In spite of what you might have assumed from claims made in mainstream advertisements and the thousands of weight loss plans on the market, losing weight doesn’t require a significant financial investment. Take it from someone who successfully lost weight as a broke teenager raised in a broke family in the poverty-stricken community of Englewood on Chicago’s South Side.

My 65-pound weight loss was achieved with an old 10-speed bike, a set of handheld dumbbells for weight lifting, 4 limbs, home-cooked meals courtesy of my mama, a little portion control, and a whole lot of dedication.

That’s it!

Truth is, any plan that involves strategic modifications in your diet WILL lead to weight loss. Weight loss is a simple result of continuously creating calorie deficits over a given period of time. So long as your diet supports repeated calorie deficits, weight loss will inevitably occur—Even in the absence of exercise.

Losing weight is actually really easy.

The hardest part is keeping it off.

In fact, over 90% of people who experience weight loss will regain the weight within 3-5 years (sometimes less).

So, how can you avoid this?

Moreover, how can you do it for free?

Luckily, it’s much easier than you think.

Successful weight loss requires three simple steps, each of which I’ll describe in the following paragraphs.

1. Understanding the basics of calorie management

A basic understanding of how calories work is essential for a successful and safe weight loss. Calories are obtained from three macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) housed in the foods you eat. These calories serve as fuel for the body to carry out vital functions like vital functions breathing, blood pressure control, and brain activity.

Related Article: The Important Role of Metabolism in Weight Loss

Calories also fuel all types of physical activity from taking a shower to strenuous exercise.

A pound of fat houses an average of 3,500 calories. So, if you accumulate 3,500 calories over a given period of time, a calorie surplus will occur resulting in a net weight gain of one pound. On the flip side, if you create a 3,500-calorie deficit over a given period of time through dieting and/or physical activity you’ll eventually lose a pound.

And, of course, when the amount of calories you consume from foods is equal to the amount you expend, no weight gain or weight loss will occur.

This is known as calorie management.

In order to lose weight, the amount of calories you expend must always exceed the amount you consume until your desired weight loss is achieved. Once this occurs, the amount of calories you expend must generally equal the amount you consume in order to successfully maintain your desired weight, indefinitely.

It isn’t magic. It’s just that simple!

Some form of calorie management is the foundation of most popular weight loss plans.

Now, while losing weight and maintaining a weight loss is primarily a matter of creating calorie deficits and calorie management, it’s also important to regularly monitor your macronutrient intakes and always prioritize good nutrition over general calorie counting.

Related Article: 3 Highly Effective Ways to Lose Weight Without Counting Calories

2. Setting realistic weight loss goals

It is virtually impossible to achieve or maintain a weight loss without setting both long- and short-term goals. Above all, these goals must be realistic. For instance, if someone has a goal of losing 100 pounds in six months this is not very realistic.

Considering that there are 3,500 calories in a pound of fat, a grand total of 350,000 calories will have to be lost in a 6-month period, which equates to about 58,300 calories a month or 14,575 calories a week. This’ll require expending and/or withholding about 2,100 calories a day.

From the standpoint of calorie expenditure, attempting to work off 1,000-plus calories every day with physical activity is possible for someone who is physically conditioned to do so, but not for someone who’s already 100-plus pounds overweight.

While it can be done, withholding excess amounts of calories day in and day out may lead to weight loss but will more than likely result in substantial weight regain—Sometimes even exceeding the amount of weight that was originally lost.

Related Article: Why You Shouldn’t Attempt to Lose More than 2 Pounds a Week

This is why losing weight at a rate of 1-2 pounds a week is generally recommended. It’s a conservative rate of weight loss that equates to a deficit of 500-1,000 calories a day or 3,500-7,000 calories a week.

That being said, a realistic long-term goal for someone who wishes to lose 100 pounds is at least a year. Even if more weight is lost, shooting for a more conservative rate of weight loss will ensure more permanent results. To complement the long-term goal, short-term goals can involve monthly, weekly, or even daily steps that will be taken towards achievement of the long-term goals.

Short-term goals can include anything from reducing soda consumption from 4 to 2 cans a day to performing at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity. Such goals alone promote a calorie deficit of 250-300 calories a day or 1,750-2,100 calories a week.

3. Incorporating exercise training into your daily routine

Exercise training is absolutely critical for successful and sustained weight loss. Ideally, a weight loss plan should consist of daily expenditures of at least 250 calories a day through a combination of structured exercise and spontaneous physical activities like sporadic walking and stair climbing.

Related Article: Spontaneous Physical Activity: What Is It and Why You Need It Every Day

Exercises like jogging, running, cycling, stair-climbing, and cardio-based group exercise formats can burn up to 700 calories per hour while moderate-level activities like gardening, walking for pleasure, dancing, and recreational sports (tennis, basketball, and soccer) can burn an average of 300 per hour.

Related Article: Five Interesting Ways to Exercise Without Exercising

Resistance training (weight lifting) is another essential component of a weight loss plan. Although you won’t burn as many calories in a typical weight lifting session as you would with a bout of cardio, this type of training greatly promotes gains in lean muscle mass and increases in metabolism, both of which support increased daily calorie expenditures and more effective weight loss over time.

Related Article: 5 Reasons Why Resistance Training Is Necessary for Weight Loss

For significant weight loss, exercise training and moderate-level activities should be performed on most days of the week (4-7) for at least an hour.

While more intense exercises like jogging or running can be performed for as little as 30 minutes a day, less intense activities like gardening can be performed for as much as 3-4 hours. In addition, inclusion of at least two days of full body weight lifting is also a must to further enhance weight loss.

And there you have it! Three simple steps to achieving successful and sustained weight loss. Depending on your chosen method(s) of exercise, following these strategies will cost you little to nothing. So, it’s really a win-win.

Related Article: A Simple Guide to Eating Sensibly