Introduction: How to Lose 100+ Pounds and Keep It Off for Life

Several years ago, I decided that my life had to change.  I was very overweight, completely sedentary, and ashamed of what I had allowed myself to become.  I had been on so many diets throughout my life and had always gained the weight back.  This time it was worse than ever.  100 pounds to lose.  I committed to losing the weight and making this the very last time.  I lost 100 pounds and this year makes 3 years of maintaining the weight loss.
In this Instructable, I plan to give you an inside look at what it takes to lose a significant amount of weight (100+ pounds) without gimmicks or nonsense, no shakes or pills required.  I also plan on telling you what it takes (mentally and physically) to maintain that weight for as long as you are willing to put forth the effort! 
Take heart, friends!  Stop reading diet books!  There is NO secret, only science!

Disclaimer: I do not claim to have lost weight in the very healthiest or best manner possible.  I ate processed food, I partook of sugar substitutes, and I indulged from time to time.  This is the way that I lost weight.  It worked for me and has made me into a very healthy person.  I am at the correct BMI for my height and have a great body fat percentage.  That's not to say that it will be the best way for you or that it can't be done in other ways.  This is the experience of just one woman.  I would also like to stress that you should be consulting your doctor before you begin any kind of new diet or exercise routine.

Step 1: Prepare Yourself Mentally for Weight Loss

There are some things you need to consider before you begin any weight loss journey that is as big as ours.

-It will not be comfortable.   You spent at least the last few years being comfortable and if you want to lose weight, you're going to have to switch up your routine.  You will step WAY out of your comfort zone.  You are changing your life and the way you treat your body.

-It will not be an overnight change.   There is a reason that people say "weight loss JOURNEY".  This is something that takes time, like anything else that's worth doing.  It may be years before you reach your ultimate goals.   You will have to remember along the way to celebrate the smaller milestones.  Dropping a pants size, going up a resistance level on the elliptical, having a friend notice a difference, even just feeling better about yourself are all great reasons to celebrate.

-There will be temptation.  The world will not stop because you are losing weight.  Every restaurant you love is still open and the food still tastes amazing.  Work is still stressful.  Lounging is still easier than working out.  The people you hang out with are still not making healthy choices.  The only thing that's changing is you. 

-Your goal needs to be healthy and realistic.  A woman who has 100 or more pounds to lose should not strive to look like their favorite celebrity.  Likewise a man in the same situation should not expect to look like the guy on the cover of a muscle magazine.  Your primary goal should be health.  Any physical changes should be completely secondary.  Make sure to make your goal weight something within the healthy BMI range.  We will talk about realistic time frames in the next step.

You need to ask yourself if you're willing to accept these facts.  if you're not, you may not be ready.  You will have to go into this thing willing to make changes, withstand temptation, and accept any setbacks or mistakes.

If you are going to do this, the first thing I suggest is to make a point of mentioning it to everyone you know.  Tell them what you're doing and what your goal is so that you get asked about your progress constantly.  Post it on your Facebook and Twitter.  Don't give yourself a chance to cop out.  Put it into your head that this is starting and there's no backing down.

Next up, let's talk basics!

Step 2: Learn to Set a Healthy Goal

In order to lose weight, we are going to use a principle that is very simple, but tough to understand for some reason for a lot of people:

To lose weight, burn more calories than you consume.

That's really all you need.  We'll talk more about this concept when we go into calorie counting.  For right now, you need to know what constitutes a healthy goal, short and long term.  Let's go through some figures you need to know.

In order to calculate your BMI (Body Mass Index), you will need to know your current weight.  Now might be a good time to buy a scale and put it in the bathroom.  This website will tell you your BMI and what category this places you in.  It will also tell you what the healthy weight range is for your height.  Many people will argue that using the BMI is not always an accurate way to find a healthy weight loss goal because the system is outdated.  However, I feel that if you take the healthy BMI range and put your goal somewhere in the middle, you can readjust when you make that primary goal.
Ex: I am 5'7" and I weigh 240 pounds.  Currently that puts me in the obese category.  My healthy weight range is between 118 and 159 pounds, so I choose to set a goal weight of 140 pounds initially. 

Daily Caloric Intake
Now you need to figure out how many calories to eat each day in order to get to your goal.  This website has a great calculator for this purpose.  If you put in your basic statistics, the calculator tells you exactly how many calories to eat per day during every week of your diet for the first year.  It will even adjust the amount of calories weekly based on your updated weight. 
If you are following my plan, you'll want to put in moderate on the activity level, unless you also have a very active occupation, such as a job that requires you to walk around and stand for most of the day.

There are some things you'll want to keep in mind when you make this goal:
-A healthy amount of weight to lose per week is about 2-5 pounds depending on your starting weight and current physical condition.  If you are planning on losing more per week, I highly recommend consulting a doctor regularly, especially if you currently have any medical conditions.
-A healthy amount of calories to eat per day for most people on a diet is 1200 calories or more.  If you put your goal into the calorie calculator and the calories per day numbers are below 1200 calories, you will want to lower your yearly goal so that you can safely lose less weight within the first year. 

Ex: I am 5'7" and 240 pounds.  My goal is a healthy weight of 140 pounds.  I put in the goal of losing 100 pounds in a year, but notice that this puts me under a healthy amount of calories per day toward the end of my plan.  I can either choose to lower my yearly goal on the calculator or go with the current plan with the intention of eating at least 1200 calories per day toward the end of the diet for a slightly slower result toward the end.  I will be losing around 2 pounds per week.  During the first week of the plan, I will want to eat 1762 calories per day.

If you're losing 100 pounds or more and trying to do it safely, expect to spend at least a year working toward your goal and likely more.

Step 3: Food - Calories in (Introduction)

There is no better way to lose weight than calorie counting.  If you look at any successful weight loss program, one of its main principles is limiting calories, whether you were aware or not.  Food is fuel, and without any activity the fuel is stored.

Brace yourselves, here comes a metaphor:
You now have a daily calorie intake limit.  It's a lot like the money you have in the bank.  If you withdraw too much, something bad happens.  In this case, you gain weight.  If you don't spend it all, something good happens.  In this case, you lose weight.  You are already operating at a deficit if you've set a goal using the calculator, so we're doing great and "saving your funds"!
Here's another way calories are like your money.  You have complete choice of what you spend your funds on.  You are capable of being responsible and making great choices, or being irresponsible and wasting those funds.  For a food to be something worth spending calories on it should be nutritious.  Every day you need fruits and veggies, all your vitamins, and lots of protein, just like your mom told you.  Some people choose to closely monitor this.  I chose not to do this, but to keep it in mind.  If you wish to understand your nutritional goals in more detail, I would suggest this article
The choices you make will shape the way you feel all day.  You can feel hungry and tired by choosing to spend 300 calories on a candy bar or full and energized by choosing to spend the same calories on whole wheat pretzels and a serving of natural peanut butter.  You've been overspending your caloric funds for years, partly because your choices don't give you the nutrients and energy you need.  We're trying to get more efficient.
That's not to say that you cannot indulge your calorie funds on your old vices, but you have to be realistic.  Let's say that you love a good burrito at your local burrito place.  It has rice,steak, beans, cheese, sour cream, guacamole...YUM!  You look up the number of calories in the burrito: 1100 calories.  Oh no!  That's almost all of your daily intake!  Can you spend your calories on that? Sure.  Will it allow you to fulfill your daily needs?  No.  That's why tightening the belt is about getting creative.  You could go to that same burrito place and have something very tasty and nutritious.  Delete the wrap, make it a bowl.  Get the SMALL bowl with rice, veggies, black beans and grilled chicken.  Sub pico de gallo or salsa for the sour cream and guacamole.  You've just lowered your meal calories to 500 or less and made it much healthier for you.  It's doable. 
What you need to do is acquire the tools to understand this new language and execute this new plan.  How do you know how many calories are in something and apply it to your daily goal?

Step 4: Counting Calories

Years ago, counting calories was very confusing.  Your only resource was the food label and often fast food restaurants didn't have their nutritional information readily available.  These days, we have the tools to make it much easier! 
Here are the recommended tools you might want to use for calorie counting:

-Smart Phone or Computer
There are tons of free websites out there to help you to lose weight.  One that's available both online and on your smart phone for free is called Daily Burn .  It's the one I use and is very simple to operate.  It gives you a food and workout journal with lots of free content.  The food journal is attached to a searchable database of foods, one of the largest I've seen.  Put in the name of what you're eating and how many servings to get a calorie total and a running total of how many calories you have left for the day.  One of the premium (pay) features of Daily Burn on the iPhone also allows you to scan the barcodes of many products to expedite the calorie logging process.  There are many other great websites and apps for calorie and workout logging. 
Here is a small list of some other great ones:
Spark People is a great, user friendly website that gives points for participation and has a social aspect.
LiveStrong is a very popular choice with it's MyPlate program which is also available on smart phone.
Fit Day offers very detailed reports and is available on smart phones.

You may also choose to use a calorie journal and calculator.  A calorie journal can just be a pad of paper with your daily caloric goal written at the top where you write what you are eating and add up your totals.  This is much less user friendly and more time consuming.  I started out using a calorie journal and the only thing I will say about it is that it does force you to think a little bit more about how many calories are in everything as you are writing and calculating, which helps you later on during maintenance. 

-Measuring Cups and Spoons
You cannot get by without these.  Serving sizes for food are usually by the tablespoon or cup.  On occasion they are by ounce, which is why it could be useful to have a food scale, but not necessary.  When you put an item into your food journal, you need to pay close attention to the serving size.  If the serving size is one cup, you need to get out your measuring cup and put that much on a plate.  Likewise, if one serving has too many calories, you can cut that figure in half by only measuring half a cup.

That's really all you need!

Tips and Tricks
Being a dieter for a few years helps you to understand a few things you didn't before.  Here are some things to consider as you count calories:

-Water is your friend!
You need 8 glasses of water every day.  If you aren't hydrated, you run the risk of mistaking your thirst for hunger.  It is always a good idea to drink a glass of water with each meal and 1-2 in between.  This will ensure that you are hydrated throughout the day. 

-You can eat more if you make a healthy choice.
If you want to be able to eat a lot of food, choose something healthy and low in calories.  If you are eating cucumber slices dipped in salsa, you'd be surprised how much you can eat before you even get to 100 calories.  You're getting your veggies at the same time.  Instead of eating ice cream for desert, you can eat cups and cups of fruit for the same amount of calories!  It's all about making good choices.

-Invest in some lowered calorie foods!
Some products are designed as prepackaged diet foods, such as ready made frozen meals with low calorie counts or sugar free ice cream/chocolate substitutes with lower calories.  There is nothing wrong with using these foods as tools, but remember that prepackaged foods are not necessarily the best for you.  Some of them are packed with sodium, sugar substitutes or preservatives, things that can set you back because of how they interact with your body.  This should be an option you utilize when you are short on time or having monster cravings.

-Plan ahead.
I would not be sitting here 100 pounds lighter today if I had not planned ahead.  During my free time I would plan my next few days, maybe even a week of meals, then make sure I had shopped for the items, possibly even pre-preparing the meals and freezing them.  It's not always easy work, but it makes your self-control possible when all the other elements of your life are in flux.

-Don't let your feelings get the best of you.
Many of us are hardwired to eat when we are stressed.  Rewire yourself.  This is your cue to take care of yourself better.  If you're stressed, you're going to be forced to fix it, not medicate it with food.  Find a way to breathe deeply, go for a walk, write down your feelings, or just plain do something else when possible.  You'll feel better for it.

Step 5: Exercise - Calories Out (Introduction)

Remember how good food made you feel?  Exercise can make you feel better. 

Now beware the return of the metaphor:
Here we are back at our metaphorical calorie bank!  If eating is making a withdrawl from your funds, exercise is making a deposit.  With the daily calorie intake calculator, you have already accounted for a normal amount of exercise, about 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day.  But what if you decided that today you really wanted to indulge and go a little beyond your calorie goal?  Could you make a deposit later to make up for it?  Absolutely.  But remember: Just like with money, calories are a lot easier to spend than they are to earn. 
Exercise burns calories and that's the whole secret to losing weight!  Exercise also builds muscle which helps you to burn calories even when you are at rest.  Great news, right?
If you're new to exercise, it can be a little threatening. 

Types of Exercise
Not all exercise is alike.  There are three types and they have different purposes.

This kind of exercise is performed to increase your range of movement.  This is the kind of thing you should be engaging in shortly before and after exercise to avoid injury.  Flexibility exercises provide little calorie burn, but protect your body during a workout.  Here is a good video guide to stretching.  Similar stretches can be used afterward.  Recent studies have suggested that stretching before a workout may not be beneficial.  I invite you to draw your own conclusions .  It is still a very good idea to stretch after a workout either way.

This is the cornerstone activity of weight loss.  Aerobic activity is a continuous exercise such as running, walking, biking, or swimming as well as team sports.  Not only does this activity strengthen your heart and muscles, it helps you get a great calorie burn going! 

This is any strength training that you do.  It includes bodyweight bearing exercises like push ups and sit ups as well as any form of weight lifting.  Remember that this kind of exercise can help you tremendously when trying to increase the amount of calories you burn while at rest.

So when do you exercise and how?

Step 6: Exercise Plans

Suggested Supplies
Exercising can be simple and take few supplies or more complicated.  It all depends on how you decide to burn those calories.  Here are a few things you might want to have:

-Good Shoes
You don't have to go anywhere fancy to get good shoes.  The good friends at Academy Sports and Outdoors have less expensive prices and their employees will know what to look for depending on the kind of exercise you plan on engaging in primarily.  Without good shoes, working out can become painful, which will make you want to stop.

-A water bottle or some bottled water
You always need access to water during a workout.  It is essential.  You might be thinking that you'll need a sports drink because you're being active.  Don't be fooled.  That's you pouring calories into your mouth as you try to burn them!  Unless you are running marathons or engaging in an intense sports game, you don't need sugary sports drinks.  Water is fine.

-Smartphone or iPod/Book or TV
One of the biggest complaints I used to have about working out was that I had nothing to do on the machines.  If you're going to ride a machine, you might want to have something to do when you get there.  I would suggest that you tie some entertainment into any kind of exercise, whether you're listening to music, reading a book, or watching your Netflix que.  It helps your workout time feel more like your free time used to.  You're just not sitting on the couch anymore! 

-Gym Membership?
Having a gym membership can help you by putting all of the fanciest, newest tools at your disposal as well as offering exercise classes.  It can also be expensive and intimidating for people who are self conscious about their bodies or their lack of knowledge about exercise.  Use your own best judgement.  Will you use the gym membership?  Are you better off just taking brisk walks around your neighborhood or following along with an exercise video for now?  If you are not comfortable going to a gym, don't go.

Making Your Exercise Plan
Now it's time to consider how to make a plan to exercise.  A major consideration for this will be when to fit it in.  I would recommend aerobic activity at least 30 minutes a day, 6 times a week if not 7.  How will you do this?  Will you wake up early every day to fit it in?  Will you go after work?  Do you have enough breaks during your workday to break up your workout into two 15 minute sessions or even three ten minute sessions?
Another thing to consider is that your starting plan should be simple.  It's important that you experience success early on and add more pieces later.  Here's what your first plan might look like:

Mon-Sun: 30 minutes of walking with 5 minute stretch after.

That's it.  Maybe within a few months you'll want to add strength training.  Strength resides in your upper and lower body and in your core.  You can do exercises for each muscle group on certain days of the week.  Here's what that plan might look like:

Monday - 30 minutes of walking with upper body strength
Tuesday - 30 minutes of walking
Wednesday - 30 minutes of walking with core strength
Thursday - 30 minutes of walking
Friday - 30 minutes of walking with lower body strength
Saturday - 30 minutes of walking
Sunday - 30 minutes of walking

You can choose from a wide variety of exercises in the different areas.  Here is a comprehensive list of exercises .  You should try to choose 2 or 3 exercises for each area of your body and choose a reasonable amount of repetitions of the motion to start with.  Maybe this is 10.  Over time you may work your way up to 20 and then more.  There are also things called sets where you do a certain amount of repetitions and then rest for a moment before doing more.  Be sure to switch up the exercises periodically to challenge your muscles.

Later on, you might want to add more aerobic or anerobic exercise.  I prefer to do around an hour of exercise each day and this can really speed your weight loss.  You may want to add new and different activities to interest you.  Whenever the exercises feel easy, make them feel harder.  There is a difference between being hurt and being uncomfortable.  Exercise should not hurt but it should feel uncomfortable.  If it's comfortable, you are not being challenged.

Lastly, remember that you can record your physical activity in your calorie journal.  Most of the aforementioned smart phone apps and websites will calculate for you how many calories you've burned or the machine might have a display that tells you.  It should be noted that the calories you burn are not to be replaced through eating unless you are doing an excessive amount of exercise.  It's just helpful to record your calorie burn for personal reference.

Step 7: Troubleshooting

Plenty of problems to be had with weight loss.  Here are a few pitfalls you might have:

I'm not making my weight loss goals on the scale.
You have made a commitment and you need to be honest with yourself.  If you are truly not meeting your goals on a consistent basis, think about what you're doing wrong.  This is simple math.  Either you put the numbers in wrong at the beginning or you are failing to record calories/failing to work out.  Make sure that you take responsibility for your mistakes.
That being said, sometimes consuming excess carbs or sodium can cause you to retain water on the scale.  Not enough to be terribly significant, but it can set you off your goal.  This kind of weight gain should go away within a few days of your weigh in.

I don't like the food I'm eating.

The beauty of calorie counting is that you can eat anything you'd like.  If you don't like the food you're eating, eat something different.  If your problem is that you don't like vegetables or other healthy stuff, make like a kid and hide your veggies in something you do like, like whole wheat pasta with marinara or lowfat cottage cheese.  Get creative.

I messed up.  Now my diet is ruined.

To err is human.  So you messed up for a day/week/month/year.  You have the rest of your life to fix this problem and get yourself healthy.  Dieting is hard and sometimes when we mess up we look at it as a sign that we can't do it.  Don't believe that about yourself.  Pick yourself up and start again.

It's my birthday/Christmas/Thanksgiving/Independence Day/Easter/office party!
Let me give you my personal plan for this type of situation.  I try to have a small meal at every meal other than "the feast".  I try to give myself at least 700 calories to work with.  Don't count calories here, just keep your brain with you.  Make the healthiest choices possible.  (eg: Veggie tray and fruit tray not brownie bites and nachos.) Don't gorge yourself.  If you are required to bring a dish, bring something healthy with you.  Enjoy the company more than the food and eat slowly.  That's the only way to know when you're full.  Remind your friends that you're dieting if you feel weird about being the most sensible soul at the party.

I want to drink alcohol.
Okay!  Just remember, alcohol has calories like anything else.  The calories are often higher related to alcohol content.  Enjoy 1 to 2 beverages and COUNT THE CALORIES.  Don't overdo the alcohol or you'll find yourself missing your workout the next day!

I have an exercise related injury.  How should I change my diet?
First of all, if you have an injury, see a doctor.  Ask if you can use the pool to do your exercise.  The zero gravity environment often lends itself perfectly to this kind of situation.  If not, just suck it up and stay off your feet.  Don't make the injury worse and do what you can.  Eat your goal calories and get ready to pick it back up when you can.

I'm at a plateau.  I have very little to lose and the weight won't come off.
Boy do I know this beast inside and out!  Plateaus are common, especially with the last 10-30 pounds of your weight loss. 
Make sure that you are lowering your calorie intake with your weight.  As you get smaller, you need less calories.  That still might not be enough. 
Try changing up your exercise routine.  If you usually walk, try biking.  If you usually lift weights, take a week off and alternate with some yoga.
Calorie staggering is another technique that involves tricking your metabolism by having some low calorie days and other high calorie days instead of eating the same number of calories daily.  This tool is something I would try at my own risk.  It's not necessarily the best thing to do to your body because it triggers your starvation response.
The final option for this pitfall is simple.  Maybe this is the weight that's right for you.  Are you already in the healthy weight range?  If you are still losing weight due to being unsatisfied with your looks but are completely healthy, you may be overdoing it.  If you've tried everything and the pounds aren't coming off, you may be at a good place for you.  Accept yourself and move on.

Step 8: Maintenence - Welcome to the Rest of Your Life!

You made it.  Congratulations!!  It's time to make sure the pounds don't creep back on.  Some people think that this is the toughest part, but I think it's the easiest.  If you did have 100+ pounds to lose, you're used to being in weight loss mode.  The key to being successful in maintenance is to figure out what works for you in order to maintain the weight.
Here are my tips for maintenance:

- Keep it sensible or get crazy.
You have enough experience now to understand how to eat healthfully and exercise every day.  You will always need to live this lifestyle to a certain extent in order to have the healthy weight you worked so hard for.  There are some exceptions.  During my weight loss journey I found a love for running that turned me into a marathon maniac.  Because of this I can eat a lot more that other girls my size.  I also run a 26.2 mile race nearly every month and put in 20 to 40 miles a week.  Did you find a love like this?  A love for biking, dancing, yoga, rock climbing or all of the above?  If you found a fitness hobby and you can make it a big part of your life, you have the license to carboload.  If you want to be any good at your sport, you'll keep a mostly healthy diet, but it is one way to beat the system.  Decide where you'd like to do your work: On the road or on the plate?

-Weigh yourself every day.
This makes some people crazy and it can be anxiety producing.  At the same time, knowing that you are accountable for your choices every day on the scale can be a good reminder of your lifelong commitment.  Hopefully if you decide to do this you will give yourself some wiggle room, perhaps a 5 pound range to be in.  Please also keep in mind that your body's weight can fluctuate up and down a few pounds for a variety of reasons.  Don't take the number too personally.  If there's an upward trend, start thinking about what you did to start it and how to fix it.

-Never let yourself off the hook.
You will go right back where you were if you forget what you've been through.  Keep a good before and after picture.  Keep one pair of your old pants that you'll never fit in again and stand in them whenever you think about skipping your daily workout.  Speaking of pants, once you've hit your goal weight, only buy for your size and throw the rest of your old clothes in the donation bin.  (Don't forget I told you to keep that one pair of pants!)  Never buy new clothes.  EVER.  This is you now.  You're not going back. 

-Make friends with similar goals.
A lot of my friends run.  If we're hanging out, we're running.  My boyfriend and I take walks and go to the gym together.  It's one thing to have some friends who have no health goals in mind, but if all of your friends are into lying around and ordering pizzas, you might want to think about finding a few to hang out with when you need to make healthier choices.

-Never forget how good you feel!
You are here, at your goal!  The first several MONTHS will be full of congratulations and the disbelief of friends you haven't seen in a while.  Some people will hardly recognize you or be able to believe how much weight you lost.  One day soon, that will all taper off and you will cease to have outside reinforcement.  When that happens, look within.  Remind yourself how hard the work was.  Be proud.  You've done something amazing for yourself.  Never let yourself forget what it was like to be you all that time ago.  I highly recommend going to the gym and having someone spot you as you attempt to lift the amount of weight you lost.  You may not be able to do it!

-Pay it forward.
Not everyone wants to lose weight and it is, of course, their choice.  However, if a friend comes to you and asks you to give your expert advice in their time of need, do it.  If someone mentions the start of a weight loss or fitness journey, make sure they know that you admire their choice.  Share the knowledge you have when you're given the opportunity and share your encouragement whenever you can.

That's it!  I hope it was informative!  Enjoy the rest of your healthy life!

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