You know where you want to be. Now all you have to do is get started and keep on going.
Use this roadmap to get results, whether it’s to trim your gut, fit into an old suit, or get on board with your doctor’s advice.
1. Make a Plan of Attack
Should you hit the treadmill first, or clean out your fridge? Or do you have to do both at the same time?
Get ready for some big news. In the beginning, an exercise program doesn't help all that much.
Any major long-term loss really starts with food. “The most powerful factor in losing weight is what you put in your mouth,” says dietitian and personal trainer Janet Brill, PhD.
But don't toss out your sneakers just yet. Exercise does play a big role in keeping the weight off later.
2. Pick Your Battles
Take a hard look at what you eat (or don’t eat). What are the places where you need to make a change? Zero in, and get relentless. Chances are there's a fix for your problem and that it can help make a difference -- fast.
You love your snacks. If treats are your weakness, there's good news. You can still have them. And you should -- it keeps you from eating too much at meals. It also revs your energy, especially as you get older. Got a sweet tooth? Ditch the candy bar and grab some fruit. You'll get a lower-calorie snack full of vitamins and fiber, which helps you feel full. Are crunchy goodies more your thing? Try some nuts. They have protein, which also holds off hunger. You only need a handful because they do have fat. Still, it’s much healthier than what’s in a bag of chips.
You don't like veggies. The tomato and lettuce on top of a burger don't count as a salad. You're gonna have to find ways to work vegetables in. You can start with adding more lettuce to that burger and other sandwiches. Greens have plenty of fiber and they’re good for your heart. Then challenge yourself to try new vegetables. Men over 50 need 2 1/2 cups a day. Here are some starter swaps: Trade roasted asparagus for french fries. Steam, grill, or roast zucchini or squash. Squish with a fork and sub it for mashed potatoes. You’ll get more nutrients, fewer calories, and healthier carbs.
You drink your calories. It’s no secret regular sodas are packed with them. But other drinks that sound healthy often aren't. A can of energy drink has just as many calories as that soda. If you choose the 20-ounce version, a sweet tea has 225 calories, a sports drink has 165, and even a fitness water has 36. And don't forget the adult beverages. Regular beer has about 150 calories, light beer has around 100, and so does a slug of liquor. Keep your alcoholic drinks to two a day. And you might be tired of hearing it, but drink more water. A glass before dinner can help you eat less, Brill says.
3. Step to It
Once you’ve made progress with what you eat, it’s time to ramp up your exercise. The most powerful factor in keeping weight off is your sneakers, Brill says. What's holding you back from getting out there?
You don't have money for a gym. You don't have to join one. Walking is easy for most people and requires no fancy gear. Put on your shoes and hit the sidewalk.
You don't know what to do. The key to sticking with it is to do something you’re going to enjoy, says Lauri Wright, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida. If you like water, swim. If you get into competition, join a rec league. If your folks had to pry you off your bike at the end of the day, get a grownup model.
It's overwhelming. A goal you'll hear often is to take 10,000 steps a day. That's close to 5 miles. And it's a lot if you're starting from zero. Work up to it over time. If you have a smartphone, slide it into your pocket and let it count your steps throughout the day. You'll be surprised how quickly they add up.
You hate exercise. Mix it with something you do like. Use that smartphone to listen to your favorite music, a best-selling audiobook, or that podcast everyone's talking about. And whether you're on the dating scene or married to the love of your life, a walk in the park is always romantic.
4. Be Accountable
You need to track your progress. Wright tells people who are about to start a weight loss plan to take a long look at themselves. “Keep a log of what you eat and what you do so you can look at the problem areas,” she says.
Get a buddy to help. You need someone who can nudge you and keep you on track -- or add healthy peer pressure so you stick to the program. They’ll cheer you on and kick your butt when you need them to.
You can get that kind of support if you join a gym or hire a personal trainer. If that’s out of your budget, or just not your style, find a workout partner. Look for someone who has similar goals and enjoys the same type of workout.
You can go it alone and still get results. But you’re more likely to follow through when you have to answer to another person, Brill says.
Apps, heart rate monitors, and food logs make it easy to track calories with your phone. That’s more data to show you how you’re doing.
5. Enlist a Pro
The bigger your weight loss goal is, the more help you may need. Wright says men who need to lose 50 pounds or more should see a professional, like a dietitian or a health coach. They can set up a structured plan for you. That’s great if you’ve been inactive for a while or if you need a little push.
If you’re making this lifestyle change because of a recent health scare, stay in close contact with your doctor. They’ll want to keep tabs on your heart rate, blood sugar, and blood pressure -- and they'll be thrilled with your progress. They may send you to a physical therapist or exercise physiologist for more pointers.
6. Torch Burnout
Break your big goal into smaller ones. Focus on losing 5 or 10 pounds at a time. If you have a lot to lose, the whole amount will take care of itself.
Look beyond your scale. “We get set on a number,” Wright says. But your cholesterol, blood pressure, or body-fat percentage may be down even if your weight hasn’t caught up yet.
Also, switch up your routine. Add in strength training. Try a new running route, or train for a race. Do whatever it takes to stay interested so you stick with it.