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Last updated: Sep 02, 2021
6 min read

The 8 first steps to healthy weight loss: setting you up for success

steve silvestro

Medically Reviewed by Steve Silvestro, MD

Written by Ashley Braun, RD, MPH

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

When you first decide to lose weight, it can feel overwhelming. Maybe you’ve tried a few times before, and it didn’t work. 

As you read this article, you’re about to start your weight loss journey—whether for the first, second, or twentieth time. No matter what’s happened in the past, taking the right first steps this time, right now, can help you find the success you’ve been hoping for. 

Most importantly, start by making small changes. If you try all of the steps below at once, it may feel overwhelming. So pick one or two to start. Then, when those become natural habits, you can add in another area to work on. 

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1. Track your weight

Tracking your weight during your journey is a key step to finding success. But one mistake many people make is they weigh themselves far too often. 

Everyone’s bodyweight goes up and down throughout the day because of food, going to the bathroom, hydration, stress, and other factors. So weighing yourself too often could lead to seeing a whole range of numbers on the scale and make the weight loss journey more stressful. Know that a change of a pound or two from day to day doesn’t mean much—it’s the trends over the long term that matter. 

Weighing themselves once a day is ideal for many people, though others may find that once a week is best. 

When you do weigh yourself, it’s a good idea to do so on the same day each week and at around the same time. This will give you a more accurate trend over time.

You’re more likely to weigh less in the morning than at night since you’re sleeping at night versus eating during the day. You can weigh yourself in the morning or evening. Just try to be consistent about the time of day. 

2. Create a plan

Creating a plan is key to healthy weight loss. You can always make changes to your plan later, so try not to feel like you need to wait to find the perfect plan before you start. 

Your plan can include information about your diet, exercise, sleep, and hydration goals. Try asking yourself these questions to take the first steps toward creating a plan:

  • What’s your goal weight?
  • Why do you want to lose weight? (Keep this saved for later. Your “why” gives you a reason to keep going when things become challenging).
  • What will you be eating, how much, and what will your strategy be?
  • Will you be exercising?
  • What can you do or say to yourself to keep your motivation and spirits up? (You may have weeks when you don’t see progress or even feel like you’re going backward. Remember that weight change takes time, so planning for the ups and downs can help you feel positive and keep going).

If you’re unsure what plan is right for you, talk with your healthcare provider or dietitian about a diet plan to fit your needs.

3. Set simple, specific goals

When creating a plan, it’s important to know what you’re aiming for. And when setting those goals, it’s most helpful to keep them simple and specific, especially when you’re just starting out.

Creating many small goals helps make the big goal less overwhelming. For example, if your goal is to lose 30 pounds, focusing on two pounds at a time can feel more manageable. Small goals give you little wins along the way and have been shown to make it easier to stay motivated and build confidence through your weight loss journey (Whitehead, 2020). 

Also, remember that weight loss itself isn’t a behavior but an outcome. Instead of focusing on the outcome (which is not always within our control), like a specific weight, try to create some goals around healthy behaviors that can help push you toward that outcome. 

Here are some examples of specific, non-weight-focused goals. Remember, as you’re starting, just to focus on one or two goals at a time, so don’t feel like you have to do all of these at once:

  • Exercise X number of times per week.
  • Eat X servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
  • Log meals into a food journal for at least one meal every day.
  • Practice good sleep habits to support 7–9 hours of sleep, at least three nights a week.
  • Manage stress levels by doing a 5-minute meditation while your coffee brews in the morning.
  • Eat more slowly so you can notice fullness signals, and stop eating when you’re comfortably full, not feeling stuffed.
  • Drink X ounces of water every day.
  • Eat X grams of fiber each day.
  • Walk X number of steps per day.

These are all behaviors within your control. Pick one or two that feel manageable, and start making those a part of your routine while understanding that things will not always go as planned. 

4. Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated is essential for digestion, healthy weight maintenance, feeling alert, and other health benefits (Liska, 2019). It’s recommended for most people to drink between 2–3 liters (68–101 ounces) of fluid each day (Meinders, 2010). 

Sometimes people feel hungry when their bodies are actually feeling thirsty. Try to practice learning the difference between hunger and thirst by paying attention to how your body responds to food and fluids. Do you always feel better after eating or sometimes feel sluggish? If you tried drinking water when you thought you were hungry, did it help you feel better?

Here are a few tips to help you increase your fluid intake:

  • Carry a reusable water bottle with you.
  • Track your drinks with a tracking app.
  • Add fruit or cucumbers to your water to mix up the flavor.
  • Set reminders on your phone.

5. Get enough sleep

Research suggests that not getting enough sleep might be linked with weight gain partly because it throws off our hunger cues (Cooper, 2018). So getting 7–8 hours of quality sleep every night may support your weight loss journey. 

Try these tips to improve your sleep hygiene:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Avoid spending too much time looking at screens before falling asleep.
  • Turn off all lights and use window coverings to block out lights from outside.
  • Keep your room quiet or use a white noise machine.
  • Keep your room at a cooler temperature.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before trying to sleep.

6. Become more active

Your physical activity is an important part of your weight loss journey. But remember, when you’re first starting your weight loss journey, it’s essential to take just a few small steps at a time. 

For some people, diving into a strenuous exercise routine right away can feel overwhelming. Start by taking simple, small steps. Studies show that walking 10,000 steps per day can help support healthy weight loss (Creasy, 2018).

Other ways you could start increasing your daily activity include:

  • Go for a walk, run, or bike ride.
  • Park farther away from the store or work.
  • Take the stairs.
  • Garden or clean the house.
  • Try a group fitness class with a friend or partner for the company.

7. Find support

Unfortunately, not everyone in your life will understand your weight loss journey. So, it’s important to find a few people or a support group who understand your goals. 

Working with healthcare professionals can help answer any questions you have about diet and exercise. Then your other support, like family and friends, can help keep you accountable daily during your journey. They can also help pick you up and stay positive when you’re feeling down.

Consider trying group fitness classes or finding an accountability partner to help support your goals.  

8. Focus on slow changes

It’s easy to want instant results, but healthy weight loss takes time. In fact, healthy weight loss is considered about 1–2 pounds per week. 

So rather than focusing entirely on the scale, it may help to focus on areas other than your weight, especially as you first start. You’re more likely to feel other changes—like increased energy, better mood, clearer skin—faster than the actual weight loss.

Remember not to change everything in your life at once. Too much change may increase feelings of overwhelm and make it harder to turn that behavior into a new habit. Instead, consider choosing just one or two areas to focus on first. 

Once those early steps start feeling easy and routine, add in other areas you would like to focus on next. 

For now, focus on these early steps of your weight loss journey. By learning about what the early steps are, you’ve already taken the first one.

References

  1. Cooper CB, Neufeld EV, Dolezal BA, & Martin JL. (2018). Sleep deprivation and obesity in adults: a brief narrative review. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 4(1), e000392. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2018-000392. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6196958/
  2. Creasy SA, Lang W, Tate DF, Davis KK, & Jakicic JM. (2018). Pattern of daily steps is associated with weight loss: secondary analysis from the step-up randomized trial. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 26(6), 977–984. doi: 10.1002/oby.22171. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29633583/
  3. Liska D, Mah E, Brisbois T, Barrios PL, Baker LB, & Spriet LL. (2019). Narrative review of hydration and selected health outcomes in the general population. Nutrients, 11(1), 70. doi: 10.3390/nu11010070. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6356561/
  4. Meinders AJ., & Meinders AE. (2010). Hoeveel water moeten we eigenlijk drinken? [How much water do we really need to drink?]. Nederlands Tijdschrift Voor Geneeskunde, 154, A1757. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20356431/
  5. Whitehead L, Glass CC, Abel SL, Sharp K, & Coppell KJ. (2020). Exploring the role of goal setting in weight loss for adults recently diagnosed with pre-diabetes. BMC Nursing, 19, 67. doi: 10.1186/s12912-020-00462-6. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7362527/