Weight loss is a complex problem. There isn’t one single formula that works for every single person set in stone. Different diets and different methods work for different people. For a lot of people, losing weight and keeping it off can be hard. And it’s no mystery why that is. Losing weight goes against biology. The human body does not like change and will fight to remain the same. That is why most of the contestants on the reality TV show, “The Biggest Loser” (where they lost on average 127 lbs in a very short period of time) gain a lot of their weight back after the show.
BUT DON’T BE DISCOURAGED!
Despite this fact, there are tens of thousands (and perhaps, a growing number of) people who are able to lose weight and maintain their weight loss for longer than a year registered in the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) by Brown University. And the one thing all those people have in common was that they made permanent changes to their daily behaviors.
I consider myself one of those people (even though I’m not registered lol)
I gained 20 lbs over the course of the last 2 years at my University. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how I gained that weight. I was overeating. I ate while I studied. I ate to stay awake during all-nighters. I ate before my nights out with my friends on the weekends. And I ate late at night after my nights out. I ate when I was bored. I ate while watching movies. I ate to stay awake during class. I ate in between my classes. I even ate an entire 3 lb bag of Kit Kats that my roommate had bought during Finals Week.
Sorry for the poor quality of my “Before” picture. I’ve regretfully worked hard to get rid of evidence LOL.
When I first started noticing the number on the scale creeping up, I totally freaked out! The first thing I did was a crash diet – one of those diets that promises 10 lbs of weight loss in 3 days. Sure, it worked at first. But after 3 days of restricting like crazy, my hunger would shoot through the roof and I would just overeat and gain all the weight back. It led me down a long path of misery, which is what yo-yo dieting really is. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy!
After yo-yo dieting a bunch of times, there is no doubt that I had done some damage to my metabolism. I decided that enough was enough.
I finally stopped looking for quick fixes, fad diets and other suspicious methods to weight loss.
These are the 10 things that legitimately contributed to my final weight loss journey and its sustenance.
#1 Eat the Correct Number of Calories
It is really tempting to go on a crash diet and slash your calories super low when you want to lose weight fast. Unfortunately, doing so has a great deal of repercussions. There was a Starvation Experiment done in Minnesota back in the 1940s. Sure, the test subjects lost about 25% of their body weight by drastically decreasing their calorie intake during the experiment. However, they suffered a great deal physically and mentally. Even after the experiment ended for 3 months and they have gone through rehab, their hunger levels didn’t return to normal. The test subjects would basically binge eat even up to 8 months after the experiment. If you want to read more about that, you can check out the article titled “The Psychology of Hunger” link in my sources section down below.
To lose weight, you will need to be eating at a calorie deficit. But there is no need to starve yourself or even eat at a very low calorie diet (under 1200 calories).
This is why I am going to emphasize the word CORRECT.
The correct amount of calories is different for everyone. To find out how many calories you should eat to lose weight, you have to find out what your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (hereinafter referred to as TDEE). A rough estimate of your TDEE is simply:
Your Weight (in pounds) * 10 * Activity Factor.
An activity factor ranges from 1.2 to 2.1. If you are a very sedentary person, your activity factor would be closer to 1.2. And if you’re extremely active, your activity factor will be closer to 2.1.
Your TDEE is just an estimate of how many calories your body burns within a day to stay alive and keep you moving around. And your body fat is just storage of excess calories or energy. When you eat at a calorie surplus (AKA when you eat more calories than your TDEE), your body will store the extra calories as glycogen in your muscles and liver and/or body fat to be used later on.
To lose weight or burn fat, you simply have to eat fewer calories in a day than your TDEE if you’re in general good health.
Eating fewer calories or eating in a calorie deficit will result in your body turning to your fat stores for energy, burning that fat and in turn, losing weight.
A good general rule of thumb for weight loss is to create a calorie deficit of about 100-300 calories from your diet per day.
When I was trying to lose weight, I liked creating a calorie deficit of about 100-250 from my diet and burning 150-300 calories from exercise daily, 4-6 times/week.
Some people feel strongly against tracking their calories or keeping a food journal because they think that it requires too much time or they associate it with eating disorders. If you are one of these people, you can simply ignore this suggestion!
However, for me personally, educating myself about the nutritional value of the foods I was eating, their corresponding portion sizes and tracking my calories played an enormous part in helping me successfully lose weight. I was not excessively fussy about inputting exact number of calories when it came to tracking. Instead, I tracked my calories using estimates and I inputted all my items in multiples of 5 or 10.
Below is an example of a full day of tracking:
For example, a medium zucchini (196g) is 33 calories.
After eating a medium zucchini, I would simply track it as 35 calories on my tracking app (MyFitnessPal).
Another example is a meal I often order at Wood Ranch BBQ: A 7 oz. Tri Tip Entree with a 6 oz. side of Steamed Broccoli plus a 6 oz. side of Mashed Potatoes.
From their website, the 7 oz. Tri Tip is 420 calories, the side of Steamed Broccoli is 57 calories and the Mashed Potatoes is 186 calories.
What I clock into my tracking app is: Tri Tip – 420 calories, Broccoli – 60 calories and Mashed Potatoes – 190 calories.
I usually finish all my food, so my meal was a total of 670 calories.
In my opinion, it’s not really important to know the EXACT amount of calories of all the food you’ll be having during weight loss. However, having a rough idea can really help you stay on track and make smarter food choices throughout the day. From my own personal experience, it was pivotal.
#3 Setting SMART Goals
Goal setting is pretty important when it comes to achieving all sorts of different things in life. It is no different when it comes to weight loss. A lot of people say they want to lose weight. However, they are not always clear about exactly how much weight they want to lose, when they want to lose it and what they are willing to do in order to lose it.
There are 2 types of goals you should have in mind when it comes to achieving weight loss. The first is the product goal; how much weight do you want to lose and when you want to lose it. The second is the process goal(s); the tasks you need to accomplish on a daily, weekly, monthly and/or yearly basis that will get you to your product goal.
It is extremely helpful to set up SMART Goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.
- Your goal needs to be SPECIFIC – Exactly how much weight do you want to lose and when do you want to lose it? If you have the luxury of taking a DEXA Scan or hiring a personal trainer who can measure your body fat percentage and performance levels, you can have an even more specific goal. The scale isn’t always the best measure of progress because your body weight can fluctuate a great deal due to hormones, diet, water weight, etc. However, if the scale is the only thing you have access to, that is fine, too. Just make sure you weigh yourself at around the same time, with the same amount of clothing and on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
- Your goal needs to be MEASURABLE – It is very difficult to manage a goal that you cannot measure. The scale is a decent way to keep track of your progress. It is, however, even better to have your body fat mass and percentage measured during your weight loss journey.
- Your goal needs to be ATTAINABLE – Your goal should be challenging, but not impossible. I don’t think that I will ever weigh the exact same weight I was when I was a teenager. So setting a goal of weighing how much I weighed back then is just simply setting myself up for failure.
- Your goal needs to be REALISTIC – Losing 10 lbs of fat in 3 days isn’t exactly realistic. Only eating kale and exercising for 5 hours everyday during your entire weight loss journey is also not exactly realistic. You gotta be real with yourself.
- Your goal needs to be TIMELY – You should have a specific date in mind as to when you would like to achieve your goal. And setting daily and/or weekly process goals will contribute a great deal to your success as well.
When I was trying to lose weight, my goal was to lose 1 lb of fat per week. I understood that 1 lb of fat is equivalent to 3500 calories. So, I have 7 days to create a 3500 calorie deficit. So, on average, I needed to create a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day. In order to create that deficit, I would simply eat 250 calories on average less than my TDEE and exercise for 30-45 minutes on average per day.
Before I discovered MyFitnessPal, I had an excel sheet with dates, weekly goals, my weekly weigh-ins, daily workouts, daily calorie intake, notes, etc. I know it sounds a bit excessive, but I really enjoyed staying on track. However, because of MyFitnessPal, you really don’t need to create an excel sheet because you can simply use the app to track your weight, calories, exercise, etc.
#4 Drink Water
If you are a big soda guzzler like I used to be, then drinking water will automatically help you cut calories during your weight loss journey. Besides being 0 calories, drinking water can boost your metabolism. In a German study, 7 men and 7 women were assessed after drinking 500ml of water. The study showed that drinking 500ml of water increased metabolic rate by 30%! (Boschmann et al., 2003)
It was hard for me to make drinking water a habit, but now I am so used to drinking so much water that I usually can’t go without for very long.
I like drinking 24 oz. (710ml) of water first thing in the morning and at least 8 oz. (237ml) of water before each meal that I have.
#5 Make Your Environment Work For You
If you have foods you know you’ll overeat lying around the house, chances are you’ll succumb to overeating them. We all differ in levels of willpower. I know I personally don’t have much willpower if there is a bag of chips, a box of chocolates, a carton of ice cream and even a can of macadamia nuts lying around my house. I’m not able to stop eating these foods at 1 serving. I usually finish the entire container within a 24 hour period. And if I’m extra good, I’ll finish them within a 48 hour period. Let’s be real. I know myself well. And that is why I usually don’t buy large packages of these foods and leave them in my house. If I really crave one of these foods, I’ll go outside and buy a 1 serving packet. However, I’ve noticed that I don’t really crave them when they are not around. It’s almost as though they are able to cast a spell on me if they’re within a 1000 sq foot radius.
I usually stock up my fridge with some healthy, whole food, snacks that are lower in calories and harder for me to overeat in case I get hungry in between meals. For example, I personally love edamame, protein bars, greek yogurt, popcorn, fruit, etc. If you’re a snacker, it’s definitely helpful to find some healthy snacks you like and keep them around. If you get hungry, chances are you’ll have what’s in your fridge instead of going outside to buy a bag of chips.
In general, whole foods, as opposed to processed foods, are lower on the glycemic index, more nutritious and keep you feeling fuller for longer.
#6 Load Up On Vegetables
Vegetables were my secret weapon to weight loss. My mom used to scold me when my plate wasn’t squeaky clean after dinner. And growing up in America, I’m used to getting gigantic portion sizes at restaurants and I am not complaining. I love it! As a matter of fact, I feel cheated when I don’t get served the large amount that I am used to. However, the combination of those two facts resulted in me – a small girl with a big appetite.
Fret not if you’re just like me! You can still lose weight without eating less. And the hack is just filling up on vegetables. Vegetables are very low in calories and filled with nutritious micronutrients and fiber. They are low glycemic carbs so they don’t result in sugar spikes, helping you stay fuller for longer. You can eat an enormous amount of vegetables and it will still amount to fewer calories than most other foods!
For example, a 1 cup serving of steamed broccoli is about 30 calories. And a 1 cup serving of macadamia nuts is about 960 calories!
You can probably start feeling full after devouring 5 cups of broccoli, which would amount to only 150 calories! I highly doubt you’ll feel full after eating ½ cup of macadamia nuts that would amount to 480 calories!
#7 Have Some Protein
Protein has been shown to make you feel fuller when compared to carbohydrates and fat in the same caloric quantities. (Anderson et al., 1984) Protein’s direct effects on satiety may help when you are trying to lose weight while eating at a calorie deficit.
I try to have a serving of protein with every meal to help me stay full and energized for longer.
Quick Note: Fat, the last macro-nutrient I haven’t talked about yet, does not make you fat. It is a more calorie dense macro-nutrient in comparison to carbohydrate and protein. 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories, while both 1 gram of carbohydrate and 1 gram of protein contain 4 calories each. Despite this, fat is not a macro-nutrient you want to eliminate from your diet. Fats help our bodies absorb vitamins and they also have a direct, positive effect on satiety.
One macro-nutrient is not going to take the full responsibility of weight gain. Overeating any macro-nutrient or simply eating at a calorie surplus is the culprit to weight gain.
#8 Choose a Workout You Enjoy
You don’t need to exercise to lose weight. Simply eating at a calorie deficit will result in your body burning fat for energy.
I personally included exercise as a part of my weight loss routine. Working out makes me feel really good physically and has always improved my mood. I usually work out 10-45 minutes most days of the week and occasionally go to a 90 minute, hot yoga session.
If you plan on including exercise as a part of your weight loss routine, I think it is very important to find something you personally enjoy doing. Enjoyment of your workout program will contribute a great deal to your adherence to the program.
On the days that I don’t feel like working out, I always start with this routine to get me in the mood!
#9 Strength Train
The more lean muscle mass you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate.
So, I’ve been guilty of being addicted to low to moderate intensity cardio. And there was a long period of time where the only things I did at the gym was cardio and crunches. And I was your textbook definition of skinny fat with a very, very slow metabolism and barely any lean mass on my body. After increasing my lean mass, I’ve found that it has been a great deal easier to maintain my weight despite eating more at times.
I think most of us have the goals of losing body fat and looking lean and toned. Strength training will give you that lean, toned look and it can help you burn fat too if you’re a beginner! Especially circuit style weight training. There has been studies that show that circuit style weight training results in higher post exercise metabolic rates in comparison to doing traditional steady state cardio. (Burleson MA et al., 1998)
There is a misconception that strength training will make women extremely buff and bulky. And there is another misconception that fat turns into muscle somehow. Fat and muscle are separate tissues that cannot morph into each other. Unless you are extremely blessed genetically, it takes a great deal of work to grow your muscles! And if there are areas on your body that you don’t want to bulk up, simply don’t increase weights when training those areas.
#10 Include Home Workouts
This tip is more of a personal and emotion tip than a scientific one.
When all of my workouts used to take place at the gym, I would find excuses not to go half the time. And even if I did make it to the gym, I would skip certain exercises like squats and hip thrusts because I was just too embarrassed to do them in front of other people.
After giving myself the option to workout at home, I’ve been way more consistent with sticking to my routine.
I hope you guys found these tips helpful! If you’re struggling with weight loss, know that you’re not alone. I know what the struggle was like. And if I can successfully lose weight and stay fit, then so can you!
Wish you guys the best of luck in your weight loss and fitness journeys!
Alexandra Sifferlin, “The Weight Loss Trap: Why Your Diet Isn’t Working”. http://time.com/magazine/us/4793878/june-5th-2017-vol-189-no-21-u-s/
David Baker and Natacha Keramidas. “The Psychology of Hunger”. http://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/10/hunger.aspx
Boschmann et al., 2003. “Water-induced thermogenesis”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14671205
Anderson GH, Li ET, Granville NT. Brain mechanisms and quantitative and qualitative aspects of food intake. Brain Res Bull, 1984;12(2):167-173
Burleson MA, O’Bryant HS, Stone MH, Collins MA, Triplett-McBride T. “Effect of weight training exercise and treadmill exercise on post-exercise oxygen consumption”. Med Sci Sports Exercise. 1998;30(4);518-522