Last summer I lost 40 lbs in 4 months. That was 25% of my overall weight. I felt vastly better. I was able to run much farthest. It was an overall incredible transformation. The beauty of it is that this was pretty simple. Not easy. But simple. I’ve spent countless hours reading books, scouring forums, and listening to podcasts for the most efficient way to get to one’s desired weight. I’m going to break it down for you.
Define your Goals
Before you begin a diet/fitness regimen, you need to know what you want. There are basically two answers to this question. You either want to look better or you want your body to operate better, or a combination of both. At first, it really won’t matter what your goal is because the two will not be mutually exclusive for a while. However, you still should understand what you want because it will motivate you.
If your goal is to look better, you want an ideal to shoot for. You want a concrete goal. Making your goal concrete and measurable will allow you to track your progress and be more likely to achieve it. You can’t reach a goal that you don’t set. You should aim for the stars. There is no harm in setting a really idealized goal. It’s always easier to adjust your goal later to be easier than to be harder. This being said, you’re still going to break down your goal into 1-2 week measurable segments. Which I’ll get to later.
Here are the measurements I suggest you shoot towards:
Men: 0.59 Waist/Chest Ratio, 7-10% Body fat
Women: 0.75 Waist/Hip Ratio, 16-19% Body fat
These are considered the golden standard by social psychologists and also closely correspond to optimal reproductive health in both sexes. In order to find you current ratios use a tape measure for your respective needs. Use the following places to take measurements.
Chest: around the widest portion (usually right over the pecs)
Waist: around the navel.
Hips: 1″ below where your pants naturally sit
To calculate your current body fat % use this online tool.
Wrist is measured where you’d wear a watch.
Don’t be alarmed. The vast majority of America is way beyond fat and this goal will seem absurd at first. You should never set your goals with the average person in mind. If you want obscenely awesome results you need obscenely awesome methods and goals.This may not be your desired look, but at least now you can tell how you compare to the generally most healthy body shape and work from there. Yes some of us will vary slightly in our physiology and bone structure, but for the most part these ratios will be a very good direction to start moving towards. You don’t have to worry about your physical limits when you’re just beginning. You shouldn’t be thinking about them.
What is missing from this equation? Body weight. Your weight is not all that important. It fluctuates a lot, and it’s not super indicative of your overall level of fitness or your aesthetic. No matter what your goals, they should be measured in things that visually & physically make a difference. Do you need to gain or lose inches? If you’re like most Americans you probably need to lose. That’s what I’ll address.
SUM UP: Use the tool I linked to and see where you stand.
Setting a plan: Diet & Exercise
Diet is by far the most important part of losing weight. Fitness will help you maintain a good body composition (muscle:fat ratio). Because we want to lose weight that is fat, we should help protect our muscle by exercising it. If you neglect this like I did last summer, you’ll end up looking like a rail and not moving towards that golden ratio discussed above. I had a great body for running marathons, but I looked like more of a shrimp than I already do!
For diet, your body can handle 500 calories below whatever your maintenance level is. To figure out your maintenance calories, go here and honestly answer the questions. The calculator will tell you under “Fat Loss” how many calories you can eat total per day without losing too much muscle. You should also try and follow their recommendations for protein/carbs/fat breakdown. The closer you follow this, the better your body will be at burning fat and not muscle. Also, you’ll likely feel more full. A good rule of thumb is to eat 1g of protein for every pound of your body weight. If you are obese, you can lower this a bit and just use your lean body weight.
In terms of exercise, I’d advise lifting as much weight as you can personally handle 3x/week for the duration of your diet and forever. Then mix as much cardio in there as you can handle. Don’t even think about worrying about getting bulky, ladies. At a 500 calorie deficit, you’ll have no chance of doing that. At this stage, any lifting of weights is only going to slow muscle loss. Don’t expect any gain. This is what bro’s into this kind of thing generally call a “cutting” stage.
The #1 rule of starting your diet is that you always start today. You don’t even get to think about dieting unless you start today. You don’t get to put it off. If this is something you’re serious about, it starts now. It’s more important than that leftover pizza you have in the fridge. It’s more important than that coupon you have for a free milkshake at Friendly’s. Unless someone is making you a meal, your diet starts right now. You know the #of calories you can eat. That is 80% of the battle. Just stick to that number religiously.
Keeping with the program
Nike did a study on program adherence that found 5 to be the magic number of workouts to create a lasting commitment. Once people had logged 5 workouts with their bands they were vastly more likely to stick with it. So, just as I said that you must start now, you also must stick to these first 5 days and workouts. It doesn’t really matter how you workout, though I think a nice combo of heavy lifting and cardio is your best bet. You must complete your first week with 100% adherence. No cheating. No whining. Pick a program that is manageable for you in the diet and exercise and stick to it.
Some tips I find really help keep you full under your caloric intake.
- Stop drinking all calories. Fruit juice and soda are great ways to intake huge amounts of sugar without very much filling effect.
- Eat vegetables and greens and eat them first in your meal. This will fill you up quicker.
- Don’t eat white potatoes or corn. Both are pretty weak nutrient-wise and mess around with your sugar levels, which won’t help you to lose fat. You really should also cut all white carbs like bread and rice. But this isn’t 100% necessary. Just know that eating these things will make it more difficult to lose fat and to stay full.
- Drink a lot of water. Make this easy. Keep a lot on hand that’s cold and delicious. You should design it so that it’s not a chore to be healthy.
- Do fasted cardio. In the morning your body is depleted of sugar, and you don’t have any digestion to slow you down. Cardio on an empty stomach, as long as it’s under an hour, is a great idea.
- Get enough protein. Like mentioned above, technically you need .86g/lb of body weight.
- If you do eat pre-packaged foods, eat the ones with the fewest ingredients.
- Data-hack your diet. Know the Glycemic Index and Fullness Factor of all your foods. You can find this at http://nutritiondata.self.com/. Eat low Glycemic and high Fullness Factor.
- Every ten pounds you lose, reset your caloric intake using the calculator based on your new stats. Don’t worry, you won’t be cutting down too much more.
- Track your calories and protein/fat/carbs
This is going to be hated on, but you need to track your calories. You need to do this. You’re going to be so tempted to cheat. You’re going to want to eyeball the amount of butter you put on your pasta. Don’t do it. You’re only cheating yourself. Find a diet tracking program. I love MyFitnessPal. Use this for every meal to track how many calories and how much of protein/fat/carbs you’re actually consuming. Just doing this will educate you on the contents of what you’re eating. This is an invaluable experience in nutritional education because it is eminently personal.
10. Track your progress
You need to see how you’re doing. But you should not look too often. It’s good to measure and log the progress you’re making weekly. Keep your results in an Excel spreadsheet. Measure anything you want to manage. This could include weight, waist, chest, hips, biceps, hips, neck, etc… Unfortunately there’s isn’t much you can do about height lol. Sorry, shawty.
11. Know what’s realistic
You can probably expect to safely lose about a pound a week using this regimen. This is a safe amount and should result in minimal muscle loss, especially if you’re lifting.
12. There are no cheat days.
You don’t need a cheat day. Cheat days are an admittance that you don’t like your diet and want out. You need to design your meals such that they are filling, enjoyable, and make you feel better than you ever have. What is OK, is a cheat meal when appropriate. If you’re out for dinner or at a party, go nuts. Eat what everybody else is eating if you want. You don’t have to be so rigid that you can’t expand your palate sometimes. The difference is that these cheat meals are intermittent rewards, not scheduled rigidly. Motivational psychology has shown that intermittent rewards have a much deeper impact of motivation than regularly scheduled ones. Would anyone play a dollar slot machine that pay out ten dollars on exactly every 20th pull? I hope you wouldn’t. Unless you knew it was on pull#20, of course.
Conclude your diet
When you reach you desired goal, go back to the start. Do you have a new goal. Are you perfectly happy where you are? The body doesn’t just stay the same, it requires maintenance. Hopefully at the end of your first true dieting session, you have developed a knowledge of good nutrition, steady exercise, and mental discipline.