People who are trying to lose weight often confront the same problem: They lose enough weight to get close to their goals, and then their progress totally stalls. They wind up stonewalled, five pounds short of their ideal body weight. The solution: A strong weight-loss program.

As in many pursuits, it takes a lot of dedication and focus to lose weight. And while weight-loss is often highly personal (more on that in a bit), you can make significant progress by drilling into details, being brutally honest with your daily habits, and figuring out exactly how much you should be (and are) eating every day.

We asked Kim Larson, R.D.N., N.B.C.-H.W.C., the founder of Total Health in Seattle, WA, for her best strategies to finish up your long journey to a leaner body.

Step 1: Get detailed with your measurements.

First, make sure you’re measuring your progress regularly. Weighing yourself on a scale is a good start, but it’s also smart to find other ways to measure your body composition (fat vs. muscle content). Everyone’s body responds differently to losing weight. The time it takes you to shed these pounds will vary, but one thing’s for sure: It gets harder as you get closer to the goal.

“The last five or so pounds are much harder to lose and are much slower to come off,” says Larson. “Adjusting expectations for the rate of weight loss is essential. You should expect about a quarter- to half-pound loss as you get closer to your ideal body weight—within a 10-pound range of it.”

Step 2: Self-scout your weight-loss habits with brutal honesty.

Next, take stock of your current calorie intake. “Being accurate and brutally honest is what will reveal the pitfalls,” Larson says. “Sometimes you just don’t realize you’re doing something to hamper weight loss, like mindless eating at some point in the day. Identify indulgences and zero in on oversized portions—especially those with carbs, because people overeat them on a regular basis.”

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Furthermore, examine when you eat and when you work out. If you’re eating balanced and healthy meals during the week, but then binging on the weekends on beer and movie popcorn, you aren’t going to reach your goal, says Larson. Likewise, working out during the week, but then relapsing into a couch potato on the weekend—or controlling calories well during the week and then feeling so deprived that you reward yourself with unlimited treats on the weekends—won’t help those pounds disappear.

Step 3: Self-scout your drinks, too.

Beverages can also rack up excess calories quickly, so make sure you aren’t drinking sugar-laden or high-calorie drinks—lattes, fruit juice, or even large smoothies full of calories from fruit and sweeteners like honey, agave syrup, maple syrup.

Moreover, it’s probably best to cut out alcohol altogether to reach your ideal weight. “Alcohol delivers calories that add up quickly,” she says. “Drinking alcohol stimulates your appetite and reduces your resolve to not binge-eat something you wouldn’t normally choose to eat,” she says. Take a hard look at how much and how frequently you’re drinking, to assess where extra calories might be coming in.

Step 4: Calibrate the calorie balance you need to lose weight.

Measuring out portion sizes might be time-consuming, but it’s an undeniably effective way to identify exactly how many calories you’re eating at one time. “Many people have no idea what a portion size of carbohydrates—or even protein—should be,” says Larson. “Go on a site like myplate.gov for a simple, easy, and free way to check out visual portion sizes of food on a plate or in a bowl to show you what they really look like.”

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As part of your weight-loss plan, be sure to examine the amount of fat you’re eating, even in healthy foods like nuts, fish, or avocados. Even small servings of those foods add a lot of calories.

That said, starving yourself won’t work, either. Eating too little food can slow your metabolic rate, rather than speeding weight loss, says Larson.

Step 5: Make sure you fuel your weight-loss workouts.

If you’re cutting out meals and then running on empty when hitting the gym, you won’t be able to exercise as hard and get the results you want to see.

Plus, make sure you’re eating enough protein to stave off hunger: “Eating adequate protein also prevents the breakdown of muscle in weight loss and helps to preserve lean muscle mass to help keep your metabolic rate up.”

To determine how many calories you should be eating, visit a site like verywell.com, says Larson. Myplate.gov also has a “supertracker” that can help you keep track of food and drink intake, and then calculate the number of calories you need to lose weight. “It’s a great, free and simple tool to use on-line for the average person,” she says. “You can go to your specific calorie level and then look at meal plans to see what your meals and food portions should look like. It tells you exactly how much food to eat of the different food groups—here’s an example for a 1,800 calorie diet for a day.”

Sample Three-day Weight-Loss Program Meal Plan

This plan provides an average of 1,200 calories a day. Adjust amounts as needed to match your gender, activity level, weight, and height to cut enough calories from your current diet to drop the last few pounds. Be sure to drink mostly water throughout the day.

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DAY 1

Breakfast

  • 1 egg
  • 1 orange
  • 1 slice whole-wheat toast with 1 tsp margarine or butter
  • 6 oz Greek yogurt

Lunch

  • 2 slices whole wheat bread with 2 oz ham, 1 tsp mayo, mustard, and lettuce and tomato
  • ½ cup grape tomatoes
  • Raw broccoli
  • Pear

Dinner

  • 3 oz chicken breast, with 2/3 cup bowtie pasta, mushrooms, zucchini, and red pepper with minced garlic
  • 1 cup green salad with 1 sliced tomato and 2 Tbsp light dressing

Snack

  • 3 squares graham crackers
  • 1 cup milk

DAY 2

Breakfast

  • 1 waffle with ½ cup peaches
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of milk

Lunch

  • 3 oz. grated cheese, ½ cup beans, tomato, onion, carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, 2 Tbsp light ranch dressing, salsa
  • 1 apple

Dinner

  • 3 oz. roast beef
  • ½ cup potatoes
  • 1 oz. roll
  • Carrots and onions
  • 1 tsp butter for veggies
  • Tossed salad with 2 Tbsp light dressing

Snack

  • ¼ cup Grape Nuts with 6 oz. Greek yogurt

DAY 3

Breakfast

  • 1 oz. lean ham
  • ½ cup steel-cut oats with 1 cup milk
  • ½ grapefruit

Lunch

  • 2 oz chicken breast, mushrooms, peppers, romaine lettuce, 1 Tbsp Caesar dressing, 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¾ oz pretzels
  • 1 tangerine

Dinner

  • 2 oz lean ground beef, 1 slice cheese, 1 hamburger bun, onion, lettuce, tomato, 1 tsp mayo, ketchup
  • Green beans

Snack

  • ¾ cup Cheerios and 1 cup milk



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