Many people struggle to lose weight for one main reason: they fail to set concrete goals. Instead of specifying an exact and quantifiable goal, plan, and deadline, they content themselves with vague targets like, “I want to lose weight.” This is no way to win. To be successful in any endeavor, including weight loss, people must set concrete goals, define the stepping stones that will mark the path, and create and stick to a plan that will keep them moving forward towards the target.

If you want to lose weight, set a goal, one that is quantifiable, or can be represented with objective numbers. For the purposes of this article, let’s say the goal is 10 pounds in a month. Now chunk it down – there are four weeks in a month, so you’ll need to lose about 2.5 pounds a week. At seven days per week, you’ll need to lose about a third of a pound each day. If each pound of fat contains 3500 calories, this means you must burn around 1250 calories a day through diet and exercise.

Thus, losing ten pounds in a month is difficult, but not impossible, especially if you are very overweight. In that case, those first ten pounds will be quite easy, as long as you follow the plan. If you simply want to lose the ‘last’ 10 pounds off your frame, this goal will be harder to accomplish. No matter your situation, to meet this calorie target, you will have to consistently follow a strict and detailed plan of diet and exercise. Here are the main steps:
1. First, determine how many calories your body uses each day based on your age, sex, weight, and activity level. There are many of these ‘calorie calculators’ around the internet, so find a good one and enter your vital statistics. Let’s say that your basic burn rate in a day is 2500 calories.

2. If you did no additional activity, you’d have to eat 1250 calories a day in order to hit your calorie target and induce weight loss. This would be very difficult to sustain, as you’d be hungry all the time and you’d suffer from malnutrition. Thus, you need to add in daily workouts to up your calorie burn. Let’s say you shoot for 500 calories burned in exercise. This takes your daily calorie burn at 3,000, and thus you need to eat 1,750 calories a day – a much more doable target.

3. Once you’ve determined your calorie target, plan out your daily meals so that you eat that many calories or less. A few guidelines: first, don’t starve yourself. If you consistently deprive your body, it will go into starvation mode, lowering your metabolism and killing your fat burning machine. Instead, you need to make sure your body is well supplied throughout the day with food and water. Instead of eating two or three big meals, eat 5 to 6 small meals throughout the day. This will help control your hunger while also keeping your metabolism roaring. Second, make sure to eat a wide variety of foods from all food groups, focusing especially on whole grain carbohydrates, lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables. Drink plenty of water each day, and avoid empty calorie beverages like soda and iced tea. If you make the right choices, 1,750 calories should be plenty of food to keep you satisfied each day, but you may still need to get used to ‘real’ portion sizes and wean yourself off the excessive portion sizes that are seen as ‘normal’ today.

4. Once your nutrition plan is in place, design your daily workout regime. You will want to mix in cardiovascular exercises and strength training. Shoot for about 4-6 cardio workouts each week, 3 strength training workouts, and daily flexibility training. Each type of workout will give you specific benefits. Cardio will improve your heart and lung health while also burning calories. Strength training will burn calories too, but it will also build muscle mass, increasing the number of calories you burn simply by existing. Flexibility will help you recover from workouts more quickly and will reduce your chances of injury.

If you follow this clear, detailed plan without fail, you will be sure to hit your goal after one month. The journey doesn’t end there, though – fitness and health is a lifetime quest; a journey, not a destination.