I find losing weight to be fairly easy. Well, both very difficult, and very easy. It takes plenty of knowledge, knowing what to eat and how much, and then plenty of discipline. Let’s face it, some of the best tasting foods are the exact ones we probably shouldn’t be eating very often!
And my goodness, there are so many conflicting opinions out there! How are we supposed to make sense of it all and decide on a course of action?
As you know if you’ve read my blog, I am not a doctor, and have not conducted hundreds of well designed experiments to get to the bottom of each and every dietary issue. But after reading reviews of quite a few research papers, purchasing countless health and nutrition books, and through anecdotal as well as personal experiences, I think I have pieced together, from people much smarter than myself, what I view as a fairly reasonable and workable approach to sustainable weight loss (see obligatory medical disclosure at the bottom of each page).
For the sake of this article, I am working under the assumption that you are mentally well balanced, and have a relatively healthy outlook on food and body image. If you are morbidly obese, clinically depressed or have an eating disorder, those issues are better taken up with a professional instead of wasting your time here on my website where I am more interested in making tweaks to your everyday menu as opposed to in-depth medical assistance for which I am not qualified.
Step 1 – Eat The Right Amounts Of The Right Kind Of Food
It sounds so easy, right? If I eat only the right kinds of food, I’ll lose tons of weight? Not quite, but it’s a good start.
If you are like me, or most Americans, at some point in your life the bulk of your diet is/was made up of fast food or heavily processed products. Yes, this includes breakfast cereals, most bread you’ve ever seen, ice cream, candy… If it’s in a bag, has a manufacturer’s label on it or you picked it up at a drive-through window, it’s probably not what we are looking for if you’d like to drop a few pounds.
I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations, but if you can move towards eating food that comes closer to what it might have originally looked like in its original form, you will set yourself up for success in your quest to shed some weight. There are two reasons why this is true.
First, real food, like eggs and bacon for breakfast instead of Captain Crunch, is much more filling, so you are likely to eat less. Not guaranteed to eat less, just likely. Second, if you are looking for guarantees, you will certainly consume way more nutrients that your body has likely been looking for if you stick closer to natural foods. Just think about it, a salad or asparagus vs McDonald’s, which contains more vitamins and minerals for your body to work with?
Real food, or whole food, is simply better for you and often makes you feel more full, so you will likely eat fewer calories over the course of any given day than you would if you were living off of Doritos, Diet Coke and Hot Pockets. Which means you might have to start cooking some. But good news for you, I know where you can get a few recipes to help out!
The second part of eating the right kind of food is eating the right amount of it. While it may be hard to over indulge in celery or tomatoes, it gets much easier when you are including nuts, meats and oils in your calculations. Yes, they may be better for you than driving through KFC or TacoBell, but if you eat 10 large pork chops a day, you’ll be unlikely to lose the weight you’d like to see disappear.
Once you clean up the kinds of food you are eating, it’s time to come face to face with the amount of food you are eating. Basically, even if you are eating a squeaky clean diet, food is simply an energy delivery system, designed to give your body enough energy to function and maintain health.
But if you are consistently putting more energy into your body than you need to get through each day, then you are in a calorie, or fuel, surplus. And if you are in a surplus, your body has to put that extra fuel somewhere. For me, that would be my love-handles and gut. For others it might be their butts. Or thighs. But it’s going somewhere.
If you want to lose weight, the laws of physics don’t lie, you will have to eat fewer calories than you expend. This is really hard to do when eating processed food, because the scientists working for the big companies have purposefully designed their packaged foods to hit every signal in your body that makes you want to eat more and more of these calorie dense, but nutrient light, foods.
That’s a bad combo. Your best bet is to start tracking, on whatever level you are comfortable with, how much food you eat every day. Maybe just do it for a week or two, but be honest, and write it all down. And then find some way to calculate how many calories each day added up to. Again, be honest. It might hurt, but if you don’t know how many calories you are eating to gain weight, it’s pretty hard to know how many calories you should be eating to lose weight.
I’m a total nerd and have a spread sheet set up, with my current weight, body fat percentage, and the calorie content of almost 200 of my most commonly eaten foods. I’m not saying you need to get that in depth, but it is a pretty good way of knowing how each day is shaping up, food wise.
One important note here, once you figure out how many calories you eat every day, it’s not a great idea to slash that number to lose weight. You body will not react kindly and will start to fight to hang on to every last ounce of body fat possible by slowing down your metabolism. Instead, go nice and slow, simply reduce your calorie input by about 10% at a time, and see how that feels.
If you start to consistently lose weight, great, keep at it. If you don’t see any changes, go ahead and change your calorie deficit once again, by another 10% or so. If you still aren’t losing weight, you probably have a few errors in your calorie estimation of what you are eating each day, and may need to be a little bit more honest with yourself.
Some people even estimate that 80% of your weight loss achievements will occur due to what you eat vs the exercise you engage in. Having said that…
Step 2 – Engage In The Right Amount Of The Right Kinds Of Exercise
In the paragraphs bove, I briefly talked about food being a delivery vehicle for energy. If you eat less food, and perform the same amount of physical activity, you will start to lose weight. But some people don’t like the idea of eating less food, which is fine, because there’s another way to change the energy balance in your favor.
If you move more each day than before, you will increase the amount of energy that your body uses every day. That energy has to come from somewhere, and if you move enough, and don’t increase (or maybe even decrease) the amount of food you eat, that energy will come from your stored energy. That can be in the form of your fat stores, which is desirable, or it could come from your muscles, which is less desirable.
And the little things can add up. Taking the stairs instead of the elevators is helpful. Or parking at the back of parking lots, that works too. And if you want to crank it up a bit, a long daily walk or bike ride might be the activity that really sparks your weight loss.
I am not suggesting that you must start to train for a marathon, which can be taxing physically as well as take up more time than most people can spare. Engaging in long routines of jogging and other steady state aerobics may seem to be the answer, but often cause more problems than it may be worth. Be kind to your body and find simple find ways to add more moving to your day, and your body will thank you.
Walking your dog may be a good way to get a little extra exercise to help with weight loss goals, but the real boost comes when you are ready and willing to try your hand at resistance training. That means working with weights, or doing body weight exercises, like pushups and pullups.
Resistance training is the key activity that allows you to lose weight even faster while at the same time not losing too much of your lean muscle. And if you are really lucky, you may even be able to add a little muscle, definition, and shapeliness at the same time!
Resistance training also has the added benefit of building muscles, which are energy intensive, and require more calories. That’s good, remember? That means that if you add some muscle to your frame, you will burn more calories when you are hanging out watching tv or reading a book than you used to. It won’t add too much, so don’t expect miracles, but every little bit helps!
And just like walking or other aerobic exercises, I’m not recommending to go overboard. If it’s been awhile since you’ve been in a weight room, try a few exercises every day at home. A 15 minute routine of pushups, squats or lunges, with some crunches or planks thrown in will do wonders to start getting your body in shape. As long as you actually do them.
If you feel more advanced than body weight resistance training, then it’s time to get some weights at home, or join a gym. Either way, my recommendation, as with everything, is moderation. I’ve seen so many gurus and weight loss authors talk about working out with weights 4 or 5 days a week, plus another 4 or 5 high intensity aerobic sessions thrown in.
I have no doubt that if I were to dedicate 10-20 hours a week in the gym, that I too could get in phenomenal shape. But that’s simply not realistic for most people. Personally, I have settled in at one or two weight sessions a week, walking my dog about five mornings a week and then another 2 or 3 aerobic sessions sprinkled throughout the week when/if I can find the time.
And I’m very pleased with the results. Am I ready for a photo shoot on a fitness magazine? No. But I’m in much better shape than I was, and that’s what is important to me.
Step 3 – Relax And Be Kind To Yourself
For most of us, stress is simply a way of life, something to be dealt with on a daily basis. But ongoing and sustained stress can actually make weight gain more likely, and make it much more difficult to lose those unwanted pounds.
Which means that it is worthwhile to examine your day to day life and see where you might be able to reduce some of that daily stress, and insert a little more relaxation.
Start with your sleep. Are you getting a full 7-8 hours of sleep? There are all sorts of articles and blog posts written about how to sleep better, but most of them boil down to this… colder is better, darker is better, put away the electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime and develop a routine. Getting a full night or restful sleep can do a body good!
Another technique you can use to help relax your body, which doesn’t take too much time, is stretching. Many people have desk jobs, or move very little outside of what their job demands. But the human body was/is designed for so much more, and if you don’t use it, guess what, you lose it! So take a few minutes, maybe 10-15 for starters, each day and slowly move your body through a variety of stretches.
I know several people who use stretching not only to work out kinks in their muscles and joints, but as a short meditation or reflection moment. Focus on your breathing, how the stretches feel, how your body responds, and try not to think about the emails and calls you need to get to once you drive off to work. Allow your body to heal from the everyday stress of being human, and you will feel much better, weight loss or no weight loss.
So that’s it, in a nutshell. It all sounds so easy, but following through is much harder for most people. Which is why when I get serious about losing a few pounds, I pull out my calorie tracker to really hold myself accountable. And sure enough, when I closely watch my intake that closely, guess what happens? Yeah, I lose a little weight, shocking, I know.
If you’d like a copy of my calorie tracking sheet, just sign up for my newsletter, and I’ll include a link to the worksheet so you can try it out for yourself if you’d like!