13 Weight Loss Tips for Beginners – A Step-by-Step Guide for Newbies

Weight Loss & Diets | Written by Nathan | Updated on 5 December 2021

Have you attempted countless diets, but ended up gaining all the weight back? Or tried your best, but haven’t lost more than a couple of pounds? Look no further – our weight loss guide for beginners will guide you in the right direction, and keep you motivated so you can achieve the body of your dreams! 

How Does Weight Loss Work? (Eat Less, Do More)

To put it simply, weight loss comes down to calories in vs. calories out, and there are three main ways to lose weight.

  • Lose weight by eating less
  • Slim down with more physical activity
  • Eat less… and do more to speed up the process

For example, let’s say you need 2,000 calories each day to maintain your current weight. You can cut your calories down to 1,500 calories to lose about 1 pound per week by creating a deficit of 500 calories a day. Or, you can continue to eat 2,000 calories and just walk or exercise more. Even better yet, you’re bound to lose weight by cutting down your calories to 1,500 – 1,800 and simply walking more.

Step 1: Figure Out Maintenance Calories

You can use any online calorie calculators to calculate your daily calorie requirement to maintain your current weight. If your weight has been consistent for a while, you can also try eating the same amount of calories that you usually do every day for a week.

Weigh yourself at the beginning and the end of the week to see if your weight increased, decreased, or remained the same. This fluctuation, or lack thereof, will indicate whether you’re in surplus, deficit, or maintenance. 

Step 2: Track Calories & Assess Eating Habits

First things first, download an app like MyFitnessPal to start tracking all the food you eat to assist in getting a weight loss plan in place. You can even create a physical journal to track calories if it’s easier for you…chose what’s best for you so you’re morel likely to keep up with it.

Many people underestimate how many calories they have in their diets, often by up to 40%, and wonder why they aren’t losing weight [4]. Some people who track calories forget to input some things they eat, and these calories can add up to destroy your deficit.

Make sure to input snacks and drinks as you consume them. A single can of beer can come out to 103 calories! 500 calories isn’t a lot, so you need to be diligent with tracking.

To track calories burned or not: Most people overestimate how many calories they burn while exercising and end up overeating. Monitoring the calories you burn might be worthwhile, but even smartwatches and Fitbits won’t be 100% accurate and may encourage you to eat more based on inaccurate data. 

Analyze your habits: While tracking, try to figure out what time of day you tend to eat the most. Some people are chronic all-day snackers, and others suffer from sugary, late-night cravings. Do you splurge on salty food or sweet treats? What healthy foods do you already enjoy?

Next, figure out what healthy food you already enjoy and slowly replace unhealthy snacks with healthy ones. Perhaps you like peanut butter and sweet fruits – try eating apple slices with peanut butter instead of a cupcake.

Aim to eat healthy at least 80% of the time while indulging yourself the other 20%. You can start by just switching out a few snacks and move on to replacing whole fast-food meals with healthy home-cooked food. As a beginner, gradually changing habits is the first step toward weight loss and will help with not overwhelming or discouraging you. 

Step 3: Create a Calorie Deficit

Now that you know how to find out how many calories you need and understand your guilty pleasures, it’s as simple as eating less than your maintenance calories. Or at minimum, trying to avoid those snacking or binge eating tendencies.  Again, if you eat 500 calories less than your maintenance calories, you’ll be in a deficit of 3500 calories and lost approximately 1 pound [1]. 

Step 4: Limit Sugar & Refined Carbohydrates

Sugar makes you crave more sugar. We know, right? Artificial sugars are highly addictive as they activate the brain’s pleasure centers, and nearly everything you buy from the supermarket, even fruit juices, will contain added sugar [7].

Quitting artificial sugar entirely and switching to naturally sweet foods like fruits might be the best way to avoid sugar cravings and lose weight. Anecdotal accounts of people who have tried “30-day challenges” show that going a month without sugar can help you cut it out long-term as your brain gets used to its sugar-free reality.

Avoid diet sodas and other diet alternatives to sugary drinks while losing weight, too, as they activate the same parts of the brain and may make you crave actual sugar.

Refined carbs, like white bread and rice, flour, etc., also make you feel more hungry – they have a high glycemic index, meaning when you eat them, your insulin spikes and causes more hunger pangs. They retain water and bloat your stomach, too, so avoid them as much as you can.

Step 5: Drink Water & Avoid Liquid Calories

60% of the time, we respond to thirst by eating rather than drinking [10]. Keep a water bottle around you at all times and drink at least 2 liters of water a day to facilitate weight loss. Drinking more water reduces water retention as your body isn’t desperately clinging on to all fluids resulting in you looking less bloated and swollen before losing weight.

If you’re exercising, it’s even more important to hydrate as dehydration can lead to improper temperature regulation and hinder muscle recovery. Drink water both before, after, and during exercise if possible.

Drink at least half a liter of water about 30 minutes before a meal, too – it’ll help you ingest less, therefore losing weight. Many people who follow this advice lose 44% more weight on average than those who don’t [11]! 

Don’t drink soda and fruit juices just to hydrate. Liquid calories are sneaky and can derail your weight loss progress. A single can of regular Coke has about 140 calories, so drinking just two a day is almost equivalent to a whole meal! 

Commercial fruit juices are also packed with sugar, eliminating the fiber you’d get from eating the actual fruit. For some flavor, replace sodas and fruit juices with fruit-infused water – your digestive system will thank you.

Step 6: Move More

Now that you know what to eat to start losing weight let’s discuss the other side of the coin – moving more. 

Moving more doesn’t mean that you need to start spending hours in the gym. Any low-intensity movements or exercise facilitates Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), the process of expending calories on breathing, digestion, and other involuntary processes by simply living your daily life. This means if you increase your daily step count, then you will burn more calories while you’re resting throughout the day.

Small changes like taking the stairs, parking further away, grocery shopping rather than using home delivery, chores like vacuuming, etc., are excellent starts. You can even begin with these changes before working on your diet – eating less, moving more, or a combination of both are all good ways to lose weight!

Walking is Exercise: Even if you don’t have access to a gym, can’t do any moderate or high-intensity exercise, and don’t have much time to take up sports, you can still spare 30-60 minutes for a walk! 

You can take a walk either right at the beginning or at the end of your day or split it up into three separate 10-20 walks to stay refreshed throughout the day. If that sounds like a lot, start small with a couple of 5-minute walks any time of the day and build up to 10-20 minutes at a time – you’ll get there soon!

High-Intensity Workouts: Do you often find yourself skipping your workout session because you “don’t have time”? As busy adults, it might be hard to make time for an hour or two of exercise – after all, when you come back from work, you just want to relax!

Try going for high-intensity, short workouts to enhance fitness and accelerate weight loss. This method is known as HIIT – High-Intensity Interval Training, where you alternate short bursts of intense activity with low-intensity intervals. Most HIIT workouts are only 15-30 minutes long, and people who do them burn up to 28.5% more fat than those who do regular moderate exercise [16].

If you can’t do HIIT, though, either because of a chronic condition or it just doesn’t appeal to you, regular moderate-intensity cardio is also an excellent option for weight loss. If you have a heart condition, avoid high-intensity exercise at all costs!

Walk, run, or even dance – they’re all great options for a workout. Do what you have fun doing!

Lift Weights: Lifting weights = weight loss, muscle growth and strength. If you don’t want to get bulky, though, don’t worry – bodybuilders with incredibly muscled bodies have extreme diets and workout routines that’s difficult to emulate.

What you will get is a lean and aesthetically pleasing body that’s full of strength. Besides, muscles increase your metabolic rate as a pound of muscle takes more calories to burn off than a pound of fat, letting you eat more and still lose weight.

Apart from these exercises, you can do anything else to get moving – dancing, swimming, hiking, cycling, or whatever else you prefer! Find something you enjoy and feel you can turn into a healthy habit or hobby to relish throughout your life. 

How Much Weight Should Beginners Lose Every Week?

Ideally, when beginners strive to lose weight, they should aim to lose no more than 1-2 pounds in one week [2].

Many people don’t lose weight sustainably. They go on various fad diets and while they do shed some pounds, they end up gaining it back (and then some) after a few years. While you can lose weight quickly with a fad diet, you need sustainable weight loss to avoid gaining everything back. Small, gradual lifestyle adjustments are sustainable long-term and will help you stay healthy long-term.

Do I Need to Exercise as a Beginner?

Exercise isn’t mandatory, but if you’re looking to achieve a lean look, gain strength, or become healthier overall, developing a balanced weight training and cardio plan will benefit you in the long run.

If you don’t have any physical or medical conditions that prevent you from doing so, exercising is generally good for for long lasting health no matter the end-goal. Physical activity ups the number of calories you burn, enhances your strength, and speeds up weight loss for beginners.

If you’re completely sedentary or work an office job with no additional exercise, your daily calorie requirement to maintain weight will be relatively less than a person who does moderate exercise 5 days a week. Going by the American Heart Association’s recommendation, you should get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day [3].

This discrepancy means exercising allows you to eat more and still lose pounds without jeopardizing your weight loss goals. And who doesn’t want to eat more and lose weight? Besides, it increases your fitness and stamina, promotes cardiovascular health, gives you strength, and releases endorphins, making you feel refreshed for hours.

Exercise can also motivate beginners since hitting new weight-lifting goals or running farther every day is more uplifting for many people than a number on the scale.

It also helps you lose those last few pounds since, towards the end of your weight loss, your maintenance calories might drop to around 1,500 per day, and it isn’t safe to have less than 1,200 a day. Exercise will make up for this low food requirement and create a safer calorie deficit in one week so you can keep losing weight.

Some Tips for Your Weight Loss Plan

Though you now know how to start losing weight, keep in mind that you know your body best. If tracking your calories seems like a pain, start at step 6 and move backward! By increasing your energy expenditure alone, it’s possible to lose weight without huge adjustments to your diet (or lack of). Now that you have a step-by-step guide to losing weight, let’s delve into ways to maximize results through overall life changes, exercise tips, and food management.

Exercise Tips for Beginners

Don’t overthink exercise – the aim is to start moving more and have fun with it! These tips will help keep you motivated so you get over obstacles and reach your goals. 

  • Find an Exercise That’s Enjoyable: If you burn fat and gain killer abs and muscles from an exercise, it’s not worth it if you’re so miserable you give up and go back to square one. Find an enjoyable activity that you can carry on for life, whether it’s lifting weights, swimming, running, Zumba, yoga, or anything else.
  • Start Small: Never exercised before? Start small with walks and short, low-intensity workouts. This principle applies to all kinds of exercise – if you’ve never tried HIIT, start with just 5 minutes at a time. For weightlifting, begin with three exercises, three times a week. Every step matters!
  • Banish The All or Nothing Mindset: Any extra activity burns calories so you don’t need to go all-in right away. Motivation is fleeting; discipline drives results. So, if you can only run five minutes one day instead of your usual ten, or you can’t lift as heavy as you generally do, you haven’t fallen off track! Just keep trying to do better each day.
  • Habit Stacking: Pair exercise with your existing habits. Do you watch Netflix for an hour every night? Walk a few laps around your house right after or even stand up and do some squats while you’re watching! This method is called habit stacking, and it can help you develop new habits by associating them with already established ones. 

Food Tips for Beginners

You don’t have to eat healthy all the time – some healthy dietary changes can make a huge difference. The key is to consume less than you burn, and these tips will help you do just that. 

  • Get Smaller Plates to Control Portions

If you’re ready to start losing weight, it may be worth invest in smaller utensils. Most of us eat much more than the recommended portion size for most things, but a smaller plate fools your brain into thinking you’re eating more than you are.

If you’re going out, you run the risk of binging on huge portions – doubling the size of an appetizer increases calories consumed by 30% on average [5]. According to Brian Wanswick, author of the book Mindless Eating, you can reduce your portion sizes instantly and intuitively by switching to smaller plates [6].

Try to cook at home and serve yourself on smaller plates since reducing portion size by even 10-20% can facilitate effortless weight loss!

  • More Protein, Fewer Carbs

Protein keeps you fuller longer and aids in post-workout recovery so you should always have a high-protein shake or snack after you exercise if you want to lose pounds.

Besides that, try consuming at least 60% of your calories in the form of protein since it regulates the hunger hormones ghrelin and GLP-1, making you feel hungry less often.[8] A protein-heavy breakfast and dinner can also curb mid-day and midnight cravings, helping you consume 441 fewer calories on average and lose weight [9].

Chicken breasts, eggs, yogurt, salmon, lentils, and other lean meats are excellent protein sources. Avoid overeating red meat since it can negatively affect heart health.

Like almonds and cashews, nuts can also serve as healthy, protein-rich snacks in a pinch, but they’re pretty high-calorie and often high in fat, so have them in moderation to avoid stalling your weight loss.

If people consume more protein, they’ll automatically reduce the number of carbohydrates in their diets. Carbs retain water and make you look bloated. Plus refined carbohydrates don’t keep you satiated for very long.

Pair unrefined carbs like brown rice, brown bread, oats, and whole-wheat pasta with proteins for a filling meal, and have some fruits instead of fruit juices while you’re at it!

  • Fiber is Filing

Besides aiding digestion, Fiber keeps you full for a long time. If you have bowel troubles, adding fiber to your diet might be the answer. A healthy digestive system means less bloating, making you look slimmer even before losing weight!

Fiber also regulates blood sugar, which keeps the hunger response in control and helps reduce weight. Most fruits and vegetables are full of fiber as well as oats, quinoa, pulses, and nuts.

  • Watch Sodium Consumption

Sodium-heavy food, i.e., your favorite fast-food burger and fries, promotes water retention. When your body retains water, it looks swollen even after weight loss, and you can gain 2-3 pounds.. Skip the salt and go for something with potassium, like a banana.

Drinking more water and going easy on the alcohol can also help reduce bloating due to fluid retention as liquor causes dehydration, meaning your body holds on to fluids for longer.

  • Replace Sweet Treats with Fruit

Do you have a sweet tooth? Have your favorite fruit instead of a sugary treat. A single teaspoon of sugar has 16 calories, and even a tiny cupcake can have about four teaspoons of sugar! While a small treat is okay, most people don’t eat a single cupcake or a quarter bar of chocolate – sugar makes you crave more sugar, so they eat multiple cupcakes or a whole bar.

To avoid sugar cravings entirely, eat a sweet fruit like a banana, lychee, apple, or any other fruit you enjoy instead. These foods contain fiber and make you feel full, curbing cravings rather than causing them. 

  • Eat Wholesome Carbs (Potatoes, Vegetables, Brown Rice, Oats, etc.) 

Replace refined or processed carbs with wholesome, complex carbs – white rice with brown, white bread and pasta with whole-grain, flour with oat or almond flour, etc. These carbs are high in fiber, aiding digestion and filling you up much quicker than processed carbs.

If you don’t enjoy these alternatives, eat vegetables instead! Grilled vegetables make for satisfying sides to proteins like chicken breast, salmon, etc. Vegetables can be delicious, too – look up recipes you might like, try them out, and enjoy!

Life Tips to Ensure Weight Loss

You can exercise and eat ideally, but without changing your lifestyle, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. Bad lifestyle habits can demotivate you and push you to overeat, and these tips can help you prevent that.

  • Get Some Sleep

Being chronically sleep-deprived ups the level of ghrelin and reduces the amount of leptin in your body [12]. Ghrelin handles hunger while leptin takes care of satiety, so this combination means you get more hunger pains if you lose out on rest, which can hinder your weight loss.

If you work out intensely, you need two hours of sleep for every hour of stress [13]! If your body doesn’t get time to heal, you won’t get the full benefits of exercise.

Poor quality slumber can also slow down your metabolism, which is the rate your body converts nutrients to energy, meaning your body stores more fat. Ensure that you get a minimum of 7-8 hours of shut-eye at night for optimum weight loss.

  • Manage Your Stress

Chronic stress means a constant release of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which interfere with weight loss. While they typically suppress appetite, cortisol shouldn’t remain in your bloodstream all the time since it then causes hunger and makes you stress-eat [14].

Stress management programs have significantly decreased BMI in overweight and obese people [15]. Taking some time out for a walk, a hike, or just a break or a nap can be very beneficial to your weight loss efforts.

  • Reward Yourself

It’s common for people keep up motivation to keep moving forward and maintain the lifestyle changes they’ve made because they make drastic changes.

To keep yourself motivated, reward yourself for every milestone – even small ones. Losing 10 pounds, hitting a new weight record, completing a beginner’s workout without rest, taking a walk 3 days in a row etc., deserves a reward. 

What if I Stop Losing Weight?

Imagine this – you’ve been losing steadily for a couple of months, you’re 10-15 pounds down, and you’re feeling great about yourself. Filled with confidence, you step on the scale to check-in, but it doesn’t move for the first time during your journey.

This idea fills many beginners with dread, but don’t worry – everyone hits plateaus during fat loss. Dieting for beginners can be complicated, but a plateau usually means that the amount of calories you’re eating is enough to maintain your current weight.

As you get lighter, the calories you need to maintain your weight keep decreasing as well. At a certain point, the deficit is no longer enough. So, repeat the first two steps once again – if you needed 3,000 calories earlier, so you were eating 2,500 to create a deficit, your current weight might only require 2,500 calories to maintain!

If you don’t want to eat less to lose weight, start exercising more! Be careful not to over-exercise, though, as it can make your body weaker instead of stronger.

Review your maintenance calories once again and figure out how much you need to eat to create a new deficit. By now, your stomach will get used to eating less, and you’ll quickly adjust to eating this new amount of calories.

The Bottom Line

The key to successful, long-term weight loss is creating a lifestyle change, and these tips aim to help you do that. As a beginner, you might lose weight fast, or it might be a slow and steady walk, but you’ll eventually win the race if you stick with it! If you have any medical conditions, though, make sure to consult a doctor to share concerns before starting any weight loss program.

By gradually integrating these tips into your everyday life and keeping your motivation high, losing weight will eventually become fulfilling lifestyle. Don’t get caught up in complications – just trust in the process until you find out what works for your body.

References

[1] Guth E. Healthy Weight Loss. JAMA. 2014;312(9):974. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/1900513

[2] NHS. (2019, September 23). Should you lose weight fast? NHS. Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/should-you-lose-weight-fast/

[3] American Heart Association. (2018, April 18). American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids. American Heart Association. Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults

[4] Lang, S. S. (2006, November 1). It’s the size of the meal, not the size of the person, that determines how people underestimate calories, Cornell study finds | Cornell Chronicle. Cornell Chronicle. Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2006/11/bigger-meal-more-we-underestimate-its-calories

[5] Rolls, B. J., Morris, E. L., & Roe, L. S. (2002). Portion size of food affects energy intake in normal-weight and overweight men and women. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 76(6), 1207–1213. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12450884/

[6] Wansink, B. (2011). Mindless eating. Hay House UK Ltd. 

[7] Avena, N. M., Rada, P., & Hoebel, B. G. (2008). Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews, 32(1), 20–39. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2235907/

[8] Lejeune, M. P., Westerterp, K. R., Adam, T. C., Luscombe-Marsh, N. D., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S. (2006). Ghrelin and glucagon-like peptide 1 concentrations, 24-h satiety, and energy and substrate metabolism during a high-protein diet and measured in a respiration chamber. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 83(1), 89–94. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16400055/

[9] Weigle, D. S., Breen, P. A., Matthys, C. C., Callahan, H. S., Meeuws, K. E., Burden, V. R., & Purnell, J. Q. (2005). A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 82(1), 41–48. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16002798/

[10] McKiernan, F., Houchins, J. A., & Mattes, R. D. (2008). Relationships between human thirst, hunger, drinking, and feeding. Physiology & behavior, 94(5), 700–708. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2467458/

[11] Dennis, E. A., Dengo, A. L., Comber, D. L., Flack, K. D., Savla, J., Davy, K. P., & Davy, B. M. (2010). Water consumption increases weight loss during a hypocaloric diet intervention in middle-aged and older adults. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 18(2), 300–307. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19661958/

[12] Killick, R., Banks, S., & Liu, P. Y. (2012). Implications of sleep restriction and recovery on metabolic outcomes. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 97(11), 3876–3890. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5393445/

[13] Underwood, J., & White, K. (NA). Sleep and Recovery [PDF]. https://www.wm.edu/offices/sportsmedicine/_documents/sleep-manual

[14] Baudrand, R., & Vaidya, A. (2015). Cortisol dysregulation in obesity-related metabolic disorders. Current opinion in endocrinology, diabetes, and obesity, 22(3), 143–149. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4517681/

[15] Stavrou, S., Nicolaides, N. C., Papageorgiou, I., Papadopoulou, P., Terzioglou, E., Chrousos, G. P., Darviri, C., & Charmandari, E. (2016). The effectiveness of a stress-management intervention program in the management of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence. Journal of molecular biochemistry, 5(2), 63–70. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4996635/

[16] Ives, L. (2019, February 16). Short bursts of intense exercise ‘better for weight loss’. BBC News. Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/health-47242940

[17] Robinson, E., Aveyard, P., Daley, A., Jolly, K., Lewis, A., Lycett, D., & Higgs, S. (2013). Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 97(4), 728–742. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23446890/

About the Author

Nathan

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.