Taking The First Step On Your Weight Loss Journey

Yesterday, I wrote about my before and after pics. Yes, I’m very proud of them, and I like to think I have a damn good reason to be proud of them.

To start with, though, I shared them on Facebook. This led to a lot of people mentioning to me they wanted to start along a similar path, but the trouble was just getting started.

Of course, I offered to help in any way that I could because, well, this is a great damn feeling and I want everyone to get to enjoy it as well. I genuinely want to help these folks. They’re friends. You help your friends.

But I also realized something later. A lot of these people want to start but part of the problem is that maybe they’re intimidated by the idea. Maybe it’s something else. Who knows? I’m not going to judge.

Instead, I decided to step up and come up with a few bits of quick advice to help folks get started from a standstill and maybe make their own awesome before and after pics!

Before I begin, let me issue my standard caveat. This is how I approached my weight loss and, yes, it’s how I recommend others do it. It is not, however, the One True Path. The truth is, there isn’t one. People do all kinds of things that seem to work for them, at least to a point. This, however, is what I tend to recommend for the long haul.

Step One: Eat Home-Cooked Meals

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This is probably the easiest step to make first. If you want to lose weight, stop eating takeout as much and start cooking at home.

Home cooking is generally cheaper than fast food and it also tends to be healthier as well. Additionally, you have more control over the ingredients, which means you have more control over additives and such.

However, don’t expect a massive difference to occur at this point. Sure, you can lose some weight with just this one step, but that’s likely to be limited. The reason for that is that while you’re changing a habit, you’re probably still eating high-calorie meals. At this point, that’s not the end of the world.

What you’re trying to do is establish a new behavior pattern that will serve as the foundation for the future.

Also, a little pro tip here: If it comes out of a box with “Helper” written on it anywhere, it doesn’t count as home cooking.

Step Two: Track Everything

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This is one that tends to bother a lot of people. They say that they don’t want to live like that. They don’t want to measure and weigh their food.

I get that.

However, as I said yesterday, if we could be trusted to make good decisions about our food, we wouldn’t need to do this.

Look, there are a lot of ways you can change your way of eating and lose a fair bit of weight. It’s not absolutely essential you do this as step two.

But what happens when you stall? It will happen at some point. Will you know why? Will you have a clue?

Probably not, and that’s why I recommend tracking everything you eat now. Again, this won’t necessarily have a major impact in and of itself, but it another piece of the foundation moving forward.

However, some people report that just tracking what they eat changes their eating habits significantly. That’s often because they didn’t realize they were consuming so many calories per day, so they adjust based on what they’re seeing.

This may or may not apply to you.

Mostly, though, this is about getting you used to weighing and measuring your food. Don’t feel bad, though. Tons of people do this every day including a lot of people who aren’t trying to lose weight.

Step Three: Set Your Goals

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Before you can start on a journey, you need to know where you’re going. That means setting goals.

To start with, set a long-term goal. This is your tentative end goal. This is where you want to end up when you first start.

This is way on down the road, though, and I’ve found that when you have just a long-term goal, it becomes a bit easier to venture off the path. That means you need something a bit shorter term. For example, let’s say you’re wanting to lose 80 lbs.

Now, that’s a lot of weight. That’s a long trip. If you lose two pounds per week, that’s 40 weeks worth of work, and that’s if you hit that each and every week with no setbacks.

With that goal of 80 lbs, though, you need something a bit more immediate. Let’s go with, say, 10 lbs. The first 10 lbs are a big step, after all, and they’ll take about five to six weeks if all goes well.

After that, you pick another smaller goal and keep on going.

The trick is to keep your eyes fixed on the prize, and using those smaller goals to keep on track.

Step Four: Figure Up Your Calories

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This step is made up of a few different steps, so bear with me for a moment.

You need to figure out how many calories you burn in a day. At the end of the day, weight is generally about caloric intake. Eat too many calories, you gain weight. Eat too few, you lose weight. Eat the right amount and you maintain weight.

It’s just that simple.

For a long time, I heard about people supposedly “naturally” carrying a certain amount of weight, like that was simply what their bodies were meant to carry. I’ve always rejected this because there’s absolutely no evidence to support it.

No, your weight is a reflection of your calories in relation to your metabolism. Basically.

So you need to calculate how many calories you need per day. What you’re looking at is to maintain your weight, as it stands.

“But Tom, I’m wanting to lose weight. Not maintain it!”

Yes, I get that. But you need to use that as a basis to adjust your calories. This calculator here will figure that up for you.

Once you have this, you then need to adjust it accordingly. The way you do that is to figure out how many pounds per week you want to lose. As a general rule of thumb, two to three pounds per week is good, sustainable weight loss.

Now, the rule of thumb is that 3,500 calories equals a pound of body weight. So, if you want to lose two pound per week, that’s 7,000 calories per week.

Let’s take an example from above. Let’s say the person in question is 5’6 and weighs 220 lbs. They want to lose 80 pounds total but want to play it a little save and just lose two pounds per week.

The calculator above says their weight is maintained at 2,869 calories per day. Since they want to lose two pounds per week, that means they need to cut their calories count by 1,000 calories per day, leaving a total of 1,869 calories per day to consume.

Step Five: Make Your Current Diet Conform To Caloric Restriction

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Once before, I lost a pile of weight. I dropped something like 40 lbs that time, and I was pretty proud of myself then.

So what happened?

Well, that time I completely changed my way of eating. I bought nothing but fresh vegetables and ate specific foods to help me lose weight and undid everything I’d been doing. My thinking was that it hadn’t worked well for me, so why not?

Unfortunately, when money got tight, I couldn’t afford to eat like that anymore. It was expensive, and so I let it slide. This created a negative habit of eating badly and all the weight came back. Plus, the fat brought some friends with it.


This time around, though, I started by using the kinds of foods I already ate. That meant canned and frozen vegetables, chicken, beef, pork chops, the occasional fish, rice, instant mashed potatoes, all that jazz.

Now, a lot of people will tell you that this isn’t optimal. I’m willing to concede this point with them. However, I simply don’t give a damn. I need to eat foods that I’m going to have on hand come any odd economic turns. I need the foods my family is generally going to eat, too.

Our pantry hasn’t really changed all that much since I started watching what I eat, and that’s a good thing in my opinion.

An additional upside here is that you already know how to cook all those foods. You’re comfortable with them.

Not only that, but sudden changes to your diet have been known to create some…interesting gastrointestinal issues. By eating the foods you’re used to already, you avoid this.

If your normal meals seem to be way too high and you’re unsure of where to cut calories, I’m going to recommend looking at your starches. Those tend to be higher in calories per serving that vegetables, but lack the protein of the meat on your plate (assuming your an omnivore).

Step Six: Adjust Accordingly

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The first five steps in this are important, but they’re general. They’re generalized for a reason, though, and that’s because this should kind of work for most people.

However, most people are also unique, so while this advice might work perfectly for you on day one, you’ll still find all kinds of challenges that are unique to you.

For example, if your usually home cooking is Italian cuisine, well, you’re going to find that it’s harder to get enough food to not be hungry when you’re eating pasta-based meals. This will require you to find some adjustment.

This is the same with rice-based dishes.

For some folks like that, the adjustments will be significant. The thing is, most folks won’t need to make those kinds of adjustments. They may have to cook a few dishes a little less often or something like that, but they’ll be able to still kind of eat like they normally do moving forward.

The one adjustment you should expect to do is to tweak your caloric intake to keep your weight loss where you want it to be.

You see, the guidelines I’ve presented above are just guidelines. They’re generalizations, and they’re not an accurate representation of you and your biology. As such, you may find that cutting 7,000 calories per week is way too aggressive and you need to up your intake.

Conversely, it may be way too little of a cut and you need to up the ante and cut even more.

That’s fine.

What’s really important, though, is getting adequate protein. The general rule of thumb is to take in 1 gram per pound of body weight or lean body weight, depending on who you ask.

The reason is you want to maintain your lean body mass which includes your muscle.

However, I’m more and more convinced that the general recommendation, while not dangerous, is more aggressive than one needs. I’ve rarely him my protein goals without supplementation (and protein supplements often cause problems calorically for me except as a substitute for a meal) and I’ve managed to maintain my lean body mass.

Carbs and fats are another topic, and I tend to be somewhat low carb, but that’s mostly because I eat relatively few starches these days due to the calorie content. I have also seen more pronounced weight loss since then, but I lost plenty before then too.

My personal opinion at this point is that so long as you’re getting adequate protein, don’t sweat the rest.

Another adjustment you’ll need to make down the road is to adjust your calories down. You see, as you lose weight, your caloric needs will adjust as well. That’s part of why diets that just change what you eat eventually stop working. You’re simply not burning up the food anymore and are just maintaining body weight.

That ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would be, but I hope this can be pretty helpful for folks. What it’s not is the only way to lose weight or the only method that will work.

I’m also not pretending what I’m suggesting is even optimal. In fact, it’s probably not.

What I do think it is, though, is a sustainable way for people to go about losing weight, and that’s far more important to me. Yes, my diet can be better. There are ways I can still do all kinds of things to make my diet “cleaner.”

But I also know that I’m still losing weight and not feeling like I’m eating food other than what I’d usually eat. That’s very important. I’ve cleaned up my diet, but I didn’t make radical changes, either. Healthy foods are lower calorie foods, after all, but I’m also not making radical changes that aren’t sustainable with my family situation.

More importantly, though, it’s what I’ve done, and it sure seems like it’s working so far. But remember, this is just the start.

Edited to add: Yes, this is a complex issue that can’t be covered in a single post, at least in my opinion. But this is a primer to help someone get started. Please don’t take this as the definitive word on losing weight. It’s just based on one person’s experience.

However, there clearly needs to be some additional discussion of just how to implement these ideas. Clearly.

I will add, though, that while I don’t talk much about changing what you eat, that’s because it’s an artifact of following these steps. Trust me, it doesn’t take long before you start figuring out how you can get the most food with your allotted calories.

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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