As you begin your weight loss journey, you may be tempted to start with major changes and extreme measures in pursuit of your weight loss goal. However, as unsexy as it may sound, losing weight is a marathon, not a sprint. If you follow a drastic fad diet or try to go from sedentary to working out for hours every day, you’ll probably burn out before you have a chance to see results.
On the other hand, you may be overwhelmed and unsure of how to go about getting started in the first place.
We get it.
There’s a lot of information (and misinformation) out there and you may be struggling because of failed attempts in your past. Not to worry, we’ve done the planning for you to help simplify your weight loss journey and get you started on the right foot.
Whether this is the first time you’re taking steps to lose weight or you feel like you’ve been running in circles for years, here are three simple ways to set yourself up for a successful weight loss journey.
- Determine your “true” starting point
The first step on your weight loss journey is to establish your baseline. Understanding your starting point lets you map out a personalized weight loss plan and measure your progress along the way. It also helps you from falling into the trap of comparing yourself to people who may be at a different starting point from you.
Speaking of frustrating comparisons: While your weight is a helpful baseline element, it’s not the only one. When you factor in your age, height, gender, and weight, it can give you an idea of where you are health-wise. However, you need to look beyond the scale to your body fat percentage and fitness levels.
Body fat percentage has proven a more reliable measure of health than body mass index (BMI). Professionals use tools like DEXA scans or caliper tests, but here’s a quick and dirty DIY formula you can try at home:
- For women, use a soft tape measure to measure your neck, natural waist, and hips at the widest points. Then add your waist plus hip measurements and subtract the neck measurement. Compare the resulting number and your height (in inches) to benchmarks on a body fat chart to determine your estimated percentage.
- For men, the calculation is slightly different. Measure your neck and abdomen at the widest points. Subtract the neck measurement from the abdomen measurement for the value to compare, along with your height, to a body fat chart for your estimated percentage.
Assessing your starting fitness level is another aspect of establishing your baseline. You can start out by determining your resting heart rate, or the number of times your heart beats each minute while you’re at rest. When you’re relaxed, find your pulse at your wrist and count the number of pulses you feel in 15 seconds. Multiply that number by four, and you have your resting heart rate. For adults, the average is 60 to 100 beats per minute. The more fit you are, the lower your resting heart rate will be because your heart isn’t working as hard to do its job.
Another way to assess your current fitness level is to find out the maximum number of push-ups, sit-ups, squats, and pull-ups you can do consecutively without stopping. You can then compare your score — the total number of each exercise you can complete — with benchmarks like this physical fitness evaluation to see where you’re starting and to determine your goals. For example, a woman of average fitness in her 30s can complete 16 consecutive pushups, 34 sit-ups, 18 squats, and may or may not be able to do a single pull-up.
Because planks are a fundamental core exercise, the length of time you can hold a plank position is another helpful baseline assessment. If you can hold a plank for 30 seconds, that signals your core is in good shape. A woman considered to be in above-average shape can hold a plank for 60 seconds or more, while a man considered to be in above-average shape can hold a plank for 90 seconds.
As you continue on your weight loss journey, measure your progress by repeating the same exercise tests at six-week intervals.
- Set realistic goals
Once you have established your baseline, set your goals. Yes, it’s important to set realistic, long-term goals (e.g., lose 20 pounds in six months), however, you’ll also want to create milestone goals. These will help you stay motivated along the way during your weight loss journey. Go ahead and track the pounds you lose, but also consider setting goals related to body composition and fitness levels. In order for your goals to be meaningful, make them SMART. This acronym stands for:
Vague aspirations like “lose weight” or “get in shape,” makes it really difficult to track your progress. To make your goals SMART, add specific details with measurable metrics and deadlines. So instead of “get in shape,” use the results of your benchmark fitness tests to create milestone goals. For example, if you can do six consecutive push-ups right now, then your milestone goal might be to double that number within four weeks. You can then create an actionable fitness routine to help you meet that goal.
- Measure what matters
Now that you’ve figured out where you’re starting from and where you want to go on your weight loss journey, it’s time to measure your progress. A helpful note to remember: The number on the scale isn’t always the best measurement. As your body changes, such as by building muscle and losing fat, you may also lose inches from your waistline without seeing your actual weight decrease. That’s because tracking weight alone isn’t the best indicator of how your health is improving.
During your weight loss journey, track the metrics that matter: inches lost, actual fat loss, how your clothes are fitting, and gains in fitness levels. Seeing the tangible ways you’re getting stronger can be motivating as well as enlightening. Those improvements in strength and endurance are helpful indicators of not only the progress you make but also the new things you’re now capable of.
Establishing baselines, realistic goals, and meaningful measurements of success will be key, especially if you’ve struggled when taking steps toward losing weight before. Combining these elements with a nutrition plan, exercise regimen, and a strong support or accountability system will make it easier to create a step-by-step plan toward your weight loss goals.
Have additional fitness and nutrition questions? Download the Sworkit app and click the “Ask a Trainer” link in the Help Center to get one-on-one guidance from a certified fitness trainer.