Losing weight is one of the most popular goals Americans have. In fact, three of the top five most popular New Year’s Resolutions ahead of 2018 had to do with losing weight or living healthier. But, sadly, weight loss isn’t something you can just snap your fingers and achieve. No, making a weight loss plan is the most effective way to lose weight and start living healthier.

Similar to a retirement plan, the important steps of how to make a weight loss plan means looking at four essential factors and taking them all into account.

Losing weight requires serious consideration of your lifestyle and the changes necessary to meet your goal.

Set Achievable Goals

The first step in making a weight loss plan is perhaps the most important. Before you do anything, decide what you want to achieve from your efforts. Do you want to lose 20 pounds? What about 50? Or, is it more of a cosmetic thing, you want to look a certain way? You could also look to fit into a certain article of clothing. Unfortunately, the goal of “lose weight” is just too vague. The more specific the goal, the more likely you’ll be to achieve it.

Speaking of achieving your weight loss goal, make sure whatever goal you settle on is possible. We’d all love to be able to lose 10 pounds a week or to fit into a specific garment, but, unless you’re risking an eating disorder, it may not be possible to fit into an outfit you wore in high school. While it may help some to “shoot for the stars,” if you goals are impossible to achieve, it’s easy to get discouraged.

One way to set a specific attainable goal is with the BMI, or Body Mass Index. While it’s not entirely accurate, since it doesn’t take things like muscle mass or fitness into account, it can give you a ballpark region to aim for with weight numbers. Hip-to-waist ratio is an alternative to BMI that’s more accurate, but the way you set your goal can be different for each person.

It’s important to remember that weight loss isn’t always a healthy or realistic goal. Instead, weight is only one signal of your overall health that can be taken into account. If you do want to have an effective weight loss plan, it may be smarter to think of it as a weight management plan. Since weight gain is a common experience for many seniors — and is in some cases healthy — it’s important to take all health factors into account when choosing a weight loss goal, whether that’s losing a few pounds, maintaining your weight while gaining fitness, or even gaining a few pounds if your doctor thinks it’s a good idea. Speaking of doctors…

Talk to Your Doctor

Perhaps the best way to make an effective weight loss plan and set your goals is by seeing your doctor. Even if you already have goals in mind when you meet with your doctor, be flexible. Your physician is going to know what some healthy goals will be for you. They’ll be able to tell you a healthy weight or healthy ways to achieve your goals.

If you have Medicare, your Welcome to Medicare or Annual Wellness visits are the perfect time to have this discussion. Generally, a personal health plan will be part of these visits, so much of the overview and medical update will already be done. Your regular physical checkup is also a good time to have this discussion with your doctor, since they’ll have already taken your vital physical markers like your weight, height, and blood pressure.

It’s also important to talk to your doctor before starting any new weight loss programs, diets, or physical routines, especially if you’re ill or a senior. In the case of a weight loss program or diet, you’ll want to double check that nothing will interfere with any medications you’re taking. You’ll also want to check that these options are effective and safe. The same goes for exercise routines. Before starting a new workout, it’s always wise to check with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough.

Before you set off on your weight loss journey, check in with your doctor about your expectations and limits.

Look at Your Diet

One of the first things your doctor will usually suggest when it comes to losing weight and getting healthier is to look at your diet. Your diet is most likely the biggest reason you’ve gained weight and the best way to lose it. One of the simplest ways to lose weight through dieting is to just eat healthier. Cutting down on snacking or how much sugar you eat is a great first step. Eating more fruits, vegetables, and superfoods is also effective.

Cooking for yourself, instead of eating out, is another way you can help yourself lose weight. While cooking at home won’t automatically make you lose weight, especially if you’re cooking unhealthy food, cooking gives you more control over what you’re eating. Even more unhealthy meals, like chicken parmesan, can become healthy if you’re clever. Cooking also allows you to plan out your meals, which can further help you eat healthier. Learn how to cook has never been easier. Check out our Cooking for Beginners series or any of these healthy cooking channels on YouTube!

Of course, you could try a full-on diet. There’s many out there to choose from. Unfortunately, many of the fad diets aren’t truly effective. For example, the gluten-free only diet only has proven results for people with celiac disease. Others, like the 80/20, CICO, and Macro diets are effective because they’re closer to healthy lifestyles than just eating. When it comes to dieting, what’s important is that you’re eating more healthy foods than unhealthy and that it’s not too restrictive.

Your diet has a bigger impact on your weight than you might think.

Find a Workout Routine for You

Your diet isn’t the only way you can lose weight, and it shouldn’t be the only way you try. Fitness is an important factor in living healthily. Most of know someone who’s skinny but unhealthy. That’s why exercising is so important. Almost like driving a car helps it to work right, exercise helps our bodies function properly.

Of course, getting started is the hardest part. Walking is a great way to begin building up your fitness, before moving up to jogging and running. You could also try following a YouTube fitness channel, which can guide you through workouts and exercises at home for free. There’s also national fitness programs available to seniors through the Medicare program. Even if you’ve got a busy schedule, there’s time for a quick micro-workout or high-intensity interval training! If you’re struggling for motivation, try turning your workout into a game, which is shown to help. Just don’t forget to have rest days, since these can be important to your health and safety.

If the idea of exercise is completely repulsive to you, you can still workout. You just have to get active. For example, swimming is a great way to cool off on a hot summer day. It’s also one of the best workouts imaginable. But just about anything can become a workout. Everything from dancing to gardening to golfing can exercise you without it feeling like an exercise. When it comes to exercise, just remember to mix cardio and weight training for well-rounded weight loss benefits. Cardio burns more calories, but weight lifting increases your metabolism, so the two work in tandem.

Weight loss and getting healthier is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a process that can take a while, especially if you have more weight to lose than others. In fact, weight lost slower tends to be healthier and kept off in the long run. It’s one of the reasons why The Biggest Loser got into trouble. It’s also why effective weight loss plans are deeply personal things. All our bodies are different and have different needs. That’s why, of all the factors of building a weight management plan, talking to your doctor is probably the most important.