Losing Weight: Getting Started

Losing weight takes commitment and a well-thought-out plan. Getting started on your weight loss journey means changing your lifestyle to eat a variety of healthy foods, get regular physical activity, get enough sleep, and manage stress.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting started.

Step 1: Make a commitment.

Making the decision to lose weight, change your lifestyle, and become healthier is a big step. Start  by making a commitment to yourself.

Whether you have a family history of heart disease, want to see your kids get married, or  want to feel better in your clothes, writing down the reasons you want to lose weight can help confirm your commitment to yourself. Post these reasons where they serve as a daily reminder of why you want to make this change.

Photo: Get started

Step 2: Take stock of where you are.

Ask your health care provider to evaluate your height, weight, and any weight-related risk factors you may have. Depending on your weight category and risk assessments, your health care provider can offer resources to support a healthy weight, including referral to a registered dietitian and other clinical or community programs, FDA-approved medications or devices, or surgery. Ask for a follow-up appointment to monitor changes in your weight or any related health conditions.

Write down everything you eat for a few days in a food diary  [PDF-106KB]. By doing this, you become more aware of what you are eating and when you are eating. This awareness can help you avoid mindless eating. Tracking physical activity, sleep, and emotions along with the food diary can be help you understand current habits and stressors while also identifying areas where you can start making changes.

Next, examine your lifestyle. Identify things that might pose challenges to your weight loss efforts. For example, does your work or travel schedule make it hard to get enough physical activity? Do you find yourself eating sugary foods because that’s what you buy for your kids? Do your coworkers often bring high-calorie items, such as doughnuts, to the workplace to share with everyone? Think through things you can do to help overcome these challenges.

Step 3: Set realistic goals.

Set some short-term goals and reward your efforts along the way. Maybe your long-term goal is to lose 40 pounds and to control your high blood pressure. Then some short-term eating and physical activity goals might be to  drink water instead of sugary beverages, take a 15-minute walk in the evenings, or have a salad or vegetable with supper.

Focus on two or three goals at a time. Effective goals are —

  • Specific
  • Realistic
  • Forgiving (less than perfect)

For example, “exercise more” is not a specific goal. But if you say, “I will walk 15 minutes, 3 days a week for the first week,” you are setting a specific and realistic goal for the first week.

Remember, small changes every day can lead to big results in the long run. Also remember that realistic goals are achievable goals. By achieving your short-term goals day-by-day, you’ll feel good about your progress and be motivated to continue. Setting unrealistic goals, such as losing 20 pounds in 2 weeks, can leave you feeling defeated and frustrated.

Being realistic also means expecting occasional setbacks. Setbacks happen for many reasons—maybe the holidays, longer work hours, or another life change. When setbacks happen, get back on track as quickly as possible. Also take some time to think about how you could prevent setbacks in similar future situations.

Keep in mind everyone is different—what works for someone else might not be right for you. Just because your neighbor lost weight by taking up running, doesn’t mean running is the best option for you. Try a variety of activities such as walking, swimming, tennis, or group exercise classes. See what you enjoy most and can fit into your life. These activities will be easier to stick with over the long term.

Step 4: Identify resources for information and support.

Male female AA adults walking with hand weights in park

Find family members or friends who will support your weight loss efforts. Making lifestyle changes can feel easier when you have others you can talk to and rely on for support. You might have coworkers or neighbors with similar goals, and together you can share healthy recipes and plan group physical activities

Joining a weight loss group or visiting a health care professional such as a registered dietitian can help.

Step 5: Continually “check in” with yourself to monitor your progress.

Revisit the goals you set for yourself in Step 3 and evaluate your progress regularly. If your goal is to walk each morning but you have trouble fitting it in before work, see if you can shift your work hours or if you can walk at lunchtime or after work. Evaluate which parts of your plan are working well and which ones need tweaking. Then rewrite your goals and plan accordingly.

If you are consistently achieving a particular goal, add a new goal to help you continue on your pathway to success.

Reward yourself for your successes! Recognize when you’re meeting your goals and be proud of your progress. Use non-food rewards, such as a bouquet of freshly picked flowers, a sports outing with friends, or a relaxing bath. Rewards help keep you motivated on the path to better health.

Want to learn more?

Losing Weight
What is healthy weight loss and why should you bother?

Improving Your Eating Habits
Your eating habits, not just what you eat, may be leading to weight gain—for example, eating too fast, always clearing your plate, eating when you’re not hungry, or skipping meals.

Keeping the Weight Off
Losing weight is the first step. Once you’ve lost weight, you’ll want to learn how to keep it off.

Treatment for overweight and obesity
Common treatments for overweight and obesity include losing weight through healthy eating, being more physically active, and making other changes to your usual habits.

Choosing a safe and successful weight-loss program.
Here you’ll find tips on how to choose a program that may help you lose weight safely and keep it off over time.

Prescription medications to treat overweight and obesity.
lifestyle changes are not enough to help you lose weight or maintain your weight loss, your health care professional may prescribe medications as part of your weight-control program.

Bariatric surgery
Weight-loss surgery, also known as bariatric surgery, is an operation that makes changes to the digestive system.

Body Image
Creating a positive body image through healthy eating habits.

Strategies for Success
Find resources to help you lose or gain weight safely and effectively.

Weight Management for Youth
Address weight issues in children and teens with healthy guidelines, links to interactive and skill-building tools, and more.

What you should know about popular diets
Learn how to evaluate claims made by weight loss products and diets. Find information to choose weight loss strategies that are healthy, effective and safe for you.

Connect with Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity