Getting fit is a goal for millions of people every year. Unfortunately, many people have no idea where to even start. The topic of weight loss has become very confusing. But wait, all you have to do is eat less and move more, right?
Well, yes, but while it’s an easy concept to grasp, it’s not so easy to practice. I created this guide for losing weight because I wanted a central location for all the information you’re going to need to reach your weight loss goals. If you like what you read, please bookmark the page, link to it from your own blog, and share it with your friends and family.
Because this guide is long, I’ve created a table of contents so that you can jump around to the sections you want. I recommend you read the whole guide from start to finish, but if you want to go back and review some of the info, just click on the section in the table of contents, and it will take you to it. In addition, there are many links in this guide that go into further detail on the topics. I recommend you read all of those too. Enjoy!
Table of Contents
- 1 Getting Your Mind Right
- 2 Nutrition
- 3 Exercise
- 4 Recovery
- 5 Conclusions
1 Getting Your Mind Right
So much of weight loss is mental. In fact, I would argue that losing weight is more of a mental challenge than it is a physical one. Most people can complete a prescribed exercise routine if they know it’s going to give them results. However, the minute that food craving shows itself, the bad habits return in full force. Before we even get into the knitty gritty details on weight loss, we need get our mind right so that we have reasonable expectations, and so that we can be prepared for all the twists and turns weight loss throws our way.
1.1 Setting Goals
Goal setting is talked about often, but how often do we actually do it? It’s usually an afterthought. Our goal is probably very general, like “I want to lose weight”. Such a generic goal does nothing for us though. How are you supposed to plan out your weight loss program if you have no idea what you’re planning for? Set yourself a big goal. Maybe you want to lose 100lbs. Great!
Now, put that goal aside and divide that number up into several smaller, short-term, attainable goals. One of those goals may be to lose 10 pounds this month. It’s a realistic goal that you have a good chance of reaching. Once you reach it, you know that you can do it over and over again. Your motivation levels remains high, and your boosted willpower continues to push you forward. You know you can lose 10 pounds. All you have to do now is reach your next goal of another 10 pounds in a month.
1.2 How Long Will It Take
People want their weight gone – yesterday. Once you’ve made the decision to lose weight, you want it gone fast. Don’t set your expectations too high from the start. That is a sure way to set yourself up for failure. Losing weight takes time. It took you a lifetime to put it on. Lucky for you though, it won’t take you a lifetime to take it off, but it will take some time. The “safe” weight loss pace that’s stated often is 1-2lbs/week. When you see that number, I’m sure you’re like most people and you choose the higher number – 2lbs/week.
Why wouldn’t you? It’s not so simple though. It all depends on where you’re starting from. Some people will be able to lose weight at that pace, but some will only be able to lose half that number. Some might be able to lose more if they have a lot of weight to lose. So how long will it take? A safe number is to expect to lose between .5-1% body fat per week, with the lower number being much more likely. That means for a 200lb person with 30% body fat, they can expect to lose between 1.5-3lbs/week. A 150lb person at 20% body fat can expect to lose 1-2lbs/week. With both examples, the lower number is the more likely.
1.3 Focus on Fat Loss, Not Weight Loss
Do you think you want to lose weight? Well, you probably do, but more important than weight loss is fat loss. The difference? Well, someone that loses 30 pounds might lose 15 pounds of fat, but 15 pounds of muscle too – not good. While someone that does everything right might lose 30 pounds, but end up losing 35 pounds of fat and gaining 5 pounds of muscle – amazing!
This is why I tend to talk about progress in body fat percentage instead of weight. Too many times people get caught up with the number on the scale, when in reality, they are making great progress. Their weight might not be changing, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t losing body fat. In time, the scale will start moving down, but as long as your body fat is decreasing, you’re on the right track. Still confused?
1.4 Measuring Your Progress
That leads us to how we’re going to measure our progress. The scale? It needs to be put away, out of site, and not be taken out again for at least a month. You don’t need it. It’s next to worthless and has caused people more grief in this world than just about any other device. Instead, buy yourself a pair of body fat calipers so that you can measure your body fat percentage. You also might want to pick up a tape measure so that you can measure your waist, hips, and thighs. These 2 things together cost less than $10 and will accurately show you how much real progress you’ve made.
1.5 Break Your Addiction
I don’t know about you, but I’m addicted to processed food, and so is the majority of the general population. Most people don’t have a hard time exercising, it’s the healthy eating they find difficult, and for good reason. Processed food is addicting. Sugar and other chemicals in food elicit many of the same physiological and emotional responses in the body that drugs do. Add to that the ease to which you can purchase these products, and the social acceptance for eating them, and you have a recipe for addiction.
You have to break your food addiction. The first few days and weeks will be the hardest, just like breaking any other addiction. Your mind will do everything it can to get another fix of sugar or any other comfort food. You’ve become physically dependent on processed food, and emotionally it’s become a fixture in your daily routine. It will be hard at first, but as time goes on, it gets easier and easier.
1.6 Make Small Changes
Losing weight and creating a healthy lifestyle is all about forming new healthy lifestyle habits. This doesn’t happen all at once. In fact, it’s much easier to focus on one healthy habit at a time instead of trying to completely overhaul your entire lifestyle at once. Making all the changes at once might get you results faster, but that doesn’t always mean those results will stick. Don’t you want long-term weight loss?
If you do, I’d recommend setting small weekly goals and change one single thing at a time. This week you may try cutting your soda intake in half. Then, don’t change anything else until you’ve completed that goal. Once you’re done and you’ve created a new healthy habit, you can move onto the next one. Eventually they all add up to the point where the healthy habits outnumber the unhealthy ones. From there, you’re well on your way to making lasting change.
1.7 Be Patient
Remember, this isn’t a race. Losing weight is a personal journey. You will learn things about yourself that you never knew existed. You will discover your relationship with food. You will find out your triggers and what makes you fail. You will realize your limitations weren’t really limitations at all. Keep pushing forward. Block out all the noise. People close to you will question your decision. The scale will play tricks on your mind. Your weight might not move for weeks. However, always remember that you are changing your body from the inside out. When you’re body is ready to drop the weight, it will, but not a moment before then. Realize that this isn’t just going to be another 12 week diet plan. You are changing your life forever.
Let’s get to the fun stuff. Nutrition is the most important factor when it comes to weight loss success. The problem is that it is also the most confusing. Do you eat carbs, or do you not eat carbs? What do you eat after your workout? How many calories should you eat? If you’ve ever researched these questions, you know that the answers are diverse. Everyone has their own nutrition philosophy, and you know what, they’re all right! They’re right because all (most) of the concepts work if you stick to the plan, but isn’t that the problem – sticking to the plan? The best diet is the one you’re going to be able to stick to for the long term. That being said, there are some commonalities when it comes to healthy eating, and we’re going to talk about them.
2.1 Portion Control
Controlling your portion sizes is one of the most important concepts of weight loss. It was large portions that caused your weight gain, and it’s smaller portions that are going help you lose weight too. Typical portion sizes have gotten larger and larger over time. Going out to eat sometimes means meals consisting of over 1,000 calories. Start practicing portion control. Portion control is going to teach you self control. It’s hard to not eat all the food on your plate when you’re not full. Here are a few ideas to help you out:
- Leave a little bit of food on your plate at each meal.
- When you go out to eat, get a to-go box with your meal and place half of it in there before you even eat.
- Never eat out of a box or bag. Always measure your servings out first.
- Eat off a smaller plate. Doing so makes your meal seem larger, and there’s less room to place food on it.
- Stay away from buffets, and avoid going back for seconds.
- Don’t place food platters on the dinner table. Only have the food you plan on eating on the table.
2.2 Picking the Right Foods
A lot of people get caught up on this one. It might seem obvious what’s healthy and what’s not, but with all the tricks food advertisers play, it’s no surprise people get confused. The key is to start getting used to reading food labels, and I don’t just mean the calories, fat, carbs, etc, I mean reading the ingredients. That is where you really learn about your food.
Because of FDA regulations, your food might say 0 grams of fat, but the ingredients might say there are trans fats in there. That’s because anything less than .5 grams is allowed to be expressed as zero. There are plenty of other tricks too. There are some nifty little rules though that you can follow. They might not be catch-alls, but they will give you a good idea of what’s healthy and what’s not. They are:
- Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. That’s where 90% of the healthy, whole foods are. The aisles are packed with processed foods.
- If there’s a word in the ingredients you can’t pronounce or you don’t know what it is, don’t buy it.
- Foods with only a single ingredient are usually safe to eat.
- Foods without food labels at all are almost always safe. These are usually fresh produce and meats.
- Jillian Michaels – “if it didn’t have a mother or it didn’t come from the ground, don’t eat it.”
- If the food can go bad, it’s usually safe, if it can’t go bad, it’s best to avoid.
2.3 How Many Calories
One of the most common questions people have on losing weight is how many calories they should eat, and rightfully so. After all, weight loss is all about eating less than you burn. The problem many people have though is not eating too many calories, but not eating enough calories to lose weight. They drastically cut their calories with the assumption that it will get them faster results. Not going to happen. Instead, eating too few calories and nutrients will start a negative cycle of a slowing metabolism forcing you to cut calories more, which causes a slower metabolism, which forces you to continue to cut calories until your progress stalls and you end up giving up entirely.
How many calories should you eat? The easiest guideline is to aim for 10-12 calories per pound of body weight. If you are very overweight, you’ll want to use the lower number. Or, you can use a formula that takes into account your activity levels. I think you’ll find that most of these calorie calculators end up giving recommendations in the 10-12 calories per pound of body weight. Always start high and come down as necessary.
The 3 primary macronutrients are fat, carbohydrates, and protein. While only fat (specifically essential fatty acids) and protein (specifically essential amino acids) are essential, all three should be incorporated into a well-balanced diet. Many diets on the market restrict one or more of these macronutrients, and while any diet that restricts calories will work, it’s not always necessary to go to such great extremes to get results.
Many people are fat phobic. They assume that low-fat diets are the only way to go. This isn’t true. Fats are essential. They have numerous benefits in the body. Eating between 20-30% of your calories from fat should provide you with all the benefits and still enable you to lose weight. However, not all fats are created equal. Obviously, you’re going to want to avoid trans fats or any oils that are partially hydrogenated. Look at the ingredient section on the food label. If it says it’s hydrogenated, you should avoid it.
The 3 natural fats are saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Despite what you might have heard, all have important roles in the body – including saturated. Try to get a good balance of each, placing an emphasis on essential omega-3 fatty acids (polyunsaturated fats). If you feel like you might be lacking in these essential omega-3 fatty acids, I’d recommend supplementing with fish oil. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds! I just place a teaspoon in my protein smoothie. I can’t even taste it.
No other macronutrient has caused more confusion than carbohydrates. From no carb, to moderate carb, to high carb, and everything in between, just about every scenario has been marketed and sold to the public as the magic weight loss formula. Here’s the truth – no carb diets are not necessary for the majority of people, but some form of carb restriction is usually necessary to achieve fat loss. The reason for this is because carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels, which causes a release of insulin. Fatty acids cannot be released in the presence of high insulin levels. We need to manage our insulin levels if we want to lose fat. The easiest way to do this is by controlling our carbohydrate intake.
The approach I like to take with carbohydrates is to earn them. Carbohydrates (specifically glucose) are used by the brain and central nervous system, and they’re also used to fuel high-intensity exercise. If you aren’t doing much high-intensity exercise, you aren’t going to need as much as someone who is. Most people can lose weight just fine with an intake between 100-200 grams per day. You will have to experiment to see what works best for you, as we all have a unique sensitivity to insulin. However, don’t be afraid to start high and come down as necessary. Here are a few tips for managing your carb intake:
- Eat low-glycemic carbohydrates.
- Try eating your carbohydrates at times when your insulin sensitivity is the highest – your first meal of the day, pre-workout, and especially post-workout.
- Taper off your carb intake as the day goes on.
- Eat your carbohydrates as part of a meal containing protein, fat, and fiber. Each of these will slow down the digestion of your meal and help control blood sugar levels.
Suggested protein intakes have been all over the map. From the FDA’s recommended .8 grams per kg of body weight to some bodybuilders’ recommendation of 2 grams per pound of body weight, how are you supposed to know what’s right? While you might be able to survive on the FDAs recommendation, it’s far from being optimum for someone involved in frequent intense exercise. And while there could be some additional benefits to the bodybuilder’s recommendation, there will be a point of diminishing returns where the benefits can’t justify the cost.
So, how much protein should you eat to lose weight? I’ve found an intake between .8-1 grams per pound of lean body mass is still sufficient to build muscle while in a calorie restricted environment. As long as you aren’t going low-carb (carbs are protein sparing), that intake should be sufficient for reaching your goals. Protein powders are another big topic. I used to use them, but I have since phased them out of my lifestyle. Whole foods will always be the best. However, simply for the convenience factor, some people might want to use them in their post-workout protein smoothie.
2.5 Meal Frequency
How many meals should you eat every day to lose weight? Most nutritionists recommend 5 meals a day. Sometimes that means 3 meals and 2 snacks in between. However, the meal frequency that’s best for you is going to be the one that best fits into your lifestyle. Not everyone has a job that enables them to eat 3 times during the work day. For these people, the old-fashioned 3 meals per day might work better. Some people have taken to the intermittent fasting approach, where 1-2 meals a day is all they need.
I’ve tried them all, and they all work as long as you’re watching your calorie intake. However, some of these methods were easier to stick to than others, and that is what’s most important, because it doesn’t matter how many times you eat a day if you’re going to revert back to your old bad eating habits in a month. I do recommend that most people start off eating 5 small meals a day. You can adapt from there, but 5 smaller meals helps you control cravings, and manage portion control. Each meal should be based around protein, and should have some fiber.
2.6 What Should You Drink
You are what you drink. Your body is made up of more than 60% water. Water aids in nearly every biological activity and chemical reaction in the body. Most importantly, it helps you lose fat. The majority of your fluid intake should be comprised of water. Get rid of the diet sodas and flavored beverages.
2.7 Cheat Meals
Who doesn’t love cheat meals? Most of us look forward to that one day a week where we can keep our sanity and eat what we want. Here’s the thing though, they’re called cheat meals for a reason – you’re cheating yourself. In reality, there is no physiological benefit to eating a bunch of processed food. Sure, there is a mental benefit, but all the physical benefits can be derived from healthy food. Does that mean you shouldn’t have a cheat meal? Absolutely not. I do believe in all things in moderation.
However, for a lot of people, cheat meals are holding them back from realizing their weight loss goals. For people like me and millions of others who have an addiction to food, cheat meals keep the cycle of addiction going. I’ve never smoked, but if I were to try to quit smoking but only have a cigarette on the weekend, I wouldn’t be able to quit. I would quickly fall back into my old habits. Be honest with yourself. If you’re the kind of person where cheat meals will cause you more harm than good, I’d seriously consider saying goodbye to processed foods for good. If on the other hand you’re able to control your body’s emotion and physiological responses to cheat meals, then by all means enjoy!
2.8 Reading Food Labels
I touched on this earlier, but you need to get in the habit of reading the food label of everything you buy. Don’t worry about the front of the package, that’s where the marketers manipulate you with labels like “low sugar” or “fat-free”. None of this matters if the rest of the ingredients are harmful to you.
The next time you go grocery shopping, look at the label of everything you put into your basket. Take a quick look at the calories, serving size, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, and protein in the food, and then make your way to the ingredients section. Make sure you know what every one of those ingredients are. If you can simply avoid the foods that either have multiple ingredients or have chemical sounding names, you can reach 90% of your weight loss goals.
I tend to avoid writing about supplements. The reason? They work – but too many people use them as a crutch to make up for a bad diet and exercise program. The good news is that supplements are not needed to lose weight and be healthy. Everything you need is provided by a whole food diet. That doesn’t mean I don’t use supplements myself – I do.
However, I use them to compliment my already good nutrition. Even still, I limit my supplements to the basics. I don’t use stimulants or any other fat burners. Some of these cause more harm than good. Instead, I use supplements that better my health while helping me reach my goals. Besides a daily multivitamin, I supplement with omega-3 oils by taking fish oil.
Your diet will always be the most important thing when it comes to losing weight, but your exercise program can make or break your success. Exercise is what’s going to create that perfect metabolic environment for fat loss so that when you create a calorie deficit with your diet, you will be losing fat, not just weight. However, not all exercise is created equal, and you’ll see why in a second.
3.1 Train with Intensity
When it comes to exercising, you don’t want to just go through the motions. You want to push yourself to your physical limitations. Of course, you don’t want to do this every day. Your body needs a break, but vigorous activity at least 3 days a week is necessary for improved health and fitness, and especially for fat loss. Why should you train with intensity? Intense exercise creates an afterburn effect known as EPOC. EPOC is the oxygen debt you create during exercise.
After exercise, your body needs to erase that oxygen debt. In order to do that, it needs calories. These extra calories are used for cellular repair, re-oxygenating the blood, and many other functions to bring the body back to homeostasis. The EPOC effect is just one of many benefits of training with high intensity levels. High intensity exercise also induces more pronounced body fat reductions when compared to endurance training, even when burning fewer calories .
3.2 Strength Training
If you’re trying to lose weight without any form of strength training, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle. Strength training, not cardio is the real fat burner. Strength training is what you need in order to build and maintain muscle in a hypocaloric environment. Just running and doing cardio alone can’t accomplish that. If you don’t give your body a reason to hold onto muscle, it will quickly break it down and use it for energy.
Why is muscle so important? Well, every pound of muscle you have burns approximately 5.67 calories in a day, whereas a pound of fat only burns approximately 1.98 . That might not seem like much to you, but it adds up. For example, take a female who adds 10 pounds of muscle through strength training. That would be: 5.67 times 10 pounds = 56.7 calories per day, or 20,695 calories a year. That’s 6 pounds of fat loss a year without any change in diet. If you don’t strength train, you can multiply that number year after year and you begin to see how that adds up in the other direction (gaining weight).
3.2.1 Weight Lifting
When most people think of strength training, they think of weight lifting. That’s my personal preference too. If you have access to a gym or a weight set, you can do a nearly endless variation of exercises to stimulate muscle growth. Don’t be afraid to lift weights, and lift them heavy. That especially goes to women who are afraid of bulking up. Your fears are greatly exaggerated.
Building muscle is hard. It can take you an entire year of intense training to put on 10 pounds of muscle. Women are at a hormonal disadvantage when it comes to building muscle. Testosterone levels are just a fraction of a man’s. Keep your diet in check as you weight lift and watch as you completely transform your body.
3.2.2 Bodyweight Training
Don’t have a gym membership? No problem! The good news is that you are always carrying around a portable gym with you – your body. With a little creativity, your body can be used in many ways to add resistance to exercises and build muscle. Many people have built great physiques with nothing but their own body weight. Exercises like pushups, pullups, bodyweight squats, and burpees stimulate many muscles at once, and are intense in nature – effectively providing the stimulus necessary to build and maintain muscle when you’re trying to lose weight.
3.2.3 Use Compound Movements
Whatever form of strength training you decide to use, be sure to stick with compound movements that recruit maximum muscle fibers. Isolation exercises like curls, tricep kickbacks, pushdowns, leg extensions and curls, and butt isolation exercises are fun, but they can’t compare to squats, deadlifts, rows, and pressing movements. Compound exercises have the added benefit of boosting fat burning hormones like growth hormone, and they also make your workouts more efficient – effectively reducing your workout times.
First of all, let’s get a clear understanding of what cardio actually is. Cardio simply means cardiovascular training. That means strength training and cardio don’t have to be 2 mutually exclusive workouts. If you’re pushing your intensity during your strength training, and you’re using short rest intervals, you very well could be getting all the benefits of both building muscle and training your cardiovascular system. However, if your strength training is a little less intense and more strength based, you might need to add in a little cardiovascular training to round out your exercise program.
3.3.1 Steady-State Cardio
When most people think of cardio, they think of steady-state cardio. That’s the kind of cardio where you run, bike, use the elliptical machine, or any other cardio equipment and maintain a particular heart rate for a prolonged period of time. That might mean running for 45 minutes, or it might means using the elliptical machine for an hour. There are many cardiovascular benefits to steady-state cardio, but for the purpose of fat loss, there are much better methods.
3.3.2 HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)
Which leads us to HIIT (high-intensity interval training). The idea is that by using short bursts of intense work intervals followed by short periods of rest you can burn more fat when compared to steady-state cardio. Using HIIT places you into the anaerobic zone, which means you’re burning more glycogen than fat during your workout. That’s OK though, because HIIT burns more total calories, and boosts more fat-burning hormones. In the end, this leads to better fat loss.
3.4 Get Active
Losing weight and living a healthy and fit lifestyle means more than use eating right and exercising for an hour a day. It means being active the rest of the time too. You’d be surprised how many calories you burn when you’re not sitting behind a desk all day or in front of the TV all night. Get out there and be active. Walk more. Try going for a walk after dinner. It helps keep the nighttime cravings at bay too. Walk wherever you can. Walk to pick up your kids from school. Walk the dog more. Try to get in at least 10,000 steps a day. A cheap pedometer or smartphone app can keep track of your steps.
Diet, exercise, and recovery are the 3 cornerstones to a well thought out fitness program, although you could probably make mental fitness the 4th. Recovery is an often overlooked aspect of fitness. Most people put all their efforts into dieting and working out. So much so that they eventually end up over-trained and burned out.
Your body can’t continually get stronger if it hasn’t recovered from its last workout. Do too many back to back intense workouts combined with sub-par nutrition, and you’ll never make any progress. Instead, focus on the quality of your workouts, not the quantity. Eat right to fuel your exercise, and then work on optimal recovery.
When people think of rest, they thing of chilling out and taking it easy, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Your muscles, joints, and central nervous system need a complete day off every once in a while. Sometimes, a full week off is needed after finishing an exercise cycle that lasts months. It all depends on your goals and how you have your exercise program set up. Regardless, don’t be afraid to just be lazy every once in a while (once a week is the most I’d do that if I’m trying to lose weight).
4.2 Active Recovery
Active recovery is another method to aid in recovery, and as the name implies, it is “active” in nature. Active recovery improves blood flow to muscles, which helps get additional nutrients into cells. This aids in the recovery process. Be careful with active-recovery though. You don’t want to overdue it. The point is to recover, not work out. Make sure you keep your exercise volume down, and intensity levels to a minimum.
I hope this guide was helpful to you. I know that weight loss can be a confusing subject. The principles in this guide are all you need to know to successfully lose weight. The smaller details are fun to learn about, but it’s best to master these concepts before moving onto the more advanced ones.
Do you have questions about this guide? Are you having trouble putting it all together? Leave your weight loss questions in the comment section below and I’ll do my best to help you out. Also, I’ve made this article into an e-book so that you can download it and read it over and over again. It’s free, so if you want a copy, click here to download it.