How do I lose weight?
By asking this question, i’m going to assume you’re wanting to know how to lose fat. It’s a subtle difference but it’ll change the way you approach your “weight loss”, and how you’ll view your results.
When it comes to losing weight, the law of thermodynamics always stands true. Calories in vs calories out (CICO). You would have seen or heard the CICO haters claiming that it has nothing to do with calories. Although i’d agree that we can’t put all our eggs into the CICO basket, it’s impossible that we can consider weight loss without considering energy balance. What the haters are actually trying to say is that their diet that’s primarily focused on food quality (rather than quantity) just happens to create a negative energy balance – which ultimately leads to weight loss.
People lose weight on a Vegan diet, for example. This isn’t necessarily because vegetables are causing more weight loss, it’s because more often than not, a diet full of fibre rich plants create a natural calorie deficit. If someone on a vegan diet were to consume 3000 calories of avocados and nuts on a daily basis, this person will absolutely get fat.
Where are you right now?
Getting back on point. The first port of call to losing weight is to learn exactly where you are right now. We need to learn what your current total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is. Only then can we create the appropriate calorie deficit for you, and you only. Your current TDEE is Point A, and your calculated calorie deficit is Point B.
What is TDEE?
It’s the sum of your basal metabolic rate (BMR), physical activity (PA), non-exercise activity (NEAT) and the thermic effect of food (TEF).
What the hell are they then?
BMR is the energy you expend just staying alive. PA is self explanatory. NEAT is fidgeting, facial expressions and moving around in everyday life. TEF is the amount of energy expended to digest a particular food (macronutrient).
The formula looks a little like this: TDEE = BMR + PA + NEAT + TEF
There are formulas on the internet that will give you a rough calculation of your TDEE. It’s a decent starting point, but in all honesty, it’s just a formula for a hypothetical person of your age, gender, height and weight. It doesn’t give a result for YOU. None the less, I do recommend using a formula to get the estimated TDEE for someone like you and then seeing how your manual calculation compares.
Calculating your TDEE manually
Calculating your daily energy expenditure is going to require a bit of data collection. Yes, it’s a little cumbersome, but if you really want to be sure you’re achieving a calorie deficit (that isn’t too big either), it’s a very effective strategy.
What you’re going to do over the next 7 to 10 days is log every bit of food you consume. Use an app like myfitnesspal. In parallel, you’re going to weigh yourself every day at the same time, in the same way. Naked after a toilet stop.
After this period of data collection, you’ll average the calorie intake and weights recorded. If your weight didn’t budge (allow for 0.5kg variation) we know that this calorie intake is your TDEE – otherwise known as your maintenance calories. It’s the number of calories you eat every day without gaining or losing weight – just maintaining.
If you gain weight we know your average calorie intake is higher than the calories you burn, and vice versa if you lose weight. In this case you’ll need to do a little calculating to know your maintenance calories.
Let’s use a 7 day data collection as an example – Let’s say weight was gained
You gained 1kg over 7 days. You calculated an average of 3000 cal food intake per day.
1lb or .5kg of body weight = 3500 calories (can vary as we’re not robots). Therefor you consumed around 7000 calories too many over the week. That’s 1000 calories too many each day. Let’s minus that 1000 from your current average calorie intake of 3000 and we’re left with 2000 calories.
Your maintenance calories right now is 2000 calories. Keep eating this on a daily basis (or an average) and you’ll maintain your weight. Drop your calories below that and you’ll lose weight.
Calculating your calorie deficit.
Warning! Do not trust your food tracking app to calculate your food intake.
Example – You tell your app your current weight and that you want to lose 10kg in 1 month (just pretend that I don’t think this is a bad idea). Now it will calculate its estimate of your TDEE and calculate how many calories you need to cut to loose 10kg in a short amount of time. This is 2.5kg per week. Roughly 8750 calories per week deficit. This is 1250 calorie deficit per day. We can’t assume what the app will calculate as you TDEE, but it’s possible it might ultimately tell you to eat 800 calories per day. This is a ridiculously low number of calories. I stress this warning because I see people doing it often. To understand the risk of such rapid calorie restriction, read this article – How much weight can I lose in a month?
The slow and steady approach is the only way to lose weight and keep it off. I’m actually wondering that if you’re reading this post – instead of “how do I lose weight?”, you might be asking “How do I keep the weight off?”. If so, well, here’s the answer. Take a sustainable approach of 10-15% calorie deficit.
Using our above example – if your maintenance is 2000 cal – aim to consume 1700-1800cal. This will result in a 300-400gram weight loss per week. If this isn’t enough for you, I can only suggest going as low as a 500 calorie deficit per day. Which is a 1500 calorie intake for our imaginary friend. Any more than this and you run the risk of metabolic adaptation (discussed in the afore mentioned article). In essence, it’s where your body fights the rapid calorie drop and adapts by lowering your metabolism. Therefor you’ll consume say 1000 calories but your TDEE drops to 1200. You don’t lose as much weight as you were hoping, if anything at all. And you end up tired, sluggish and underperforming as a result.
Losing weight vs losing FAT
Calorie restriction is a stress on the body. Although it’s healthier to not be overweight, the act of losing weight is a stress on the body. Any chronic stress will have an impact on our hormone profile, and hence impact our body composition. Cortisol, the stress hormone causes muscle tissue to be broken down if constantly elevated. When calorie restricted, your body needs to find energy from within for fuel. This is the overarching concept of weight loss. However, instead of taking from your fat stores it’ll preferentially take from your muscles instead. This is the difference between weight loss and fat loss.
In order to prevent this from happening 2 things need to happen. You need to perform strength training to stimulate muscle growth, and consume enough protein to maintain/build muscle. Without these 2 critical behaviours, you’ll end up being what the industry calls “skinny fat”. Maintaining or building muscle will also have an impact on your long term success. Skinny fat people end up getting fat fat again because they have no muscle to increase metabolism. Muscle being the fat burning machinery of the body, it’ll help build your metabolism, meaning you can maintain/continue fat loss in the future. It also means that with a higher TDEE you have the peace of mind to eat more food without gaining weight.
Protein, along with fiber has a higher TEF. Remember this means it requires more energy to digest and utilize. This is technically means the body is less efficient at using it, but for weight loss inefficiency is what we’re looking for. Both Protein and fiber are more satiating as well, so when we comes to discussing food quality, we’re really hitting home on the importance of protein and fiber.
How much protein should you consume?
It’s been found that the optimal intake of protein per day is between 1.8 and 2.2g protein per kg of lean body weight. Calling it a round 2g is fine. Some don’t need quite as much, and some will enjoy having more. Although past 2.8g, the return seems to be negligible. Because calculating body fat is a pain in the butt, instead we’ll go by your goal weight.
Let’s use the same example as before –
Let’s say this person has a goal weight of 60kg.
60kg x 2 = 120g of protein per day.
Protein has 4 calories per gram -> 120 x 4 = 480 calories of protein.
Now we factor this into the daily calorie intake (1700).
1700 – 480 = 1220 calories left to divide between carbs and fat.
This post has no intention of going into the carbs vs fat war. For this reason I encourage a 50/50 split, or 10% either way depending on preference. If we I we took 2 groups of people and put them on either a low fat/high carb diet or high fat/low carb diet, when calories and protein are equated we don’t see any major difference in weight loss. So it comes down to preference, comfort and health response.
So we decide on a 50/50 split of Carbs and Fats in this case.
1220 calories / 2 = 610 calories.
Carbs have 4 calories per gram -> 610 / 4 = 152.5 (round to 150)
Fats have 9 calories per gram -> 610 / 9 = 67.77 (round to 65)
Now your macro break down is as follows -> 120g Protein / 150g Carbs / 65g Fat
How you see your weight loss
I promised i’d circle back around to this point. When implementing the above suggestions – it’s possible you’ll see your weight stay the same but your body composition change. This is why fat loss and weight loss are two different things. If the scale isn’t going down, this is not a cause for panic. It’s likely that body fat is going down and you’ll see a difference in the mirror. Eventually the number on the scale will go down, but it should not be the sole data point of your success. Keep fat loss in mind and use other markers of success like clothing, the mirror and circumference measurements.
Addressing the Quality vs Quantity debate
I don’t want to give the impression that I am a CICO zealot, nor do I want you to become too obsessed with calories and macros. There is a IIFYM (if it fits your macros) crowd that believes they can eat pizza and pop tarts all day as long as they stay within their calorie limit. This will eventually come back to bite you in the arse.
This is why I encourage quantity with a STRONG emphasis on quality. This means eating quality whole food most of the time, emphasising protein and fiber intake, and then having some flexibility to eat some foods you enjoy. As long as you can keep it within your calorie allowance (the 80:20 rule in action once again). A dessert now and then may keep you from feeling deprived, and on the day that you enjoy it, do what you can to make it fit your calorie and protein goals. If you go over, sh** happens – adjust the following day. Just be very careful not to get into an ugly relationship with food. I’ve seen this happen too.
A dietary protocol that strictly focuses on food quality is great…in theory. If followed strictly, it could lead to excellent health. Unfortunately though, we live in the modern world. There are treats all around us. Food is more that just chemicals, it’s culture, family, friends, memories. If someone is truly happy eating a “clean” diet, then I am in absolute support. But most normal human beings would crack at some point, very likely spiralling into a food frenzy. We can discuss the guilt ridden food relationship in future post.
Quantity causes the weight loss. Quality keeps it off.
The quality of your food is what’s going to ensure your engine runs smoothly. Food is information. Yes food is all the warm and fuzzies i mentioned a second ago, but it is still information. Your cells receives this information and goes on to perform miraculous things. Excess sugar, processed foods and poor quality oils creates inflammation that damages our cells and their energy factories. Quality nutrients communicate to our cells to work, clean and transport efficiently. Fibre feeds our gut microbiome so that it in turn keeps us healthy. A system fed quality nutrients will have a healthy hormone profile, which plays a major role in fat storage and muscle health. When the metabolism becomes sluggish, it will ultimately result in weight regain. While overall energy balance is the fundamental factor of weight loss, the quality of our fuel will ensure our metabolism runs smoothly, and that health isn’t sacrificed for six pack abs.
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