When you need to lose weight, just getting started can be overwhelming. After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to give you advice on everything from crash diets to effective sweating techniques. When you throw in supplements, spa treatments, exercise trackers, apps, and alternative therapies, it’s enough to make anyone want to give up.

We’re here to offer hope and guidance—our guide to weight loss is meant to cut through all the confusion and get you started in the right direction. This advice is based on science, not fads, and proves that with determination and commitment, you can get to a healthy weight for your body.

Know Your Body

It’s most likely that, while you were growing up, your doctor weighed you, took your height, and compared both those numbers to a BMI chart that determined if you were underweight, average, overweight, or obese. In fact, that BMI chart is still used by everything from gyms to weight loss centers, and most of us use our BMI index to tell if we’re in shape or not.

There’s a huge problem with that: the BMI chart is not completely accurate. It doesn’t take into account body type or muscle mass and gives sharp delineations between “average” and “overweight.” Don’t look at the BMI chart and don’t just go by the numbers on a scale. There are two numbers that do matter and those can aid your weight loss:

1. Your measurements – When you begin to lose body fat, your body measurements will reflect the thinner you, even though the numbers on your scale may not move. That’s because fat is puffy and gelatinous while muscle is lean and weighs more per cubic inch. In fact, if you begin lifting weights, your body weight may increase, even though you look tighter and thinner. The numbers on your scale mean very little: measure your waist, chest, legs, and arms when you want to track your progress.

Also, be realistic. If you’re an apple-shaped woman, you’ll still be apple-shaped even at a lower body fat percentage. There’s a difference between trying to lose body fat and trying to change the actual shape of your body.

2. Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) – Knowing how many calories your body burns naturally is a great start when you need to know how many calories to eat. However, that number varies greatly from person to person and can be affected by things like a lifetime of yo-yo dieting and a sedentary lifestyle. So, for an accurate measurement, consider getting an RMR reading through a facility with an RMR machine. It’ll run you about $60-75 for a test, but once you know how many calories your body is burning, you’ll be able to adjust your eating habits accordingly. Fitness apps like MyFitnessPal will even tell you how much weight you’ll lose based on how many calories you’re eating daily.

Oh, and there’s something else you need to do: get a blood test. Before embarking on a weight loss journey, go to the doctor and have him run a full blood panel, including testing your thyroid. Why? Because certain conditions (like hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome) can hinder your weight loss, even when you’re eating perfectly and exercising regularly. There’s no danger in exercising and eating well, but if you do have a condition that could factor into your body being weight loss-resistant, it’s better to know it beforehand so that you can alter your expectations and be gentle with yourself when the weight doesn’t just fall off.

It’s also a good idea to discuss weight loss with your doctor in relation to the medications you’re currently taking. There are many, many medications on the market that cause weight gain (like certain birth controls and depression medications, for instance), so ask your doctor for advice.

Eating

Diet is the number one factor of weight loss. Yes, exercise is important, but you can easily out-eat a productive hour at the gym. If you want to change your body, you must start by changing your eating habits. Every January, new fad diets hit the shelves, but you’re too smart to fall victim to those. Instead, start with what makes sense. Here are the top things you can do to incorporate meaningful changes to your diet:

EAT LESS SUGAR

I know, I know: that’s like suggesting you drive your car into a lake. However, sugar is highly addictive and when eaten in excess, is converted to fat. Yes, sugar can be hard to eliminate from the diet seeing that almost every packaged food (such as ketchup, pasta sauce, and even dried fruit) contains added sugar. In fact, Americans now eat 77 pounds of added sugar per year. That’s 77 pounds of unnecessary calories. See why it’s such a good idea to give it up for good?

You can still keep fruit in your diet and still use sugar substitutes, but by making this one change, you’ll find your weight will drop and your overall health will improve. Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to eliminate sugar from your diet: it’s hard, and you may even feel sick while your body goes into withdrawal. But reducing the amount of added sugar in your diet will definitely kickstart your weight loss.

START TRACKING

There are tons of free tracking apps to help you count calories (and steps, in some cases). Why bother? Because once you start tracking your calories, you may be surprised at how many calories are in the food you eat and you’ll be inspired to make healthier choices. One Cinnabon, for instance, has 855 calories. For many of us, that’s almost half our entire daily caloric intake. Oh, and your favorite Starbucks drinks? A pumpkin spice latte with whipped cream is 420 calories. That’s about how many calories most people spend on lunch or dinner. But you can’t make meaningful changes if you don’t know how many calories are in the foods you’re eating.

Even if you decide to keep sugar in your diet, counting your calories will have a significant impact on your weight loss. Get started with MyFitnessPal or LoseIt— they’re both free apps that will help you easily track your food and manage your weight loss.

COOK MORE

For most of us, cooking is more of a chore than a delight. However, studies show that cooking at home is an easy way to avoid unnecessary calories. You’ll be able to control exactly what goes into your food, how it’s prepared, and how big your portion size will be: none of that is at your discretion at a restaurant. The psychological impact of cooking for yourself also can’t be emphasized enough. Cooking for yourself can be a transformative experience; you’ll develop a relationship with food and a new appreciation for the ingredients in your meals.

Again, this solution isn’t easy (and, frankly, easy solutions don’t deliver the kind of long-term weight loss you want) and you’ll make many mistakes. Thankfully, there are millions of recipes (go on Pinterest for a quick start) and bloggers who will help you each step of the way.

Exercise

For most of us, exercise is the most intimidating part of weight loss. It requires vulnerability, hard work, and a whole lot of sweat. For women, there’s nothing scarier than going to a gym surrounded by women who are already thin. For men, there’s nothing worse than showing up to a weight room filled with beefy, muscled men.

We’ve got good news: you don’t have to go to a gym. In fact, you don’t have to leave your living room if you don’t feel like it. There’s a dizzying amount of companies who offer customized workouts and daily workouts to keep you from getting bored from the same routine. We live in a time where there are more gyms, workouts, boot camps, and fitness technology than there ever has been.

So what’s the one magic bullet to change your body? There isn’t one. In fact, though High-Intensity Interval Training is the latest workout routine to gain traction (it promises to burn more fat than regular cardio), not even HIIT is better than other similar workouts. According to Shelley Keating, a research fellow in the University of Queensland’s Center for Research on Exercise, Physical Activity and Health, the type of exercise doesn’t matter as much as the volume. What that means for you personally is that the best exercise for you is the exercise you’ll commit to long-term. It does no good to do Crossfit for a month and then stop exercising altogether: you may see your body change within that month, but shortly after you stop, your body will go back to where it was before all that heavy lifting. Even if it’s something as low-impact as walking, if you commit to walking several miles a day, your weight loss journey will be helped. Just find something you love that gets you moving, then stick with it.

Support

Because long-term weight loss is so difficult, you’ll need a support circle. The American Psychological Association found that participants in a Weight Watchers support group lost three times the amount of weight that participants who tried to lose weight by themselves. That means that, if you lost ten pounds on your own, you may have been able to lose thirty pounds with support.

But if you think the only kind of support is through paid weight clinics like Weight Watchers, think again: there’s support out there that only costs your time. There are hundreds of online forums like Weight Loss Buddy, Three Fat Chicks on a Diet, and HealthfulChat where you can form support groups with people from all over the world. You’ll find the accountability to help keep your weight loss on track and discover tips and tricks like how to make all your favorite foods without blowing your calorie budget (spaghetti squash instead of real spaghetti, for example). Your support group can be the understanding friends you need to lean on when you feel like eating a slice of cheesecake instead of a salad.

Supplements

There are a lot of supplements out there promising to help you lose weight quickly. Here’s a pro tip: there’s no supplement that will magically give you a beach body. The wrong supplements can make you dehydrated (sure, you’ll lose “weight,” but it will all be water), jittery, and anxious, and you’re guaranteed to gain any weight you lose right back after you stop taking the supplement.

However, a good, high-quality, scientifically-backed supplement can support your weight loss journey. Check out LifeVantage’s PhysIQ line, which features a combination of ingredients like B vitamins, Svetol, and Sinetrol to boost your weight loss efforts. We recommend it over gimmicky weight loss products because it’s been brought to market after scientific trials with real people, testing for both safety and efficacy. There are weight loss clinics popping up (and there’s most definitely one in your city) promising a doctor-guided weight loss regimen, but a word of warning: they rely on the prescription phentermine, which has serious side effects and is only for short-term use. It’s better to rely on the tried-and-true methods of weight loss, which may be slower, but are ultimately better for your body.

Get Started

There are many, many benefits to losing weight, and you can absolutely do it, especially now that you know some of the best ways to get started. Oh, and if you’re wondering when the best time to get started is, it’s now. There will always be birthdays, holidays, and after-work parties coming up, so don’t put off getting started just so you can indulge one last time. Sure, beginning something challenging is easy to avoid, but the sooner you begin your new lifestyle, the sooner you can enjoy the benefits.

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