Deciding to lose weight is a super personal thing. And even though you should never feel like you have to, if you WANT to start a weight-loss journey that's totally up to you.
Thing is, losing weight—especially a significant amount—isn't something a pill, or tea, or shake can accomplish. Despite what supplement companies might try to sell you, it takes long-term lifestyle changes (not a pricey meal-replacement shake) to make a solid difference.
That might mean you have to incorporate more nutritionally-dense foods, make sleep a priority, manage stress in a healthy way, and maybe even throw in some extra activity. Whatever your approach, it should be something you can maintain over the long-haul.
If you want to be successful in weight loss, you have to focus on more than just how you look. An approach that taps into how you feel, your overall health, and your mental health is often the most efficient.
Because no two weight-loss journeys are alike, we asked a bunch of women who’ve accomplished a major weight loss exactly how they did it.
Gessi Parisi-Rodriguez, 25
Total weight loss: 124 pounds
1. Start in your comfort zone. Parisi-Rodriguez started her fitness journey by putting one foot in front of the other. “When I weighed 252 pounds, the thought of walking into a gym and working out terrified me. So I started walking around my block instead—something I was already comfortable doing.” She worked her way up from 30-minute sessions to two-hour walks, lacing up five or six times a week.
2. Skip soda. “I was addicted to Pepsi and Dr. Pepper for years,” says Parisi-Rodriguez, who once consumed up to six cans a day. “Once I realized that soda was nothing but empty calories, I swapped my beverage of choice to water instead. It was super uncomfortable at first, but after eight years, I can honestly say I no longer crave soda like I used to.”
3. Lighten up on carbs—without ditching them. Born into a Sicilian family of chefs, pizza makers, and restaurant owners, carbs had long been a mainstay in Parisi-Rodriguez’s life. Instead of giving up carbs entirely—as if!—she reached for low-calorie or low-carb versions of staples like bread and tortillas.
4. Cancel the whole “all-or-nothing” thing. “I used to think that if I ate healthy all day but then ‘slipped up’ by eating a chocolate cookie, that I ruined everything for that day,” Parisi-Rodriguez says. “Then I’d just start binge-eating the crap out of everything!” Reframing reframing her mindset helps her carry on without guilt or deprivation.
5. Shout your goal from the rooftops. At the onset of her weight loss journey, Parisi-Rodriguez began documenting her progress on Instagram. “It helped keep me accountable because I knew others were watching,” she says, noting that private people can still follow suit by sharing with just one other person.
Alex Wittner, 23
Total weight loss: 105 pounds
6. Pound that water. “I carry a 32-ounce water bottle with me at all times,” says Wittner, who fills that baby up not once, not twice, but four times a day.
7. Score fitness class freebies. As a big fan of ClassPass, Wittner also found that many local studios offer free trials or super discounted rates for newbies. “Take advantage of it! The worst thing that can happen is you did not like it and you used up an hour of your day,” she says.
8. Do not fear the weight room. Wittner credits WW (formerly Weight Watchers) and weight lifting for her results. “Lifting weights helped me tremendously with toning up and losing weight,” she says. Although she learned to pump that iron at a local gym, she bows down to YouTube and Insta where there are free tutorials galore.
9. Eat the pizza. And the ice cream! “Deprivation will only lead you to going off the rails later on,” she says. “I not only allow myself to have these every once in a while, but make healthier homemade versions such as a pita pizza or a protein shake that tastes like ice cream.”
Shannon McDaniel-Posey, 32
Total weight lost: 120 pounds in 16 months
10. Want it—for realz. “You have to have the mindset to go full throttle,” says McDaniel-Posey, who had a wakeup call about her dire state of physical and mental health after the death of her grandfather. “I ate and drank whatever I wanted and lost myself. I was done living my life the way I was.”
11. Give yourself a GD break. “One bad meal will not make you obese,” she says. “Life is too short to beat yourself up.”
12. Use Instagram. “It influenced me on so many levels,” she says. “There were people just like me sharing their progress pictures, recipes, products they loved, grocery store hauls, trials and tribulations, and just their life in general. It was uplifting! It was the motivation I was searching for.”
Tanique Johnson, 26
Total weight loss: 135 pounds
13. Cancel the whole “but I need a trainer!” narrative. “Excuses are easy,” says Johnson. “I never had a trainer or a nutritionist, but knowing what I wanted helped me stay consistent and changed my lifestyle for the better.”
14. Practice the world’s simplest meal math. Protein (like chicken) + veggies (just about anything green) = dinner is served. Johnson says that adding more proteins and veggies to her plate helped her cut back on the amount of calories she was eating. “It’s not about taking carbs out of your diet but recognizing that they’re not needed at every meal.”
Jessica Beniquez, 24
Total weight lost: More than 170
15. Sparkling water + Crystal Light = soda who!? Because it’s not always easy to quit carbonated bevs cold-turkey, this cocktail can help you transition, says Beniquez. She sips this combo when she really craves a sweetened soda.
16. Get all up in nature’s candy. At night, Beniquez swaps sugary treats for fruit. Remember fruit? It’s super sweet and hits the spot.
17. Repeat after me: “Routine shmoutine.” Whenever Benique hit a weight-loss plateau, she shifted gears entirely. “I changed the way I worked out or changed my eating routine,” she says. “Then I focus on why I started and how far I'd go if I didn't give up.”
Mayra Arias, 35
Laguna Beach, California
Total weight loss: 135 pounds
18. Cook a week’s worth of food in one go. “It’s the best way to stay on track,” Arias says. “I had no excuses to go off plan when I had my food ready to heat up.” Some of her favorites include egg roll in a bowl, chicken broccoli Alfredo bake, one-pan salmon with veggies, and chicken parmesan.
Suzanne Ryan, 35
San Francisco Bay Area, California
Total weight loss: 120 pounds
19. Build confidence with baby steps. “One small step kicked off some bigger changes and confidence in my ability to stick to something,” The first change Ryan made: swapping soda for flat or sparkling water. “Small changes can lead to big results—so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with one thing, then add on.”
20. Stay in your lane. “Do what works for you and don’t compare yourself to others,” she says. “Everyone is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.”
Shanna Fichera, 31
Total weight loss: 110 pounds
21. Start small. "I began walking or jogging for 15 minutes a day. I worked up to 30 minutes, and then increased it again. It was a very gradual process."
22. Don't give up when your weight loss plateaus. "I remember hitting the first plateau and feeling so defeated, but you have to push through and keep putting in the effort for your plan to work. You can't get discouraged."
Brianna Blank, 22
Total weight loss: 150 pounds
23. Find a healthy meal you like, and eat it all the time. "In college, I researched the food available in the dining hall to find the healthiest options and settled on a turkey sandwich with whole-wheat bread and mustard. I was so focused on achieving my goals that it didn't even feel repetitive."
Maria Gordon, 31
Upper Marlboro, Maryland
Total weight loss: 104 pounds
24. Start with one small change. "I realized that a lot of sugar and calories that I consumed came from drinks, so I challenged myself to drink only water for 30 days.
25. Make your old favorites healthier. "I've always loved burgers and fries, so I also started making healthier versions of foods that were familiar to me, like turkey burgers with wheat bread and sweet potato fries."
26. Prepare for heavy meals. "When I know I'm going out for dinner, where I'll probably want to eat extra calories, I eat lighter meals throughout the day, like a smoothie for breakfast and a salad for lunch."
Alyssa Ann Heidemann, 34
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Total weight loss: 131 pounds
27. Swap out snacks that don't serve you. "I used to snack on chips, candy bars, and other junk food throughout the day, but now I [make healthier choices] six times a day. My new snacks include protein bars or shakes, pistachios, celery sticks with PB2 (a lower-fat peanut butter), and low-fat string cheese."
28. Double down on veggies if you're unsatisfied after eating a snack or meal. "If I'm still hungry, I turn to vegetables rather than junk food."
29. Pack snacks for late nights at work. "At my heaviest weight, my downfall was eating fast food on my way home from work at 9:30 or 10 p.m. Now I bring food and snacks to work so when I get home I'm not starving and feel more in control."
30. Say no to free refills. "I used to drink diet and regular pop regularly. When restaurants gave me refill after refill, I would lose track of how much I drank. Now I ask for water instead of pop, which I've given up altogether."
Sara Lugger, 39
Total weight loss: 149 pounds
31. Move during your lunch break. "During my lunch, I'll walk on the treadmill at work or outside for 30 to 40 minutes."
32. Stash snacks everywhere. "I carry protein bars in my purse and car. This way, I fend off hunger so I don't overeat later."
33. Eat more often. "I switched from three meals a day to six small meals a day."
34. Split restaurant meals with a friend. "When I share meals, I end up eating smaller portions without being tempted by leftovers on my plate. If I don't have a person to split a meal with, I immediately put half of the portion I'm served into a takeout box."
Stephanie Aromando, 31
Sandyston, New Jersey
Total weight loss: ~100 pounds
35. Lift weights to lose weight. "While cardio has helped me burn fat, power-lifting has been such a huge part of my success. Lifting heavy weights with a trainer really helped me sculpt my body. After about four months of training, I was able to squat holding 360 pounds—25 more than I weighed when I began my weight-loss journey."
36. Always move, even on rest days. "I work out six days a week and take an active rest day once a week to hike or take a yoga class."
37. Keep it simple. "I take a minimalist approach to nutrition: My diet consists of lean protein (chicken breast, egg whites, ground turkey), complex carbs (quinoa, sweet potatoes, oatmeal), healthy fats (coconut oil, almonds, avocados), and leafy green veggies. I eat as clean as I can—locally-grown vegetables, organic when possible, and minimally-processed everything."
38. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. "Everything I need is in the produce section, at the meat counter, or in the dairy section. I avoid the center aisles of the grocery store unless looking for specific pantry items, like quinoa or oatmeal."
39. Prepare food in advance. "I eat five small meals a day, but only prepare them twice a week in big batches so that everything is made and ready to go when I get hungry."
40. Drink all the water. "I carry a gallon of water with me all day long until it's finished. Dragging it around campus looks ridiculous, but I don't care."
Tanisha Shanee Williams, 33
Brooklyn, New York
Total weight loss: 140 pounds
41. Put on music when you don't feel like going to the gym. "Being physically active has nothing to do with going to the gym, but moving your body and burning calories is what matters. When I don't want to go, I just turn on my music and either dance or hula hoop with my niece."
Jade Socoby, 28
Total weight loss: 140 pounds
42. Find a physical activity you actually enjoy. "Cardio really bores me. Powerlifting is what changed and saved my life."
43. Use tech and other tools to your advantage. "I started out just by cutting little things like soda out one by one so I wouldn't burn myself out mentally and give up. I then discovered counting calories on MyFitnessPal, which was [a huge help] for me in my weight loss. A few years in, I lost my way a little bit and found Renaissance Periodization diet templates, which helped me rebuild a healthy relationship with food."
44. Eat a mix of carbs and protein at every meal. "[After I began counting calories], I started tracking macros [fat, protein, and carbs] and my body started changing even more, for the better."