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Healthy Weight Loss: Reach Your Goals Without Making Sacrifices

A man is shown on the left of the picture hunched forward, blurred toward his right-side image, as he completes healthy weight loss
Fitness Editor
Deborah is our fitness expert and certified trainer. She writes many of our articles about fitness. She also creates free training programs for whatever your goal may be.

If you find it difficult to lose or maintain weight, it might have something to do with your approach. The truth is, there’s no miracle diet, but there are plenty of habits and tricks that will help you reach your healthy weight loss goals.

Lose Weight Effectively

Weight loss happens when you burn more calories than you consume. That doesn’t mean you should cut calories with abandon. In fact, we don’t recommend cutting more than 300 to 500 calories a day, because removing more than that can lead to malnourishment.

If you’re struggling to reach your ideal weight, there are many reasons that might be happening. Find out what factors in your life are sabotaging your goals and what you can do to counteract them. 

It All Starts In Your Head

Figuring out what’s motivating you to lose weight will help you establish a plan that works. Whether you want to feel better or look a certain way, each persons’ reason will be entirely unique.

A pair of white hands cup food in their palms. The left hand holds fresh strawberries, while the right cradles a stack of chocolate bars.
©Chris Ryan

Define Your Healthy Weight Loss Objectives

Once you’ve found your motivation, it’s time to set your goals. Make them as concrete as possible so that you’ll know when they’ve been achieved. For example, aiming to fit into an old pair of pants will give you something tangible to look forward to and help you stay on track. 

Getting Started: Calculating Your Caloric Needs

Now that you’ve set your weight loss goal, it’s time to reach it. One of the most important aspects of any weight loss journey is the amount of calories you’re consuming. 

Not sure how many calories you need to eat to reach your goals? Your daily caloric needs are made up of three components. 

Calorie needs (the total) = body mass index + energy expenditure + resting metabolic rate.

  • Body Mass Index (BMI): the measure of body fat based on the weight and height of an individual. 
  • Energy Expenditure: the amount of calories burned while physically active. This can happen during work or exercise.  
  • Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): the amount of calories burned while resting.

Our tip: If you’re still not sure how to figure out your caloric needs, our free Body Check makes it easy for you.

Discover our Body Check

There are two ways to create a calorie deficit: 

  • You can eat fewer calories by changing your diet. To stay healthy, your calorie deficit should not exceed 500 calories per day.
  • You can increase your calorie needs by exercising more (either at work and/or in your free time).
Two friends, one Black and one white, chomp into burgers
©izusek

It doesn’t matter how many meals you eat as long as you’re staying within that caloric range. Feel free to have a small breakfast and a big dinner or vice versa. Even eating small snacks throughout the day is totally fair game. 

There’s also no reason to avoid indulging in your favorite foods. A burger won’t automatically mess up your plans, in the same way that eating a salad won’t automatically make you thinner.

Is It Better to Start a Diet or Change Your Habits?

In general, diets and eating plans are never as effective as they promise to be. While they may work for a short amount of time, they aren’t designed to create lasting results and often lead to the yo-yo effect. This is a phenomenon that happens when you lose weight on a diet, only to gain back all or more of what you lost once you’re no longer dieting. 

Once a diet is over, many people feel free to return to eating exactly as they did before. But eating too much of anything can lead to adverse effects. This feedback loop leaves a lot of people feeling frustrated, and for good reason! But there’s a better way to feel your best and eat well while doing it. 

For one, being patient is key. Losing weight in an effective and sustainable way is a process that takes time. That’s because you’ll have more success in the long run if you give yourself time to adapt and learn about your new way of eating. No matter how you choose to eat—whether that’s vegetarian, vegan, or something else entirely—following these basic principles will help you lose weight. 

  1. Always get the nutrients your body needs
  2. Include fruits and veggies in every meal
  3. Don’t cut too many calories
  4. Make sure you’re getting enough protein
  5. Don’t starve yourself
  6. Don’t restrict yourself from anything
  7. Treat yourself in moderation

Next, Track What You Eat in a Food Journal

It’s much easier to track your calorie intake once you know what you need. Our Nutrition Diary will help you stay on top of your calorie count and track your weight loss completely free of cost. 

Discover our Nutrition Diary

Try journaling for two to six weeks to give yourself time to adapt to your new eating habits. You’ll only need to keep track of what and how much you eat for the first few days. Start counting the calories after about a week, when you’ve had enough time to get comfortable taking note of your meals.

A woman with short brown hair with bleached tips sits outdoors at a cafe, writing in her journal.
©Cavan Images

After a certain point, you may find that keeping a food journal has taught you to intuitively know what and how much of something to eat. You’ll understand what portion sizes make you feel full and which ones leave you feeling hungry, and that will allow you to nourish your body in the best way possible. Eventually, you may no longer even need your food journal! 

Our tip: Our free Body Check will help you understand the needs of your body in just minutes. 

Discover our free Body Check

Incorporate Exercise Into Your Life 

Working out is a great way to burn calories and build muscle all at the same time. But there are many other excellent reasons to exercise regularly. For one, doing so can have an extremely positive impact on your stress levels, as being physically active reduces cortisol, the stress hormone.

When you exercise, your body uses up energy reserves that are built up by the carbohydrates that you eat. If these go unused, they turn into fat. When you’re working out regularly, you can rest assured that none of those carbs will go unused. In general, working out 2 to 3 times a week will help you reach your goals more quickly.

13 Weight Loss Pitfalls to Watch Out For

There are plenty of little things that could get in your way during your weight loss journey. Here are 12 to watch out for. 

Pitfall #1: Beware of unattainable goals.

Goals that you can’t achieve will only demotivate you. You can’t lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks. Losing weight takes time. Set achievable goals.

Pitfall #2: Stick with water.

Reserve your calories for solid food. Drinking calories won’t make you feel full or satisfied—in most cases, they’ll make you feel sluggish. Opt for water, tea, or sugar-free beverages instead.

Pitfall #3: Stop eating when you’re full.

Don’t worry about cleaning your plate. Despite what Mom or Dad may have said, it’s actually healthier to stop eating when you’re full—even if there’s still a little bit of food left. Pack up what you don’t eat to enjoy later on. 

Pitfall #4: Eat a diverse array of foods

Having a diverse diet is the secret to feeling your best. When in doubt, try to get as many colors as possible onto your plate. Eating a big bowl of lettuce won’t make you feel satisfied in terms of taste or hunger. Instead, opt for nutrient-rich ingredients that also taste great. 

We all need a certain amount of healthy fats, carbohydrates, and protein to feel our best. So don’t avoid fatty foods just because you’re trying to lose weight. Maybe don’t have a burger every day, but be sure to always include something fatty on your plate, whether that’s green pistachios, white feta cheese, or a glug of olive oil. Combine these nutritious, yet high-calorie ingredients with a whole bunch of low-calorie foods, like fruits and veggies. Here are some great examples: 

  • salad
  • spinach
  • broccoli
  • pumpkin
  • cucumbers
  • tomatoes
  • zucchini
  • cauliflower
  • asparagus
  • peppers
  • mushrooms
  • berries
  • watermelon
  • papaya
A black bowl holds a salad topped with fresh berries - not the only key to healthy weight loss, but helpful
©Claudia Totir

Pitfall #5: Stay hydrated.

We often mistake thirst for hunger. So the next time you’re craving a snack, try having a glass of water first. You may find that that’s all you actually needed! 

Pitfall #6: Be careful not to eat out of habit.

Avoid snacking when you’re not hungry, or try replacing your usual snacks with low-calorie alternatives.

Pitfall #7: Avoid emotional eating

Eating delicious things feels good, but it won’t solve the underlying problems – and the calm you feel fades almost as soon as the flavor’s out of your mouth. Set your sights on reducing the connection between empty calories and comfort. Focus on other ways to calm down, whether it’s yoga, a nature walk, mindfulness, or journaling.

A woman sits on the floor in front of an open fridge with a plate full of jelly doughnuts, taking a large bite of one with chocolate glaze.
©cream_ph

Pitfall #8: Eat mindfully.

Taking the time to slowly and consciously enjoy your food will help you more easily notice when you’re full. It’ll also make the experience more enjoyable and meditative. 

Pitfall #9: Watch out for hidden calories.

Even though a small salad may seem like a low-calorie option, there could be a surprising amount of calories in its dressing and toppings. Just be sure you know what you’re getting, though a few extra calories won’t make much of a difference in the long run. 

Pitfall #10: Don’t go shopping without a list.

Having a shopping list will make it easier to get only the groceries you need. And try not to go shopping when you’re hungry, because you may leave with a lot more than you bargained for. 

Pitfall #11: Don’t weigh yourself every day. 

The success of your weight loss should not be limited to the numbers on your scale. Our weight changes on a daily basis because of so many factors, like hormones and what we eat. For example, having a lot of salt one day may cause you to retain a couple pounds of water weight, but it’s not like you gained that amount in fat. We’re more likely to notice these changes when we’re weighing ourselves every day. Instead, try to step on the scale only once a week to avoid fixating on the minor body changes that are totally normal. 

Pitfall #12: Be careful not to stress too much about your weight loss

There are always ups and downs when you’re trying to lose weight. One week you’re dropping pounds, and the next nothing at all. Stay the course and don’t stress. At the end of the day, the goal is to feel your best, both physically and mentally. Try not to overthink small weight gain and don’t be hard on yourself if it takes longer than expected to reach your goals. 

Pitfall #13: Always get enough sleep

Our bodies produce a hormone-suppressing appetite at night, which is why we’re able to sleep for 7 to 8 hours without getting hungry. Not sleeping enough can make you feel hungrier than you actually are, so always make sure to clock a full night of shut-eye.

Healthy Weight Loss: Our Conclusion

  • Motivation is the key to losing weight effectively and sustainably.
  • Set a goal.
  • Calculate your calorie needs.
  • Keep a food journal.
  • Exercise 2-3 times a week.
  • Avoid the traps that slow down weight loss.
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