Our goal is to publish weight-loss content with integrity, science-backed reporting, and insight on what you can realistically accomplish while attempting to lose weight in a healthy way. We feel it’s important for you to know that the biological connection between health and excess weight isn’t straightforward—and your BMI or the number on the scale is not a solid measure of health. Read more about the ways diets and diet culture can impact your physical and mental health.
Deciding to lose weight is a super personal decision. It’s also a complicated, challenging, and often confusing endeavor. So before you make any changes to your diet (as in what you eat, not an eating plan) or life, there are some things you should know about the complexities of weight and weight loss.
First, losing weight or having a smaller body doesn’t make a person healthier. “Weight loss is not always necessary for optimal health,” says Linzy Ziegelbaum, R.D., founder of LNZ Nutrition. “Different people have different ‘healthy’ weights, different medical backgrounds, and different medical needs.” So, no, “losing weight” and “improving your health” don’t go hand in hand.
That overdue realization shifted the way many health pros think about weight and health, making the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement—which calls for size acceptance and promotes sustainable lifestyle changes like balanced eating and enjoying physical activity—A Thing.
The truth is that fat shaming someone (or even yourself) does not help them (or you) get healthier. Weight stigma actually causes significant harm to people living in bigger bodies. When healthcare professionals, nutritionists, and society focus on preventative healthcare (like regular checkups), habits, and physical and mental health (NOT body size), all of us will be healthier
Second, setting out to lose weight as fast as possible basically never turns out well. “Many people who lose weight quickly are not doing it in a healthy way,” Ziegelbaum says. Cutting out entire food groups (like refined carbs or dairy), drastically limiting calories (1,200 calories a day is NOT enough), and overexercising take a huge toll on mental health and lead to disordered eating patterns, Ziegelbaum says. For example, avoiding your beloved Flaming Hot Cheetos for weeks (IYKYK) gives too much power to a food you might not even want to eat much of if you had them on a regular basis. And who'd want to go on a stress-crushing walk if you only see exercise to burn as many calories as you can? Plus, when your sole focus is fast weight loss, you might feel like a failure when it doesn’t come off as quickly as you hoped. Ya see how this mentality ruins everything?
Finally, focusing on developing eating and exercise habits you can stick with long-term is the best approach to losing weight. Eating nourishing foods that make you feel energized, getting in some movement every day, sleeping at least eight hours each night, and finding ways to stress less all factor into weight loss. This approach enables you to reach your goal without feeling deprived or miserable.
Here, we asked women to share the healthy eating and exercise changes that helped them lose weight over time. Their advice might not work for you, and that’s totally fine.
GESSI PARISI-RODRIGUEZ, 25
1. Start in your comfort zone. Parisi-Rodriguez started her fitness journey by putting one foot in front of the other. “When I weighed 252 pounds, the thought of walking into a gym and working out terrified me. So I started walking around my block instead—something I was already comfortable doing.” She worked her way up from 30-minute sessions to two-hour walks, lacing up five or six times a week.
2. Skip soda. “I swapped my beverage of choice to water instead. It was super uncomfortable at first, but after eight years, I can honestly say I no longer crave soda like I used to.”
3. Shout your goal from the rooftops. At the onset of her weight-loss journey, Parisi-Rodriguez began documenting her progress on Instagram. “It helped keep me accountable because I knew others were watching,” she says, noting that private people can still follow suit by sharing with just one other person.
ALEX WITTNER, 23
4. Score fitness class freebies. As a big fan of ClassPass, Wittner also found that many local studios offer free trials or super discounted rates for newbies. “Take advantage of it! The worst thing that can happen is you did not like it and you used up an hour of your day,” she says.
5. Do not fear the weight room. “Lifting weights helped me tremendously with toning up and losing weight,” she says. Although she learned to pump that iron at a local gym, she bows down to YouTube and Insta where there are free tutorials galore.
6. Eat the pizza. And the ice cream! “Deprivation will only lead you to go off the rails later on,” she says.
SHANNON MCDANIEL-POSEY, 32
7. Give yourself a freaking break. “One bad meal will not make you obese,” she says. “Life is too short to beat yourself up.”
8. Use Instagram. “It influenced me on so many levels,” she says. “There were people just like me sharing their progress pictures, recipes, products they loved, grocery store hauls, trials and tribulations, and just their life in general. It was uplifting! It was the motivation I was searching for.” Just be cautious: There are a lot of diet and weight loss accounts on Instagram, and many don’t promote the healthiest practices. Save your follows for people who are inspiring others to take care of themselves and start healthy lifestyle habits, not those promoting super restrictive diets.
TANIQUE JOHNSON, 26
9. Cancel the whole “but I need a trainer!” narrative. Sure, working with a professional can be a big help, but it’s not necessary if you want to develop healthier habits and lose weight. “I never had a trainer or a nutritionist, but knowing what I wanted helped me stay consistent and changed my lifestyle for the better,” Johnson says.
10. Practice the world’s simplest meal math. Protein + veggies + whole grains = dinner is served. Most R.D.s recommend dedicating half your plate to fruits and veggies, a quarter to protein, and the final quarter to whole grains. Johnson says that adding more proteins and veggies to her plate helped her naturally cut back on the amount of calories she was eating. It makes sense: Protein, nutrient-dense produce, and fiber-rich whole grains do an excellent job of filling you up and keeping you that way for longer.
JESSICA BENIQUEZ, 24
11. Sparkling water + Crystal Light = soda who!? There’s no arguing that H2O is the best go-to hydration, but it’s not always easy to quit carbonated bevs cold-turkey. This cocktail can help you transition, says Beniquez. She sips this combo when she really craves a sweetened soda. Unsweetened sparkling water is a great sub on its own, too.
12. Get all up in nature’s candy. At night, Beniquez swaps sugary treats for fruit. Remember fruit? It’s sweet and hits the spot—plus, it’s packed with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your body needs, like fiber.
MAYRA ARIAS, 35
13. Cook a week’s worth of food in one go. “It’s the best way to stay on track,” Arias says. Having a healthy, balanced meal ready to heat up and eat takes the guesswork out of it and makes it easier to make healthy choices when you’re really hungry. Try prepping a few different things each week so that you can get a good mix of flavors and nutrients. (Eating the same thing every single day is boring anyway.) Some of Arias’s favorites include egg roll in a bowl, chicken broccoli Alfredo bake, one-pan salmon with veggies, and chicken parmesan.
SUZANNE RYAN, 35
14. Build confidence with baby steps. “One small step kicked off some bigger changes and confidence in my ability to stick to something,” Ryan says. The first change she made: swapping soda for flat or sparkling water. “Small changes can lead to big results—so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with one thing, then add on.”
15. Focus on you. “Do what works for you and don’t compare yourself to others,” she says. “Everyone is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.”
SHANNA FICHERA, 31
16. Start small. "I began walking or jogging for 15 minutes a day. I worked up to 30 minutes and then increased it again. It was a very gradual process."
17. Don't give up when your weight plateaus. "I remember hitting the first plateau and feeling so defeated, but you have to push through and keep putting in the effort for your plan to work. You can't get discouraged."
MARIA GORDON, 31
18. Make your old favorites healthier. "I've always loved burgers and fries, so I also started making healthier versions of foods that were familiar to me, like turkey burgers with wheat bread and sweet potato fries."
ALYSSA ANN HEIDEMANN, 34
19. Swap out snacks that don't serve you. "I used to snack on chips, candy bars, and other junk food throughout the day, but now I [make healthier choices]. My new snacks include protein bars or shakes, pistachios, celery sticks with PB2, and string cheese."
20. Double down on veggies if you're unsatisfied after eating a snack or meal. "If I'm still hungry, I turn to vegetables rather than junk food." Pro tip: Slice up veggies—like carrot sticks, bell peppers, celery, and zucchini—at the beginning of the week so you’ve got them locked and loaded for easy snacking when you need them.
21. Pack snacks for late nights at work. "At my heaviest weight, my downfall was eating fast food on my way home from work at 9:30 or 10 p.m. Now I bring food and snacks to work so when I get home I'm not starving and feel more in control."
22. Say no to free refills. "I used to drink diet and regular pop regularly. When restaurants gave me refill after refill, I would lose track of how much I drank. Now I ask for water instead of pop, which I've given up altogether."
SARA LUGGER, 39
23. Move during your lunch break. "During my lunch, I'll walk on the treadmill at work or outside for 30 to 40 minutes,” Lugger says. Getting some fresh air and sunshine is also a great way to boost your mood and shake off some stress.
24. Stash snacks everywhere. "I carry protein bars in my purse and car. This way, I fend off hunger so I don't overeat later.” Eating throughout the day will keep you from feeling hangry, give you energy, and make it easier to stick to the healthy lifestyle habits you’re incorporating into your life.
25. Eat more often. Some people do better eating more small meals throughout the day instead of three big ones. Lugger says she switched from three meals a day to six small meals a day. For the same reason, it’s great to have healthy snacks locked and loaded, eating more frequent meals may make it easier for you to feel satiated.
26. Split restaurant meals with a friend. "When I share meals, I end up eating smaller portions,” Lugger says. “If I don't have a person to split a meal with, I immediately put half of the portion I'm served into a takeout box." That way, you won’t feel compelled to keep eating even if you’re full, just because there’s still food on your plate.
STEPHANIE AROMANDO, 31
27. Lift weights to lose weight. "Lifting heavy weights with a trainer really helped me change my body. After about four months of training, I was able to squat holding 360 pounds—25 more than I weighed when I began my weight-loss journey."
28. Always move, even on rest days. Physical activity doesn’t always need to be a structured, challenging workout. Simply moving a little every day can go a long way. Aromando makes her rest days active rest days, doing something low-impact like going for a hike or taking a yoga class.
29. Drink all the water. "I carry a gallon of water with me all day long until it's finished. Dragging it around campus looks ridiculous, but I don't care."
TANISHA SHANEE WILLIAMS, 33
30. Put on music when you don't feel like going to the gym. "Being physically active has nothing to do with going to the gym, but moving your body is what matters. When I don't want to go, I just turn on my music and either dance or hula hoop with my niece."
JADE SOCOBY, 28
31. Find a physical activity you actually enjoy. "Cardio really bores me. Powerlifting is what changed and saved my life." The best workout really is the one that you’ll actually do, so try out a bunch of different forms of movement until you find your groove.
32. Use tech and other tools to your advantage. "I started just by cutting out little things like soda one by one so I wouldn't burn myself out mentally and give up. I then discovered MyFitnessPal, which was [a huge help] for me in my weight loss.” Tracking isn’t for everyone and can be a slippery slope to focusing a little too much on every single thing that you eat. But if you’re someone who needs some structure and finds that logging what you eat is helpful, there are lots of tools out there that make it easy.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.