Achieving and managing a healthy weight takes time and patience. A six-month plan allows you to pursue a safe rate of weight loss without feeling overly deprived or burdened by your efforts. Over six months, many of your dieting strategies may become lifelong habits that can help you manage your weight even after you have achieved your goal.
Creating your six-month weight-loss plan becomes easier when you have specific results in mind. Instead of saying you want to become healthier and lose weight, aim for specific targets. Commit to losing 10, 20 or 30 pounds and eliminating any risk factors for chronic conditions such as elevated insulin levels, high blood pressure and cholesterol, or a waist size over 40 inches for a man or 35 inches for a woman. These factors increase your risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which increases your risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes, according to the American Heart Association.
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Weight Loss Basics
To lose weight, you must create a calorie deficit, meaning you eat fewer calories than you burn. A pound of weight equals about 3,500 calories, so if you make your deficit equivalent to about 500 calories per day, you can shed a pound per week. Burn more calories through increased physical activity to make this deficit greater and help you lose weight faster. Over six months, losing one or two pounds a week can yield as much as a 40-lb. weight loss.
Visit a resource such as caloriesperhour.com to figure out how many calories you burn daily. From this number, subtract 500 calories to set your daily calorie target for losing one pound per week—a safe and sustainable rate as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Remember that as you become slimmer, the amount of calories you burn daily decreases. For every five pounds you lose, you burn between 25 and 50 calories fewer per day. Adjust your calorie target every time you lose about 10 pounds to make sure you continue to lose weight and do not plateau, recommends registered dietitian Joanne Larson on "Ask the Dietitian." If your target calorie intake for weight loss puts you below the National Institutes of Health's recommended daily minimums of 1,200 for a woman or 1,500 for a man, increase your exercise or trim just 250 calories per day from your daily burn rate to lose just 1/2 pound per week.
Take your calorie target and divide it up over the course of three meals and two smaller snacks. For example, if you need 1,600 calories per day to lose weight, aim to eat 400 to 450 calories at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and 125 to 200 calories for each snack. Come up with a few standby menus for each meal that you can fall back on to stay in your calorie target. For example, know that at breakfast, you can always enjoy a serving of oatmeal with soy milk, berries and almonds, or at lunch you can eat a deli turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with vegetables and an apple. Having fall-back meal options makes shopping and meal planning less stressful and makes it easier to stay on track when you are tired or busy.
Figure exercise into your weight-loss plan as well. Keep your expectations minimal to start. If you can only commit to two days of workouts per week, that is better than nothing. As you feel more motivated, add more days and vary your types of training to burn more calories and accelerate weight loss.
A six-month diet plan does not have to involve strict calorie-counting and drastic measures taken all at once. In fact, gradual changes will more likely become embedded habits that help you sustain your goal weight for a lifetime. For the first month, adopt a new strategy every three days. Begin by reducing your intake of discretionary calories such as soda, candy, donuts and alcohol. Then, try to make healthy swaps--such as low-fat dairy for full-fat, chicken for beef, whole grains for refined flour products, mustard for mayonnaise and marinara sauces for creamed versions. Add a short daily walk and gradually increase its duration by 10 percent every week to work up to a full hour of moderate-intensity exercise daily--the minimum amount needed to successfully lose weight, according to the American Council on Exercise. Over time, introduce other strategies such as reducing portion sizes, cooking more meals at home so you can control the calorie content, and including more fruits and vegetables.