The jeans don't lie. You knew you let yourself go a little bit, and after throwing the stupid bathroom scale away because it said you were (insert red-flag number here), you went for the true test — slipping on your favorite jeans. Ugh. Not being able to pull your pants past your thighs sure does tell you something. If you're at a loss as to how to begin, here's a no-fuss, straightforward, 11-step guide to losing weight.
- Calories per day: Losing weight is all about creating a calorie deficit. One pound equals 3,500 calories, which breaks down to 500 calories a day. Do a combo of exercise and cutting calories to reach 500, and you'll lose a pound a week. You can meet with a nutritionist or your doctor to find a more specific daily calorie count, but don't dip below 1,200 as it will slow down your metabolism.
- Keep track: Monitor your calories as accurately as you can. Look up calorie amounts and write them down in a food journal, or use a weight-loss app. Everything you put in your mouth gets written down — yes, even that handful of M&M's you grabbed off your co-worker's desk! It may not seem like much, but at 70 calories, those little nibbles will add up. Then weigh yourself once or twice a week to keep track of your progress.
- Measure and repeat: Have measuring cups, spoons, and food scales on hand to measure correct portions. Eyeballing a cup of cereal is not exactly accurate, and you'd be surprised how easy it is to overestimate when you're hungry. In the first few months, you'll need to measure everything from the milk you pour into that bowl of cereal to the dressing you drizzle on your salad. After a while, you'll become familiar with what correct portions look like.
- Eat five times a day: In order to prevent that famished feeling that drives us to overeat, plan on eating three meals and two snacks a day, timing them so you eat every two to three hours. Here's a sample schedule:
7 a.m. — Breakfast
9:30 a.m. — Snack
12:30 p.m. — Lunch
3:30 p.m. — Snack
6:30 p.m. — Dinner
Don't skip meals or snacks to save calories since it'll slow down your metabolism and cause weight gain. If you're up late, enjoy a snack after dinner, but be sure to finish it at least an hour or two before bed so digestive issues don't keep you up — getting enough sleep will help you lose weight.
- What to eat: Every time you nosh, be sure to include protein to satisfy your hunger, fiber to fill you up, and healthy carbs to sustain your energy. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner can be between 300 and 500 calories each, and the two snacks 150 each. Break them down to fit your needs, but you might want your midday meal to be the highest to ensure you have enough time to burn off those calories.
- Save calories: Find simple ways to cut calories, whether it's swapping your daily Coke for water, using one slice of cheese on your sandwich instead of two, substituting spaghetti squash for pasta, or choosing a turkey patty instead of beef.
- Plan ahead: Dealing with hunger is the worst part about trying to lose weight, so in order to prevent those pangs from pushing you to grab the nearest cookie, plan out your meals and snacks ahead of time. Write out what you'll be eating for the entire week, and you'll be even more successful if you pack and label foods for each day.
- Get moving: Diet is one part of the weight-loss puzzle, and the other part is exercise. In order to burn calories to reduce your overall body fat, include 60 minutes of heart-pumping exercise five times a week. A leisurely walk around the block unfortunately isn't enough. We're talking running, biking, swimming, and high-intensity classes for cardio, strength training to build fat-burning muscles, and stretching to keep those muscles supple and to prevent injury. Here's a 60-minute workout to get you started that incorporates all three.
- Set small goals and celebrate them: Losing weight is a long journey, so it's helpful to set smaller goals along the way to your big goal. Find healthy ways to celebrate those milestones such as a pedicure after 10 workouts or a cute workout top after losing five pounds.
- Come to some tough realizations: The first one is that diets aren't the answer. There is no quick-fix diet, no one food you can or cannot eat, that has magical slimming powers. Anything that sounds too restrictive or not nutritionally sound is not the way to go. Find a way of eating that can be sustained for the rest of your life, where you eat healthy most of the time and allow for occasional splurges. The second realization is that you can't go back to your old habits once the weight melts away. If you gained weight chomping on half a dozen donuts each morning, you can bet your sweet new buns that you'll gain the weight back if you head to that bakery shop once the scale says what you want it to.
- Be patient and remember why you're doing it: Just as those pounds slowly crept on, losing weight the right way takes time, which means dropping about a pound or two a week. Practice patience, reveling in each pound lost, and when you feel like giving in to that second cupcake at your friend's birthday party, have one enormously personal reason you want to lose weight that resonates strong and keeps you motivated no matter what. Thinking "I want to be there for my family" is sure to be more effective than "I want to look good in my jeans."