I spent two years losing over 140 pounds the old fashioned way: proper diet and exercise. No fads. No pills. No surgery. No crazy machines. I was 30 years old and 340 pounds. With a history of heart disease and obesity in my family, I decided it was time to shed the pounds.
Almost every day I get people I haven’t seen in years coming up to me saying “Wow! You look great!” and then the next question… “What have you been doing?” That’s why I wrote this article.
Now, of course, as a general disclaimer, I have to say that the tips I’m sharing with you here are just from my own personal experience. I’m not a professional health expert – although over the past couple of years I’ve read dozens of books, and hundreds of articles on nutrition, exercise, and weight lifting. I’m not a doctor. You should, of course, seek your own doctor’s advice before starting any kind of a weight-loss or exercise plan. I firmly believe that with the right diet and proper exercise, almost anyone should be able to lose weight and get fit safely.
Tip 1. It’s All About Calories
First, the bad news. Weight gain and loss is directly tied to the amount of calories you eat versus the calories you expend through exercise. What’s a calorie?
A calorie is a unit of heat energy. Specifically, it’s the amount of heat energy required to raise 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. How this relates to your body is that when you eat food, the food molecules are broken down chemically and that energy is either used by your body to perform work (like building muscle, or constructing new cells) or is stored (as fat). If you take in more calories than you burn, you will start to get fat.
Now, in the world of calories, it takes 3500 calories to equal one pound of body weight. So, if you take in an extra 3500 calories in your diet this week without exercising, congratulations… you’ve just gained one pound (probably all body fat). The good news is that you can lose one pound of fat by either removing 3500 calories from your diet, or adding 3500 calories of exercise to your weekly schedule, or a combination of the two.
What’s 3500 calories? It’s actually not much if you’re eating the wrong kinds of food. You can consume 3500 calories in one meal if you eat two Double Whoppers (1010 calories each), a King Size order of french fries (590), a King Size onion rings (600), and a chocolate shake (440). Don’t laugh… this is what I used to eat for dinner if my family went to Burger King… or something similarly outrageous.
So the bottom line here is that if you want to lose weight, you have to create a calorie deficit. That means you have to burn off more calories than you eat. You had to eat more calories than you burned to get fat… now you have to reduce the calories to get lean. It’s that simple. In order to know how many calories you’re taking in and burning off, you need to write them down.
Tip 2. Eat Frequently Throughout the Day
Think of your body as a furnace. You want your furnace to burn fuel as efficiently as possible. In order for that to happen, you need to let it burn hot and steady throughout the day.
You need to stoke your fire often to keep it burning. Keep your metabolism running all day long by eating every 3 to 4 hours. My personal tip: I eat on hours evenly divisible by 3. That means breakfast at 9am (if I’m up that early), lunch at noon, a snack at 3pm, dinner at 6pm, a snack at 9pm, and if I’m still up another snack at midnight.
Now, I personally work late (I usually get most of my “real work” done between the hours of 10pm and 2am) but if you need to eat at different hours, that’s fine… Just take the total number of calories you’re going to eat throughout the day and divvy them up into 3-hour intervals. Keep that fire stoked! If you can’t take a break at work to eat every 3 hours, bring a protein bar with you.
If you skip breakfast, then you’re extremely hungry by the time lunch comes around. Skip lunch, and you’re more likely to gorge yourself at dinner. Why? Your body is saying, “Hey! I need food badly!” If you feed yourself often, throughout the day, your body doesn’t go into shock, and you won’t get those wild cravings and hunger pangs when it’s time to eat.
Tip 3. Start a Food & Exercise Journal
Don’t just dismiss this section. I did! The first couple of times I read about doing this in fitness and weight-loss books, I said to myself, “I don’t have the time to do this.” But you know what – it really works!
I cannot stress how important it is to write everything down that you eat. All you need is a little notebook. Make four columns: what you ate, how much of it you ate, how many calories were in it, and what time of the day you ate it. It’s that simple. Also write down any exercise or other activities that are more strenuous than just sitting around.
Taking the time to recognize what you’re eating is the first step to losing weight. A lot of people truly don’t realize how much crap they’re eating. When I first started doing this – and writing down everything I was eating – it really opened my eyes to the volumes of junk food I was eating before. I was a slave to cookies, chocolate, chicken wings, and pizza. When I first took the time to look up the fact that a chicken wing has 150 calories in it (yes, one wing), I was astounded. I used to eat 20 wings and 2 or 3 slices of pizza for dinner.
Now you can get yourself one of those little calorie counter booklets from your favorite book store. Sometimes you’ll even see them in the grocery store. They’re invaluable. Once you get to know the foods you eat on a regular basis, keeping track of what you eat is really quite simple. You will gain a better appreciation for what you’re putting in your body.
So please, please, please, take my advice and journal everything you eat. You do NOT have to do this for the rest of your life… just until you hit your goal weight. By that time, you’ll be able to keep a good mental track of what you’re eating, and you’ll be more aware of what you should eat, and how much exercise you should be getting every week.
Also, you do not have to obsess over every little calorie! Counting your calories can be as detailed as you like. If you want to track every last celery stick, by all means do so. However, you can just round your calories off to the nearest 10, or 20. Don’t worry whether or not something contains 24 or 26 calories. In the end, it doesn’t make that much of a difference… but whether something has 100 or 200 calories does.
The important thing… and I cannot stress this enough… is write everything down!
Tip 4. Eat The Right Amount of Calories
We’re not going to starve ourselves! In fact, proper weight loss is best accomplished by eating more frequently than you’re probably used to! Let me say that again: you’re going to eat more food than you are right now. You’re going to eat better food, more often, but at a lower calorie intake. If you’re like I used to be, you’re probably skipping breakfast. This means that when lunchtime comes around, you’re starving, so you probably overeat the wrong kinds of food (like pizza, wings, Chinese, etc.) for lunch – and I’ll bet it’s fast food or takeout. Then, you don’t eat anything again for six to eight hours, and pack in a monster dinner.
Now here’s what happens: your body isn’t getting any food first thing in the morning, so your metabolism isn’t getting started. Your “calorie-burning fire” doesn’t get started in the morning, so you’re not really burning as many calories as you should be. Also, your body is saying, “uh, oh – I’m not getting any food. I better hold on to whatever body fat I can because we’re starving!” This is bad. If you don’t eat enough food, often enough, your body will basically go into starvation mode and hang on to whatever body fat it can.
The key to unlocking your stored fat is to feed yourself enough good food so that your body doesn’t need to store any additional fat, while at the same time getting plenty of exercise and strength training to burn whatever fat you currently have and build muscle.
There are a bunch of factors that go into calculating metabolic rates and all that jazz, but you can use this chart as a basic measurement of how many calories you should be eating as part of your weight-loss diet. Notice it’s based on your current weight and your gender. Women need fewer calories then do men. Also, if you’re a smaller person, you need less energy than a larger person. Use this chart to determine how many calories you should be eating on a daily basis.
Under 130: 1000 Calories
130-150: 1200 Calories
151-200: 1400 Calories
201-250: 1600 Calories
251-300: 1800 Calories
301-350: 2000 Calories
351-400: 2200 Calories
Under 130: 1200 Calories
130-150: 1400 Calories
151-200: 1600 Calories
201-250: 1800 Calories
251-300: 2000 Calories
301-350: 2200 Calories
351-400: 2400 Calories
Now here’s something that’s vitally important… you want to make sure you get enough calories every day, otherwise your body will go into “starvation” mode. You want to make sure that you eat your meals at least four times a day to keep your metabolism running. If you don’t eat, your body will go into starvation mode. It will realize that it’s not getting enough food, and will hold on to body fat. It’s important to get enough calories spaced throughout the day to keep your fire stoked. Don’t think that by starving yourself you’re going to lose weight. It will be the wrong kind of weight. Remember, your body will eat it’s own muscle tissue first before burning fat if it doesn’t have enough protein.
Tip 5. Send Yourself to Boot Camp
Now, if you want to jump start your body on its way to fast weight loss, here’s what you’re going to do. Ignore the charts above, and drop yourself right down to a 1000-calorie-per-day diet immediately. In addition, make sure you get at least 15 minutes of walking (or some other easy, basic, extra exercise) in every day as well.
You will do this for exactly two weeks… no more… no less. Then, you will go back to eating the normal amount of calories as indicated on the chart above.
It’s not going to be easy. You won’t be able to eat any junk food for these first two weeks. You can, however, eat plenty of good foods – chicken, salads, whole grain breads, etc. It won’t be easy, but once you get through it, you’ll be able to add lots of calories back in to your diet, and feel more normal again… in fact, after eating only 1000 calories for two weeks, you’ll probably have a hard time bringing yourself back up to 2000 calories (or whatever you should be at).
Here’s why this works: dropping your calorie intake down to 1000 calories will shock your body into new eating habits. You will cleanse your body of toxins (like those monster grease burgers you’ve been eating) and get some good, healthy food in you. You will notice weight loss after the first couple of days, but you’ll be keeping your energy up by eating good foods at regular intervals. You can stop any cravings you’re having with water, or add some extra veggies in there – you can eat just about as much green vegetables as you want.
Tip 6. Don’t Think “Fat Free” Means “Calorie Free”
Everywhere you look, it seems that “low fat” foods abound. While there are certain low-fat or no-fat foods that we are going to eat, you don’t want to restrict yourself to a totally no-fat diet. There are certain fats that are good fats, and other that are bad fats. We’re going to want to eat good fats because they are necessary for proper health. Bad fats, however, will make you fat.
There are tons of fad “no-fat” diets out there that have promoted the whole “low-fat” mentality. What’s happened? People are still continuing to get fat eating “fat-free” foods. They eat fat-free cookies, fat-free chips, and fat-free dairy products, yet they keep getting fatter. Why? Many fat-free foods have nearly as many calories as their full-fat versions.
Now, you start eating “fat free” potato chips thinking to yourself that you can splurge… hey, why not? They’re “fat free.” Well, you still load on the calories with fat-free potato chips. It’s the calories that make you fat. In fact, when food manufacturers remove fat from their products, often times they replace the fat with sugar to improve the taste. Guess what… by adding sugar, they’re bringing the calorie count almost back up to where the full-fat product was.
We need fat. Fat forms lining of the cell membranes in almost every cell of our bodies. Your brain is composed primarily of fat. If you don’t eat enough of the right kinds of fat, your brain will not get the proper nutrition to function. Eating too little fat can also reduce your testosterone levels (equally important for women as for men).
Tip 7. Know Your Fats
Saturated Fats are bad for you. They are found mostly in beef, milk, cheese, deli meats, butter, and some tropical oils. Saturated fats increase your risk of coronary artery disease, diabetes, and obesity. Avoid or minimize saturated fat intake. Try to eat low-fat meats like chicken and turkey without the skin, and reduced-fat dairy products. If you’re eating red mean, get the lowest-fat, leanest meat you can.
Trans Fats are saturated fats that are extremely bad for you. You should completely eliminate all foods with trans fats in them from your diet. These types of unnatural fats are created during food manufacturing processes such as the hydrogenation of vegetable oil. They are usually found in pastries, buns, chips, doughnuts, shortening, and other such foods. If the label says “trans fat” put that product back on the shelf. If the ingredients of any product say “partially hydrogenated” anywhere on it – put it back. One example: margarine! It’s evil. It’s loaded with trans-fatty acids. Avoid it at all costs. Also avoid vegetable shortening, commercial pasties, deep-fried food, and most prepared snacks, mixes, and convenience foods.
Studies have shown that saturated and trans fats are actually addictive and make you want to eat more. They have also been linked to all kinds of health problems from cancer and heart disease to diabetes.
Unsaturated Fats, on the other hand, are generally good for you. These types of fats are usually found in nuts, seeds, fish, and grains. Mono-unsaturated fats, such as the types found in olive and canola oil, will actually protect your cardiovascular system from disease. These are the types of fats we’re going to load into our diet.
– Good fats: almonds, avocado, cashews, flax oil, olive oil, olives, peanut butter, peanuts, fresh fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna)
– Bad fats: butter, coconut, corn oil, cream cheese, half-and-half, lard, mayonnaise, shortening, sour cream
Keep in mind that you need fats in your diet, but even the good fats listed above have a good amount of calories in them – so take it easy! A tablespoon of olive oil, for example, as 100 calories. Almonds (which I love to snack on) have 6 calories a piece. Nuts are a great, healthy-fat snack – but just make sure to take a small handful not the whole bag!
Tip 8. Add Omega 3 Fatty Acids to Your Diet
Omega fats are unsaturated fats that are not only good for you, but they’re essential for your health. Your body cannot create these fats, so you must get them totally from your diet. Omega fats are helpful for many reasons, plus they are necessary for normal cell growth and development.
First, Omega fats are an excellent appetite suppressant. Part of the reason why people binge on “fat-free” foods is because fat is what makes your stomach “feel full.” If you aren’t eating any fat in your meal, your stomach never tells your brain that you’re full. Add a little good fat to your meal, and you’ll feel full with less food.
Eating Omega fats helps your body to unlock stored fat so that you can use it for energy. Omega fat balances your body’s ratio of insulin to glucagon. When you eat sugary foods, your body releases insulin to remove the excess sugar from your system. If you do this too often, the insulin will block the hormone glucagon – which is another hormone that functions to help your body burn fat. Too much sugar = too much insulin = not enough glucagon = little fat burning. Plus, you are at risk for diabetes. Omega fats help to balance this ratio.
Omega fats help to boost your body’s metabolic rate. This also helps you to burn more calories. Omega fats are the building blocks of your cells. Your cell membranes consist of Omega fats. Since they cannot be created by the body, you must get them from your diet.
A specific fat, Omega 3 Fatty Acid, is obtained from flax seeds or flax seed oil. This will be the primary fat that we’ll add to our meals. You can use it on salads and in breads, add it to soups and yogurt. Don’t cook with it, however, as the heat will change it’s chemical properties. You will also find good doses of Omega 3 in most seafood, green leavy vegetables, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel), walnuts, olive, and canola oil.
Have fish for dinner at least twice a week – and I don’t mean your beer-battered, fried haddock that the local pub serves on Fridays. Pick a fish like salmon, tuna, or mackerel. Bake or grill them – don’t fry them. They have very high concentrations of Omega 3 fatty acids in them. Add flax oil to your salads instead of fatty dressings. Snack on walnuts or almonds instead of cookies and chocolate. You will feel full sooner, and you’ll be adding essential fatty acids to your diet to help burn calories!
Tip 9. Get Plenty of Protein
Proteins are the building blocks for your body. You need to eat lots of protein for your body to build, repair, and maintain your muscle and other lean tissues. If you don’t eat enough protein, your body will break down muscle tissue, which is bad, to maintain itself. As a result, your metabolism will slow, and you won’t burn body fat. Unlike fat or glucose, there’s nowhere in our bodies to store protein (aside from building muscle tissue) so you have to get a lot from your diet.
How much protein should you eat? Most people should eat about 0.4 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Therefore, if you weigh 200 pounds, you should be eating between 80 and 160 grams of protein per day. This isn’t hard to do. Eat two eggs for breakfast, and an 8-ounce serving of chicken for dinner, and you’re at 60 grams of protein right there.
What kinds of protein should you eat? I like fish, chicken (white meat), turkey (white meat), soy products, beans, legumes, and eggs (whites only – yokes have a lot of fat). Soy products are a great source of protein… once you get used to the taste. I have totally switched from regular milk to soy milk. It has all the calcium, much less of the saturated fat, and none of the cholesterol of normal milk (even skim milk!)
Eat fish twice a week, chicken twice a week, turkey once a week, a vegetarian meal once a week, and then on that seventh day, go ahead and splurge with the pork or beef… just take it easy. Just make sure you choose lean sirloin cuts. Trim off any fat. Beef has a lot of saturated fat in it (it’s marbled throughout the meat so you can’t just cut it off). Beef is the worst meat for you – as compared to the other popular meats.
– Good protein: beans (any kind), eggs (preferably whites – yolks have a lot of fat), chicken (white meat, no skin), turkey (white meat, no skin), salmon (preferably not farmed), tuna (packed in water, not oil), mahi mahi, any shellfish, any soy products.
– Bad protein: bacon, ham, hot dogs, beef, pork, lamb, veal.
In part 2 of this article, you’ll read about nine more tips to lose weight.
Weight Loss – How I Went From 340 to 199 Pounds, Part 1