The “diet” sections of bookstores are filled with tomes that attempt to convince us that we must follow all the tips in the book all at once.

The books try to make it sound so easy.

But drastically adjusting your diet and suddenly finding time to squeeze in daily exercise and regular weight-loss counseling isn’t simple (or cheap).

Luckily, there’s another approach to shedding pounds that’s a lot less difficult, time-consuming and expensive—and new research shows that it’s just as effective as the “all-at-once” method.


The fact is, sometimes it pays to “ease your way in” when it comes to dropping weight. A recent study that analyzed overweight and obese adults found that, after 18 months, those who used a “step-by-step” program lost about the same amount of weight as those who used an “all-at-once” program.

Both programs involved restricting calories and increasing exercise, but those in the “step-by-step” program didn’t have to take part in as many weight-loss counseling sessions, on average, so they saved time and energy. And, the cost of the program was $572 less over the 18 months.

For example, those in the “all-at-once” group had to attend a 30-to-60 minute group counseling session weekly for the first six months…then twice a month for the next six months…and then monthly for the last six months—so they attended a total of 42 in-person counseling sessions.

People in the “step-by-step” group, however, attended group counseling sessions only monthly. If 5% weight loss wasn’t achieved by three months, they added one 10-minute monthly phone call with the counselor (aka “step two”). If 7% weight loss wasn’t achieved by six months, they made two 10-minute calls to the counselor each month (“step three”). And so on. Interestingly, about 22% of these subjects didn’t need to go any further than “step one” for all 18 months and needed just 18 total in-person counseling sessions.


Rather than trying to overhaul your life in one fell swoop, lead study author John M. Jakicic, PhD, suggests taking this overall concept to heart and trying a more gradual approach to weight loss. For example, each of the following tips will help you burn at least 100 calories a day and, therefore, will help you drop about one pound of weight every five weeks. Start with the first trick, and if you don’t see enough results, slowly add the others.

  • Week One: Calculate how many calories you’ve been consuming per day, on average (use Subtract 100 calories from this amount, and make that your new daily calorie limit. You might accomplish this by passing on seconds at dinner or having a large glass of water when you’re hungry for a snack.
  • Week Two: Cut out one sugary beverage per day, which might mean one soda, iced tea, lemonade, fruit punch, energy drink or sweetened latte.
  • Week Three: Squeeze in 20 total minutes of walking a day—which could be split up into 10-minute or even five-minute segments.
  • Week Four: Add 10 minutes of calisthenics, such as jumping jacks, crunches and/or push-ups, to your daily routine—no weights or gym machines required. You could even just do these exercises during TV commercials.

After working these strategies into your daily routine gradually, you’ll be on track to lose at least four pounds a month. That’s not bad at all—and you haven’t had to do anything drastic!

Start with these basics, advises Dr. Jakicic, and if they aren’t causing you to whittle your weight, talk to your doctor about moving on to more sweeping, time-consuming and/or expensive measures. For example, if you feel like weight-loss counseling might help, try monthly sessions first. If that doesn’t work, add one monthly call to your counselor or increase your sessions to twice a month. If that fails, try weekly meetings. But wait and see…you might find that the basics are all you need!

Source: John M. Jakicic, PhD, professor and chair, department of health and physical activity, and director, Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center, University of Pittsburgh School of Education. His study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.