I think that with the thousands of fads and new science that is coming out, extremisms arising and the lack of diligence and patience when tackling things, it is getting extremely difficult to talk some sense into what people do. I include myself in “people”. I have gone down rabbit holes of intermittent fasting, and low carb high fat, and bulletproof and paleo. Fanatically.
Why? Because I was taught a lot of things in my studies and I thought none of them worked. I used to run a lot and eat a lot. That was what why I exercised : a chance to eat shit tons and not go fat. Because I was. Never obese, just heavy and a bit flabby. And having an arched back didn’t help me look slender and elegant.
I am not perfect today, but I figured that what I was looking for is a was to keep a sustainable diet. One flexible enough for me to have fun and pleasure with. So if you’re looking to prep a bodybuilding competition in 18 weeks this is not the information you need.
If however you’ve been struggling with your weight forever and don’t understand what you’re doing wrong, welcome. If you are literate in the different diets that are around, but none of them seem to be giving you the magical results you were expecting (great energy, never hungry, no mood swings), then this might be the place for you.
Dieting is one of the hardest things there is because you can’t actually just stop eating. When you control your diet, you stay on track for a few days, weeks, and then it just all reverts to crap. You then put all the weight back on and it sucks. Food is linked to so many emotions, habits, it changes who you are, so once you start changing everything in you screams “WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING????”.
Here are a few simple guidelines to help you stay on track. If you want a more detailed account of what to do, you can check out my 12 week diet articles on before (here) and after (there) the diet. read both, as it is interesting to see the difference between what making a plan, and making a plan work.
What this articles will try to do is help you keep things simple enough to retain them, but complex enough that it works.
How old are you?
Didn’t expect that one did you? Several things to talk about here.
Less than 24 years old :
For you this should be quite easy. If you follow the rules laid out below you should lose the extra weight and keep it off. If you don’t then you might be doing one of them wrong and not realising it. Measure precisely. That is usually when things get out of hand. Just stay active and make sure you do so for the rest of your life. Any extra weight you don’t want now will be 15 times harder to lose later.
Between 25 and less than 40 years old :
You may have realised that you just put on 2, 3, 4, 5, maybe even 10 kg in the last years. You haven’t changed your habits much, except you’re working now, but you stay active! You play squash, tennis, run, or swim 2 or 3 times a week. So you don’t understand.
If you are a man :
Men stop growing up at 27 years old. Yep immature down to the bone (literally… the collarbone only stopes growing when you get to 27). This explains why very tall 18 year olds don’t look like 30 year olds even from the back. The shoulders still need to broaden. When that stops, thats when you see men grow a belly. 25 year old men think that they’ll never be fat, and are usually quite proud to say they can eat huge amounts and never get fat. Tough luck. You have to be aware that you burn less calories when you’ve stopped growing, and thats just that. Start tracking what you eat and cut down by 500kcal a day.
If you are a woman :
There isn’t such a drastic change going on for you. But your life complexifies at this stage between working, thinking about children, or going out to try and find a partner you drink more. You tame ore time to get ready in the morning because social norms dictate it so, but also because it’s nice to feel beautiful. But make up is full of weird shit that your body has issues processing, and that disturb your hormones. On top of that you might be taking the pill. I would suggest meditation, and trying to stay as organic as possible considering products used on your skin to make sure nothing is messing with your system.
40’s and over :
First of all, if you are over 40 years old, it is going to be harder for you. Your metabolism is slowing down, so no, you can’t eat as much as you used to, otherwise you’ll be fat. Your hormones are slowly disappearing, stuff is breaking down, you are at the peak stress point in your life so, be kind to yourself. Generally less carbohydrates work better for you, and intermittent fasting is also a good solution. Mostly because those methods will help you ingest less calories, and because fasting and reduced carbohydrates seem to play a role in cancer, but not everyone is sure about this, it may only have to do with caloric restriction.
If you are a woman you will do better with less carbohydrate restriction than men (so you should eat more carbohydrates).
If you are caucasian, it will usually be even better if you restrict carbohydrates.
Calories count, and you can read my article about it here.
If you adjust for Protein which is the second most important aspect of dieting, then every single diet works. Whether it’s keto, paleo, low carb, high carb, vegan, carnivore, vegetarian, piscivore…
Get yourself a kitchen scale, and decide on unprocessed foods you like. Weigh them, cook them and eat them. You look up how many calories they contain, and then see how many calories you just ate. Then you write those down (I like myfitnesspal, it’s simple to use). They’ll help you figure out how many calories you should ingest. Never try to lose more than 1kg a week. I’ll explain later in the article that going too fast will be your demise.
You can also use a connected watch (I use Garmin) to help you figure out how many calories you are burning during the day. There can be up to an 800 kcal difference depending on what you’ve been doing, and if you don’t adjust for it, the cravings you get will make you crazy. BELIEVE ME I’VE BEEN THERE.
If anyone tells you calories don’t matter, then get up and go. They do. Ok you might have a hormonal problem, ok if you spike your insulin you might store more, but all that usually solves itself when you calorie restrict.
Protein is your single greatest ally when it comes to controlling your food intake. First of all it is vey difficult to overeat protein. In myfitnesspal (I get no money from them, I just use the app) you can adjust your macros (macronutrients, so carbohydrates, protein and fats). If you don’t exercise, you should. But if you still don’t exercise, go for 1g of protein per kg of bodyweight you have. If you exercise once or twice a week, have 1,5g. If you exercise 3 times or more go for 2g per kg of bodyweight.
Protein is extremely satiating, so start with your steak, fish, chicken, tofu, quorn, soy, lentils, but start with your protein. The protein will quickly make you feel full and replenished, thus saving you from overeating.
As a bonus, having more protein will help you retain muscle mass which is the main issue with weight loss and yoyo dieting. What usually happens is for 1kg lost, you lose half fat and half muscle. When you put it back on, it is mostly fat. So for the same bodyweight your metabolism is lower.
As previously mentioned, if you’re not exercising you should. Not because it’s good for you, but because not exercising is bad. I wrote about this previously, but exercising isn’t good for you. NOT exercising is bad for you. Like your car, if you don’t use it you lose it, and it rusts away.
To be in homeostasis, you need to move, push your body, the more you move it the more solid it gets. And the more you use your energy stores, the better you get at using your energy stores. Walk, do a spinning class, run, yoga, build trick walls, climb trees, do ping pong, curling, soccer, box.. there ar so many solutions and great sports to play, things to do to move around I am amazed you’re not doing one already.
Moving will help you lose fat, and moving will prevent your muscles from melting when the weight comes off. It keeps your metabolism high, and therefore burns more fat as you get lighter.
The more muscle you have, the more energy you burn. So I suggest you have some sort of strength training in whatever routine you have. « Strength Is Never A Weakness” – Mark Bell.
Stay away from processed foods
This may seem obvious, but if you need a label to know what is in your food, then don’t eat it. If the ingredient isn’t an animal product, nut, fruit, veg, cereal, herb or spice, and your doctor didn’t prescribe it, don’t eat it. You don’t know what these things might trigger.
If you don’t know how to cook, stay simple, and learn.
Eat the same things
Have you ever tried to eat a plateful of carrots? As in JUST carrots. A plateful of potatoes? A plateful of chocolate? Gets boring right?
Whatever you eat, too much of it and your brains shuts it off and decides it doesn’t want it anymore (study here on food monotony). It got what it needed of that specific food. When you eat, make things taste nice, but don’t complexify too much. Choose 10, maybe 15 foods that are good for you, that you digest well, and stick to those. It will help in many ways.
First of all it will be much easier to track what you eat if you know how many calories the meal you prepare have in them.
Secondly, your will learn to decide when you’ve had enough. If you eat something new every day, you’ll eat it without knowing how many calories it contains, or what nutrients it has that you need, don’t need.
Do cheat meals, and not cheat days.
Charles Poliquin is to thank for this part! He wrote a great piece on refueling here.
I suggest that once a week, you have a meal where you can go all out. This is a great way to keep you mentally healthy, lower your stress, and allows some leeway for going out and having fun. If you have fun more than once a week, choose which event you want to use as a cheat meal, and do that.
On the cheat meal day, throughout the day, eat normally. Don’t restrict during the day to allow for more room for the cheat meal, that will just mean you’ll eat more « bad » food. And that is just lying to yourself. Have a drink, or ten, go crazy, and feel good because you’re doing it in the allocated slot. No guilt, then you get back on track, and go for another week.
Take your time.
I like to go for 0,5kg a week. That is a pound a week. It is a lot when you see in in your hands, but also not a lot in the grand scheme of things. But whats the rush? As long as you can just keep going in the right direction, you’re winning. Lose 0,2, lose 0,1kg, just keep moving forward. The slower you go, the better you’ll be in the long run. Why? Because if you put your body through too much of a shock, you’ll have a lower metabolism for ever. You heard me, check the research HERE. You’ll crash and burn. You’ll go too hard, too fast, you’ll revert to bad habits, and end up worse than where you are.
Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Lets say you have 40 pounds to lose. 1 pound a week will mean you’ll lose that in less than a year. No extra flabby skin, you’ll have kept your muscle mass. Take your time. And if you lost nothing, stay put for one to three weeks. Push through the plateau without reducing the calories, and your body should respond. It hates change, you have to slowly and nicely coerce it into accepting the new you.
If you just follow these rules, master them one by one, you’ll get to where you want to be. And when it doesn’t work anymore, readjust by going through the rules once more. See which item have to be adjusted to increase the loss, and get back on your saddle.
And take it easy, it’s a lifetime’s work.