Weight Loss: One Pound at a Time

Weight Loss: One Pound at a Time


Establishing a significant weight loss goal, such as losing 50 pounds (lb), can both motivate you and overwhelm you. It takes time to accomplish these goals. It requires developing and implementing long-term healthy habits that you can maintain for the rest of your life. You must not only consider “how” you are going to lose the weight, but also “why” you want to lose the weight in the first place. Although the desire to make these changes must come from within, the following tips can provide focus and guidance as you begin the journey.

Have a plan

Break down long-term goals into more manageable short-term goals, so you do not feel overwhelmed. In addition, choose action-based objectives that will result in you achieving your short-term goals. Through this process, you will focus on specific tasks, rather than an ambiguous plan. The best goals and objectives are SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time based.

For example, set a short-term goal of losing 1 lb this week by accomplishing a few action-based objectives. First, set an objective to consume, on average, 250 fewer calories/day by replacing one sugary beverage (soda, energy drinks, etc) with water or seltzer each day and replacing your usual lunch with a mixed-vegetable salad with grilled chicken, beans, and low-calorie dressing three times this week. Next, set another objective of burning, on average, 250 extra calories every day by exercising for 30-45 minutes, 3-4 days/week. Losing 1 lb this week has become a manageable goal because you have a list of activities to perform to accomplish that goal. You can adjust your future goals and objectives based on your results.

Know your time commitments and prioritize

We are all busy and have multiple responsibilities throughout the day, such as work, family activities, and social events. However, anything that is important to you finds its way into your schedule. What happens when someone you care about becomes sick? You alter your schedule to stay with your friend or loved one, because you care about the person’s well-being. But remember, you also need to care about your own well-being.

Review your weekly calendar and reserve time each day to perform healthy activities/action-based objectives. For example, you can set aside Sunday afternoon to go grocery shopping and prepare your meals for the week. Determine which days and times consistently work for you to get active—reserve those times for exercise. Create accountability by imagining you have a personal trainer waiting for you. 

If other things come up during your workout times, stop and consider whether those activities are more important than your health. Consider working out and then arriving late to those other activities. Or make a rule that you must schedule a “make-up” session within 1 or 2 days if you choose to skip a planned workout session. Reschedule your workout the moment you realize you cannot make your planned session, so you do not forget.   

Prepare your own meals

Eating at home can help you lose weight and live better in many ways. You will learn essential cooking skills, save money, and, most importantly, control how many calories you eat. A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that eating outside of the home, particularly at fast-food establishments, resulted in calorie intake much greater than the average home-cooked meal. Many restaurants use added sugar or fat to enhance the flavor of their dishes, and the portions they serve are so large that you tend to eat more than normal. In fact, some restaurants and fast-food chains provide a full day’s worth of calories in just one meal!

You can make many healthy meals at home in under 30 minutes. For example, cook some lean meat or tofu and mixed vegetables with chopped garlic, ginger, and a few tablespoons of teriyaki sauce in a large pan. Serve over 1 cup (C) of brown rice and you have a satisfying, well-balanced meal. You also can save time by cooking multiple batches of food at once and then portioning each meal into its own container. Store in the refrigerator, and then reheat in minutes! Finally, remember that spices are the best way to flavor your meals without adding any calories. 

Know your portions

Knowing what to eat is half the battle; knowing how much to eat is the other half. We can have too much of a good thing like brown rice (about 180 calories/C), nuts (about 150 calories/ounce [oz]), olive oil (45 calories/teaspoon [tsp]), or chicken (140 calories/3 oz).


The best way to determine portions is to use your hand:

  • 1 C brown rice, vegetables, or beans=your fist
  • ¼ C nuts=a handful
  • 3 oz meat, chicken, or fish=palm of your hand
  • 1 oz cheese=your thumb
  • 1 tsp olive oil or butter=the tip of your thumb


Cooking at home lets you control your portions. Switch to smaller plates, bowls, glasses, and silverware. Studies have shown that if you switch to smaller dishes and bowls, you will eat less food and fewer calories at a meal, while still feeling full. It takes about 20 minutes for your body to realize that it is full, so eating with smaller utensils makes you eat slower and gives your body a chance to catch up with your appetite. 

If you are eating out and cannot control how much food you receive, consider these great tips:

  • Split large entrées or desserts with a friend
  • Ask to have half of a large entrée or meal placed into a to-go container before or as the food is served, so you are not tempted to pick at it later in the meal
  • Consider two smaller appetizers (or a salad and an appetizer) as a meal, instead of one big entrée
  • Try to use your hand to estimate how much food that you have on your plate, and only eat the amount that you normally would serve to yourself at home

Stay active throughout the day

Keeping physically active is a great way to burn calories, increase your metabolism, and ultimately lose weight. According to theAmericanCollegeof Sports Medicine, adults aiming to lose weight may need to perform 60-90 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. Although this sounds like a lot, focus on getting to this point gradually, starting with an objective of 20-30 minutes/day. Also consider integrating activity into your daily routine, such as walking wherever you can, taking the stairs instead of an elevator, and stretching at work every hour.

A study by researchers in 2006 found that “multiple short bouts of exercise can provide significant improvements in the fitness of sedentary adults that is similar to one continuous bout of exercise.” So if you are strapped for time, consider accumulating your 30 minutes of activity in 10-minute bouts throughout the day. Try a brisk 10-minute walk or jog before work, at lunch, and after work. If you prefer lifting weights, you can use resistance training to stimulate your body’s largest calorie-burning furnace, your muscles. 

Keep score by journaling

If you truly want to improve a skill or accomplish a challenging task at work, you probably keep track of your goals and progress. Living healthier and losing weight is no different. Write down your goals and objectives, and refer to them daily as a reminder of why you are making these healthy changes. Then, track the variables affecting your goals, such as the foods/calories you eat each day and the amount of time you exercise. Now you can see and measure the impact your actions have on your weight, but remember that these numbers are not an indication of “good” or “bad.” Instead consider your journal as useful information that can help you improve each week. Failure is not possible, only feedback.

Get a little help from your friends

You are not alone. Supportive family members and friends are some of the best resources to help you through difficult times. Cook a healthy meal together, ask them to exercise with you, or just ask them to listen to you when you are frustrated. Sometimes your supporters can give you beneficial tips and insights that you would not normally consider. 

If you are looking to meet other people facing similar issues, you may benefit from local or online support groups and weight-loss communities. The workplace and community centers also are great places to find or form these groups. Ask others to join you in making a change. Finally, look within yourself for strength and support by keeping sight of why you are making these changes—to prevent disease, to see your kids grow up, to live a happier, healthier life, etc.

Know that one bad meal or day will not derail all the hard work you have put into attaining your goals. You should even plan a couple of “cheat” meals that allow you to enjoy your favorite foods without feeling guilty. Learn to forgive yourself, and then move on to the next healthy day. Life and health is a marathon. Treat it that way!

References and recommended readings

AmericanCollegeof Sports Medicine®. Physical activity & public health guidelines. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home_Page&TEMPLATE=CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&CONTENTID=7764. Accessed January 18, 2011.


Bassett MT, Dumanovsky T, Huang C, et al. Purchasing behavior and calorie information at fast-food chains in New York City, 2007. Am J Public Health [serial online]. 2008;98:1457-1459. Available at: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/cgi/content/full/98/8/1457#R1. Accessed January 18, 2011.


Macfarlane DJ, Taylor LH, Cuddity IF. Very short intermittent vs continuous bouts of activity in sedentary adults. Prev Med [serial online]. 2006;43:332-336. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WPG-4KH47MV-2&_user=10&_coverDate=10%2F31%2F2006&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_origin=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=652d069f481dc5f294e3b858745375a2&searchtype=a. Accessed January 18, 2011.


Wansink B, van Ittersum K, Painter JE. Ice cream illusions: bowls, spoons, and self-served portion sizes. Am J Prev Med [serial online]. 2006;31:240-243. Available at: http://www.ajpm-online.net/article/S0749-3797%2806%2900179-6/abstract. Accessed January 18, 2011.


WichitaStateUniversity. Handy reminders. Available at: http://education.wichita.edu/caduceus/examples/servings/handy_reminders.htm. Accessed January 18, 2011.


Contributed by Jason Machowsky, MS, RD, ACSM-cPT

Review Date 2/11



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