Don’t panic! Kick-start your weight-loss plan with these new and improved strategies from top diet doctors.

1. Start with Sneakers

Everyone knows it takes a combination of diet and exercise to lose body fat, but researchers now believe that it’s best to tackle exercise first. “Once you invest time in a daily workout, you’ll be motivated to make the more difficult dietary changes,” says John Foreyt, PhD, director of the Nutrition Research Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

2. Make Ambitious Exercise Goals

Instead of saying “I will exercise three days a week,” plan to exercise every day, even if you know you won’t make it. Most of us accomplish only 60 percent of our weekly fitness goals, according to research from the College of Public Health and Health Professions at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

3. Keep Your Diet Simple

Most successful losers are unadventurous when it comes to eating. “Too much variety actually stimulates your appetite, “explains Hollie A. Raynor, PhD, RD, assistant professor of research at Brown Medical School in Providence. Curtail your dietary diversity by preparing dinners at home instead of eating out.

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4. Overestimate Your Calories

Most dieters under-report the calories they consume by a third and over-report the amount of exercise they do by half, says Foreyt. Keeping an accurate journal allows you to objectively analyze what you’re eating and why.

5. Target Weekend Calories

Weekends are usually a time to let it all go; but losing weight is a precise numbers game, so you can’t really afford to loosen the reins too much. Skip the extra margarita and find other ways to relax.

6. Order First

When you’re dining out, be the first to place your order. “You can be influenced by other people’s food decisions,” says Gerard J. Musante, PhD, a clinical psychologist and founder of Structure House, a residential weight-loss centre in Durham, North Carolina. If everyone is ordering the burger and fries, for example, you’ll be more apt to go with the flow. Set a healthier tone by ordering a salad and the grilled fish.

7. Outwit Your Appetite

The sight of food can stimulate your appetite, so keep it all out of view. You should even wrap leftovers in aluminium foil, not plastic, so you won’t be tempted when you open the fridge

8. Take Eight (Hours)

Shortchanging yourself on sleep lowers the level of the hormone leptin — this can increase your desire to eat and decrease your ability to burn calories. To lose or maintain weight, there’s an ideal sleep zone of about eight hours a night, say researchers.