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Your Ultimate Fat Loss Plan for 2021

Experts share the essential tips you must follow to lose weight this year.

So you want to lose fat. No problem. You can start right now. You heard us — you don't have to wait until tomorrow, or next week, or next month. There's no reason to be upset that you didn't start on January 1st or even if you started in the New Year but have struggled to stick to the initial goals you made. Just start! The success or failure of your fat loss doesn't hinge on the date or day of the week you choose to embark on your journey.

Ok, so now what? That's what's for us to take care of. We reached out to diet, health, and fitness experts to ask them for their tips on how to best start your fat loss plan. What follows are the essential steps you need to take to get to where you want to be. There are no fluffy, lofty goals or life-changing new habits you must try—it's a stripped-down plan that only includes the essential tips you need to follow. This fat loss plan is a step-by-step guide for how you can lose fat and keep it off. Read on, and for more on healthy eating, don't miss Simple Ways to Start Losing Weight Immediately, According to Science.

Assess your lifestyle


"Before making any changes, it is important to evaluate your overall lifestyle. Oftentimes, we choose goals that are too ambitious for our current lifestyle and what might be feasible to fit into our busy schedules. Instead of setting unrealistic goals, I like to suggest an assessment of your current lifestyle first," says Brooke Scheller, DCN, MS, CNS, Doctor of Clinical Nutrition and Certified Nutrition Specialist, and Freshly's Director of Nutrition.

"For example, it might not be reasonable to go from no exercise to 5 days per week. Instead, take a look at your schedule and see if there are times where you can build in more regular activity. Maybe this looks more like 3 days of exercise. By setting realistic goals, you're more likely to stick with them. Find ways that fit healthy habits into your life, instead of having to upend your life to make big changes that won't stick," says Scheller.

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Get your head in the game

marathon. Tired female runner and man resting and breathing

While fat loss is attainable, you have to acknowledge that it will require work to get there. That's why Brandon Nicholas, NASM, a certified personal trainer and fitness nutritionist of The Fitness Tribe urges you to get your head in the game. "Shedding weight is more than just a physical journey — it will test your will and determination. Losing weight requires a whole lifestyle transition which will not be possible if done half-heartedly due to the lack of dedication," he says. "As you train your body, you will also have to battle your mind. This is doable by exactly planning your workout journey and setting your weight loss goals. Finally, having the right mindset is what will drive you to take the leap so you can take action."

Prioritize diet over exercise

Woman reorganizing her fridge to put fresh fruits vegetables healthy snacks in front

It might please you to hear that your life doesn't have to center on exercise to lose fat. Research shows that diet changes are more important when it comes to weight and fat loss.

"Everyone turns to exercise when they want to lose weight, but research shows that exercise is not the most efficient way to lose weight and keep it off. Diet moves the needle more when it comes to sustainable weight loss. If you're seeking weight loss that lasts, the first step you should take on your weight loss journey in 2021 is to fill half your plate with vegetables at most lunches and dinners. Vegetables have just 30-70 calories per cup but are full of fiber, which slows digestion and keeps you full," says Lainey Younkin, MS, RD, weight loss registered dietitian at Lainey Younkin Nutrition.

Figure out how many calories you're currently eating

Man counting calories on table

In order to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. For that reason, "the first step for someone looking for weight loss in 2021 is they need to know how much energy (food) they are consuming," according to Kristian Morales, CPT-NASM a personal trainer and certified nutrition coach at Kristian Morales Wellness. "Nutrition is 80% of any weight loss success. Finding out how many calories you should be consuming and consistently hitting those numbers is KEY for any weight loss. There are many tips people may try, meal timing, fad diets or pills, but the most important factor is calories in vs calories out."

Pick just a few resolutions

author at home writing in journal

One of the reasons why fat loss plans tend to fail is due to taking on too many resolutions at once. "We find that many people want to tackle everything at once. Instead, we have far more success when we focus on one small change at time. Lots of small changes over the course of the year ultimately add up to big lasting change by the end of the year," says Lynn Yudofsky, MD, a psychiatrist who previously focused on integrative medicine at Stanford University and is now the Director of Behavioral Health at medically-guided weight care brand, Found. Pair down your list of resolutions and only tackle one or two at a time, then move onto the next one.

Remember to make 'SMART' goals

man excercise crunches

"I believe the biggest reason for this overzealous to lackluster attitude starts with making a broad resolution versus a specific goal. A resolution such as, 'I want to get healthy in 2021' can mean a plethora of things; lose weight, start working out, and/or eat better. That's just where the problem lies, a resolution that's diluted by trying to attain so much, then feeling bad about not achieving it, and inevitably giving up," says Randa Alami, BS, NASM CPT, FNS, CES, a personal trainer and founder of Fit With Randa.

"A goal should be 'SMART,' S-mart, M-easurable, A-ttainable, R-ealistic and T-imely," says Alami. "By setting just one goal, you can set realistic parameters to achieve it, versus the overwhelming loom of an arbitrary resolution. An example of a great fitness goal for the New Year can be, "I want to find time every day to move my body with intention for at least 10 minutes." From there, you can narrow down when, where and how. Do you want to walk during your lunch break instead of sitting in your car? Do you want to find a quick and easy 10 minute workout you can complete? Or maybe you have that good ol' piece of gym equipment collecting laundry that you can hop on for 10 minutes before your shower. By creating a goal that's measurable, attainable, realistic and timely, you're setting yourself up for success and growth…"

Just get moving

woman walking around the house

You can encourage fat loss simply by increasing your "Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis" or NEAT. "NEAT is essentially [your] daily movement, such as steps, housework, yard work, dancing, and things like that," says Morales. "Increasing your NEAT is the easiest way to burn calories. You can increase your NEAT at work, at home, playing with the kids, or just marching in place while watching your favorite tv show!" she adds.

Set up your workout plan

personal trainer gym

Although it is essential to focus on your diet to lose weight, another healthy approach to weight loss is to incorporate a workout routine. "Consult a trainer or do your research. Look for a gym that's near you so you won't have any excuse not to workout. Ask a friend to accompany you so you will have company, accountability buddy, and constant moral support all-in-one. Look for a certified trainer and/or weight loss coach so you will be guided throughout your whole journey. It's the only way you can effectively and efficiently achieve your fitness goals," says Nicholas.

Start with a 10-minute home workout every morning

at home workout

Start your fat loss with a small habit that you can repeat every day, like a 10-minute workout. "Now, the 10-minute workout will burn calories but don't think the benefits stop there. When you do a quick 10-minute workout, you'll feel better physically, and you'll feel better mentally. Aside from the knowledge that you started off on the right foot each day, you're releasing a steady stream of endorphins into your brain. You will objectively be happier," says Dani Singer, CPT, FNS, a certified personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and CEO & Founder of Fit2Go Personal Training.

Don't go too hard too fast

Asian women exercising in bed in the morning

"Don't over commit or over-perform! – If you are just starting a new workout program, don't try to do too much! Try starting with three days a week, and schedule it into your week like a doctor's appointment. No need to take a full class—stay for half an hour, or opt for a short private training session or an at-home workout. You want to make sure you are working yourself into shape safely and effectively. Then, after week four, try adding another 30 minutes every other week. Pace yourself," says Chris Higgins, ACSM-CPT, a certified trainer and founder of Calisthenic Movement.

Get some sleep

woman smiling while sleeping

"Weight loss and sleep are so intricately linked but never talked about!" Leigha Saunders, ND a naturopathic doctor and founder of The Sleep Fix.

"Getting less than 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis and/or having a disrupted sleep schedule can have a dramatic impact on someone's ability to lose weight. This is because when you're sleep-deprived, your inhibitions are lowered, your hunger centers rev up and you crave quick fixes (ex: sugary foods) to boost your energy. Sleep loss also dramatically impacts the balance between leptin and ghrelin, the two hunger hormones that regulate appetite and satiety signals. Getting a good night's sleep definitely has to be a part of the ultimate plan to lose weight!"

For a better night's sleep, Dr. Saunders recommends unplugging from technology for 1-2 hours before bed and keeping the caffeine to 12 hours before your ideal bedtime.

Track your calories at the onset of your weight loss

Food Journal

"Tracking your calories is like checking your bank account. If you never log in and look at your balance, you'll have no gauge of how you're doing financially. More importantly, you won't know what needs to change about your spending habits," says Singer. "So too, we see the same thing with weight loss and calories. In order to lose weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit (consuming fewer calories than you're burning). The only way to ensure you are in a caloric deficit is to track! For this reason, I have every weight loss client at Fit2Go Personal Training log their calories for the first 28 days of their program. Afterward, we look at the trends and proactively establish healthy habits while weaning off the daily logging," he adds.

Keep a food and mood journal

Woman writing in journal

"Become curious about the emotional quality around eating a meal. When you reach for food and aren't physically hungry, ask yourself: "How am I feeling, i.e. scared, anxious, lonely, overwhelmed, stressed?" Pause, take a few deep breaths and self-soothe by journaling, calling a friend, getting out in nature or listening to music. Nurture yourself by giving yourself an extra dose of self-compassion and self-love," says Petra Beumer, MA, Owner of the Mindful Eating Institute of Santa Barbara.

Incorporation positive—not negative—nutrition

Woman holding a slice of cucumber

"We have the tendency to want to eliminate things when we're looking to lose weight or change our eating habits. Our minds go straight to the idea of restriction — cutting out the things we love, like sweets, take out, or that glass of wine at the end of the night. Instead, look to set goals on what you should incorporate into your diet to meet your nutrition needs. We like to call this 'positive nutrition' — the foods that add benefit to your diet. By incorporating in more positive foods, you'll likely crowd out foods that are less healthy. One way to do this is to always have a heaping serving of veggies on your plate. I always start by eating the veggies on my plate so that they start to fill me up and so that I don't leave them until the end," says Dr. Scheller.

Related: 9 Warning Signs You're Not Eating Enough Vegetables

Identify the fitness routine that you will actually enjoy

Women walking and exercising smilling and happy

"Make a list of everything you have ever tried in fitness since you were a kid. Which ones make you cringe just thinking of them? Cross those off your list. Keep crossing the names until you narrow it down to your top three favorite activities," says Virna Lichter, CPT, an ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Weight Loss Specialist and Sports Conditioning Specialist.

"Now, realistically, which of the top three fitness activities do you feel confident that you can stick to it? If your top three includes football, for example but you have a knee injury, and no one to play with, that's not the best choice. Move down to the next one. Once you find your go-to fitness routine, commit to it for at least 4 days a week. I have been a trainer for many years, and although I know what is best for my clients, if they are not going to enjoy it, they are not going to stick to their workouts. Fitness needs to be enjoyable to become a lifestyle!"

Consider making 'non-scale victory' resolutions

Close-up of a man in wide trousers losing weight

Dr. Yudofsky points out that oftentimes, fat loss plans are too restrictive and unrealistic. "If a resolution or diet is ultra restrictive, life is miserable, so people naturally return to old habits. Health-related resolutions should be sustainable, not insufferable!"

"Weight-related goals should be more holistic, taking into account both your mind and body. The best health resolutions are those that focus on 'non-scale victories.' In other words, the success that goes beyond the number on the scale. For example, a resolution does not need to be about how much weight one loses, but can instead be about how much energy one gains, improved quality of sleep, or feeling more relaxed overall."

"Remember that resolutions can be enjoyable! Choose a resolution that feels good for a change- you deserve that after this challenging year! For example, incorporating a deep breathing exercise into your daily routine, setting aside time to talk to your close friends, or being kinder to yourself (e.g. getting rid of the negative voice in your head)," says Dr. Yudofsky.

Related: 10 Ways to Measure Weight Loss Progress Without a Scale

Don't be too hard on yourself

Middle women relaxing in the living room.

"Judgement is often what ends up derailing these resolutions. It's important that you do not judge yourself if you do not stick to your new year's resolution — every day is a new day and new opportunity. In fact, when a person places negative judgment on themselves research shows that they are actually LESS likely to accomplish their goals. If something does not go as planned, that is a great learning experience, and not a time to be hard on yourself and quit altogether. In 2021 and beyond, remember to love yourself, not judge yourself!" says Dr. Yudofsky.

Find people who will keep you accountable

women eating salads

"Write [your goal] down and tell everyone you are close to in life that you have set this goal and how they can help you stay accountable by setting the boundaries with them," says Bill Daniels NASM-CPT, a certified personal trainer and wonder of Beyond Fitness Online.

"The second step is important because we all need some level of external accountability but too much and you will get annoyed and give up. Let people in your life know what you are trying to accomplish and how much feedback you need from them to keep you going, but not more than that. For example, tell your mother that when you come over for dinner that you want to eat healthy but that you don't need her to go on and on about what you're doing wrong."

Get outside in the sun

Couple on an early morning walk

Get outside in the sunshine daily. "There are numerous benefits to getting sunshine on our bodies—everything from improving sleep, boosting immunity, enhancing weight loss, and elevating mood to reducing risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, autoimmunity, and neurodegenerative disease. Sun exposure is also the best way to optimize vitamin D levels, which help boost metabolic function, improve weight loss and decrease body fat," says Chad Walding, DPT, doctor of physical therapy, a sports nutritionist, Holistic Health Coach, and Co-founder of NativePath.

"Prioritize getting daily sun exposure to as much of your bare skin as possible. Take breaks and go outside and walk or eat lunch outdoors. Try to get at least 10 minutes up to approximately 30 minutes of direct sunshine a day (without getting burned). Don't use sunscreen during this time period as that would prevent you from getting the UV rays you need to make vitamin D. If you are out in the sun all day, protect yourself with shade, clothing, or a toxin-free sunscreen, but before you put it on, allow your skin to get some rays. Again, do avoid getting burned!"

Try an elimination diet


If you've tried to lose fat in the past and have failed, it may be due to a health issue like a food sensitivity. "The first step they probably have not done is take a food sensitivities test or do an elimination diet," recommends Lindsey Catarino, CHC, a Connecticut-based Certified Health Coach. "I find that a lot of people who think they just are not trying hard enough to lose weight are actually suffering from inflammation or a gut response related to a food sensitivity. Ruling these out before hitting the gym or going on a super restrictive diet can be key to their success and overall well-being. I recommend to my clients the EverlyWell test, which you can do from the comfort of your own home."

"If they want to go to the elimination diet route, the Whole30 diet is fantastic. Once they have ruled out food sensitivities, I would choose a diet that makes the most sense for you – the one you will actually do. Though many things work (keto, plant-based, counting calories, macros), we know that there are certain non-negotiable with our food choices and our habits. Just because someone you know had success one way will not limit you from having success using a totally different approach," says Catarino. If you need help selecting a diet that's right for you, check out these 14 Best Diets For Weight Loss in 2021, According to Experts.

Olivia Tarantino
Olivia Tarantino is the Managing Editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in nutrition, health, and food product coverage. Read more about Olivia