Obesity has been associated with numerous chronic medical conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, depression, and even certain cancers. Yet, there is so much misinformation in the media on weight loss—from claims that everything from acai berries to costly supplements are the secret to obtaining a slim body. But truthfully, there is no quick fix for weight loss. Weight loss requires a very conscious effort to implement changes to ones’ habits and lifestyle.

The word “diet” is misleading; diets simply don’t work. They may help with weight loss initially, but once they end, patients regain the weight…frequently gaining even more than they lost. Sure, that shake diet or prescription weight-loss drug may help you lose weight in the short run, but what happens when the regimen is completed? How realistic is it to be on a shake diet for the rest of your life? Will your doctor safely allow you to be on a stimulant forever?

Your weight-loss plan needs to be reasonable and sustainable for the long haul. What is effective in maintaining the weight loss long term is a lifestyle change. And any diet book, gimmick, fad, shake, or supplement that attempts to tell you otherwise is trying to sell you their product.

Don’t fall for it. Here are 10 evidence-based tips to help you lose excess weight and keep it off.

1. Rule Out Underlying Medical Conditions

Before you get started, a visit to your doctor is key. You’ll want to discuss your weight loss plan, obtain clearance to initiate an exercise regimen, and get tested for certain medical conditions. A simple blood test is often used to check for diabetes and thyroid disorder, and a few other baseline tests may be needed to make certain you’re healthy enough to begin a weight-loss regimen and that there aren’t other underlying medical conditions contributing to the excess weight.

Also, be sure to review your medication list with your doctor, because certain drugs can contribute to weight gain, such as some anti-seizure medications, antipsychotics, lithium, and steroids.

2. Determine How Overweight You Are

Before initiating a plan, it’s vital to determine if you’re indeed overweight and how overweight you really are. Almost all doctors use the Body Mass Index (BMI) as one of their tools to determine an individual’s healthy weight:

BMI = Body weight in kilograms divided by height squared in meters

A BMI of 25 to 29 rates a definition of “overweight,” 30 and above correlates with “obesity,” and 40 and above with “morbid obesity.” Note that this formula doesn’t account for muscle weight. For instance, bodybuilders can appear as “morbidly obese” based on their BMI, and they are certainly not. So, although BMI is useful, if you have significant muscle mass consider your measurement with a grain of salt. There are various useful online calculators that measure BMI available online.   

Another way to gauge your weight (and track your progress) is to measure your waist circumference. Instead of getting on that scale, consider how your clothes fit. A waist circumference of over 35 inches in women or over 40 inches in men is associated with an increased risk of obesity-related medical complications.

3. Set Short-Term and Long-Term Goals

How much weight do you need to lose? Ask your doctor what your ideal weight is, but in addition, set an initial weight goal and other interim goals. Make short-term goals realistic, because expecting to lose too much too fast may produce unnecessary frustration.

Studies show health benefits after even a 5% weight loss in those who are obese or overweight. This number is the first milestone for many people. Overall, aim for 1–2 pounds of weight loss a week. Slow and steady. If you attempt to lose weight more quickly, you’re more likely to gain it back just as quickly.

4. Take Small Steps

When you first initiate a long-term weight-management plan, start with small changes. If you set reasonable goals and achieve them gradually, you are more likely to be successful in the long run. For instance, if you consume sodas or juice, consider giving just these items up for the first week or two. Then, once you’ve mastered that, switch perhaps from white, starchy foods to whole grains. In another couple of weeks, maybe initiate a walking regimen of 5 minutes every other day. And so on.

If you attempt to do too much at once, you’re more likely to abandon your plan altogether. Make a list of all the small steps and changes you need to make. Then tackle them one by one. Steady but slowly wins the race.

5. Shrink Your Portions

Even if a diet consists solely of veggies and fruits, it can still cause weight gain if too much is eaten. Therefore, it’s vital to consume proper portion sizes. Half of your plate should consist of vegetables, a quarter of your plate a lean protein source (chicken without the skin, turkey, fish), and no more than a quarter should consist of grains or starches.

One easy trick to shrink portions sizes is to simply use a smaller plate. Another is to eat more slowly so your brain can process and enjoy the experience of eating longer, thus creating a greater sense of satiety.

6. Curb the Carbohydrates

It has been suggested that the obesity epidemic in the U.S. is partly due to our high-carbohydrate diets, not high-fat ones, as was thought for several decades. While limiting fat intake, Americans have somewhat inadvertently increased their carbohydrate intake, contributing to rising diabetes rates.

The biggest villains often come in liquid form—sodas, juice, and alcohol. These drinks are full of unnecessary calories and should be eliminated from the diet. Other culprits are bread, rice, tortillas, beans, potatoes, and pastas—everyday foods that are overconsumed.

Keep your carb portions reasonable, aiming for no more than a quarter of your plate. And instead of white starch, opt for whole-wheat, complex-carb versions. That is, instead of white rice, choose brown. It may not be as pleasant to the palate when you initially make the switch, but you will get accustomed to the change.

Very-low-carbohydrate diets (less than 60 grams of carbs a day), such as the recent ketogenic craze, will help you lose weight. But are they sustainable for the long term? For most people, they’re not. If you do institute one of these very-low-carb diets, it’s vital to select healthy protein and fat sources—you don’t want to exchange weight loss for plaque build-up and heart disease.

7. Select Healthier Fat and Protein Sources

Select fat and protein sources that are heart healthy—such as peanuts, nuts and seeds, avocado, and soy. Use olive oil or cooking spray when cooking instead of fattier oils or butter. Avoid fried foods. Switch to 1%, or better yet, non-fat milk. Limit red meat, and instead opt for chicken without the skin, turkey, or fish.

And beware of salad dressings—always read labels—because they tend to either be high in fat or high in carbs. Consider using lemon juice or vinegar alone.

8. Get Your Fiber

Fiber adds bulk and creates a feeling of prolonged satiety. And studies show those who consume a high-fiber diet have a decreased lifetime obesity risk and a decreased diabetes risk.

Adults should consume about 25–35 grams of fiber per day. However, most people are not consuming enough. Aim for a minimum of 5 servings of veggies and fruits a day. Select whole grains (100% whole-wheat bread, brown rice, etc.) instead of refined ones (white bread, white rice, etc.). If you’re unable to obtain enough fiber through your diet, opt for supplementation. However, increase your fiber intake gradually—too much at once initially can cause undesirable gastrointestinal symptoms.

Find out more about the health benefits of fiber.  

9. Increase Physical Activity

You knew this one was coming. The math of weight management demands you consume less energy than you burn—there’s no way around it. The most successful weight-loss regimens include not just dietary changes, but physical activity as well. While diet alone more effectively leads to weight loss than exercise alone, the strategies work best together. And routine exercise is a good predictor of weight-loss maintenance in the long term, and of course provides cardiovascular health benefits, too.

Again, if you lead a rather sedentary lifestyle, take small steps (no pun intended). Initially, take brisk walks (without stopping) for 5 minutes on most days. Once you achieve that, increase the walks to 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, and so on until you reach 30 minutes of nonstop cardiovascular exercise. Note that during “cardiovascular” exercise your heart should be beating rapidly and your body should break a sweat.

Eventually combining cardiovascular exercise with resistance training is ideal.

10. Reward Yourself

Reward yourself every so often for your excellent effort and achievements with food you enjoy—no more than once a week and with proper portions.  If you attempt to completely stop eating your favorite foods, you are more likely to stray from your weight-loss plan.

Allow yourself to have a treat once in a while—after all your hard work and dedication, you will surely deserve it.