I've been working out by lifting weights, doing cardio and "eating right" in various forms for the last few years. I started obese and sedentary, and I've learned quite a few things in that time that rarely if ever get discussed in fitness communities. I felt it would be good to share my observations so that those in a similar situation can gain insight into what it's like getting started with fitness, and so those who aren't in such a situation can gain insight into what it's like to deal with it.
I'll start with diet, work my way to cardio, and then we'll discuss lifting weights. Given the nature of this website I know a lot of you will want to jump straight to the weights if you've just started your journey, but be patient!
Loosing Weight Without Exercise
Excess weight puts a lot of pressure on your knees and ankles and lower back. You can lose weight without exercises, and for obese people I think that's the FIRST thing you should focus on. It's not a simple issue at all—because many factors such as stress or food addiction play a role in overeating—but when you are sedentary the parameters are easier to control for. If you don't have an active lifestyle your caloric requirements are easier to track. Exercising should be a consideration you make once you've dealt with excess weight. Just dropping excess fat will improve health tremendously.
Calories and nutrition are like lifting weights; small gradual changes progress to create greater long term success. Changing too much at once is a recipe for failure and is why so many people give up on their fitness goals or New Year's resolutions. Yes, getting into shape and living a healthier lifestyle will take discipline and motivation, but if you set out to give it your all from the very get-go you're stacking all the odds against you. Powerlifters don't spend all of their time maxing out. There is a time and place for intensity and being mindful of that will work wonders for your long term success.
What to do First When Starting a Diet?
I think the first change anyone should make with their diet is to switch to drinking ONLY water. There are many reasons for this. Many people are in a chronic state of mild dehydration. Water is important for your health in numerous ways such as helping clear out waste products and hydrate cells to allow muscles like the heart to contract properly. More importantly water isn't sweet or carbonated so it doesn't create cravings for sweets or contribute to dehydration like sodas can (even the "diet" ones). Kicking soda is one of the best things to help with fat loss. Regular sodas are loaded with calories in liquid form, and sucrose has many studies demonstrating its link with obesity, heart disease, liver damage, and diabetes. Avoiding the extra sugar helps with appetite control due to less insulin spikes caused by the sugar. Even diet sodas have been shown to create insulin spikes in some cases regardless of having no caloric value, which has been thought to contribute to overeating since the body expects that sweet = calories and wants to compensate when it doesn't find any.
Removing Junk Food From Your Diet
Your diet probably consists of a lot of junk food, frozen microwaveable meals, and fast food. I won't talk about what I think people SHOULD eat because everyone has their own digestive issues, food intolerances or food allergies they need to be aware of and account for. There are general guidelines for choosing healthier options, however. Choose foods that are less processed, lower in fat, and higher in protein and fiber. I'd recommend against going all out right away. Slowly over time introduce healthier options into your diet. If you usually get a burger and fries then next time get a burger and a salad. Even if you don't like salad or vegetables, eat one leaf of it. Next time eat two leaves. If you have to, hide it in your burger so you can mask the taste. A lot of people who are obese very rarely eat vegetables, and even just eating more vegetables can be a significant change to the diet. But like everything else if you slowly introduce them over time you will learn to tolerate them and then learn to enjoy them.
Final Thoughts on Starting a Diet
You'll be shocked to find that over time the food preferences you had will change. When I lost 150lbs, I was eating healthy foods for so long that I couldn't eat candy or cookies anymore because they were way too sweet for my palate. Your body likes to do what it's used to, so these gradual changes to your diet will eventually make healthy eating a habit for you.
For this first article I decided to focus on cutting since my overall theme here is in the context of those who also have a weight challenge to succeed against. Bulking I may discuss later on down the road. Dieting isn't exactly fun, so its best to use all the tricks you can to make it easier on yourself. The great thing is that once you build your aerobic capacity and muscle mass you will burn more calories every day even at rest. So while that doesn't mean you can feel free to stuff your face once you start lifting, it does mean the margin for error will become greater, and this especially for me helped to combat a lot of anxiety I had with losing weight and maintaining my weight loss initially.
And guys, don't go overboard with being super exact when measuring your food portions! In my experience and for a lot of others with an eating disorder, dieting can introduce quite a lot of extra anxiety or bring out obsessive and compulsive behavior. You don't need to be exact to the gram when weighing your food or using a measuring cup. If you mean to measure 100g but the scale says 101g it's not the end of the world. Even if you measure *exactly*, nutritional information is only averages, so even with gram perfection you're still working with a tolerance of +/-10% when dealing with these things. As long as you're consistent with your measurements, pay attention to your body weight on the scale (and more importantly how you look in the mirror), you'll know in which direction your heading. Look for changes *over time*.