How do I lose weight?
How do I lose weight?
Everyone wants to look better, fit into nicer clothes, and feel more confident in their image. But most people have no idea how to achieve these outcomes and end up wasting countless hours in the gym, with the only results being frustration and a lighter, thinner piggy bank.
Throughout the year (and especially in January after the holiday season) people join the gym with the aim of ‘losing weight’, and inevitably end up leaving after less than six months having made little or no progress towards this outcome. Losing weight is important, particularly if you’re on the bigger end of the spectrum, but it shouldn’t be your primary goal. Fat loss (measured by body circumferences, clothes sizes, body fat %, or skin folds), lifestyle change goals, and, ideally, performance outcomes should come first and foremost on your list of desired outcomes.
When it comes to weight loss vs fat loss the question is simple – would you prefer to look like a marathon runner or a beach volleyball player?
I know for sure most people would prefer the latter, the volleyball player. The key difference between these two is muscle mass, and if your goal is weight loss you aren’t differentiating between losing fat and losing muscle. Muscle weighs more than fat, but takes up less space in your body than fat does, and it allows for a more aethestically pleasing figure. Additionally muscle is more ‘energy hungry’, requiring more calories to maintain, meaning even at rest you’ll burn more calories if you have more muscle mass. Which of the two images you end up looking like comes down to the type/intensity/duration of training you do.
Hours of aerobic training with little or no real dedicated resistance training will eventually result in more of the ‘marathon runner’ look, or you’ll end up with minimal results due to being unable to overload/challenge your body further. What I mean by that is, if you jog for an hour four days a week, your body will adapt and begin to use less fuel/calories (your body is super efficient), to prevent this adaptation you need to challenge the body. You then have three options – 1) increase frequency by adding another day of training, 2) increase duration by running for longer, and 3) increase intensity by running faster. These options are limited – you’ll eventually run out of days in the week, hours in the day, or reach the limit of your ability to run any faster. To avoid this you’re better off beginning with types of training that can be easily progressed indefinitely such as resistance training and high intensity interval training (don’t worry – steady state aerobic training still has it’s place).
Resistance training – using barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, bands, bodyweight, machines – will promote muscle gain (when combined with good nutrition). Ladies, you shouldn’t worry about looking like a bodybuilder, you lack the testosterone levels required for this to happen by accident (unless you’re taking steroids), it also takes incredible dedication to training and diet to look that way.
For more information on optimal training for muscle gain, see my blog post here.
High intensity interval training (or HIIT) has become very popular over the last few years, and simply refers to hard, intense bouts of exercise (less than two minutes, and at over 80% max heart rate) interspersed with structured rest periods. This ‘exercise’ doesn’t have to be traditional cardio (running, rowing, etc), it can be pushing sleds, using battle ropes, flipping tyres, dragging sandbags, or performing kettlebell, dumbbell, or barbell exercises – pretty much anything that has the potential to elevate your heart rate. HIIT is generally anaerobic, meaning without the presence of oxygen, although if rest periods are too short the intensity can drop due to fatigue and the exercises become aerobic. Anaerobic exercise creates an ‘oxygen debt’ or ‘afterburn’, whereby the body has to expend additionally energy (calories) to restore balance in its systems even after you’ve left the gym (potentially for up to 36 hours post-exercise).
This type of training has several benefits:
- It’s interesting, fun, and easy to adapt or keep varied session to session.
- It’s time efficient – you can work very hard for a short period of time, create an after-burn effect, and then go home and enjoy the other 23 hours or so of your day.
- It maintains muscle mass – your body doesn’t resort to catabolizing muscle to use as fuel (which it might during long aerobic training sessions.
Although exercise is important, it’s really the other 23 hours (time outside the gym) that is most important – this includes good nutrition, having goals, optimal sleep, and minimizing stress.
Theres simply far to much information on good nutrition for me to tell you what works or doesn’t. There are numerous confounding factors – physiology (allergies/diseases/intolerances), food preferences, time commitments, etc. etc. etc. However in my experience these are a few things have worked for myself and my clients/athletes.
- Go low carbohydrate on days you don’t exercise.
- On the days you do exercise, get your carbohydrates from non-sugar or starchy sources, i.e. fibrous carbohydrates (ideally vegetables, beans, legumes). Eliminate sugar and starchy carbs from your diet.
- Drink at least 67 oz of water per day – more if you’re exercising.
- Don’t be afraid of fat, it isn’t the enemy and won’t instantly make you fat *Except trans fats, found in processed foods, often called partially hydrogenated oils*.
- Eat sufficient protein for your current bodyweight – 0.37 grams per pound of bodyweight.
- If you have snacking issues, consider using ‘eating windows’. Only allow yourself to eat between specific set times in the day i.e. 5-7am, 12-1pm, 6-7pm.
Finally, in order to really track your progress and keep yourself accountable it’s essential to set goals that will lead towards your final desired outcome. Goals should be SMART – specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and have a time-frame. ‘Lose ten pounds’ is not a goal, ‘lose 2% body fat’ is not a goal – they’re outcomes. Set goals that will help you work towards those outcomes. For example:
- Get 30 minutes of extra sleep per night for four weeks by going to bed 30 minutes earlier
- Drink 8 cups of water every day for two weeks
- Get to the gym three days within the next seven
- Get a strength and conditioning coach to design a program that will allow you to add 20lb to your squat in the next 12 weeks
- Park as far away from the store as possible every time you go shopping for the next four weeks to get extra exercise