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Tips for successful weight loss
Losing weight is difficult. Many women struggle to lose a few pounds and then put the weight back on again. There is no quick fix for losing weight. The key is to focus on small, healthy changes that you can stick with for the rest of your life. Losing weight is part of living a healthier lifestyle. Try some of these tips to help give you the best chance of success.Expand all|Collapse all
Make a plan for success
- Pick a good time to change. Some times in life are more stressful than others. If you have a big change coming up, such as moving, getting married or divorced, graduating, or taking a new job, it may not be a good time to begin losing weight.
- Set realistic goals that can be measured. Do not expect to lose 30 pounds in the first month. Set a goal of 1 pound a week and track your progress. (Talk to your doctor or nurse to find out how much weight is safe for you to lose.) Reward yourself with a fun activity (but not an unhealthy treat) when you meet each goal!
- Work on other health problems first. For example, doctors recommend that if you are severely depressed, you should get treatment for depression before you try to lose weight. If you have sleep apnea, talk to a doctor or nurse about losing weight to help treat sleep apnea or about treating the sleep apnea first. Not sleeping enough, or having bad sleep quality, can contribute to weight gain. Talk to your doctor or nurse about the best time to work on weight loss, taking into consideration any other health problems you might have.
- Plan your meals ahead of time. Most people who eat healthy plan most of their meals ahead of time so that they don’t binge as much on unhealthy food. Figure out which meals you’ll be eating at home for the week ahead. Make a grocery store list for those meals and snacks. Stick to your list when you go shopping.
- Track your food and fitness. There are many free tools that can teach you what to do and track your progress. For example, you can get a personalized nutrition and physical activity plan through SuperTracker. You also can get weight-loss advice and track your weight over time. In one study, women who used a food journal lost an average of 6 pounds more than women who did not track their eating.1
- Make just one change at a time. It can be difficult to change everything you eat all at once. Pick one small healthy eating goal and work on that until you can reach that goal most of the time — or until you figure out why that goal will not work for you. Then pick another healthy eating goal.
- Don’t cut out all treats. It’s tempting to tell yourself that you’ll stop eating all unhealthy foods (like cookies, cake, chips, soda, and French fries) in order to lose weight. This strategy may be easy at first, but it can be difficult to continue over time. You might end up binging on unhealthy foods because you feel deprived. Choose your treats ahead of time, cut back on the number of times you have unhealthy food, and keep the portion size small.
- Think about what you’re eating and why. Notice how you feel each time you eat something. Do you find yourself eating to relieve stress, boredom, or anxiety? Is there a healthier option that you can substitute?
- Choose smaller portions when eating out. Restaurant foods are often high in salt, fat, and calories. Order the small or lower-calorie option, share a meal, or take home part of the meal. Calorie information may be available on menus, in a pamphlet, on food wrappers, or online.
- Drink water first. Sometimes what we think is hunger is actually thirst. Try drinking water before snacking to see if that helps you put off eating until it’s time for a meal. Or maybe you will eat less if you’ve filled up on some water first.
- Treats are OK every once in a while. It can be difficult to stick with a healthy eating plan if you feel deprived all of the time. Eat healthy 90% of the time, but have a less healthy treat sometimes so you don’t feel like you’re missing out.
- Think about your drink. Don’t forget to add in the calories you drink each day. Juices, coffees with syrup or creamer, and flavored water all add calories. Even some diet sodas can have a small number of calories that are not listed on the Nutrition Facts label. Learn more about the calories in drinks at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Rethink Your Drink website.
- Don’t forget about calories from alcohol. It can be difficult to know exactly how many calories are in a glass of wine or a mixed drink. If you drink alcohol and want to lose weight, cutting down on the number of drinks you have each week is one of the easiest ways to lose weight, since you don’t get any essential vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients from alcohol.
- Learn how to cook. You don’t have to be a top chef like on TV, but usually people who eat healthy know how to cook a few simple meals for themselves or their families. If you know how to cook a few easy dishes, you’ll be less likely to order unhealthy takeout or eat unhealthy snacks.
- Prepare and serve smaller portions when you eat at home. It is natural to eat everything on your plate. Solve this problem by putting less on the plate to start. You can also try using a smaller plate. Portion control will help you lose weight over time.
- Make your hands busy. Is there something else you can do if you are not truly hungry? Try something that will keep your hands busy and your mind off food, like knitting, reading a book, playing with your kids, or doing chores that are not in the kitchen.
- Limit screen time. Time spent in front of the screen, especially the TV, is linked to weight gain. Make an effort to eat at the table, and turn off the TV, tablet, or phone. When you’re distracted, you may eat more than you realize, making it tough to lose weight.
- Lift some weights. Muscle burns more calories than fat. Aim for two or three strength-training sessions a week. Allow a day or so in between workouts for your body to rest.
- Walk. Most women need about 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, like cycling or brisk walking, most days in order to be healthy. Getting enough physical activity not only helps you maintain or lose weight, it lowers your risk for many diseases and boosts your mood.2 To lose weight by exercising and without cutting calories, you will need about an hour or more of moderate physical activity on most days.2
Get mentally healthy
- Deal with stress. Stress can make weight gain more likely.3 Find ways to unplug and lower stress that work for you. Some options include meditation, yoga, reading, religious worship, spending quality time with friends and family, learning a new healthy recipe, trying out a new physical activity like bicycling or an exercise class, or volunteering in your community.
- Separate your self-worth from your weight. Weight, for women, is often a sensitive issue that many have been dealing with for their entire lives. Weight is important, but it is just one indicator of your health. It helps to be comfortable with who you are regardless of your weight. Having overweight or obesity does not make you a bad or weak person. Successfully losing weight is often a matter of trying different strategies until you find out what works for you. It often requires dedication and perseverance, but it’s OK if it doesn’t work out at first.
Don’t give up!
- Keep trying. One of the keys to weight loss is to keep trying. If a certain strategy doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t mean you are a failure. As long as you learn something from that particular experience, it can give you valuable insight into what might work better for you in the future.
- Accept a temporary discomfort. Losing weight is not always fun or easy. Sometimes it can be emotionally difficult to face issues that contribute to unhealthy eating. Sometimes you might feel hungry, or left out if friends or family are indulging. Know that feeling uncomfortable will pass and does not last forever.
- Find inspiration. Sometimes women find it easier to make healthy changes for someone else — to benefit their unborn child or to get ready for a family milestone like a wedding or reunion. Whether your inspiration is the image of yourself wearing a smaller dress size or lowering your blood pressure so that you don’t need medicine anymore, keep your inspiration in mind when you’re tempted to eat unhealthy foods or skip your exercise routine.
- Find new rewards. We all enjoy eating and have rewarded ourselves with ice cream or cake in the past. If you’re trying to lose weight, it can be difficult to substitute other rewards. Figure out ahead of time what makes you feel good — taking a long bath, spending time with loved ones, enjoying a hobby. Then, when you have something to celebrate or want to indulge, you’ll be prepared with healthy and rewarding activities.
- Focus on sleep. Sleep plays an important role in weight management. Studies show that not getting quality sleep or getting fewer than 7 hours of sleep at night can lead to weight gain.4 If you find that you struggle with sleep, you may need to talk to your doctor or nurse. Try not to use sleep medicines often. Most sleep medicines can lead to weight gain. Learn more about sleep and sleep medicines on our Insomnia page.
- Talk to your doctor or nurse about the medicines you take. Many prescription medicines women take can lead to weight gain. Medicines that are prescribed for depression, sleep problems, high blood pressure, and diabetes can cause weight gain. Your doctor or nurse might be able to prescribe a different medicine that does not lead to extra weight.
- Try something different. If you tried losing weight on your own in the past and it didn’t work, try joining a weight-loss group. If your partner isn’t willing to eat healthy along with you, talk about how they might support you in the future. Figure out some of the reasons why you weren’t able to lose weight before and do it differently next time. If you are still challenged, consider seeing a doctor who specializes in weight management.
- Kong, A., Beresford, S.A.A., Alfano, C.M., Foster-Schubert, K.E., Neuhouser, M.L., Johnson, D.B., et al. (2012). Self-Monitoring and Eating-Related Behaviors Are Associated with 12-Month Weight Loss Among Postmenopausal Overweight-to-Obese Women. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; 112(9): 1428-1435.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2008). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Chapter 2: Physical Activity Has Many Health Benefits.
- Wardle, J., Chida, Y., Gibson, E.L., Whitaker, K.L., Steptoe, A. (2011). Stress and Adiposity: A Meta-Analysis of Longitudinal Studies. Obesity; 19(4): 771-778.
- Chen, X., Beydoun, M.A., Wang, Y. (2008). Is Sleep Duration Associated With Childhood Obesity? A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Obesity; 16(2): 265-274; and Cappuccio, F.P., Taggart, F.M., Kandala, N.B., Currie, A., Peile, E., Stranges, S., et al. (2008). Meta-Analysis of Short Sleep Duration and Obesity in Children and Adults. Sleep; 31(5): 619-626.
The Office on Women's Health is grateful for the medical review in 2018 by:
Kathryn McMurry, M.S., Nutrition Coordinator, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Fatima Cody-Stanford, M.D., M.P.H., M.P.A., Obesity Medicine & Nutrition, Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center, Harvard Medical School
All material contained on these pages are free of copyright restrictions and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Citation of the source is appreciated.
Page last updated: March 13, 2018.
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