Diet + Weight loss
This year one of the changes I made was around my eating and exercise habits. I managed to lose 30lbs in just under 3 months. I wanted to share how I did this because it seemed much easier than I thought it would be.
I had a couple of things going for me; I was living bachelor style for a while, which put me in complete control of both my diet and what I did in my spare time. I had also switched jobs and had made it a priority to have more "me time" in my new role.
I'd never tried dieting before as I'd never needed to when I was younger and my weight had kinda snuck up on me. I did remember it being difficult for others in my family, so when I realized that I was over weight I did a bit of reading around to see what the tricks and pitfalls were.
I'm not going to repeat the contents of a diet book here but will call out the main points to keep in mind:
- Your body is fueled by calories
- Any calories you don't burn are stored as fat
- If your daily calorie burn is less than the amount of calories you eat, you will gain weight
- If your daily calorie burn is more than the amount of calories you eat, you will lose weight.
Losing weight is "simply" a matter of changing your habits so that you end up with a calorie deficit; that you burn more than you consume. The bigger your calorie deficit, the faster you will lose weight.
It really is that simple. It doesn't particularly matter what kinds of food you eat so long as you have a calorie deficit. The biggest obstacle is yourself. You need to have the willpower to resist eating the wrong things and to keep up with your exercise.
If exercise isn't your thing you'll be pleased to hear that you can lose weight without increasing how much exercise you do. In fact, a lot of people are not able to put in enough time exercising to be able to make a significant impact in their calorie burn rate.
This means that controlling your diet is really the most important part of losing weight.
I'm still relatively young(!) so I went for a pretty aggressive diet and exercise routine. Dieting too aggressively is harmful to your health, so you should consult your physician before trying out a diet plan.
- Work out your ideal weight for your height and build; set this as your target weight. Ideal weight chart
- Get yourself a wifi connected scale and hook it up to TrendWeight. Configure your weight goal.
- Every day: 20-45 minutes on the stationary bike in the fitness center. After a couple of weeks I dialled this back to 45 minutes 3-4 times a week, with 60-90 minutes on the weekend.
- breakfast: 1 banana, or 1 serving of scrambled egg whites
- lunch: salad + protein (such as tofu, tuna, chicken) topping and either no dressing or a low fat dressing, such as balsamic.
- meal: avoid fatty foods. Avoid bread, rice, potatoes, pasta or other carb-heavy food. Avoid cheese and other dairy products. Favor protein-rich food and green food and veggies like broccoli and carrots.
- Try to have no more than two tablespoons of each of the meal components (and protein in the salad). Avoid rich sauces.
- snack: you'll inevitably feel hungry after your evening meal. Find yourself a microwavable popcorn that isn't covered in butter. You can get a family-size bag that weighs in at around 120 calories total. This is great for feeling full.
- soda/pop: say goodbye to the regular/classic versions of sodas. If you must drink any, drink the 0 calorie versions. I switched from regular Red Bull to Red Bull Total Zero. My teeth are happier too.
- alcohol: avoid it, especially beer. I recommend enjoying a nice scotch instead.
When I say "avoid", it doesn't mean you can't have any, just keep in mind that those foods tend to have a higher calorie content. If you can, eat more protein or greens instead.
I used to cycle a lot when I was younger, and my legs still had muscle tone, so I was able to pretty quickly get to a point where I could burn 400 calories in 20 minutes. From what I've read, most folks starting a diet are more likely to be able to burn only around 300 calories in an hour. If you're in this category, you might see faster results by replacing a meal with a big leafy salad and topping off your hunger with a bag of popcorn.
Try to plan your meals so you know how many calories you're going to eat in a given day. Try to eat the same amount of calories each day. It is simpler to manage if you buy ready-made meals from the supermarket. There are plenty of lean cusine or healthy eating options that weigh in at around 400 calories, and pre-packaged single servings of salad + protein that are 200-300 calories.
To lose 1lb of weight you need to burn 3500 calories.
At the start of my diet I was mostly sedentary which meant that I burned around 2040 calories in a typical day. Calculate your daily burn rate.
I tried to limit my daily calorie intake to around 1000 calories (1 ready-made salad 300 colories, 1 lean cuisine meal 450 calories, 1 banana 90 calories, popcorn 120 calories), which means that my daily calorie deficit without exercising was:
1000 - 2040 = -1040
That means that in the course of a week I'd lose:
7 * 1040 / 3500 = 2lbs per week
If you add in 3 hours in the gym per week, burning 300 calories per hour:
((7 * 1040) + (3 * 300)) / 3500 = 2.3lbs per week
In other words, adding in that exercise means you'll lose another pound of weight every 3 weeks compared to not exercising. If you can only manage one hour per week at this burn rate it's not going to make much of a difference to your rate of weight loss (you'll lose an extra pound every couple of months). It is still better for your overall fitness to exercise, you just need to recognize that it is not for weight loss.
Note! you burn more calories when you are heavier! There's a 500 calorie per day difference between the 200lb me and the 170lb me.
Sticking with it
It all boils down to willpower. Your body and subconscious will try to find ways to make you cave in and break your diet.
Get into a routine. Make a habit of eating at the same times of the day. If you're exercising, make a habit of doing it at the same times of the day and days of the week. Sometimes you'll feel like quitting your workout early. You'll make excuses like "I'll make it up tomorrow" or "I'll just eat less today" but those are BS. Stick with your routine (unless you're faint or exhausted, in which case you should stop immediately!).
Cardio exercise is really boring. I listen to music while reading books on my Kindle.
How you deal with hunger is key. A weight loss diet is literally starving your body, and your body will let you know that you're doing that by making you feel hungry.
Each time you feel hungry:
- Drink a glass of water.
- Wait 20 minutes. If you're still ravenous, consider eating popcorn, but if you're due to have a meal within an hour, just have some more water and hold out until your meal is ready.
You may want to change your eating habits so that you are grazing throughout the day instead of having a couple of low calorie meals hours apart. This helps avoid having an empty stomach for long periods of time, but you need to be very careful about the total calorie intake.
Your weight can change up and down daily in ways that are hard to predict. It's easy to feel like your efforts aren't having too much effect if you see your weight go up, or to feel like you can cheat today because your weight dropped by a couple more pounds than you expected, only to have it go up again a day later.
Record your weight daily but ignore the scale reading. Look at the weight trend on TrendWeight instead. This will show you how your weight is trending, calculate your rate of weight loss and give you a projected date for when you'll reach your goal.
These are tremendously motivating and can warn you if you're eating too many calories.
When you're done
Once you hit your target you should tune your calorie intake to balance your calorie burn rate. You can eat more food because you're not aiming for a deficit, but you need to make sure that you don't eat more than you are burning if you want to avoid putting on weight again.
My routine is now to work out for around 90-100 minutes per week (~2000 calories, about 40 miles) and I typically do this as either a couple of 45 minute workouts or a long workout on the weekend.
I've switched from salads for lunch to more hearty meals, and I'm eating more carbs again, but I still favor protein over carbs and try to avoid fatty meals. I've been stable at around 170lbs for a while now and I feel much happier with myself.
I hope this helps someone else make similar changes to improve their life!