QUESTION: I want to start losing weight, but my diet is a mess and I’m not sure where to start. I’ve never counted calories before. I have about 50 pounds to lose and I have a million questions. How many calories should I eat? What about carbs? And protein? Which foods should I eat? What times should I eat? What diet app should I use? It’s all stressing me out.
ANSWER: I get some version of this question all the time.
If you’re in a similar situation, or if you have a friend or family member who fits this description, here’s the advice I’ve seen work best for most people.
Just a quick heads up, though.
It’s probably not what you’re expecting me to say.
Ignore My Usual Advice For Losing Weight
And most of the time, my advice for someone who wants to start losing weight will be something like this:
- Use a calorie calculator to estimate how many calories you need to eat per day to maintain your current weight.
- Subtract a certain percentage from that amount to create a moderate caloric deficit.
- Set your daily protein intake a certain way.
- Set your daily fat intake a certain way.
- Set your daily carb intake a certain way.
- Start counting calories and macros, and use a diet tracking app to track your calorie, protein, fat, and carb intake so you know you’re hitting your targets each day.
- Start using a food scale to make the previous step significantly more accurate.
- Weigh yourself every day, take the average at the end of the week, and pay attention to how your weekly averages are changing over time. If you’re losing at an ideal rate, keep doing what you’re doing. If not, reduce calories slightly.
- Use diet breaks and refeeds as needed.
Now this is all excellent, evidence-based advice that I’ve seen work amazingly well for thousands of people over the last 15 years, and I still recommend it all just the same as I always have.
But… not today.
Today I want you to ignore all of that advice.
You Don’t Need To Do Any Of That
You see, for someone who is trying to figure out how to start losing weight, or where to start, or what to do, or how to do it, and is feeling stressed out and overwhelmed when looking for these answers, my typical advice isn’t needed.
In fact, you don’t need to give the slightest crap about any of it.
Down the road? Maybe.
But at this point? Not even a little.
At this point, this kind of stuff – as effective and smart and correct as it all is for successful weight loss – is only going to make things harder and more stressful and more overwhelming for you.
What You Need Instead
What you need right now to start making progress is the complete opposite of this.
Specifically, you need quick, simple, and easy.
That’s why I want you to put 100% of your focus into making a few quick, simple, and easy improvements to your diet… and literally nothing more than that.
Here’s the cool part.
A magical side effect of making these improvements is that you’ll automatically start losing weight in a healthy and sustainable way.
No calorie counting. No tracking. No specific dietary targets.
No food scales or diet apps, either.
Hell, you don’t even need to weigh yourself if you don’t want to.
If needed, that stuff will come later.
But for now? All you need to focus on is making these 10 improvements…
10 Steps To Start Losing Weight
- Eat more protein, especially lean sources.
Again, no counting or tracking needed. And no specific target to aim for each day. Just eat more high quality, lean protein (chicken breast, turkey breast, fish, low fat/no fat dairy, leaner cuts of beef, egg whites, etc.) than you currently are. Also…
- Eat a high quality source of protein at every meal.
So if you eat 3, 4, 5, or whatever number of meals a day, include a high quality source of protein in each of them.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
How much exactly? Who cares. At this point, more fruits and vegetables than you’re currently eating is a perfect place to start. Also…
- Eat fruits and/or vegetables at every meal.
Just like including a source of protein in every meal, do the same with fruits and vegetables (opt for vegetables more often than fruit, but no need to worry about any specific ratio).
- Drink more water.
How much exactly? Who cares. Assuming your water intake is currently lacking (or a lot of your water intake currently comes in the form of calorie-containing drinks), then simply drinking more water than you currently drink is a perfect place to start. Also…
- Replace drinks that contain calories with drinks that don’t.
Take any calorie-containing drinks you currently consume – things like soda, fruit juice, sports drinks, alcohol, and the kind of coffee that has 1000 calories worth of sugar added to it – and replace them primarily with water. Other zero-calorie drinks like diet soda are okay, too.
- Find a diet structure that suits you.
Meaning, figure out how many meals you want to eat per day most days, and what times you typically want to eat them. Make it PECS (preferable, enjoyable, convenient, sustainable) so you can easily stick to it. Then start being consistent with this structure each day.
- Limit snacking.
Do most (or better yet, all) of your eating during your meals rather than snacking in between meals. If your snacking is a result of actual hunger, try making your meals more filling (fun fact: protein + vegetables + water in every meal will accomplish this). If snacking is a result of boredom, or bad habits (e.g. mindless snacking while watching TV), or simply keeping certain foods around you/easily available in your house, then make some common-sense adjustments to improve this so it happens less. (Additional details here: Why Am I Always So Hungry All The Time)
- Cook more meals at home.
You CAN still eat out and order in. And if you enjoy doing so, you SHOULD continue to do so. But since that usually leads to eating a lot more than you typically would if you prepared your own meal at home, it’s something to simply do less often, especially if you currently do it often (e.g. if you normally eat out/order in 4 times a week, try doing it 1-2 times a week instead).
- Eat less “bad foods”… BUT still continue eating them!
Don’t be all “starting Monday, I’m never eating chips, cookies, pizza, candy, chocolate, and [insert whatever food you deem “bad” here] ever again!!”, because that never works. All that’s going to do is make you hate life, and no one stays consistent with a diet that makes them hate life. So instead, I want you to set a much more realistic (and enjoyable) goal: eat less of this kind of stuff… both in terms of quantity (e.g. have 2-3 cookies instead of 6-8 cookies) and frequency (e.g. have some cookies 3 days a week instead of every day).
Wait, Is That Really It?
Yup, that’s really it.
No need to make weight loss any more complicated than that at this point.
Because when you have a bunch of weight to lose and you’re just getting started, these super simple improvements alone will be all that’s needed to make significant progress happen.
These 10 improvements will directly or indirectly reduce how many calories you’re consuming, significantly improve hunger control so your fuller and more satisfied and less likely to overeat or snack, improve your macronutrient and micronutrient intake in a way that supports weight loss as well as muscle growth, muscle maintenance, and overall health, make it easier for you to stay consistent, and most importantly of all… get you into a sustainable caloric deficit.
And when that happens, you start losing weight.
Later on, after months of losing weight this way, if you find that things eventually slow down or stall completely and you still have additional weight you want to lose, that will be the perfect time to start looking into some of those other things I mentioned earlier.
You know, things like setting specific calorie and macro targets, tracking your diet, getting a food scale, and so on. I have plenty of free articles here that will explain everything you need to know.
But until then, keep it simple and focus only on being consistent with these 10 improvements.
How To Make It Even Easier
One last piece of advice.
Instead of starting tomorrow and trying to do all 10 of these things at once, you can make it even easier for yourself by choosing one thing from this list and starting with just that.
When you’ve been consistent with that one thing for a couple of weeks, add in a second thing from this list.
After a couple of weeks of being consistent with both, add a third.
Keep doing this until you’ve made all 10 improvements and have become consistent with all of them.
For most people, this is all it will take to start losing weight, looking better, and feeling better.