How to Start Your Journey to Lose Weight

Lauren Krouse
by Lauren Krouse
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How to Start Your Journey to Lose Weight

Whether you’re at the very beginning of your weight-loss journey or revisiting your game plan after hitting a plateau, a realistic and sustainable strategy is a must for your first 30 days and beyond.

To successfully lose weight and keep it off, it’s important to adopt a nutritious diet and create a calorie deficit (slightly less calories in than out through day-to-day living and exercise), add in regular movement, effectively deal with stress, make sure you’re getting enough sleep, surround yourself with a supportive community and keep your motivation up in the face of inevitable challenges and setbacks.

The good news is you don’t have to completely overhaul your lifestyle to lose weight — a simple back-to-basics plan is the way to go. That’s why we broke it down for you, week by week, for the first 30 days (or whenever you need a healthy reset).


Dedicate your first week to preparing your mind, environment and routine to support healthy living.



“It’s common for motivation to wax and wane during weight-loss efforts, so it is imperative that you establish a clear ‘why’ in terms of the reason you are engaging in the weight-loss effort in the first place,” says Katie Rickel, PhD, a clinical psychologist and CEO of Structure House, a residential weight-management facility in Durham, North Carolina.

This increases your sense of autonomy or self-control and helps you shift your perspective from “I have to” eat healthier and exercise to “I want to” create new habits to get me closer to the life I desire, thus empowering you to make positive changes, adds Alan Chu, PhD, director of the Motivation and Performance Research Lab and chair of the Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology Program at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay.


  • Freewrite or make a list of your “whys,” from having the energy to keep up with your children or partner to feeling more comfortable in your body.
  • Create a vision board or collage of your “why.”
  • Write yourself a letter from your future self (after having achieved your weight-loss goals) to your current self, describing all the ways your life has improved as a result of your efforts.
  • Put up notes around your home like on your bathroom mirror or fridge with mantras, photos or reminders of your “why.”


Setting goals and tracking progress is important for any weight-loss plan, but for realistic goals you can actually hit, you need to figure out your baseline first. “Understanding your starting point will make it easier to pinpoint where to make meaningful changes that will get you the results you’re looking for,” confirms Christel Oerum, a certified personal trainer and owner of Diabetes Strong and Diabetic Foodie.

“This is also the beginning of mindful eating, a lifelong practice that can take a lifetime to fully develop but can help you eat less and enjoy what you’re eating more as well as improve your relationship with food,” adds Audra Wilson, RD, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, a board-certified specialist in obesity and weight management at the Northwestern Medicine Metabolic Health and Surgical Weight Loss Center at Delnor Hospital.




Proper sleep, stress management and hydration are essential for your overall health and weight-loss efforts. If they’re not covered, it’s that much harder to lose weight when you have to battle increased cravings for comfort foods from off-kilter hunger hormones due to sleep deprivation and stress or feel hungry and low on energy because you’re not drinking enough water.


  • Set a consistent bedtime and wake-up time to ensure you’re getting 7–9 hours of quality sleep each night.
  • Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary that’s cool, dark and comfortable.
  • Incorporate a simple morning and evening routine to reduce stress with meditation, gentle stretching or other self-care activities.
  • Keep a water bottle or large glass of water on hand to drink when you first wake up.


Now that you’ve built a springboard, make a nutrition and movement plan and swap perfectionism for self-compassion.



Focusing on progress boosts your drive and self-confidence while only paying attention to the outcome (the number on the scale) can hurt motivation when you don’t get the results you want, says Chu. That’s why progress-based SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound are your secret weapon for weight loss.

With the information you collected during week 1, take a look at your baseline calorie and macronutrient intake and step count. Then, set a calorie goal for slow-and-steady weight loss and a step count goal that makes sense for you and your lifestyle. Use the MyFitnessPal app to chart your progress so you can notice trends and make healthier choices.


  • Walk an average of 1,000 more steps per day for one week with a midday walk during my lunch break.
  • Eat within 100–200 calories of my calorie goal each day for one week by reducing portion sizes for snacks and dinner.


To avoid feeling deprived during your weight-loss journey, shift your focus from “giving up” high-calorie processed foods and sugary drinks to “adding in” tasty lower-calorie whole foods to your eating plan, suggests Rickel.


  • Challenge yourself to try one new fruit or vegetable this week as a culinary adventure with new recipes and cuisines.
  • Add more vegetables to your lunch and dinner by mixing them into soups, sauces, salads and more. “Any way you slice them, veggies are full of nutrients and will help you cut calories while still feeling satisfied at mealtime,” notes Wilson.
  • Find satisfying swaps for some high-calorie indulgences such as banana berry “nice” cream instead of traditional ice cream or sparkling water for half of your week’s soda intake. If there’s no great substitute for an indulgence, enjoy a smaller portion size or adjust your intake elsewhere to stick with your overall calorie goal.


“For someone who has not practiced healthy habits before, it can be hard and exhausting to maintain them,” says Chu. Worse yet, if you see yourself as “lazy” for eating “bad foods,” this can zap motivation and trigger even worse habits (Think: “I already ate poorly. I might as well eat more junk food.”)

This is where treating yourself like you would a close friend — or adopting a mindset of self-compassion — can help keep your motivation up and protect you from negative thought spirals. Throughout this week, make it a point to notice when you’re being hard on yourself and practice self-compassion instead of toxic perfectionism.


  • Be mindful and acknowledge your feelings (“I’m feeling really anxious and upset right now.”)
  • Remind yourself that this is a common, human experience (“Everyone feels like this sometimes.”)
  • Be kind to yourself (“I’m going to be compassionate with myself.”)


Reflect on your first round of SMART goals, set new ones, and recruit friends and family to help you stick it out long-term.



Goal-tracking takes time, so block out 10–20 minutes each week—such as on a Sunday evening or Monday morning—to review your progress and set new goals. Rather than getting down on yourself if you haven’t met goals, use this intel to set SMARTER goals (with evaluation and revision), suggests Chu.


  • Evaluate your progress. Did you hit your goals or fall short? How and why?
  • Revise your goals to make them easier if you couldn’t reach them or a notch harder if you were successful.


Whether you met your calorie goal, increased your step count, or just managed to track both for the entire week, that’s progress worth celebrating. To boost your motivation, find ways to acknowledge meaningful wins each week regardless of whether you shed pounds, says Rickel.


  • Put colorful stickers or check marks on your chart or calendar to mark days or weeks when you’ve reached a goal or hit a personal record.
  • Reward yourself with a non-food prize such as new workout gear or a fun weekend activity.

If you had a challenging week, remember to practice self-compassion. Major lifestyle changes take time and research shows speaking to yourself in a positive manner helps you reach your goals faster.



regular workout routine not only helps tip the calorie balance in your favor to make maintaining weight loss easier, but it also boosts mood levels and decreases stress. To be consistent, you shouldn’t dread your workout — instead, it should be something you genuinely love and look forward to doing. “Choose a workout that suits your routine and lifestyle, and recruit family or friends to join in,” says Chu.


  • Pick a type of exercise that’s the optimal balance of challenging yet approachable, such as lifting weights once a week with a goal to eventually lift 2–3 times a week or brisk walks to gradually build up to walking or running a 5K.
  • Find someone in your life who values fitness and healthy living as much as you do and agree to regular check-ins if you can’t work out together.
  • On days when you don’t feel like working out, try lowering the difficulty or setting a goal just to start the workout (like giving yourself permission to stop after 15 minutes). “Once you do, you’re likely to feel good and exercise longer than initially expected,” notes Chu.


For the last week of month one, take a look at how far you’ve come and add structure to make healthy lifestyle changes more sustainable.



By now, you should have a good idea of how to set, track and celebrate SMART goals. Like the week before, take some time to assess your progress and setbacks. Then set new, SMARTER goals to tackle this week.

Keep in mind that “every 2–4 weeks, it’s also a good idea to revisit your calorie goal and make adjustments as necessary to combat weight-loss plateaus,” notes Oerum.



When it comes to healthy eating, planning ahead can help you save calories and money by reducing impromptu drive-thru trips and delivery orders. Beginning this week, designate a day for meal planning.


  • Follow this basic template for the week’s grocery shopping: 4–5 lean protein sources (such as beans and legumes, tofu, fish, chicken, eggs and turkey), 2–3 complex carbohydrates (sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, whole-grain pasta), and 4+ vegetables (mixed greens, kale, broccoli and cauliflower, asparagus, carrots), suggests Wyosnick.
  • Buy pre-cut, washed and frozen produce, so it’s ready to go and easy to use.
  • Use the plate method for healthy portion sizes at each meal (fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, a quarter with protein and a quarter with complex carbs).


Losing weight is challenging, and the first month of your weight-loss plan is just the beginning of a lifelong health journey. If you’re struggling to see results, stick with a routine or battling body image issues, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help. Depending on your needs, a healthcare providerregistered dietitianpsychologist or certified personal trainer could help you address underlying health issues and establish the perfect plan for you.

Originally published March 2016, updated with additional information in March 2021

Ready to take the next step? Unlock MyFitnessPal Premium to access custom goal settings, quick-log recipes, and guided plans from a registered dietitian. Premium users are 65% more likely to reach their weight loss goals!

About the Author

Lauren Krouse
Lauren Krouse

Lauren Krouse is a freelance writer who covers health, domestic violence, and self-advocacy. Her work appears in Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Prevention, Self, HuffPost, and elsewhere. When she’s not writing, you can find her trying to meditate more, weightlifting, or walking in the woods with her partner and black lab.


32 responses to “How to Start Your Journey to Lose Weight”

  1. Avatar Stephanie Salas says:

    First day tracking food intake and realized how much fat I eat… Eye opening!

  2. Avatar Dade Dyana says:

    Hi Mackenzie,

    I definitely agree with all of these tips. Specifically – tracking and monitoring intake. How can anyone make a change without knowing exactly what is going on? Do you have a specific way of tracking that you suggest – like a particular app or anything?

  3. Avatar Karlo Garcia says:

    Great advice 🙂

  4. Disappointing article. Lost all my weight drinking insane amounts of diet soda. Zero calories is zero calories, and calories count. As a walker, this article makes me think that walking is rather worthless since I’m not lifting, except that I lost 110 lbs. last year walking 3x or more a week for 30 minutes minimum, so I must be doing something right.

    Most important, log your intake.

    Beyond that, this article makes it sound like if you drink diet soda and don’t lift, you’re going to fail. That’s not true.

    • Avatar Meg Carpenter says:

      It’s not the calories in diet soda that are the issue, it’s the effect the sweeteners have on your system. Studies show when you drink diet soda, your brain interprets it as “sweet”, and releases and insulin when you don’t actually need it. The sweeteners have been proven to mess with your gut and how you absorb nutrients. It messes with the hormone “leptin” which inhibits hunger, so that you may feel hungry more and longer. And there are so many more. Artificial sweeteners are literally poison to your system.

      • Avatar Chere L Davis says:

        When I first started my diet I was drinking A lot of diet pop it made me very sick I drink a lot of tea know unsweetened and green tea I have been dieting and using my fitness pal for four months know and iv lost a total of 65 pounds so far 🙂

      • Avatar VilcaAmazon says:

        Citations. You completely lost credibility with your last sentence.

    • Avatar Citrus Fruit says:

      Everyone’s body is different. But these are some good tips to start off with, and they’re sound. It’s great that you had so much success, but the program you’re describing would sure as hell not work for me for example. But there’s no guarantee the program I follow would work for you. I tried a lot of different crap before I found a style of eating that worked for me and some of that crap worked great for other people. A few things are for sure though; logging your food helps keep you mindful about eating; Soda is just plain bad for you and that’s a fact. Whether or not artificial sweeteners will sabotage your diet is up in the air and there’s compelling evidence from both camps. You can still see success drinking diet soda, but that doesn’t mean it’s *good* for you; And, strength training is good for you. No, it’s not the end all be all of exercise for everyone but it damn sure helps. And resistance/strength training doesn’t have to mean lifting.It can be as simple as body weight moves and resistance bands. These are great tips, and as the article states these are ways to *start* your weight loss journey. Get on track and tweak and adjust from there but these tips help develop structure.

    • Avatar Bobeo says:

      I agree Robb. Those studies are horrible. No mention of drinks like Crystal Light and similar “non-soda” drinks that contain the same sweetners and dyes less the carbonation. Yet studies have shown “club soda” is good for you because of the added O2 (so you can’t blame the carbonation in soda either). My experience has been fat people drink diet soda – and eat a lot of food.

    • Avatar Rachel says:

      Congrats on your weight loss! Now to speak to your points: if you switched from drinking regular soda to diet, then yes, you would see a drop in weight due to cutting the calories instantly. In the long run, drinking natural beverages (water, unsweetened tea, coffee) is far healthier and better for your healthy lifestyle goals. If you also were not doing any exercise and then started walking 3x or more a week for 30 minutes minimum, obviously you will see changes as your body was used to being dormant. Adding some sort of weight training now would help with toning and maintaining your weight loss, and aid in preventing the weight from coming back as you age.

      The most important thing to remember when critiquing is that each person is different and their bodies will respond uniquely to diet and exercise. Example, not everyone has 110 pounds to lose; someone with say 10 pounds to lose might struggle more than you did while needing to lose far less.

      I did not interpret anything in this article as “do this or you are doomed”. It is more so a suggestion for people who may not know where to start.

    • Avatar Lina says:

      It’s so much more than just calorie count, even a Diet Coke with zero calories has a large amount of sugar. Being healthy and loosing weight it’s not the same. Yes you lost weight bravo congrats… But when was the last time you did a physical and or check your glucose? If you think drinking Diet Coke and walking is healthy you’re wrong and I don’t think you understand the article you just read.

  5. Avatar Meg c says:

    I would also add, you should take your measurements when you start so you can see success in different ways, not just the scale.

  6. Avatar Nahid Yazdi says:

    All great tips. I gained 25 pounds when I started my second job that made me increase the sitting time. I then started diet with a help of a registered dietitian and also exercised a bit. I lost 18 pounds and got encouraged and joined the gym. Unfortunately after working out more my appetite has increased dramatically and although I am gaining muscle mass I am also gaining fat weight and my size is increasing.
    Very frustrated

    • Avatar Selena Patterson says:

      I have found logging everything I eat the most helpful. I not only pay attention to the calories and fat but all nutrition information. I too went through a period where I was always hungry. I started eating more fruit and dry cereal to munch on instead of chip type snacks (which is my weakness) I finally overcame the hunger. Remember muscle weighs more, keep exercising and log your food intake.You can do this, keep the faith and believe in yourself.

  7. Avatar sjhollar says:

    I’m doing nothing more than using the app to keep track of my calorie intake. I’m not changing anything in my life. I’m not excluding eating anything that I like. I’m just adding in the calories and keeping it below the weight lose goal. This usually just means limiting the quantity of high calorie foods, not eliminating them.

    In my life I found if you try to cut out foods you like and drastically change your lifestyle, more than likely it will only work for a short time, but, you can’t maintain it so the weight comes right back. I do not feel deprived and have lost 15 pounds so far in the first two weeks. Using the app is making all the difference. It is easy to use, I always have the phone with me, and it’s actually kind of fun.

    So don’t feel you have to make gigantic changes in your life or give up the foods you like.

  8. Avatar Rio says:

    “… participants who committed to 20 minutes of strength training a day experienced a smaller increase in age-related abdominal fat than another group of participants who did 20 minutes of daily aerobic exercise.” INCREASE?!!!! No one noticed the mistake!!!

  9. Avatar VilcaAmazon says:

    Number one briefly and only for some. Too rigid, tremendous potential for developing eating disorders. Seek professional, science-based help if you need to lose more than 20 lbs. Do NOT read articles like this one.

  10. Avatar Ariel Paz says:

    Yeah, food logging is eye opening. Awareness is the first step to change. Walking is a great way to exercise. But we need to strength train as well to build muscle which burns more calories. Soda is empty calories and artificial sweeteners. I agree. Ditch the soda and drink more water.

  11. Avatar Carol Mittler Feiste says:

    This is a great article! I have lost 38 pounds in 6 six months by following these guidelines. I gave up all soda, started walking 3/4 mile and got up to 2 miles 5-6 times a week. We have eliminated most fast food and rarely eat out. I was amazed how much I was eating when I started logging my food. We have joined a gym and are now doing cardio and strength training 5-6 times per week. We started small, took baby steps to make changes and it has worked for both my husband and I. I couldn’t have done it without My Fitness Pal to log food and the blogs have been a great inspiration! Having a Fitbit to track exercise has also helped me get moving.

  12. Avatar Cara says:

    I have diabetic gastroparesis. It is really hard for me to diet. Any advise?

  13. Avatar Joseph G. says:

    That’s it?! To start a 30-day diet simply cut out soda and exercise? Not as in-depth as I was expecting.

  14. Avatar Mary says:

    I am 68 years old, so far I am in excellent health. But I have notice a weight gain most likely due to my slowing metabolism. I eat healthy for the most part, no soda, might have a glass of wine occasionally. Walk at least 6000 steps a day. Do you have any suggestions to control the weight gain?

  15. Avatar Amanda Roberts says:

    Today is day 1 for me. I’d like to know going forward where I begin in strength training in terms of where to start, equipment (hand held weights?) how much weight to start should I be using?

  16. Quite impressive and motivating blog it is. It is helpful for those who are looking for weight loss.

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