“The clickbait is everywhere with snazzy headlines saying, “Drop 5kgs fast,” or, “Fit Back Into Your Skinny Jeans.” But what if you feel like you have an overwhelming amount of weight to lose and you just don’t know where to start? You’ve tried keto, celery juice, detoxes, low-carb, low-fat, you name it.

In any research you will come across what I call “nuggets” these are snippets that resonant incredibly well, a little “wow” moment. I share a lot of these nuggets inside, I recently came across an article from a dietitian from Boston who has a similar mindset to how we approach weight loss and I thought it would be worth sharing for those interested in joining FMDZen.

I’ve summarised the article, added a few comments (in red) and included a link to the full article. Lainey Younkin M.S., RD, LDN is a weight-loss dietitian who helps women ditch diets, change their habits, and create a healthy lifestyle that lasts. She writes on a variety of topics including weight loss, gut health, pregnancy, breastfeeding and trendy diets. Her article was “How to Lose Weight when you don’t know where to start, according to a Dietitian”.

These 10 things can help when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Here are scientifically-proven tips, plus advice from Sarah, one of my clients who’s lost over 20 kgs and kept it off.

You might be pretty good at losing weight—the problem is you can’t keep it off. If this sounds like you, keep reading. “Mindset is like 90% of the work.” That’s what my client, Sarah, said to me regarding the 20kg she lost last year and maintained for the past six months. I’m sharing tips directly from her on how to get started—and stick with it—when you’re not quite sure where to start again on your weigh-loss journey.

1. Embrace the long game

If you want to not only lose 20kg but also keep it off, set realistic expectations. A safe, sustainable amount of weight to lose is about 0.5-1kg per week. In reality, your weight loss graph will look more like a staircase or a squiggly line than a perfect, linear trend. If it’s jumping all over the place, but trending down overall, you’re doing it right. There are 52 weeks in a year so be ready to commit to at least one year of changing your habits. Even longer term, try and only adopt habits you think you can stick with for the long haul. We talk a lot about the science behind taking at least 12 weeks to reset your habits, and how important this is in framing long term changes.

2. Rely on a professional to help

Beware diets in disguise – Long-term weight loss is about small, habit changes you can keep up with over time. This journey is hard alone. And it’s hard with close friends and family. Professionals provide two important things: science-based weight loss recommendations and accountability from someone who isn’t a close friend. Weekly, or even daily, check-ins are key to help you stay on track.

3. Adopt the 80/20 philosophy

So what is the 20%? Think of it as all of the foods you restrict when you’re dieting but eventually end up bingeing on. Sustainable weight loss is about ditching the all or nothing mentality, letting go of the idea that one meal can make or break your efforts and embracing balance. If you continually focus on the lessor of two evils, rather than absolutes, (ergo a less sugary snack that’s still satisfying, rather than no snacks) your motivation will be stronger and you will be more able to step down your food choices over time to get results that “lock in” over the long term.

4. Understand set point theory

The body likes balance. Your body has a weight range it likes to stay within too: It’s called your set point. Unfortunately, it’s easier for this range to move up than it is to move down. This is for various reasons scientists are still trying to figure out, like the fact that weight loss decreases metabolic rate (the number of calories burned at rest) and increases ghrelin, the hormone that signals hunger. However, it’s not impossible (here’s more about what happens to your metabolism when you lose weight).

After all, there are numerous success stories, like those in the National Weight Control Registry who have lost 15kgs or more and kept it off for at least one year. So how do you do it? According to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) at Harvard, crash dieting is not the answer. Instead, aim to lose 5-10% of your body weight at one time. “That’s the amount of weight you can lose before your body starts to fight back,” BIDMC reports on their website. Then, and here’s the hard part, work to maintain that loss for six months before trying to lose another 5-10%.

This is the time during which people throw in the towel or opt for the crash diet their friend is doing. But, if you can stay the course and ride out the maintenance for six months, “You can repeat the cycle and reset your set point again by losing another 10%. Through small, gradual changes in your daily habits, you’ll be able to stay at that new, lower weight for the rest of your life. This prescription is vital to outsmarting the body’s natural tendencies to regain weight,” according to the BIDMC website.

You may also have to reassess your initial weight loss goal. If you reach a point where you feel great, are healthy and have habits you can sustain for months but the number on the scale is higher than you’d like, it may be time to embrace a new number.

5. Track your food (at least to start)

Research  shows that those who track their food are most successful with losing weight and keeping it off. Tracking isn’t meant to be done forever but it can be a helpful tool until new habits stick. The more habits you create, the fewer decisions you have to make and the more brain space you have to think about other things.

You certainly don’t need to do this forever, but it may give you a better idea about what a serving of oatmeal looks like in your bowl, or how many random handfuls of chips you munch on as you try and figure out what to make for dinner.

But, calorie-counting can become obsessive and backfire, leaving you out of touch with your hunger and satiety signals. The important point here is at the “start”, once you have a good understanding of the worth of your food choices, calorie counting is only really necessary when you are planning a multi day fast. There are a number of general rules we will share with you about keeping yourself within your target range as you lose weight.

Note: Depending on your current food choices, you also need to ensure there are no vitamin deficiencies as you start your weight loss program, as this will impact on your mental clarity. You don’t need to go overboard, a daily multi-vitamin and fish oil capsule means the bases are covered.

A recent study in a US prison showed that after giving inmates a multi-vitamin and fish oil capsule daily to cover diet deficiency, violence rates within the prison dropped by 35%.

6. Rethink the scales

No one likes the scales. But like it or not, the research shows that those who are most successful with losing weight and keeping it off, track their weight. Here’s the caveat, it should not be the only metric you track. We strongly recommend investing in scales that also measure fat and muscle percentage, they aren’t overly expensive. Weight goes up and down for various reasons—you poop, it goes down. You eat salty takeout food, it goes up. A strength training workout can bump it up. You don’t lose or gain fat overnight. So think about shifting the range down instead of one single number.

For some, daily weigh-ins do more harm than good, so weighing once a week might be a good frequency. We recommend regular checks on weight, but only recording the change once a week, then if you are heading a little off track you can try to self correct prior to your official weigh in.

7. Track other metrics

I have several clients who haven’t seen the scale move in months, but they’ve lost inches and feel amazing. In addition to weekly weigh-ins, take waist circumference and progress photos once a month. Five kgs of fat and five kgs of muscle weigh the same, but muscle takes up less space (and it means you’re getting stronger!) so these metrics help you see body composition changes and will motivate you to keep going.

In addition to how you look, take note of how you feel. Can you walk farther, run faster or do a pushup? If you know what they were when you started, (taking blood tests at the start of the program is important to allow future benchmarking, for women it may also be worthwhile to take a simple iodine test to ensure your thyroid is working properly and not impacting on your hormone activity and metabolism rate) have your cholesterol levels or blood sugar numbers improved? Consider including some goals around what your body can do, rather than how you look.

8. Get moving

Diet matters more than exercise for weight loss but exercise is crucial for keeping off the weight (plus, exercise has plenty of other benefits). If you are sedentary and then start moving, you will start burning calories, which will create a calorie deficit. “Finding exercise you love helps to maintain the weight loss,” reports Sarah.

Don’t know where to start? Start walking. Create small, attainable goals like 15 minutes per day and work up to 30 minutes. If you walk 2,000 steps per day, don’t try to walk 10,000. Start with 4,000 per day and add more every couple weeks.

We have a couple of simple overall exercise suggestions, but the main priority is to get to the point where you are happily doing fat burning exercise at least twice a week. For this you will require some form of heart rate monitor, either on a watch or as part of your fitness equipment. We’ve also highlighted the 8 week honeymoon for exercise in other articles as it applies to metabolism rates.

Next, add strength training either using weights or your body weight. Start with one day per week and work up to 2-4 times per week. Strength training builds muscle, and muscle burns calories even when you’re sitting at your desk all day. It’s the fat loss pill no one wants to take.

Cardio exercise, like running, biking or swimming, is great too, but keep in mind that higher intensity workouts tend to spike hunger later in the day, which can lead to overeating. A good balance is daily walking, strength training 2-4 times per week and cardio or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) 1-3 times per week. But, the best exercise is the one that you’ll keep doing.

9. Focus on fibre

A calorie deficit is needed for weight loss but instead of focusing on what to restrict, focus on what to add. The body breaks down protein, carbohydrates and fat from food and absorbs the nutrients. If you’re eating more calories than your body needs, the extra will be stored as fat.

However, the body doesn’t absorb or store fibre. Fibre passes through the stomach and intestines largely unabsorbed, bulks everything up and then you poop it out. Fibre is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.

We had some natural fibre “nuggets” that will help you get your fibre level up easily, we need this for the fasting component of FMDZen.

By making half your plate vegetables at most meals, you automatically shift the caloric composition of your meal. For example, one cup of pasta or rice is 200 calories but one cup of vegetables is about 30 calories. So not only can you eat more vegetables for fewer calories but you also get the added benefit of the fibre (as well as vitamins and minerals), which moves through your system slowly keeping you full longer.

Fibre also expands and slows emptying of the stomach, which sends signals to the brain that you are full. Gut bacteria feed off fiber and produce short-chain fatty acids like acetate and butyrate, which research shows may help burn fat. Gut health is a major focus of FMDZen and in particular getting your liver into top shape. (Try eating more of these high-fibre foods.)

10. Eat protein at every meal

Along with fiber, eat protein at every meal, especially breakfast. Studies show that when people eat a high-protein breakfast, they have fewer cravings and eat less later in the day. Protein suppresses the hunger hormone, ghrelin, and is digested slowly, keeping you full longer.

When protein is eaten with carbohydrates, it slows the rise of blood sugar, which prevents the spike and crash effect that leaves you craving carbs an hour after you ate. Include protein, fiber and healthy fat at each meal.

Bottom line

If you feel overwhelmed with how much weight you have to lose, start small. Don’t try to tackle everything at once. In order to lose weight and keep it off, you need to embrace a long-term mentality and focus on small habit changes.

I think Sarah said it best Mindset is like 90% of the work.