I am continually amazed at the amount of misinformation out there on how to lose weight: low carb, low fat, high fat, high protein, blood type, body type, the list goes on and all of them claim that THIS is the way you are finally going to lose weight. What’s even worse is that they WILL work, but they’ll only work for a little while and because they work for a little while that’s what ropes you into believing in the diet, and the next diet, and the next one after that.
The same goes for workouts. Women are told to use light weights and do heavy reps so they don’t bulk up, or that a certain type of exercise will give you a long lean look. Maybe you believed that cardio was the secret to losing weight so you go to the gym and spend all your time on the cardio equipment. And what happens? Nothing. You look the same as you did the day you walked into the gym determined to finally lose the extra weight.
If you are reading this, I’m betting that by now you know that quick-fix diets don’t work and you’re ready to do the work that’s needed for lasting results.
We’ve since I've become a personal trainer, I've seen the diets out there that promise amazing results in 15 mins a day, or the “eat whatever you want and still lose weight diet” They don’t work, there is no magic bullet to weight loss and if you’re going to get lasting results, take the weight off, feel energized, and do it in a healthy way; You’ve got to do the work. It’s that simple.
So let’s get into what, exactly, you need to do to permanently lose the extra weight. I know it may seem impossible if you’ve been dealing with this your whole life, and even more out of reach if you’re over 50. Because, let’s face it, it does get harder as you get older.
I’ve broken this down into 6 steps to help you navigate this journey.
STEP 1 YOUR BIG WHY
The first step, and one that is most commonly skipped, is taking time to discover the why behind you wanting to lose weight.
Too many times, when beginning a program, the reasons I hear are: I have a wedding coming up, or a vacation in 6 months and I have to put a bathing suit on, or I’m tired of being overweight, I want to have more energy.
Those are all great reasons but they are not compelling enough to keep you going when the going gets tough. We all have bad days, we all feel like throwing the towel in at times, and if you’re going to get past those sticking points, you need to have a strong, emotional connection to WHY you want to reach your goal.
Ask yourself why do you want to do this? Why do you want to have more energy? Why do you want to look good in a bathing suit? Keep asking why until you uncover a deeper meaning and therefore attachment to your goal. You may want to download Your Personal Weight Loss Worksheet. This will help you organize your thoughts and put together a plan to get you started.
STEP TWO YOUR UNIQUE STARTinG POINT
Next you need to know YOUR unique starting point. Think about this, when you start a diet, they give you guidelines, usually how many calories to eat per day, or how many grams of carbs or fat you can have. But they don’t take into account if you’re currently eating 1,000 calories a day or 3,000 calories a day. The same holds true for a lot of exercise programs: they don’t take into account what your starting point is.
Have you been working out for a year, your whole life, or not at all? Do you sit at a desk all day? If so, you probably need to work on stretching your pectorals and strengthening your glutes and hamstrings instead of doing jump squats.
So the problem starts right from the beginning of the program, they don’t know what you’re doing NOW or what sort of physical condition you’re in NOW. And without knowing that, there’s no way of knowing what needs to be changed nutritionally or where to start your workouts in a way that sets you up for long term success.
Track your nutrition: don’t change a thing for at least 4 days and be sure to include both weekday and weekend days. We tend to eat very differently on the weekends and it’s important to take that into account. Be honest in your tracking, it’s not going to do you any good to leave off the bag of chips you ate while watching TV, or the small snacks you’ve had through out the day.
What you’re looking to get out of this are two things:
Now you need to know where you are physically. But don’t just weigh yourself, that’s only part of the story. You could actually gain 5 pounds of muscle, lose 5 pounds of fat, and go down 2 sizes AND IT WOULDN’T SHOW ON THE SCALE. It’s not that muscle weighs more than fat. A pound is a pound… it’s that a pound of muscle takes up about 1/5 of the space that a pound of fat takes up.
This is what you want to measure:
Lastly take a look at your daily habits. Are you sitting at a desk all day? Do you tend to go all day without eating, and then eat everything in site when you get home from work? Do you eat out 2,3, or 4 times a week? Are you having wine with dinner a few too many nights a week? Or maybe you THINK you get to the gym 4 – 5 times a week but when you track it, you learn you’re really only averaging 2 – 3 times per week. Maybe you go all day without drinking water?
Whatever it is, you need to decide which habits are you going to work on first. Don’t attempt to change everything all at once. Changing 1 maybe 2 things at a time, you are more likely to create a lifestyle change; or a “good” habit.
STEP 3 DEFINE YOUR GOALS
In order to be successful, you need to define your goals. Obviously without knowing where you want to go, it would be almost impossible to get there.
The problem is most people, when I ask them to write down their goals it looks something like this: Lose weight, increase my core strength and tone up.
Does that sound familiar? If so, this could be another reason you’re having trouble reaching your goal. The “goals” listed here are very vague and there’s absolutely no way to measure whether or not your on track.
What you need to do is create SMART GOALS. SMART stands for
Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, & Timely; not that you need to check off each box as you write out your goals, but your overall goal should fit this criteria.
Using the examples above you can change those goals into smart goals like this:
The reason it is so important that you follow these guidelines is because you need to be able to evaluate your progress as you move towards your goals. Not only do you want to know if you’re on target for reaching your goal, but more importantly, if you’re NOT on the right track, you’re going to want to know as soon as possible, so you can change what you’re doing. (Another reason tracking is so important!) If you’re not tracking you won’t know what to change.
STEP 4 BALANCING ENERGY IN & ENERGY OUt
In order to lose weight, you need to be working on a caloric deficit: meaning you’re burning more calories than you’re eating. It’s important however, to make sure you are not going so low in calories that you’re slowing your metabolism down or exercising either too little, and not making changes in your body, or so hard that you’re over training.
This is why the tracking in the beginning was so important. Let’s look at your nutrition first. Keep in mind that this is a general recommendation.
Now that you’ve figured out how many calories you have been averaging per day, take that number and subtract 300…. This is a good staring place for YOU.
In order to burn 1 pound of fat, you need to burn in excess 3,500 calories: this means to lose 1 pound per week you’d need a deficit of about 500 calories per day. But don’t worry, you’re going to make up those other calories through exercise.
And don’t forget your lifestyle plays a big roll in this. If you’re sitting at a desk all day, relying just on exercise will be tough, on the other hand if your job is very physical, or a lot of standing, it will be easier.
You need to keep in mind that EVERY ONE IS DIFFERENT, so be patient while you learn about your body. If you are not losing weight by doing this, you could try dropping the calories lower, or if you’re losing too fast, and yes that is a problem (that means you’re probably losing muscle as well) then you need to increase the calories. But before you do that, take a look at your macronutrients.
Macronutrients are where you get all your calories from and all calories are not created equal. Protein, carbohydrates and fats make up the macronutrients. What percentage of each you should be having will depend on your activity level, body fat, amount of lean muscle and your age. A common breakdown is 30% Protein, 40% Carbohydrates, and 30% fat. You’ll need to track your food to find out which works best for you.
Ok, now to move to the other half of the equation: energy out or exercise & daily activity.
If you just “diet’ you will become a smaller version of what you are, meaning you may get a little smaller but your shape won’t really change. By exercising you are strengthening and shaping your muscles, as well as strengthening bones.
Women don’t typically think of resistance training as a way to lose weight, but I would go so far to say that it’s even MORE important than cardio when it comes to getting leaner.
Just remember these 2 points when training
And lastly, if you can’t get to the gym, get some equipment to use at home, it doesn’t have to be expensive or take up a lot of room: stability ball, resistance tubes, TRX, sandbags. These are all great pieces of equipment for home use & you can get a great workout with these pieces as well as using your own body weight.
STEP 5 CREATING A PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE
You may be thinking, this is going to be really hard to make all these changes, and in a way you’re right. Remember earlier I said to choose just one or two bad habits to work on? Along with that, you also want to set yourself up for success but making your path towards the new habit easier and the path towards the old habit harder.
For example: if you are trying to stop eating cookies; remove the cookies (making the bad habit more difficult) I mean you could just go to the store and buy more cookies but at least you’ve put a barrier between you and the cookies.
If you’re trying to replace that habit with eating more fruit then make sure you always have fresh fruit, cut up and ready to eat in the refrigerator. Now it will be that much easier to follow through with the new behavior.
The first thing you want to do is make a list of anything that stood in your way, slowed you down or stopped you from reaching you goals.
Then choose 1 or 2 to work on and come up with a plan that will make it easy for you to succeed. You don’t want to rely on will power. Will Power only gets you so far.
Try to make it as difficult as possible to lapse back into your old habits and I highly recommend you find an accountability partner. Getting an accountability partner can help you to start the new path as well as navigate you back to the path when you run into a roadblock; and trust me there will be roadblocks
This should be someone who you trust, who understands what you’re going through and make sure they are comfortable being open and honest with you. And for that reason your spouse, or best friend isn’t always the best choice.
STEP 6 MANAGING LIMITING BELIEFs
Another type of roadblock we can come up against would be our own limiting beliefs.
More often than not, people sabotage their efforts because of self-doubt & negative thinking. It’s not easy to change that pattern but if you are going to succeed, it’s necessary.
Just like our muscles, our brains are quite adaptable: we learn behaviors and thought patterns through repetition. After years of thinking a certain way (such as I’m not good enough, I always fail at diets, I’ll never lose the weight) that pathway becomes the easiest path to follow. The road has been cleared so to speak and we’re lead right down it every time. So how do we stop that negative self-talk? How do we change the way we react to a lapse in our program, or how we feel about exercise? How we feel about eating healthy foods?
We need practice; we need to consciously replace those thoughts with positive ones.
Whether you’ve reach your goal of losing 50 lbs. or 5 lbs. it doesn’t matter, you need to celebrate every step of your journey. If you set a goal to eat 3 servings of vegetables a day & you did it, celebrate. Each time you reward yourself for following through and acknowledge that you are doing a good job, you increase your self esteem, and you start believing more and move that you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to do.
IT’S TIME TO TAKE ACTIOn
So those are the 6 steps to permanent weight loss. Now it’s up to you to take action. I’ve been in this business long enough to know, if you are going to get started, don’t put it off.
The people who wait are the ones that never begin
Take what you’ve learned in this article and start applying it NOW. Do not wait. I’ve given you a lot of actionable information that will set you up for success, but you need to apply it.
If you’d like some help navigating this journey, check out my Fit After 50 Body Transformation program.
I take you through each of the steps I’ve outlined here plus a whole lot more. I’ll help you navigate your habits, limiting beliefs, set you up with workouts and coach you one on one along the way. CLICK HERE to learn more or fill out this form and I will contact you shortly.
Lisa Swanson is an ACE certified Health Coach, Personal Trainer and Orthopedic Exercise Specialist as well as a certified PN level 1 nutritionist. With over 30 years experience helping women turn their lives around she can easily adapt programs to meet your specific needs.
Check out my interview with the Magnificent Midlife podcast on staying fit and healthy long-term.