I recently had a reader question, and rather than respond directly I have decided to post the response here to help anyone in the same situation.
I’ve split my answer into five parts as it became rather long. This post is part one.
Q. I’m getting married soon and I’d like to lose weight for my wedding. I’ve been going to the gym now regularly since January.
My goal is to lose about 10lbs and move more because I have a sedentary job.
I do 20 min of bike or elliptical then usually do rowing for 10 15 min. Then I do some planks and some mat workout, abs, then stretch. Once in a while, I will finish with 5 minutes on the stairs.
That’s on average what I do, with some variation.
I’d like to use more weights but don’t know what to target to get lean and not bulky.
I have toned up nicely using the rowing machine and I do HIIT workouts at home, but I don’t have a schedule. I work out randomly.
I’m going to break these questions down and answer them independently in each of this five part blog series.
From the initial question, I will cover the following topics:
- Achieving Weight Loss – (part 1)
- Moving More – (part 2)
- The best exercises to Lose Weight – (part 3)
- How Not to Get Bulky – (part 4)
- Getting the schedule right – (part 5)
Achieve 10lbs Weight Loss
In the first part of the question, the reader asked specifically about how to lose weight for her wedding.
So we can split weight loss (essentially fat loss) into two parts.
- The principle.
- The method.
The Principle of Fat Loss
The principle of fat loss is simple. All you need to do it lose fat is have a negative energy balance. This basically means consuming fewer calories than you burn.
You can achieve this in three ways:
- Eat less, so you have fewer calories coming in.
- Exercise more, so you have more calories going out.
- A combination of the two.
When you are consuming fewer calories than you burn, you go into a calorie deficit and lose weight. The opposite would be a calorie surplus where you’d put on weight.
That’s all there is to it – Nothing special or magic.
The method of Fat Loss
The method of fat loss is where things get complicated and people start to argue that one thing is better than another – We see all the different diets and ways to lose weight. Each diet is different and claims to have found the “special ingredient” to get you to your ideal weight.
HOWEVER, as we explained above, the only way to lose weight is to be in a calorie deficit.
All the different diets out there may argue that they are the best and the others are wrong, but the mistake we make is looking at what they do differently. If we look at the similarities between all the diets out there, the one thing that they all have in common is that they put you in a CALORIE DEFICIT. The difference is that they all achieve it in a different way.
- Weight Watchers: Uses a point system and gives you a daily allowance which puts you in a calorie deficit.
- Atkins Diet: Cuts out carbohydrates, so you end up eating less, which puts you in a calorie deficit.
- 5:2 Diet: You eat much less on 2 days of the week, which puts you in a calorie deficit.
- Dukan Diet: You eat high protein and low carb/fat foods, means you’re eating less, which puts you in a calorie deficit.
- Slimming World: Swaps higher fat foods (which have more calories) for lower fat foods, which puts you in a calorie deficit.
- Slim-Fast/Herbalife Diet: These diets swap 1 or more meals for a shake, which is lower calorie than your meal would have been, which puts you in a calorie deficit.
- Paleo Diet: This cuts out modern processed foods, which tend to be higher calorie, which puts you in a calorie deficit.
- The Cambridge Diet: You eat their products which are lower in calories, which puts you in a calorie deficit.
…You get the idea! All the diets you see out there are different, but they are essentially achieving the same thing – a calorie deficit.
Whether a particular diet is good or not is a different matter though. Some diets require you to buy expensive products, books or memberships; some require you to unnecessarily stop eating certain foods; some make you change your life to fit around the diet, and may stop you going out with your friends to avoid certain things.
Also, these diets may be giving you the solution to the wrong question. Most people are looking to lose weight, and the diets above accomplish that because they put you into a calorie deficit.
However, the solution you should be looking for is actually: how to lose weight and KEEP IT OFF.
The diets above, often referred to as FAD diets, may have good short-term results, but often don’t work in the long-run.
For a diet to work, it has to fit your lifestyle and not the other way around. If you have to change your life to fit the diet, things get too hard too quickly and it’s easy to give up.
Also, the way these diets function is to give you a set of rules to follow. As soon as you come off the plan or are faced with a situation that you don’t know how to deal with (think, birthday party or celebration), and don’t know how to eat. Not only do you end up probably eating more calories than you should, but you feel bad about it too because you didn’t know what to do. This starts a vicious cycle which often leads to people eating more to feel better after “failing” their diet.
The FAD diets often require you to buy something as well, so as long as you’re on the diet, you’re paying something. It could be a membership in the case of weight watchers, or diet products in the case of Slim-Fast, Herbalife and The Cambridge Diet. Other diets require you to buy their book. The problem with this is that you feel locked-in. You feel that you have to pay or you will lose your results.
A diet shouldn’t be like this. It should be flexible; It should allow you to eat the things you want and like; It should allow you to enjoy special occasions and go out with your friends. Most of all, a diet shouldn’t be something you go on, it should be just the way you eat.
The problem with FAD diets is that they are designed to make money. They get some good results initially, so are able to use this in their marketing. The sad truth is that even with more and more diets appearing every year, the population is getting fatter!
The moral of this is that it’s best to avoid FAD diets. The simple way to know if you’re on a FAD diet is to ask yourself: Does my diet have a name? If the diet you’re following has a name, then it most likely falls into the FAD category.
Combining the Calorie Principle and Method into Healthy Weight Loss
We know that to lose weight we have to be in a calorie deficit. If you shouldn’t follow FAD diets, how do you lose weight? Eating healthily doesn’t always work as it’s still possible to eat too much of the good things. This is the part that most people find difficult and is why they usually end up following FAD diets.
So the answer is: It depends on you. Like I said before, the way you eat should fit your lifestyle rather than the other way around. Different things work just as well for different people, as long as what you do puts you into a calorie deficit. It also depends entirely on how much weight you have to lose.
I’m going to go over three different approaches here:
1. Just eat healthier
I mentioned before that eating healthier doesn’t always work for weight loss. However, if you have a lot of weight to lose, you’re probably eating very unhealthily and just making a few small changes can make a big difference. Swapping unhealthy foods for more healthy options can often lower your calorie consumption and result in a calorie deficit, and therefore, weight loss.
There’s no point following a perfect, strict diet if just making a few small changes will get you the same result. This is minimum effective dose idea. When you take medication, often taking more doesn’t make you any “more better”, so you take the minimum dose required to get you back to health. The same applies to weight loss. If you achieve the same calorie deficit by just cutting out a few bad things that you are eating, it’s overkill to track your food and follow a perfect plan – especially if you hate doing this and it causes you to give up!
As I mentioned above, this usually only works if you have a bad diet and lot of weight to lose. If you have less to lose, or you follow the “eat healthier” method for a while and stop losing weight, you usually have to switch to another method. However, it’s a good start!
One of the most important reasons to start using this method if you have a lot of weight to lose is that it’s the least complicated. Calorie-counting which involves a bit more time and learning is harder to stick to in the beginning and has a slightly higher failure rate. So, we want to go with the simplest method that you are most likely to stick to!
2. Portion size estimating
Estimating how much you are eating starts to manage how much you are consuming without actually measuring it with things like scales, cups and jugs.
One of the easiest ways to judge portion sizes is to use your hands. Your hands go everywhere with you, so you can even use them to judge how much to eat when out and about. They are also relative to your size, so smaller people (who need fewer calories), have smaller hands, and larger people (who need more calories), have larger hands.
When using your hands to estimate portion sizes, we start with a simple template, then assess the progress each week. If your weight goes up or stays the same, then you can reduce the foods in the template. If your weight goes down, then you are spot on!
The starting hand-size template is as follows:
- 2 palms of protein dense foods with each meal.
- 2 fists of vegetables with each meal.
- 2 cupped hands of carb dense foods with most meals.
- 2 entire thumbs of fat dense foods with most meals.
- 1 palm of protein dense foods with each meal.
- 1 fist of vegetables with each meal.
- 1 cupped hand of carb dense foods with most meals.
- 1 entire thumb of fat dense foods with most meals.
3. Calorie Counting
Calorie counting allows you to quantify accurately how much you are eating, and so see exactly where you need to adjust if you stop losing weight. Using this method is the most accurate if you are able to stick to it.
The only barrier is that in the beginning there’s a bit of extra thinking involved as you build the habits to weigh and measure your food.
There are Apps designed to help you with the process though. MyFitnessPal (MFP) is probably the most popular.
After you’ve got over the fact that putting a scale under your plate when you measure the components of your food is just a few extra seconds of work, calorie counting becomes very simple.
How many Calories do you need?
If you are going to use the calorie counting method, then you need to know how many calories you’re going to need to eat to lose weight. While we can’t work this out 100% accurately, we can get an estimate of your metabolic rate.
First of all, it’s important to know that when working out your metabolism we look at two different things.
- RMR – Your Resting Metabolic Rate – What you burn per day doing nothing.
- Activity Multiplier – How much activity you do on top of your RMR.
To work out your RMR, just plug your numbers into one the following equations. I’ll get an automatic calculator here soon.
Men: (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) – (4.92 x age) + 5
Women: (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) – (4.92 x age) – 161
The resulting number you get out of this equation is then multiplied by your activity levels.
The following will help you choose how much activity you think you do.
- Sedentary (little or no exercise, desk job) – RMR x 1.2
- Lightly Active (light exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) – RMR x 1.3-1.4
- Moderately Active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) – RMR x 1.5-1.6
- Very Active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days per week) – RMR x 1.7-1.8
- Extremely Active (very hard daily exercise/sports and physical job or 2/day training) – RMR x 1.9-2.0
You can plug the resulting number into the MyFitnessPal App, then set your Protein to at least 20%.
The Fat and Carbohydrates can then be set as you wish to fill up the other 80%. Don’t let the fat fall lower than 45g minimum though.
After setting up MFP, you just need to eat in accordance to your calorie, protein, carbohydrate and fat allowances.
Of course, as I said before, the number of calories outputted by an equation is only going to be an estimate. However, once you have this number you can adjust by small increments (100 Calories) up or down depending on what happens to your weight after the first few weeks.
If you achieve some initial success but stop losing weight after a few months, bring your calories down by another 100 to 200, or try and increase your activity levels.
Advantages of Calorie Counting Over Other Methods
Once you get calorie counting down to a fine art, it can have a number of advantages over the other eating methods.
- You can adjust very precisely how much you’re eating, so you can adjust how much you eat depending on what your weight does.
- You can often get faster weight loss using calorie counting as it’s quicker to see what’s happening and adjust accordingly.
- Many restaurants have the calories on their menus, so you can input your meals straight into MFP when going out.
- You can enjoy some foods considered “bad” knowing that you won’t put on weight, as long as you keep within your calorie allowance.