The steeper the mountain, the more difficult the first step is. And if you’re carrying a lot of extra weight, taking that first step toward a healthier lifestyle can be especially daunting.
“I think people who’ve never been overweight don’t understand how intimidating it can be to start losing weight,” says Louise Green, a trainer, fitness writer, and founder of Canada’s Body Exchange exercise programs and retreats, which are designed for a plus-sized clientele.
Green has some encouraging words, however: She’s found that many overweight or obese people are much stronger than they realize. “There’s a lot of fear surrounding fitness,” she says. “But you’re more capable then you assume.”
Here, she and other experts outline the best ways to get motivated and get started for those looking to lose 50 pounds or more.
1. Hide your bathroom scale
Getting the weight off and keeping it off is a slow process, Green says. Watching the number on a scale can be depressing. Plus, if you’re focused on losing a set number of pounds in a specific amount of time, missing that goal can wreck your motivation. “Some people are just born bigger, and they won’t be able to lose a lot of weight without taking unhealthy, unsustainable measures when it comes to diet or exercise,” Green adds. For those reasons, she says losing weight should be a secondary benefit to your overall health gains not your primary goal.
2. That’s right: Focus on your health
Train your attention on how you feel, advises Michelle Steinke, founder of One Fit Widow. Steinke rededicated herself to health and lost 80 pounds after the tragic death of her husband. When you’re physically active, you have more energy and you feel better about yourself, she says. “Enjoy the sensations of being active and strong,” Green says. Instead of feeling like you’re suffering through some kind of weight-loss boot camp, you’ll actually relish the time you spend exercising.
3. Learn to Appreciate Exercise
Instead of treating exercise as a necessary evil to spur weight loss, make it fun by participating in activities you enjoy. Work your way up to the 150 minutes per week of exercise the CDC recommends for good health. You may even learn to like exercise so much that eventually you’ll add more to accelerate your weight loss.
A brisk walk, a hike in the woods, snow-shoeing with friends or a dance fitness class all offer fun ways to burn calories. These activities can feel more like a pastime rather than a chore. If you simply cannot carve out the time to exercise, think of small ways that you can bring in movement to your day. A brief walk after breakfast, strolling while you’re on the phone, parking farther out in the parking lot and choosing the stairs instead of the elevator will help you burn extra calories.
Building some muscle also makes weight loss less of a chore. Lean tissue burns a greater number of calories at rest so that your metabolism doesn’t slow down so much when your size shrinks. You don’t need to heave heavy weights on the gym floor to acquire lean mass. Squat in your living room, do push-ups off your kitchen counter and lunge down your hallway for easy, at-home options.
4. Drink more water
If you set the bar too high, you’re setting yourself up for failure, says Dyan Tsiumis, founder of GET FIERCE Training in New York. Tsiumis, who once weighed 190 pounds, dropped more than 70 lbs from her petite frame. “I often have my clients start by drinking two liters of water every day for a month,” she says. “They’re amazed at how good they feel.” By starting with modest goals, you can avoid the pitfalls of burnout or the debilitating repercussions of missing your targets.
5. Find your happy place
“If you aren’t comfortable with your workout space, you won’t exercise,” Tsiumis says. Green believes feeling comfortable with your trainer is equally important. “Trainers who aren’t used to working with overweight clients will often recommend exercise or programs that aren’t right for their clients’ bodies, and can even be painful,” Green says. In the beginning, exercising at home or walking in your neighborhood may remove some of the anxiety of working out in a typical gym setting. Finding a workout buddy or a support community online is another great way to make exercise more inviting, Green says.