The beginner’s weight loss guide

Ready to lose weight but don’t know where to begin? This expert weight loss guide give you the strategies you need to get started safely and successfully.

Maintaining a healthy weight carries a lot of benefits. It can lower your risk for a whole host of health issues, including stroke, heart attack, diabetes, and some types of cancer. But maybe you’ve never tried to lose weight. Or perhaps past attempts didn’t work. Figuring out where to begin can be the biggest obstacle to success. Especially because a new “best ever” weight loss plan seems to pop up every week. Now for the good news: Getting started is easier than you might think. Plus, this weight loss guide was curated by healthcare experts, to make sure you’re getting started safely.

“When you first start, take what I love to call small sticky steps: Each one will allow you to build upon it so that you ultimately succeed,” says Pamela Peeke, MD. Dr. Peeke is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and author of The Hunger Fix. Here are some ways to get going, and why they work.

Start with a small goal. 

Research suggests that even a modest goal of losing 5% of your body weight can have big benefits. (For example, if you weigh 200 lb, a 5% weight loss would be 10 lb.) It can help you better control your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. A smaller goal like this can also feel more achievable. That, in turn, makes it easier to stay motivated. 

For example, researchers in 1 study told 1 group of people to shave 100 calories a day from their diet. They told a second group to cut 500 to 1000 calories a day. Those in the 100-calorie, small-step group lost weight more slowly, but they were more successful at keeping it off in the following years. An easy way to trim calories: Eat off a smaller plate so that you automatically dish up less. Doing so has been shown to cut about 280 calories each day.

Many health insurance plans offer weight loss and fitness programs for their members at no extra cost. To learn how to get the most out of your health benefits, ask your health plan if you have access to Wellframe.

Steer clear of fad diets. 

Sure, we’ve all heard stories of people losing weight on a trendy diet such as keto, or a juice cleanse. But do they keep the pounds off? “Very restrictive diets are unsustainable in the long term,” says Dr. Peeke. “Ask yourself if you see yourself being able to continue to eat this way for 4 years, not just for 4 months.” If the answer is no, move on. After all, do you really want to find yourself starting another new diet a few months down the road? 

Eat real food.

In other words, avoid processed foods such as potato chips, french fries, and store-bought cookies. They’re less satisfying and generally high in empty calories that have little to no nutritional value. A study in the journal Cell Metabolism found that people who ate a diet high in processed foods consumed about 500 more calories a day than those who didn’t. Instead, eat whole foods that have healthy fats, filling fiber, and other good-for-you nutrients. At the top of the list: 

  • Fruits and veggies. 
  • Whole grains.
  • Lean proteins such as fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy. 

Make incremental changes. 

Has it been so long since you exercised that your sneakers are collecting dust bunnies? If so, it’s unrealistic to expect to hit the gym most days of the week right away. And that’s fine.

“Don’t overdo it. Remember that your body has been out of it for a while and needs time to regroup and heal,” says Dr. Peeke. The best thing to do, Dr. Peeke says, is to get outside and walk. “Don’t get crazy about the exact number of minutes, or how many miles you’ve done. If you can just do half a mile, that’s great. Just go out and keep doing it.” 

Over time, you’ll build up stamina. Before you know it, you’ll check your step counter and realize that you not only walked 3 miles in 45 minutes, but that you also felt great doing it. 

It’s important to add basic strength training too, says Dr. Peeke. It can help raise your metabolism so that your body naturally burns more calories. Some simple moves to try:

  • Chair squats.
  • Wall pushups.
  • Calf raises. 
  • Step-ups.
  • Situps.

Keep a food journal. 

Just writing down what you’ve eaten — including both meals and snacks you grab here and there — can help you automatically cut calories. It helps you hold yourself accountable for what you eat. People who faithfully keep an online food journal lose more weight than those who use it sporadically, a study in the medical journal Obesity found.

Practice self-compassion. 

“Your mind is just as important as what you put into your mouth and how you use your muscles,” says Dr. Peeke. “The world of weight loss is filled with rabbit holes and land mines. It doesn’t help to berate yourself with shoulda-coulda-wouldas if you slip up every now and then.” In fact, research suggests that a certain type of self-compassionate meditation — known as loving-kindness meditation (LKM) — can help you lose weight. 

To give it a try, start by sitting with your eyes closed. Take slow, deep breaths. As you breathe in and out, imagine that you are surrounded by family and friends who love you and that they’re sending you best wishes for your well-being. This practice can help inspire feelings of gratitude and warmth that will help carry you through tough weight loss moments.

Get digital help. 

A digital health management tool can offer both tactical and emotional support. For instance, Wellframe — an app that’s offered by many health plans for free to their members — can connect you with a health coach through your health plan. Your coach can help support you in an eating plan that works well for you and your busy lifestyle, says Susan Beaton, RN. Beaton is vice president of Health Plan Strategy at Wellframe. 

“There’s no shortage of fad diets. But what you really need to succeed is assistance and guidance in choosing the right things,” Beaton explains. Your coach can send you personalized recipes and grocery lists, for example. And they can help watch your progress and keep you motivated by texting words of encouragement — a practice that works. 

In a 2020 study, for instance, people in a yearlong weight loss program received a weekly text message and monthly phone call from a health coach. When the coach could see the participants’ health and weight loss data, their communication was more targeted and helpful. As a result, participants had more success losing weight and keeping it off. 

A digital health management app such as Wellframe can make it easier to reach your healthy-weight goals. To find out if you have Wellframe, reach out to your health plan.

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