I’ve lost 30 pounds on four separate occasions over the past 15 years. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but each time I’ve lost weight, I found ways to lose it faster and keep it off for longer (twice keeping it off for several years at a time). Today, I’m going to share the 12 most valuable tips I’ve discovered for how to lose weight and keep it off.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. I’m simply sharing the weight loss strategies that worked best for me. Everyone is different. You may have health factors that differ from mine, so consult your doctor before making a change.
TIP #1 – Define Your Top Reasons For Losing Weight
Weight loss is difficult, especially when you’re first starting out. There will be times when you’re tempted to take a break or give up. Therefore, it’s critical to clarify your deeper motivations, so you can more easily reflect on them during moments of weakness.
With this in mind, ask yourself, “how will getting in shape positively impact your life or the lives of those around you?” I recommend you take out a piece of paper and list every possible answer. Then, circle the two or three that are most inspiring to you.
For example, my reasons for getting (and staying) in shape are (1) to serve as a role model for my kids, (2) to live a long and healthy life with my wife and family, and (3) to better enjoy playing sports like hockey with family and friends. Anytime I’m tempted to make a short-sighted decision, I remind myself of these three motivators.
It’s worth noting all three of my answers are based on connections with other people. They are centered around family and friends. This doesn’t have to be the case with your reasons, but consider that some of the most compelling motivators relate to connecting with other people.
TIP #2 – Food Selection Matters More Than Exercise
The most common mistake people make when trying to lose weight is focusing on exercise. Unfortunately, exercise is rarely enough to compensate for the unhealthy foods they’re already consuming. Worse, engaging in exercise tends to make people hungrier, causing them to eat even more.
The simple truth is that your eating habits have the most significant impact on whether you gain or lose weight. If you overeat unhealthy food, no amount of exercise will lead to weight loss. On the other hand, if you eat the right amount of healthy food, you can lose weight without regular exercise.
Every time I’ve lost weight, I primarily focused on the quality or quantity of the food I was eating rather than how much exercise I was getting.
This doesn’t mean you have to starve yourself or jump on the latest fad diet. The only point I’m making here is that food is the foundation of an effective weight loss strategy. Exercise plays a role in improving overall health, but food selection is the most critical factor in weight loss.
TIP #3 – Healthy Eating Is Easier With Consistency
One of the most challenging aspects of weight loss is the ongoing temptation to consume unhealthy foods. However, few people realize that unhealthy foods are most attractive when they’re a regular part of your diet.
Now, I don’t fully understand the science behind this, but the basic idea is that our bodies acclimate to the foods we routinely eat. Therefore, if you often consume foods that are high in sugar, your body will crave more of the same. Whereas, if you primarily consume healthy foods, sweets start to have less appeal. Some treats that were once appetizing can even taste uncomfortably sweet after taking a break from them.
With this in mind, I’ve found it’s much easier to make a complete transition to healthy eating rather than blending healthy and unhealthy options. That may sound somewhat extreme, but here are four benefits to making a hard switch.
- Doing so helps your body fully acclimate to healthier options faster.
- You’ll see quicker results which boosts your motivation to follow through.
- You can more easily feel full even while eating less because healthier foods are typically more satisfying on a per-calorie basis.
- Doing so eliminates the need to maintain willpower because there are no endless choices to be made. It’s one choice, made in advance, to fully commit to a healthy diet rather than second-guessing yourself every day.
Of course, the challenge is that switching to healthier foods can be difficult. With that in mind, the following two tips are geared toward making the transition easier.
TIP #4 – Allow Yourself To Eat Anything (Once A Month)
If you’re anything like me, the idea of forever saying “no” to all unhealthy food isn’t attractive. Regardless of the many health benefits, it can be discouraging to feel as though you’ll never again be able to enjoy some of your favorite treats.
The best solution I’ve found is to set aside one day each month to eat anything. And yes, that means you can gorge on all of your favorite treats, completely guilt-free, once every 30 days. Consider it the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’ I schedule my eat-anything day for the 22nd of every month so it lines up with my birthday.
Now, I’ve found that I eagerly countdown to this special day for the first 2-4 months. During that time, I look forward to the opportunity to eat some of my favorite treats. However, after a few monthly cycles, the day becomes less attractive for two reasons. First, the treats I once loved are no longer as desirable. They’re still “good,” but they’re not as good as I once considered them. Second, unhealthy foods increasingly leave me feeling tired and unwell, so I start associating them with negative experiences.
Don’t get me wrong. I still look forward to my “eat-anything” day. However, it shifts from being a day where I try to consume all my favorite foods to one in which I’m much more selective, so I don’t overdo it. I view this as a win because (1) I still have the freedom to eat anything once a month, and (2) I begin to train my brain to no longer associate unhealthy foods with pleasure. Instead, I start to view such foods for what they are, an unhealthy disruption to an otherwise healthy and balanced life.
Another interesting detail is how my body responds to this approach. On the one hand, I’ve put on 10 pounds in less than 24 hours by gorging on unhealthy foods. However, those pounds are gone within a week. In fact, my weight loss continues as if the day never occurred. I don’t know why that happens, but I assume it’s a combination of losing temporary water weight (due to higher sodium consumption) and that my body has acclimated to needing fewer calories (thus retaining less when I overeat).
Of course, all of this is made possible by eating a much healthier diet for the rest of the month. So, let’s explore that further in the next tip.
TIP #5 – Choose A Healthy Diet That Is Sustainable
There are many options when it comes to dieting for weight loss. While many popular approaches can be effective, I recommend choosing an option that allows you to eat a variety of healthy foods because doing so helps with sustainability.
My preferred choice is to stick to whole foods that are as close to their “alive state” as possible. In other words, foods that have not been processed, refined or modified since being harvested. So, my diet consists of things like wild rice, quinoa, beef, chicken, salmon, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, bananas, whole grain bread, eggs, natural peanut butter, and many other similar foods.
These options are generally more satiating per calorie than refined alternatives. Plus, they are healthier for you because, as I understand it, the body is optimized to digest natural foods and put their nutrients to good use.
Now, you might prefer something like the Mediterranean diet. Alternatively, you might want to go keto, paleo, or low carb. You’ll have to find what works best for you. I recommend you do some quick research on Google to find an option that suits your preferences and then commit to sticking with it for the next 30 days.
TIP #6 – Track All The Food You Eat (At Least Temporarily)
All foods are not equal in terms of how they meet or exceed our dietary needs. There are often a handful of items that do little to satisfy our hunger while contributing a disproportionate share of our daily calories.
One way to take the guesswork out of food selection is to track everything you eat for 30 days. Smartphone apps like MyFitnessPal make it easy to log meals by scanning product barcodes or quickly searching for common foods by keyword. In most cases, you can log a meal in one or two minutes.
While this can be tedious, it’s not something you have to do forever. By tracking things for the first month, you’ll gather the data needed to get a rough sense of the caloric density of the foods you routinely eat. That way, you can quickly identify the worst offenders and the foods that are most satisfying while being least caloric.
If you’re serious about accelerating your weight loss, I recommend a daily target of 1500 calories. That may not seem like much, but with healthy eating, it’s enough for three full meals each day. Furthermore, you can increase your total number of daily calories by adding exercise into the mix.
MyFitnessPal makes it easy to track how much you’ve eaten, and you can also log exercise to see an adjusted total. For example, if you start with a baseline of 1500 calories and then burn 600 calories through active exercise, you can eat up to 2100 total calories for the day.
Every time I’ve achieved rapid weight loss, it involved meticulously tracking everything. That includes every meal, every snack, and every bit of active exercise. By doing so, I’m able to see what works, what doesn’t, and how I can improve things further.
TIP #7 – Momentum Is The Strongest Motivation
The hardest part of losing weight is getting started. That’s because momentum is everything. In the beginning, you have no momentum and no tangible proof that your efforts will pay off. Therefore, it’s challenging to get started. However, once the pounds start to come off, two mindset shifts take place.
- You begin to realize that you can do it. Your confidence increases when you see undeniable proof of your ability to shed pounds.
- You start to look for ways to build on your momentum. For example, you might become even more selective with your diet or introduce exercise to accelerate your results.
The thing I want to stress here is that the beginning really is the hardest part. I don’t say that to be discouraging—quite the opposite. If you know the beginning is the hard part, it’s just a matter of getting through that difficult stage. The first week is difficult, the next gets easier, and then, as you start to see the pounds come off, the results motivate you to stick with it and ramp up your efforts.
I’ve struggled through the first 10-15 days every time I’ve lost weight. And then, without fail, I found myself shedding pounds and wondering why it took me so long to get started. Successful weight loss is all about creating that initial momentum and then using early results as motivation to continue.
The lesson here is simple. Just get started. Don’t wait until the time is right or until you have the perfect plan. Instead, focus all of your initial energy on pushing through the first 10-15 days. Once you start seeing results, things get easier and easier.
TIP #8 – Make Healthy Options The Most Convenient
Our environment is highly influential when it comes to our eating habits. So, if unhealthy foods or snacks surround us, we will inevitably make poorer choices. Conversely, if healthy options are more convenient than unhealthy ones, it’s much easier to live a healthy lifestyle.
With this in mind, I recommend going out of your way to modify your environment to support healthier eating. The first place to start is at home. Begin by donating or giving away all unhealthy food options. This may seem extreme, but if high-sugar foods are nearby, all it takes is a moment of weakness to derail your weight loss progress.
Next, look for ways to make healthy options more convenient. My wife and I invested in glass meal prep containers a few years back. All of our food is now prepared in batches and portioned in advance. As a result, eating a healthy meal is as easy as grabbing a container from the fridge and microwaving it for 2-3 minutes. Fresh veggies are also cut in advance so they can be portioned on a plate while waiting for the microwave to finish. Likewise, fresh fruit and nuts are available for snacks.
Finally, look for ways to do the same with other environments, including the office and locations you frequently visit. Of course, you may not have the option to remove unhealthy foods from these spaces, but you can pack healthy snacks or bring healthy meals with you. That way, you’re prepared before hunger strikes.
Note: Avoid going grocery shopping on an empty stomach. It’s too easy to make poor food choices when we’re hungry. Some grocery stores offer the option to have food delivered directly to your home for a modest fee. I recommend taking advantage of this, so you can avoid browsing the store altogether.
TIP #9 – Buy Yourself Time In Moments Of Weakness
Everyone faces urges to make an exception regarding healthy eating. Unfortunately, all it takes is one poor choice to derail even the most well-intentioned plan. For example, choosing to eat one cookie can lead to another, then another, and pretty soon, our sense of momentum is gone, and we’ve lost the will to follow through.
The best way to handle sudden urges is to buy yourself time. You can do this by crafting simple rules based on the ‘If-Then’ formula. For example, “IF I’m tempted to eat an unhealthy snack, THEN I’ll wait 15 minutes before eating it,” or “IF I want to give up on my goal to lose weight, THEN I’ll wait 48 hours before making a change.”
Notice how both examples accept the underlying urge. They do this by providing the freedom to make a poor choice, so long as we’re willing to wait before doing so. This is critical because a rule that robs us of all choice is more likely to be disregarded in a moment of weakness. For example, a rule stating, “IF you want to eat a cookie, THEN just say no,” is likely to cause us to think, “well, I guess I’m going to have to break the rule because I want to eat this cookie right now.”
The ideal rule maintains our sense of autonomy while providing the time needed for temporary urges to pass. Of course, such a rule opens the door to making some poor choices. However, in practice, we’re less likely to do so because we have a chance to reflect on our reasons for wanting to lose weight.
Furthermore, whenever we successfully overcome an urge, we are reminded that cravings are only temporary, and thus we can further strengthen our resolve.
Note: You can craft ‘If-Then’ statements for any scenario that might throw you off your game. So, consider challenging situations or environments that have prevented you from losing weight in the past, and create rules for how you plan to navigate them.
TIP #10 – Find Someone To Keep You Accountable
In a moment of weakness, the human brain can rationalize almost anything. A few years ago, I found myself trying to come up with a reason why eating ice cream every day might somehow be “worth it.” While I knew an ice cream eating habit would probably shorten my life and reduce the quality of my remaining years, I tried to rationalize it.
Of course, as I was having these thoughts, all I really wanted was a reason to eat some ice cream. So, I was trying to convince myself that maybe ice cream (and other treats) are what makes life worth living. It wasn’t a great argument, but I didn’t need it to be. I just needed a reason to feel okay about making a poor choice.
Fortunately, my commitment was built on more than willpower alone. I had shared my goal with someone else, and most important of all, I committed to reporting my progress to them weekly. So, while there were moments when I was close to letting myself down, I wasn’t willing to admit defeat to someone else.
This brings up an important point. We are social beings. While we’re capable of great things on our own, we can achieve far more when accountable to others. That’s one reason why programs like AA rely on a buddy system.
With this in mind, I strongly encourage you to seek outside accountability. Find a friend, a family member, a paid trainer, or a coach willing to help. The most critical thing is that you can be completely honest with them and that you value their opinion of you.
Regarding my accountability, I check in weekly to report my current weight, how things went over the previous week, and what I plan to do over the next week. Doing so gives me a chance to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and what I can do better.
Plus, I have one more reason to stick with the plan and do my best in a moment of weakness. This form of accountability has saved me from making many short-sighted decisions that I would have later regretted.
TIP #11 – Weight Isn’t Everything (Consider Other Metrics)
Depending on your goals, weight may not be the best metric for measuring your progress. It’s great if your primary focus is losing considerable weight. However, as you get close to your ideal size, it’s no longer the best way to track positive change.
You’ve likely heard that muscle is heavier than fat. It’s more accurate to say that muscle is more dense than fat. The result is that it’s possible to be putting on weight in the form of muscle, even as you lose fat and slim down. Conversely, you can also lose weight in the form of muscle loss while retaining the same amount of fat.
The problem, of course, is that muscle loss isn’t the same as fat loss. So, even if you are okay with losing muscle mass, you can end up “losing weight” without eliminating body fat. So, you might be wondering, “what is a better way to measure your progress?”
One great alternative is a Skinfold Body Fat Caliper. You can buy one for about $7 and use it to track body fat by “pinching” your skin and measuring its thickness. Another option is to use a measuring tape to keep track of specific areas of your body, such as the circumference of your waist, chest, or thighs.
I recommend combining both methods if you’re trying to lose fat while adding muscle. The caliper makes it easy to track overall fat loss, while the measuring tape can track an increase in chest, bicep, or thigh muscle size.
To be clear, a traditional scale is easier and more psychologically rewarding if you’re just aiming to lose considerable weight. That’s because it’s more exciting to watch ten, twenty, or thirty pounds come off the scale than to see the body fat caliper move from 25mm to 12mm. However, once you get close to your ideal size, weight becomes less useful as a metric, so it’s best to switch or combine methods at that point.
TIP #12 – Keep The Weight Off By Creating A Tripwire
Unfortunately, there is a big difference between losing weight and keeping it off.
As covered earlier, weight loss is largely driven by momentum. There is a clear goal, an easy way to track progress, and most importantly, a well-defined end in sight. Therefore, the greatest challenge is just getting started.
Keeping weight off is very different. There is no goal to be reached. Instead, success is measured by maintaining the new status quo. Furthermore, there is no endpoint, as the task is never complete. As a result, keeping the weight off is far less rewarding.
Meanwhile, the temptation to eat unhealthy foods can return with a vengeance. That’s because, once you’ve lost weight, you realize how easily you could do it again. Furthermore, there is a sense that you deserve treats for having reached such a big milestone. And, even if you don’t feel like that today, it’s a feeling that can easily creep up on you over time.
Now, of course, there are things we can (and should) do to keep the weight off. We’ve covered many practical tips, including making healthy foods more convenient, adding outside accountability, and more. However, it’s also critical to acknowledge that life isn’t always easy or predictable. There will be disruptions in your future that make it more challenging to maintain a healthy lifestyle over time.
With all of this in mind, I recommend you create a tripwire that alerts you to the need to make an immediate change. This involves defining a weight or size that is unacceptable to you, at which point you must return to weight-loss mode. Without this tripwire, it’s easy to let things get far worse, making a recovery more difficult.
My tripwire is defined as 10 pounds (or about 6%) above my ideal weight. I only react if my weight exceeds that target for two consecutive weekly weigh-ins to account for minor fluctuations. And, because I continue to report my weight to someone every Monday morning, I have a built-in mechanism for gathering this data.
I strongly recommend you define a tripwire even before you reach your goal. Don’t wait for things to slip because it’s much harder to be objective as your resolve weakens. And, be sure to maintain the habit of tracking data in a reliable way, so you can act on it.
How To Start Losing Weight Today
We’ve covered a lot of information in this article. You can take action now by defining your top 2-3 motivations for losing weight, as covered in tip #1. That is the most critical step because it will bring clarity and purpose to your goal.
Next, act on the advice from tips #2-7 by choosing a healthy diet, marking your “eat-anything” day into the calendar (30 days from now), and installing an app like MyFitnessPal to track the foods you’re eating.
After that, you can review the remaining tips to make healthier foods more convenient, establish “If-Then” rules to buy time in moments of weakness, and find someone to provide you with outside accountability. Lastly, please share your goals and progress with me by commenting on my how to lose weight fast and keep it off video on YouTube. I look forward to hearing about your weight loss journey!