Making the decision to revamp your diet and shed some pounds takes courage, dedication, time, and effort, but it absolutely can be done.

Before embarking on any weight-loss plan, it’s wise to check in with your physician, especially if you struggle with any serious weight-related health problems. It’s also smart to surround yourself with other experts, friends, and family members who will support you. Besides shoring up your confidence, they can empathize when you encounter setbacks and offer fresh perspectives on what might work.

Educate Yourself

The seemingly endless weight loss options can be overwhelming. Whether it’s from a magazine, a clinic at a hospital, a storefront at a mall, or a book your coworker lent you, make sure to research each weight loss plan thoroughly. Once you’ve narrowed your options, ask yourself the following questions:

What is day-to-day life on this plan like?

Set yourself up for success by selecting a plan that is doable. For example, if you adore pasta and bread, you are setting yourself up for failure by choosing a low-carb diet. Juggling a full-time job and three kids might leave you with no time to attend weekly weigh-in sessions. Not to worry: There’s a plan out there for everyone.

How many daily calories will I be allotted, and will that change as I lose weight?

Some plans, including cleanses, ask followers to adhere to extremely strict calorie allotments. But too few calories will leave you physically drained and can exhaust your willpower. Not to mention the fact that your body will go into starvation mode, hanging on to the few calories you do put in. Many people have found success with the 500 Rule — slashing 500 calories a day leads to a loss of 1 lb. per week (1 lb. equals 3,500 calories). But for some people, particularly highly active individuals, slashing 500 calories can be too challenging. Plus, the ballpark figure doesn’t factor in sex, activity level, or muscle mass (lean muscle mass and elevated activity increase calorie demands as does being male because men naturally have more lean body mass than women). Check in with your doctor or a nutritionist to get his or her input; these professionals may suggest a more tailored approach to calorie reduction.

Despite the massive weight losses seen on reality TV shows, a safe, attainable goal is 1–2 lbs. lost per week. When you lose at this slower-but-steady pace, you’re more likely to keep the weight off.

What types of foods will I be eating most often, and are any foods considered "bad" or “off limits”?

A sensible weight loss diet will involve plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat or fat-free dairy, healthy fats, and occasional snacks. Take a look at a week’s worth of eating plans, and ask yourself, “Is this doable for me? Would I enjoy eating these foods — not just for a week or a month, but for the rest of my life?” You’ll also be encouraged to drink plenty of water. Today, many experts say that you don’t necessarily need eight 8-ounce glasses a day. Instead, you should drink enough to produce urine that is pale in color—just barely not clear. That indicates a well-hydrated body.

If a plan labels a food or food group “off limits,” it will likely be too difficult to adhere to for an extended period of time. This means as soon as you resume eating that food, the weight will come right back. Similarly, man cannot live on cabbage soup alone.

Does the plan involve physical activity?

Beware of too-good-to-be-true plans that promise weight loss without working up a sweat. Any solid plan will require increased physical activity. Besides torching calories, working out benefits your health in countless other ways: It boosts your mood, raises your high-density lipoprotein (“good”) cholesterol level, and dramatically reduces your risk of a host of chronic diseases, including heart disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

Is there a cost involved, and if so, what is it?

Make sure you can afford the plan, and look for hidden costs. For instance, some programs may require you to purchase the company’s frozen meals, yet others will teach you to shop for groceries on your own. If a plan demands you purchase the company’s supplements, walk away.