Strategies for Weight Loss

Medically reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE on November 30, 2016Written by Leslie Goldman, MPH

It seems like everyone wants to offer their advice when you are on a diet. Many of these tips can help you on your path to lasting weight loss, but others will steer you in the wrong direction. The bottom line is that everyone is unique and each person responds to weight-loss strategies differently. Although there’s no foolproof diet that works for everyone, strategies for success do exist.

Commit to change

Acknowledge that losing weight and maintaining that loss requires lifetime dedication. Instead of focusing on a “diet,” cast a wider net. Imagine a lifestyle overhaul.

When people focus solely on the goal of weight loss, they are often left without direction on how to achieve that goal. Or even what to do when that goal is achieved. Instead, look at the habits and choices that helped lead to the problem in the first place. Focus on a healthy lifestyle and subsequently a healthy weight. Set the stage for lasting habits. Once you’ve made the commitment, you can develop an action plan and get started.

Set SMART goals

Keep your goals SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Trackable

This acronym, and similar versions of it, is frequently used in weight management. It’s also a great basis for weight-loss and fitness goals.

“Cut out all dairy, sugar, meat, and carbs” is neither a practical nor a reasonable goal, nor is “Drop two dress sizes in the next six months.” While the latter is more specific, it may not be a realistic goal. It also doesn’t focus on the behavior that you need to follow to get to your goal.

Vague goals can’t hold you accountable like specific ones do. Without specific goals, you can easily jeopardize your weight-loss strategy. You must also be able to track your goals. This ensures that you’re making positive changes to get the results you want. It also motivates you to keep going.

For example, instead of saying, “I will exercise this week,” set a goal to walk around the block after dinner for 30 minutes Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Instead of saying, “I will eat more vegetables,” set a goal to add ½ cup of cooked vegetables to dinner Monday through Friday this week.

Track your goals daily and at the end of the week assess your progress. Then modify, increase, or maintain your goals based on your success. Small, attainable goals will keep you focused, successful, and moving forward.

Be realistic so that you aren’t setting yourself up for disappointment. This can lead to discouragement and send you back to old habits. Despite the double-digit weekly weight loss shown on reality TV competitions, the surest way to achieve the long term goal of safe, permanent weight loss is to set behavior goals.

Weigh yourself regularly and track your progress to make sure your goals are helping you be successful. A goal of losing 1 to 2 pounds per week is reasonable, though this may be slower if you add weight lifting to your exercise regimen. If you track calorie intake, try to consume about 500 to 1,000 fewer calories than you use per day. That’s a good rule of thumb.

Combat portion distortion


Indulging in oversized portions might be common, but it’s a surefire way to destroy weight loss and general health efforts. The plate method of portion control is also a helpful visual. Portion half of your plate to be vegetables with a bit of fruit, a quarter for whole grains, and a quarter for healthy protein. Add healthy fats, such as nuts or avocados, and low fat dairy, as needed. Sit down and focus on your food while you’re eating it. This will help you be aware of how much you eat and how full you’re feeling.

Tips and tricks

  • Use smaller plates and serving utensils.
  • When you eat at restaurants, put half of your entrée into a takeout carton before you start eating.
  • Getting an appetizer for your main dish can help you control your portions. Be careful though — some appetizers have as many calories as some entrees.
  • Look up the nutrition information for the restaurant before you go if possible.
  • Drink a glass of water 15 to 20 minutes before you eat to help manage portions at your next meal.
  • Never let yourself get too hungry. This leads to overeating.

Freshen up your diet


Try not to view your new eating habits as restrictive. You can lower your calorie intake and still include tasty foods in your diet.

Tips and tricks

  • Be adventurous and replace fast food fries with baked sweet potato fries.
  • Swap boring white rice for more exotic (and often even more nutritious) quinoa, amaranth, Israeli couscous, or chia seeds.
  • Make lean ostrich or buffalo burgers instead of using artery-clogging ground beef.
  • Trade your morning cappuccino for creamy no- or low-fat Greek yogurt mixed with honey, flaxseed, berries, and a little high-fiber cereal.
  • Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruits. Dates stuffed with pecans are a sweet and protein-filled snack.

Fill up on fiber

An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found fiber to be protective against weight gain. High-fiber foods take longer to digest, so you’ll feel full longer. Plus, many fruits and vegetables, which are typically high in fiber, contain water. This provides calorie-free volume. Fiber-rich foods that you should add to your snacks and meals include:

  • oatmeal
  • beans and other legumes
  • vegetables
  • whole fruits
  • whole-wheat pasta
  • whole-wheat tortillas
  • high-fiber cereals
  • nuts and seeds

Download to drop weight

Keeping a food diary is another proven tool in your weight loss arsenal. A study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found that people who kept track of the food they ate daily lost twice the weight as those who didn’t.

Taking the time to jot down “tuna on pita bread with carrot sticks” or “mac and cheese” forces you to reflect on your choices. It also provides data for meetings with your dietitian or trainer. That way they can easily identify patterns and areas in need of improvement. Don’t want to track? Take a picture of your meal to send to your support system to get feedback.

Apps are also available that make it easy to track what you eat. Many provide insights into your habits and allow you to track your exercise as well.

Check out this year's best weight loss apps »

Get moving

Yes, you will lose weight by cutting calories. But commit to a daily workout as well. This will boost your burn and ramp up results. In addition to burning calories, you’ll slash your risk of certain medical conditions and lengthen your lifespan. One way to get and stay motivated is to buy a fitness tracker or pedometer. The widely accepted goal is 10,000 steps per day. People who meet that net 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. This can result in reduced blood pressure and increased weight loss.

Make sure you combine cardiovascular exercise such as running or biking with strength training and flexibility training. These three components are the basis of lasting physical health. They can reduce cardiovascular disease, increase bone density, and improve flexibility while reducing aches and pains.

Seek support

It could be your spouse, a coworker, an online support group, a healthcare professional, or a trainer; make sure you have someone who will hold you accountable. It should be someone who will listen to you when you’re frustrated or tired, and also cheer you on.

According to the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, people who are on a weight-loss journey with friends or family members are not only more likely to lose the weight they intend to, they are also more likely to keep it off.

Identify your roadblocks

Be honest with yourself. Identify potential sticky situations before they arise. Then make a plan for dealing with them when they do. If you’re a parent of a toddler and often find yourself finishing your child’s leftover noodles and chicken nuggets, pop in a piece of mint gum to stop mindless nibbling. Chocoholics can prepare for cravings by storing individually wrapped, bite-size pieces in the freezer. When the longing for chocolate hits, unwrap and eat one piece at a time. That way you’ll have to wait for each serving.

One of the most frequent obstacles for people is lack of convenience. Making healthy meals ahead of time takes planning. But having fresh fruits and vegetables cut up and in the refrigerator can make for wise snack choices, opposed to readily available processed, unhealthy snacks. Always have healthy options in the house. Make a shopping list and sticking to it, and avoid shopping when you are hungry.

Push past plateaus

Weight-loss plateaus happen to even the most dedicated person. A plateau occurs when your metabolism changes as it grows accustomed to the new lower weight and lifestyle changes you have made. After a few months of continuous weight loss, you may find your progress stalled despite still dieting and working out. This can be incredibly frustrating.

To break through, you’ll need to decrease caloric intake even further and increase activity to start shedding pounds again. Try cutting 200 calories from your daily meal plan. But don’t put yourself below a 1,200 calories total.

Better yet, bump up your workout time by 15 or 30 minutes, or ramp up the intensity. Incorporate some more walking throughout the day by getting off public transportation one stop early. Walk instead of driving to the grocery store for a few odds and ends. Plateaus happen to everyone. You can and will move past them to reach your goals.

Losing weight and attaining better health is a learning process. It’s one that also doesn’t come overnight. Steadfast commitment is required. But this change will allow you to adopt the healthy habits needed in order to achieve your goals and maintain a healthy weight for life.

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