intimidating, especially when you are first starting out.

Maybe you have a lot of weight to lose and have no idea where to start. Maybe you’ve heard of different methods that have worked for others, but aren’t sure if they are right for you.

What can beginners do to ensure their weight loss plan is successful?

There are three steps you should take to create a successful weight loss plan.

Step 1: Understand what it takes to lose weight.

Most people don’t have a good understanding of what it takes to lose weight.

They are so enamored by fad diets and marketing hype in the weight loss industry that they think (and hope) that there is a magic bullet waiting to be discovered. Then, “Six pack here I come!”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

In reality, weight loss comes down to energy balance.

If you create a calorie deficit over a long enough period of time, then you will lose weight.

The larger the calorie deficit, the more weight you will lose. One pound is 3,500 calories, so if you want to lose 10 pounds, then you must create a 35,000 calorie deficit. This simply can’t be done in a few days.

Significant weight loss will take considerable time. This likely means sticking to your plan for anywhere from several weeks to several months.

Your weight loss plan can include both diet and exercise, but you should focus most of your effort on diet.

Here’s why:

Since weight loss is all about a calorie deficit, the best strategy for successful weight loss involves generating a calorie deficit using the path of least resistance.

Focusing on nutrition instead of exercise will be the best strategy for most people for several reasons.

You don’t burn that many calories from exercise unless you exercise A LOT.

Unless you are an Olympic swimmer, you will burn fewer incremental calories from exercise than the calories you can save by managing your nutrition.

What are incremental calories?

Let’s say you’d burn 500 calories running for an hour. But you’d also burn 80 calories doing nothing. So, your incremental calorie burn is more like 420 calories. This is the true number of calories “earned” from exercise, not the 500.

Exercising enough to burn a significant number of calories isn’t easy to do every day.

You may be thinking, “420 calories is still pretty good right?”

Sure, it’s not bad. Certainly better than nothing.

But let me ask you this: are you planning to go run for an hour every single day?

Most people, especially busy adults, aren’t going to exercise every day. And can you blame them? Unlike eating, exercise isn’t a necessary component of your day.

If you’re starting from zero, then you’ll have to train yourself to exercise every day in order to achieve a daily calorie burn from exercise.

Adding a brand new behavior is always more difficult to do than modifying an existing behavior.

You already eat every day, so you just need to make some changes to what you eat or how much you eat in order to realize the calorie savings from this behavior modification.

Exercise increases your appetite which is counterproductive to weight loss.

In terms of a calorie deficit, you only realize the benefit of your exercise calories if you keep your food intake constant, which is harder to do when you are running for an hour every day.

Contrast that with making some simple dietary changes.

You can easily save the same 420 calories per day with much less effort. It’s possible to swap out certain foods for others, eat way fewer calories and feel MORE satisfied.

In fact, with a more aggressive dietary protocol like intermittent fasting, you can save many more calories than this, potentially thousands of calories per day.

These are the reasons why your primary focus should be on nutrition when it comes to weight loss.

Specifically, how many calories you consume. This is more important than how often you eat or when you eat. It’s even more important than what you eat, although eating mostly whole foods will help you to feel full on fewer calories.

This doesn’t mean you should ignore exercise. You just shouldn’t rely on it as your primary weight loss vehicle.

Ultimately, the best strategy for successful weight loss will be to design a calorie deficit plan that works for your unique situation, which I’ll discuss next.

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Step 2: Consider your options and choose a plan that will work for your situation.

Now that you know what needs to be done, you should also understand that there are many ways to achieve a calorie deficit.

As I mentioned, it’s much easier to accomplish this through diet. You can use exercise to supplement your calorie deficit, but don’t rely on it as the primary driver.

Now, think about what kind of diet you can actually stick to long enough to see the weight loss results you want.

I don’t care how great you’ve heard low-carb is. If you love bread, rice, and pasta, it’s going to be really difficult for you to eat low-carb. Fortunately, you don’t have to eat low-carb in order to lose weight.

In order to lose a pound a week, you just need to remove 3,500 excess calories from your diet each week.

Now, your job is to figure out the most enjoyable way for you to accomplish this so that you’ll actually do it for more than one or two weeks.

You can do this by cutting out carbs or sugar or anything else for that matter. Or, you can do it without cutting out any food types at all and just managing your portion sizes.

Intermittent fasting is also a great option.

If you can eliminate one meal per day like breakfast or lunch, you can save a lot of calories. This may work very well for busy people who don’t have time during the day to worry about meal prep.

I skip breakfast and eat two meals a day: my first meal around noon and my second meal at dinner time. This meal schedule makes it easy to stay within my target calories.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. But you need to find a plan that will work for YOU.

Finally, once you have the right plan, focus on execution.

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Step 3: Monitor your progress, make adjustments, and be patient.

Once you’re executing a plan that you are confident you can stick to, you’ve done the hard part.

After that, you just need to make sure your plan is actually working. It’s very possible that you misjudged some calories here or there and you’re not actually realizing the deficit you think you are.

If you’re sticking to your plan, but still not making any progress after a couple of weeks, then something is wrong and you’ll need to adjust your plan accordingly.

Focus on the process, not the outcome.

If you do this, then you will enjoy your weight loss journey much more.

If you don’t, it will feel like a grind because weight loss, when done in a healthy, sustainable way is a very gradual process.

The more weight you have to lose, the longer it will take.

This is why it’s better to focus on making better choices and improving your current habits 1% at a time.

Everyone has heard the standard weight loss advice: eat less, eat healthier, move more, exercise more.

Lack of information isn’t the problem. It’s lack of execution. So in each of these areas, focus on the process of making positive change.

Eat less/eat healthier:

Develop a basic understanding of your calorie intake and how much you need to be eating in order to maintain your weight. You don’t have to track macros or do anything fancy. Just learn this one number.

Then, gradually work your way below this number by making some simple food swaps that you can handle. You don’t have to cut out your favorite foods if you don’t want to. Think about what you can do, not what you can’t do.

Can you eat leaner meat instead of fattier meat? Lower fat dressings, yogurts, and cheeses? A side of veggies instead of a side of fries? If not, HALF a side of veggies and half a side of fries?

It doesn’t need to be all or nothing. You can inch your way there.

Move more:

Start tracking your steps.

If you’re averaging 2,000 a day, you don’t need to jump up to 10,000 tomorrow. Try to get 2,500 this month. Then, 3,000 next month.

Again, think about what you can do. Can you go for a 15-minute walk with your spouse after dinner? Can you take a 10-minute walk break in the middle of your work day?

When I first started tracking my steps a couple of years ago, I was averaging 2,000 to 3,000 steps a day. Now, I’m averaging about 8,000.

Exercise more:

Find some type of exercise you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be in a gym. If it’s something you look forward to, you’ll be able to do it a couple of times a week without too much trouble.

Is there a new sport or activity you’ve been wanting to learn? Are you interested in starting a basic beginner’s weight lifting program? There are thousands of free programs available online that you can try.

When I first started trying to lose weight, I was very focused on outcome.

While I had some success, it always felt like a grind. It was difficult to maintain the weight loss because I always felt like I was on the cusp of gaining it all back with one false step.

Now, after years of tweaking and developing habits in all of these areas (food, movement, etc.), I’ve become more process-oriented and keeping the weight off has become near effortless.

You might not feel this way now, but start focusing on small habits and processes and in a year or two, your entire outlook on weight loss (and overall health) will change.

Remember to be patient.

As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” But if you have a good plan and stick with it, you will see results.

First published on Quora (1, 2, 3).


Want to lose weight on a custom schedule without exercise or giving up your favorite foods? Use my free weekly weight loss spreadsheet.

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