If 50 pounds is your goal, the road ahead is going to be bumpy at times, sure, but the destination will be so worth the trip. Not only will you be slimmer and fitter, you’ll also be at significantly less risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and many of the other not-so-great byproducts of being obese or overweight.
As with any great adventure, this journey begins with a roadmap. Use these nine tips from fitness trainers and weight-loss experts to navigate the ups and downs, roadblocks and victories that you’ll experience along the journey to being 50 pounds lighter.
As the old saying goes, you didn't gain the 50 pounds overnight, so don't expect it to disappear in a flash. Instead of focusing on the total amount, which can be overwhelming to say the least, take it one pound at a time.
Sarah Ann Kelly, fitness trainer with Mom Trainer, recommends shedding no more than one to two pounds per week for safe, sustainable weight loss. "Keep in mind that you will likely see the most weight loss in the first couple of weeks, and it will get harder as you get fitter," Kelly says. "Try not to get frustrated, but make adjustments as needed."
And don't be seduced by the drastic and immediate results you see on reality shows—in most cases, those participants have a lot of weight to lose and are under strict medical supervision. In the real world, trying to shed major pounds in an abbreviated timeframe is a recipe for gaining it back later, or even jeopardizing your health.
"Slow weight loss is sustainable weight loss," says fitness trainer Julia Buckley. "You can’t, and shouldn’t try, to reach your goal weight in a matter of weeks, or even months. Once your body adjusts to your new lifestyle, the weight will come off. It’s not a race."
Find an inspirational mentor.
Any tough endeavor becomes easier with a support system. Try to find a friend who is just as committed to exercise and nutrition as you'll need to be to reach your weight-loss goal. "I highly recommend reaching out to someone who is in the same boat as you, even if they have less [weight] to lose," says Kelly. "You'll need someone to help if you're feeling stuck, and you can help them stay on track, as well."
Ideally, try to choose a supporter who can also serve as an ongoing source of inspiration. For instance, if you've always admired a co-worker's dedication to her lunchtime workouts and healthy prepped lunches, a fitness instructor's motivational pep talks or even a celebrity's uplifting social media posts, make them a daily positive influence—while keeping in mind that they may have different goals and fitness levels.
Know exactly what you're eating.
A bite of your son's macaroni and cheese here, a sip of a milkshake there—all of those extra calories add up over the course of a day, week and month. Nutrition coach Kristy Stabler suggests using an online food tracker or smartphone app to log everything you eat and drink for seven days to get a clear picture of your normal intake. Take care to note snacks and "just a nibble" items, too—soon you may notice a pattern developing, and you can use that knowledge as you plan your next move.
"Once you know what your maintenance diet looks like, you can choose a direction to go for weight loss," she says. "Yes, I know, logging your food is no fun, but if losing 50 pounds is your goal, this is a must."
Cut a healthy number of calories.
After you've logged your food for a week and determined your typical food intake, Stabler says you can lower your calories, depending on how quickly you want to lose (and how much food you're willing to give up). While cutting down on your calorie intake and committing to the right kinds of calories is vital in any weight-loss plan, many people mistakenly go to extremes in hopes of speeding up the process. However, more often than not, this is actually detrimental to your goals, since you need to fuel your body if you’re exercising. "Hunger will always be felt at times in a weight-loss phase, but if you're starving all the time, you most likely cut too many calories," Stabler says.
If your weight loss sputters and stalls, she suggests going back to tracking your food intake. "It's possible your portion sizes could have crept up without you realizing it, or perhaps you just need to cut calories again as you drop weight," she says.
Step off the scale.
We live in a scale-obsessed society, and it can be tempting to step on every day—or multiple times a day—to gauge the effects of your weight-loss regimen. But as Stabler points out, your body mass may not be the best indicator of results. In addition to the scale, she suggests also taking girth measurements and progress pictures.
"Weight loss is never perfectly linear—the scale will go up and down day to day, so don't let a daily weigh-in knock you off course," she says. After all, you and your doctor are the only ones who see that number, so try to focus more on how you look and feel than where the needle stops or what the digital readout says.
Mix up your workouts.
When you're trying to lose 50-plus pounds, exercise is an essential ingredient for success, but it's important to mix up the recipe now and then. If you're running the same three-mile route every day and not seeing the desired changes, consider it a sign that it’s time to mix it up. When you do the same workout day after day, your body adapts to the activity and becomes more efficient at performing it, which makes it less challenging and decreases the results.
"Burnout and injury are much more likely if you do the same workout every day," Stabler points out. She describes the ideal week as consisting of a couple days of weight training, a day or two of more cardio-based exercise—such as a spin class, boot camp or brisk walking—and perhaps a day of yoga or deep stretches. Taking group fitness classes can be a fun way to crank up your intensity and try new things. Most importantly, experimenting with different workouts will eventually lead you to one you love, or at least can tolerate. This will make it much easier to stick to your routine over the long haul.
Focus on your strength.
When you're on a weight-loss journey, it's oh-so-easy to get slightly obsessed with how many calories you're burning and how much you're losing—which can sometimes lead to burnout, frustration and setbacks. Instead, shift your focus to how much stronger you are becoming. With each run, each spin class, each weight-training workout or each yoga session, think about how every element of your body—your muscles, your lungs and, yes, your mind—are changing, growing and strengthening. Relish the byproducts of activity and strength, like confidence, wellness and, ultimately, a healthy weight.
Don't underestimate the magic of daily movement.
While it's great to attend a group fitness class or tackle a long run or walk, there will inevitably be days when you don't have time for that type of structured exercise—but that doesn't mean you have to resign yourself to holding onto extra calories. Outside of your workouts, you can still burn plenty of calories through your daily low-level activities, such as doing laundry, walking the dog, hauling groceries inside or doing yard work. You might benefit from using a step tracker to incentivize you to move more throughout the day, both in and out of the gym. Not only will your body thank you for taking a few minutes to walk around the office or do a minute of squats while you’re at the playground with the kids, but you’ll also be surprised by how much little bursts of movement affect your mental clarity and energy levels.
Build one good habit at a time.
Trying to change too much, too fast is a recipe for frustration. "Rather than making drastic changes, start with a small, easy change and then build on it with another good habit," recommends personal trainer Shane McLean. For example, commit to going for a walk every day for the next 14 days, with the only requirement being to try to beat the distance you walked the previous day. At the end of the two weeks, you will be fitter, lighter and ready to take on another good habit.
Buckley advises her clients to ease into things, especially when they’re starting an exercise program for the first time. "If you try to go from zero exercise to HIIT workouts, you’re going to hurt yourself," she warns. "If you try to eat 2,000 calories per day when you’re used to hitting 3,000, you’re going to be hungry. Weight loss isn’t easy, but it’s harder when you try to change too much too quickly. Focus on making small changes, one at a time."
While losing 50 pounds may not be as easy as gaining it, the right strategies, support and outlook will bring your weight-loss goal within reach.