Losing weight is about more than choosing the right diet and exercise plan.
Your shot at success depends 100% on your ability to stay motivated and stay on track.
A bad diet plan will ruin your chances at losing weight and keeping it off permanently. Choosing a poor exercise strategy can also set you back, or even result in painful injuries and quitting entirely.
The wrong mindset however, will kill your dream faster than either of these.
Here are the top 27 expert tips that will help you lose weight and keep it off for good.
Update: When I wrote this piece, I reached out to dozens of experts in the fitness, health and weight loss fields. I asked them for their most valuable advice for sticking with a weight loss plan, and looked to see what points they held in common.
Available techniques, diet plans and research constantly improve and evolve – but many of the fundamental keys to staying motivated remain timeless. Below, you’ll find the top expert recommended tips for staying motivated, and quotes to back them up from some of the best weight loss and fitness professionals out there online today.
Identify and catalog the reasons you’re doing this.
Something inspired you to start this journey to better health and a better life. The first and most important step in staying motivated is to identify exactly what this is, why it is, and find ways to remind yourself as you progress.
Make a list of all the reasons you need this change.
- I need to lose 30lbs before my wedding, so I’ll have wedding photos I’m proud of.
- I need to get in shape so I can stop feeling so depressed and tired all the time.
- I need to lose 100lbs now, so I will still be around to see my future grandchildren.
Be as detailed and introspective as possible. The better you can connect to your true reasons and motivations for getting back in shape, the more powerful those motivations will be in your mind as you progress.
Once you've got your list, keep it handy. Put a copy in your wallet, on your smartphone, or anywhere you can reference it when things get tough.
Set realistic goals & expectations
If a single mistake claimed more failures than any other, it would be setting unrealistic goals.
"I see so many women in my private practice for weight loss, and no matter their age, most have unreasonable weight-loss goals."
~Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., author of The Flexitarian Diet
Most experts advise against trying to lose more than 2lbs per week – especially if your ultimate goal is to lose 30lbs or more.
Think about the facts of weight loss realistically. The average person burns between 1,600 and 2,200 calories per day. To lose 1lb, you must burn 3,500 more calories than you consume. Therefore, to lose 2lbs in one week, you’ll need to eat 1,000 fewer calories PER DAY than you burn.
You can't expect to stay completely motivated 24/7 either – sometimes you just have to step back and take a break. It's completely normal.
Remember that when it comes to your body, slow and steady is almost always the correct answer.
Avoid self criticism
Setting realistic goals will help prevent disappointments down the road – but failures and mistakes still happen.
"Take the focus of off your body. There’s so much more to life than how you perceive yourself in the mirror, in fact if you have a lot of negative self-talk spinning around in your mind, the stress will be more damaging and could even stall you on your weight-loss journey!"
~Amy Pope, writer for GymBuzz
Beating yourself down over failures and shortcomings will kill your self confidence and actually increase your anxiety level. Stress in turn causes your body to react with cortisol and adrenaline – a reaction intended to ready you for a fight-or-flight situation. This natural reaction also lowers your immune system’s defenses, slows your metabolism, and causes exhaustion / weariness as it wears off. In many cases, stress also triggers cravings for junk food.
If you’re serious about success, take note; studies have shown that positive reassurance puts the mind in a spot where it is actually easier to achieve your intended goals.
Weigh yourself once a week, and track averages.
Most people assume that a daily weigh-in is expected when they start their weight loss journey - but your daily weight can be deceptive. Weight increases and decreases for many reasons on a daily basis and even depending on the time of day you weigh yourself.
“Never get into the habit of weighing yourself every day... Look for consistent, steady, and gradual changes in your weight every 2 – 4 weeks.”
~Ryan Walters, InBody USA
First, choose a day of the week you will weigh-in each week, and a time of day you will do so. First thing in the morning is often best.
Next, log your weekly weigh-ins. Some weeks will go better than others, and it’s not always going to be your fault. Rather than obsessing over each week’s results (and getting discouraged when one isn’t as good as the last), add your past 4 weeks’ losses and divide by 4 to see your average. That is your real progress.
The bathroom scale is only part of the story
A common misunderstanding is that weight loss is all about losing weight. It's not. It’s about reducing body fat.
Don’t underestimate your progress – if you burn off 20lbs of fat but gain 15lbs of muscle, it’s easy to be discouraged stepping on the scale. The mirror however, tells a different story.
Getting stronger is a proven way to get the body transforming results you want. Want to lose fat and “tone up”? Want to completely change your body’s shape and appearance? Get strong … and then get stronger ... Each time you return to the gym your mission is clear – do just a little better than last time ... And you’re always left wondering, “I can do this – what else can I do?!”
~Nia Shanks, author of Lift Like A Girl
When you burn calories that your body cannot get from your food intake, it will draw on muscle and fat reserves for the energy. If you're actively working out as you're burning those calories, most of the energy needed will come from fat. You will become stronger, and your body will build more lean, dense muscle to help you exercise more efficiently and burn even more calories.
As a result of this trade-off, you will lose inches much faster than you will lose pounds. This is ideal, but can be confusing when you step onto the scale. Instead of relying only on weight as a measure of your success, keep track of your measurements as well.
Idea: Measure around your neck, arms, abdomen, belly, hips and individual thighs for comparison each week.
Open your eyes and appreciate your body honestly
People who are over-weight often avoid looking in the mirror. It's easier to live with being over-weight if you aren't constantly reminding yourself of that fact.
The problem however, is that living in denial prevents you from seeing a reason to change your habits at all. Studies have shown that women who honestly accept and embrace their bodies feel the need to take care of themselves, and are more likely to have better fitness and nutritional habits.
Next time you're in front of the mirror, take note - and find something good to say about the person you see. This will reinforce positive body image, which in turn will help you take better care of yourself.
Keep track of your investment
Taking on an active lifestyle often requires some investments beyond just your time and energy. You're not going to get very far down the street without a decent pair of running shoes, for example.
Whether you're purchasing a gym membership, a fitness tracker or hours with a personal trainer, look at these expenditures like an investment into your health. If you're spending money and not seeing profit in the form of improved fitness and health, then you're not using these items to their fullest, and have therefore wasted your time and money.
Attending a weight loss camp like Weight Crafters can be a bit more expensive than a new pair of running shoes – but this may be one of many reasons our graduates usually go on to keep the weight off.
Avoid diet fads and "clever tricks"
Most of the time diet plans, gimmicks and techniques that promise quick results based on omitting a certain food or only drinking a certain juice aren't going to deliver. Diet fads of one type or another have been around a long time, and they continue to thrive only because the original idea spreads a lot faster from person to person than the truth of whether or not it works.
"I feel that if you need a "trick" then your heart may not be in the right place. When you are devoted to yourself and your health, you need only be reminded that you are worth putting time, energy, and focus into yourself. No trick needed. Just sincerity."
~Robby, author of FatGirl vs. World
Unfortunately, each time you attempt to lose weight and fail, the struggle becomes a little more difficult. Every cycle on the weight loss roller coaster makes it that much harder to get back up and keep on trying.
Don't waste your tries on gimmicks and 'weird tricks' you see floating around the internet. Instead, focus on making a committed and steady lifestyle change that can prove genuinely beneficial.
Joining a group that shares your goals can make a huge difference when you're trying to stick to a weight loss program. In addition to basically having your own cheerleader team, you’ll also find a source of support, understanding and accountability in a group.
Research has shown that when starting a weight loss program, participants were 19% more likely to complete the program if they went with friends rather than solo. Better still, of those who completed weight loss programs the ones who went with a group were 42% less likely to gain the weight back within the following 10 months.
It's generally helpful to be around others who are fighting the same battles you are, no matter what those battles are. You don't just feel guilty when you fall off the wagon - you know that everyone in your group completely understands and wants to see you succeed.
Learning to love adventure can be invaluable in helping you stay motivated. There's nothing like looking forward to tomorrow, to next week, to next month - because something exciting is going to be happening then!
You started this weight loss journey because you wanted to become someone better, fitter and healthier... So what would that person spend their time doing? Get out there and do it!
Idea: Plan a backpacking and/or canoeing trip with a group.
Idea: Start taking swim classes at your local rec center or YMCA.
Idea: Take on an obstacle course.
Idea: Start bicycling every week with friends.
Seek out a furry friend
It may sound like an over-used excuse to plug the local humane society, but studies have shown that owning a dog really can help you lose weight.
The reasons are fairly obvious - dogs require multiple trips outdoors each day and absolutely love to get out and run around. There's nothing more motivating to go outside for a jog than knowing your best pal will leave you a present on the carpet (and probably eat your shoes) if you don't.
IMPORTANT: The decision to adopt a dog, large or small, is not one to be taken lightly. Any pet is a responsibility, but in the case of canines this responsibility includes much more than just a walk twice a day and some kibble in a bowl.
Dogs are social creatures and have an instinctual need for companionship that hails back to their roots as pack animals in the wild. This makes them great pals up for any activity, but also comes with some requirements from you.
Failure to provide a structured and healthy environment makes for an unhappy and disobedient dog. In some cases, it can result in the sorts of problems you see on The Dog Whisperer. If you're considering adoption, first make sure to research canine behaviour. You need a realistic understanding of what a dog will need from you, before you'll be ready to head down to the local animal shelter.
Maintain supportive relationships
If you're especially lucky, your friends will be interested in training with you because they're working towards the same goals as you are. Approaching your goals as a group has many benefits as described above
If not, family and close friends can still be a powerful motivator. Let your family and friends know you’re serious about this, and need their support to get through it.
If you don’t have anyone local to you for support, there are still options. A study from the University of Kansas showed that dieters who received supportive counsel over the phone lost as much as those who got it face to face.
Let the music carry you away
A study by the North American Association for the Study of Obesity found that women who listened to music while exercising were more likely to stick with it than those who didn't.
"During submaximal exercise, music can narrow attention, in turn diverting the mind from sensations of fatigue. This diversionary technique, known to psychologists as dissociation, lowers perceptions of effort."
~Costas Karageorghis, Bishop, Karageorghis, & Loizou, 2007
That’s right, music helps you forget how hard you are working out and stick with it longer – so grab your MP3 player, load up some high energy beats, and get to it!
Use social accountability
It's a lot easier to give up on your goals when you haven't told anyone about them.
"When I decided to lose weight, I announced it to my friends and family ... I knew if they really cared about me, they’d respect my decision and want to help me achieve my goals ... Plus, announcing my desire to lose weight held me more accountable for my actions because now my loved ones were watching me."
~Tina Haupert, author of Carrots 'n Cake
Announcing your plan to others in your life can introduce a level of accountability that will push you much harder than willpower alone. This also has the added bonus of getting your social circle "behind you" to cheer you on and do whatever they can to help your cause.
If you really want to up the ante, you could also quite literally "go public" with your plan by starting a blog, twitter feed, instagram or livejournal account to log your progress - and setbacks - for the world to see.
Don’t limit yourself to weight loss
Weight loss is just one thing you can do to improve yourself. Other options might include cleaning your house, fixing a broken car or appliance, paying off a debt, planting a garden, helping a friend paint their house, or just following through on promises made to family and friends.
Weight loss can be a long, drawn out battle. Each item you overcome no matter how small, gives you a motivation and confidence boost.
Getting active and taking on projects also keeps you moving (burning calories) and off the couch (boredom can be your diet’s worst enemy). This strategy is also helpful when quitting smoking.
Put away the fashion and fitness magazines
Admiring physical beauty may give you a brief emotional response that seems motivational, but it is a momentary feeling that wears off quickly – and also tends to remind you of how far you have yet to go.
While it might be tempting to grab a hot photo of a fitness model and set it as your wallpaper for motivation, recent studies have shown you're better off choosing someone you admire for their character, life story or achievements.
Read about people who have overcome adversity or obstacles in order to achieve their goals. That is the kind of thing that will come to your mind half way through a particularly grueling and unwanted workout, pushing you to reach the end and claim success.
Suggestion: Read our piece from a few years ago on Bonnie St. John
Suggestion: Check out Bethany Hamilton from Soul Surfer
Set a pathway of short term goals
"So you can’t run a mile now? That’s okay. Start out walking. You’ll get to running, I promise. Take things one step at a time. I started out with 15 minutes of intervals on the treadmill in February. Next weekend, I’m running a half-marathon!"
~Theodora Blanchfield, author of Preppy Runner
Long term goals (and rewards) are great for a degree of long term motivation - but it's the short term goals that really factor into your daily life. Some goals take weeks, months or even years to achieve. Those goals are important - but to get to them, you need to focus on where you want to be 1 week from now.
Embrace the things you’re striving for
You might have a few pairs of favorite jeans you want to fit back into again. Your weight loss motivation could be to overcome depression and self worth issues that have plagued you since your own childhood. Or perhaps your goals have more to do with your children and family - a desire to live a healthier life so you can stick around longer and spend more quality time with them.
Maybe it's all of the above. Whatever drives you, keep it in frame and in focus. Don't hide those skinny jeans in the closet - hang them up somewhere you'll see them often! Don't wait til you've lost 50lbs before spending more time with family and friends - start doing that right now!
Humans also have an inherent need to be the best at something. We love the thrill of winning.
According to recent studies, the social influence of team-based weight loss competition can provide as much as a 20% improvement versus going it alone. That's a 20% improvement based purely on solid motivation!
Friends and groups can be great sources of friendly competition. If you go for a run alone every night, taking a short cut through a subdivision to save 10 minutes might look pretty good – but not so much if you're running with a friend who challenges you.
Competition and teamwork can pushes us beyond the boundaries where we might normally stop.
Sometimes the only thing that will push you out of the funk is a cold hard dose of reality.
When you're feeling burnt out and ready to quit, stop and force yourself to answer some of these questions seriously:
- Question: If I quit right now, will I REALLY start again tomorrow? How about next week?
- Question: What is my life going to look like then, if I quit now? What will I look like 6 months from now? How will I feel?
- Question: How will my family life be affected if I give up? Relationships with friends? Relatives?
- Question: What will I miss out on in life if I never complete this challenge?
Start living now like the person you intend to become
"I learned tons of information and new ideas for healthy eating. I compiled a gigantic grocery list to help me get started cooking my own healthy meals. I knew that if I had a house stocked with everything I needed for healthy meals, there would be no temptation to stray and grab something unhealthy for a quick fix."
~Catherine, author of Rabbit Food for my Bunny Teeth
Do you expect to change up your whole lifestyle while leaving all the rest of that the same?
If you want to be someone who lives a healthy, active lifestyle, start by surrounding yourself with an environment conducive to that reality. Over time you'll find that you fit better into those surroundings, too. Your home, your car, your office, your clothes, your way of life – the condition of all of these things is directly connected with your weight and physical fitness.
Thought: When you open your fridge does it look like a healthy person lives here?
Thought: Do you have an exercise machine at home? If so, is it somewhere easy to access and use?
Thought: Which is easier to find right now – your iPod and running shoes, or the TV remote?
If something in your life doesn't reflect the kind of person you are trying to become, it's time to change it.
Keep a photo log of your progress
As you work out and eat right, your body inevitably changes for the better – but this change is too slow to notice just by looking yourself over in the mirror.
It may sound cliched, but creating a weight loss diary or weight loss album can be incredibly helpful when you start feeling burnt out on your weight loss journey.
There are plenty of options out there - you can upload a new image each day to a public gallery or private album, social media or a simple fitness app that tracks your progress. Whatever method you prefer, you'll start to discover those subtle changes as you compare your first photos with your latest.
One day you will look up and realize you’re a completely different person than you were when you started. You may even want to share your weight loss before and after pictures, or compile a time-lapse video for the world to see.
You could become someone else’s weight loss motivation!
Plan and allow for setbacks in your journey
Striving for perfection is hardly a reasonable goal, yet we all do it. The trouble is, small failures are an inescapable part of the equation.
"I know my diet will never, ever be perfect. I don’t even know what a perfect diet looks like. I don’t think anyone does ... It is possible to lose weight without being perfect. Consistency trumps perfection any day. That’s what I learned 8 years ago, and it not only helped me lose weight, but maintain the loss."
~Roni Noone, founder of FitBloggin'
Studies have shown that willpower works just like your muscles do. When you use it heavily, it weakens temporarily and could fail you if not rested properly. You aren't superman. Sometimes you need a break. You cannot simply "set your mind to it" and somehow willpower your way through it without dropping the ball eventually.
Setbacks will happen. Accept them as part of the plan, and you’ll be better able to push forwards undaunted.
Stop believing that your goal is the “end” of the quest
If your goal is to lose a certain number of pounds and then go back to life as you know it, you’re wasting your time.
Life as you know it is what’s brought you to this point in the first place. If you go back to that life again, you’ll go back to your weight again.
Weight loss is not about temporary solutions – it's about permanent lifestyle changes.
For many people, keeping weight off after they've lost it is even harder than losing it in the first place. Typically this results from embarking into a highly restrictive diet and exercise plan purely to reach a goal, and then stopping.
This is the cardinal failure of restrictive dieting and fad diets in general – they're not sustainable, often unhealthy, and ultimately do nothing to help you maintain your weight after you've reached your objectives.
Nothing is more demotivating than going backwards.
If you want to avoid this, adopt a diet plan and exercise plan that you can live with. When you reach your goals your calorie intake may increase and your fitness routine may settle down – but you cannot stop. Accepting this truth up front will make a major improvement in how you see your routine, the value you place upon it, and how much dedication you will have in sticking to it.
Keep a food and exercise journal
Keeping a journal forces you to take a closer look at your routine and habits.
Simply going through the motions might get you to your destination but it won't help keep you there. If you treat your meals and workouts as a temporary burden to be tossed aside at a later time, there's no point in doing it at all.
Keeping a journal will help you cement your mindset so you’re less likely to fall back. It can also inspire you to learn about and study up on the foods you eat and the activities you perform. These things are a part of the new lifestyle you're trying to adopt - so embrace them and learn to appreciate, perhaps even enjoy them.
One additional help in keeping a journal – it keeps you accountable to yourself. Forcing yourself to write, “today I ate an entire pie,” will provide TONS of motivation to get back on track.
Every unhealthy food or habit has a healthy alternative
You got here because of unhealthy habits. Those habits need to go – but it’s a lot easier to do if you replace them with healthy alternatives.
Food habits are included in this logic. If you’re used to eating a sugary snack every afternoon, simply STOPPING that is going to put a tremendous strain on your willpower. Entirely eliminating a favorite food or food group is a cardinal mistake many dieters make. All this really does is make you crave the forbidden treat that much more.
Find replacements for junk food items you would typically snack on. Having a ready supply of grapes, peaches or other fruit handy can often mean the difference between a 150 calorie snack and a 650 calorie snack. You might not have room for the 150 in your diet plan, but you definitely don't have room for the 650.
Remember that the key to sustainable weight loss is steady progression – and the key to steady progression is moderation.
Example: You don't have to quit drinking soda pop entirely - just limit yourself to 1 or 2 times per week. For bonus points, use this as a reward that you only get when you’ve stuck with your plan.
Get out of your zone
Humans adapt to their surroundings and daily lives. If you spend a lot of time each day picking up heavy things, your body will produce strong muscles to make the job easier and more efficient. Likewise, if you spend all day every day sitting behind a desk, it’s very likely that you will develop a chair-shaped bottom.
This physical adaptation is also what causes fitness and weight loss plateaus. Do the same thing frequently enough, and your body will adapt to handle that thing with as little strain as possible. This is why residential weight loss programs and other effective fitness programs typically use a rotating cycle of activities. Each day offers the body something entirely new to do - preventing adaptation and forcing constant growth.
Mentally, we associate our thoughts with our scenery. It's a proven fact that spending time in a new and unfamiliar setting can inspire improved creativity that simply would not have been unlocked without it. Getting out and doing something new can therefore provide tremendous help in changing your habits and pressing forward to your goals.
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