Many years ago nutrition was actually the first certification I ever achieved, and since then as a trainer I’ve helped countless people lose scale weight along with getting stronger and healthier. I’ve got some stories that would be very hard for people to believe. Over that time, I have seen so many consistent facts come out with people that are both successful and unsuccessful, so that it’s pretty easy to narrow down the winning strategies.
I’ve come up with a list of my top five weight loss tips…facts…hacks. Whatever you want to call them. These honestly don’t have a lot to do with what you’re putting in your mouth, but more why or why not. Hopefully it can turn on the light bulb in your mind that will help you make progress in the right direction instead of constantly going back and forth battling yourself to achieve better health from a bodyweight perspective.
Calories in is the number one metric to track
The simple fact is, that the amount of energy you take in is what is going to get distributed to your body and used. Some people add calories out to this metric, but the way it works is that your body uses a certain amount of calories per day, and this can be based on a number of different factors. What’s the most important part of this equation is the energy balance, meaning that you take in a certain amount of calories and your weight either goes down, stays the same, or goes up. Finding out that number first before you worry about the amount of calories you’re expending is the most important metric.
It’s been proven in studies over and over again that you can even eat 1500 calories a day of terrible food, IE. McDonald’s, and still lose weight. Is it the healthiest thing in the world? Absolutely not, and the volume of food that you’ll be taking in might be significantly less because the items are much more calorie dense, however the energy balance equation still holds true.
So if you have no idea how many calories you’re actually taking in, sit down and actually track it honestly for a couple of weeks. The results may shock you, as I’ve had happen with many clients in the past. Some days you could be taking in 1500 calories, and other days you are taking in 3500 and what that will do is average out over time. Don’t kid yourself by saying you’re being good during the week, and then drinking two bottles of wine and going out for high calorie meals on the weekends. Once you find your average number, figure out what direction your weight is trending in and then adjust accordingly – and slowly.
Until you know the amount of energy you’re taking in you won’t be able to figure out the other parts of the equation.
You can’t out train your diet.
As you might imagine based on what I just explained, simply increasing your exercise output isn’t necessarily going to skew things enough to be able to see results in a timely manner. In fact, what often happens is that people will start exercising more intensely and then they will reward themselves with food thinking that they have accomplished more than they actually have. As an example, you can go and do a spinning class at your local gym for 45 minutes and burn 500 calories. That same gym (as a reward) will suddenly say, ‘here have a protein shake’ which is made with all sorts of high calorie things because then it will taste better. So 400 of that 500 calories just got replaced with that one protein shake, which they will claim is healthy for you. Net loss? 100 calories.
Another example might be, ‘OK I can go for a walk, David! Burn some calories!’ Again, just as an example a 200 pound person walking at a moderate pace for 30 minutes will burn 167 calories.. this type of thing is typically replaced with one yogurt or a couple of pieces of fruit.
Now, exercise has so many other benefits beyond weight loss. It’s healthy, it’s good for your joints, it increases your strength, it gives you more energy, it helps you sleep better. However, heading off to Orange Theory Fitness a couple of times a week won’t help you at all if you reward yourself with a frothy drink from Starbucks right after the class or have two extra slices of pizza when you’re out with your kids for movie night because you ‘deserve it’.
Again, exercise is GOOD. Do it. Just remember that for weight loss it is usually a small part of the equation.
Fad diets work because they drop your calories.
We all know about the different diets that are out there. Paleo, keto, vegan, carnivore. In terms of weight loss programs there are Weight Watchers, Atkins, Bernstein. Diets that will tell you to drink shakes twice a day and then have one regular meal. Diets that will tell you to eat cabbage soup all day.
The fundamental thing that all of these diets do is the lower the amount of calories you’re taking in, which is why you will see a substantial amount of weight and water loss at the beginning of a diet. Typically people who are overweight will have to eat at least 10 to 12 times the amount of their body weight in calories to maintain their weight. So at 250 pounds, one typically has to eat about 2500 to 3000 calories a day – average – in order to maintain that weight. Suddenly I go on a diet where I drop that amount to even 2000 calories (if you’re eating the right foods this can be a substantial amount) and suddenly my weight starts go down. Surprise, surprise.
Keto is a perfect example of this. It will give people the impression that they can eat whatever the heck they want that’s delicious. Meat, butter, cheese, eggs, and they get to have all these keto snacks that they think are really healthy. Well if you pick up a package of dark chocolate keto nuggets from Costco, one 20 gram serving has 120 calories. That’s one nugget. And how many people eat just one nugget? Nobody. Is it a healthier snack than having an order of French fries? Possibly (three nuggets is the same as a regular order of fries by the way), but if you want to consider weight loss you could be sabotaging yourself quite a bit.
Extreme examples like Bernstein or the cabbage soup diet typically have people crashing their calories to 500 to 1000, and of course you’re going to lose weight at that level in an incredibly unhealthy way. I’m not going to get into the negative stress it places on your body, either. So don’t think it’s a magic pill, because the magic is just basic energy balance.
You don’t need to completely change your diet
What most people end up doing thanks to marketing hype, is they think that the newest diet is going to be the solution for them. Meanwhile, human beings are extremely habit oriented people. We do the same things, at the same time, in the same way for years. And when you try to change a habit, especially one that’s ingrained in physical and emotional reward patterns it is extremely difficult to stick to it.
Do you need to completely revamp your diet in order to achieve weight loss? Absolutely not. You don’t need to suddenly start eating things that you wouldn’t normally eat, or juicing everything, or starving yourself for 18 hours a day. You can still eat the same things that you would normally enjoy. But I have two little words for you: portion control.
Does your family all eat pasta on Friday nights and it’s a nice family event? Great, just figure out ways to make your portion of that meal a little bit less. Doesn’t even have to be a lot. If there’s a celebration like a birthday and you want to participate in cake, don’t deny yourself that, just have a smaller piece. If you’re out with friends having some drinks, make every other drink a glass of water or soda water instead of having another alcoholic beverage. Did you have a big meal at lunch because of reasons? Have a smaller dinner.
So many weight loss gurus will tell you that you need to completely change your entire lifestyle and human beings don’t work that way. In fact, your brain in your nervous system will resist change as much as possible because habits are comfortable and safe. Typically people who try to do this type of thing don’t sustain it for a period of time, and then wonder why they fail over and over again. Yes, there are certain fundamental things that you may need to eliminate, especially if you want to be a healthier human being (like extremely sugary foods, moderate alcohol, and large amounts of starchy carbohydrates), but making big changes all at once is a road to failure. Make small adjustments and maintain what you’re used to by either making your portion slightly smaller, or substituting lower calorie foods for higher calorie ones, and you will be much more successful over time.
Control your emotions when it comes to food
From a psychological standpoint, this is probably the number one thing that most people need to focus on if they truly want to change their habits and become healthier. We all have emotional connections to food, and to be completely blunt, food is an addiction for many people. We use it to soothe ourselves after a stressful day, we use it to reward ourselves for something we feel entitled to, and we even use it to show affection to our family members or even sabotage them because of our own feelings.
One way I always try to get my clients to think about food, is that food is simply converted into energy and used. If you’re using it for emotional reasons, then a small amount will have exactly the same effect as a big amount. What needs to happen is you need to adjust the emotional reasons that you eat certain foods, or adjust the priority for having that food.
A good example is a recent client who struggled for years with eating potato chips. It was a crunchy snack that brought her comfort in the evenings when she was watching television. Over the years the weight kept creeping up, and just like any addiction she would stop it for a period of time and then pick it back up again when a stressful situation happened in her life. The pleasure that eating the potato chips brought to her outweighed the fact that she was gaining weight. That was, until she went to her doctor and got some blood tests back that told her her cholesterol and triglycerides were at a high point. Getting back into a healthier state became more of a priority than comforting herself with food, and she was able to look at the chips as something that was hurting her and not helping her feel better. That simple mental change allowed her to drop 20 pounds and feel a ton better physically.
I have dozens of examples of this type of thing happening throughout the years, which is why I always bring it up. If you struggle with certain habits and feel like you are addicted to eating in certain ways, sometimes it helps to take a step back and really look at why you’re doing that from an emotional and mental standpoint rather than just thinking of it from a physical perspective. And then once you’ve figured out what your triggers and habits are, try to adjust them into a way that is more productive towards your weight loss goals. With any addiction, you will get urges. Your brain does not like change, but eventually over time if you dedicate yourself to the process you’ll find that it’s an adjustment in the right direction.
If any of these tips have resonated with you, please comment and feel free to share this article. I’m always interested to hear and see who is being reached by my work. And as always, I’m here to help if you have any questions. I hope you all have a fantastic week!
A few evenings ago, I came back from my weekly soccer game and walked into a bit of a mess in my living room. For a couple of weeks my elderly dog has been a little restless, and when she’s restless she tends to get slightly destructive. She’s also 14 1/2 years old, so I usually just chalk it up to her being crotchety and it’s never gotten really bad. What I walked into on Tuesday was pretty bad. There were pieces of my couch all over the floor, and she’d chewed up three sections of it.
Of course, my first reaction is to get angry with her. I rescued this dog 12 years ago and I know her like the back of my hand, and it’s been just her and me since my divorce seven years ago. So usually we figure out a way to get along pretty well, but this was obviously something a little bit further than she’d done in the past.
The reason that I’m bringing this up is an example, is I want to illustrate the common themes of emotion and reactivity that people go through when they experience something unexpected or something that triggers them. As I said before, my first reaction was anger, mostly coming from frustration. A couch is an expensive piece of furniture to have to replace, especially when you’re not sure if you do replace it if the next one is just going to get destroyed again. Right now, times are tough and something like replacing a couch isn’t in my budget.
After I had that initial reaction of anger and frustration, the next day I suddenly started to explore the reasons WHY she would have done something like that. Whenever animals or humans have a reaction to something, it isn’t like it just comes out of nowhere. There is always a reason for it.
This concept applies to your body as well. Physical reactions are just a response to a stimulus from your nervous system. So that can come in the form of muscular contraction, it can come under the form of protection, it can even come in the form of pain if you’re doing something that your body wants to avoid. Your body is an incredibly intelligent mechanism that is constantly evaluating the stimulus around you, and providing a response to that stimulus.
Emotionally your brain reacts the same way. The instinct of your body is to protect you from things like trauma or physical situations that it perceives as something that might harm you. So when you’re having a reaction to something with an emotion such as anger, fear, or depression sometimes realizing that it is simply a physical response or an emotional response can really help you recognize the situation and be able to deal with it in a timely manner. Just a couple of weeks ago I was talking to a client about a massive amount of anxiety she was having, so I explained to her that anxiety is a perfectly normal nervous system reaction your body has in order to avoid a situation or protect you from something that it thinks might hurt it. She expressed that it was like a lightbulb going off in her head, and just simply knowing that her reaction was a normal reaction made all the difference towards being able to come down from her anxious feelings.
So as you go about your days and you’re dealing with stressful situations or possibly even having reactions to things that you don’t understand, remember that recognizing but your body has an innate instinct to protect you from things is part of the process. This can be something as mild as a gut feeling, road rage, or as severe as a full blown panic attack, and we all respond to these types of scenarios in different ways.
Going back to the original example, my dog was so worked up that the only way she could deal with her stress was to chew on something. Your reaction may be to grab food, distract yourself with social media, or even lash out at somebody like a partner or a child. I’m going to encourage you that the next time this happens, you take a deep breath and recognize where the reaction is coming from, and then if it’s somebody that is causing the problem try to understand where their thought process may come from. Sometimes it is completely unconscious, and the person is not doing it intentionally at all. My dog didn’t mean to eat my couch. She didn’t suddenly get up one day and say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna destroy Dad’s furniture!’ She simply needed an outlet, and it’s my job to figure out what that outlet is and how to redirect her energy toward something not destructive.
I hope that this gives you some new thought processes around stress and triggers. Whenever you’re feeling yourself getting upset, just do yourself a favor and even if you walk into a room with a torn apart couch, remember that sometimes your emotions are going to get the best of you and that’s OK. Recognizing WHY is part of the process to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Over the years, one of my clients’ frequent struggles with weight loss is the concept of a number on a scale. Unfortunately in our society we have been taught that this number means something, when really it is a function of gravity (when you come right down to it). While there are some considerations that need to be taken when you’re dealing with obese people, for those who are within a healthy body weight range the idea of how much they weigh can still be an obsession, and not a healthy one.
I can’t count the amount of times I’ve heard “I just need to lose another five pounds.” No you don’t – you need to get into a smaller pant size or you want to look better at the beach. Or there’s another fundamental reason that you want to be thinner, smaller or have visible abdominals. I want to be more attractive. I want to have people pay more attention to me. Or, on the flipside they want to stop the negative thoughts they have running through their heads constantly about themselves..
The weight on the scale actually has little to do with it. When I’m judging fitness competitors, do you think weight has anything to do with it? One person who is the same height could weigh ten pounds more – and actually look a lot better. I have many friends who are high level performance athletes who don’t think twice about what a scale says – it’s all about how they can do the things they need to do in order to win a race or lift what they need to lift. Runners aren’t classified by weight, they are classified by speed. Fitness models and bikini girls are based on height. Even different clothing manufacturers have different sizes based on demand – you can be a size 4 in one store and a size 8 in another.
Your body changes day to day and month to month. This is a good thing, and it is based on how you move, what you put into it and even how much stress you allow yourself to experience. The good news is that these are all things you can affect easily if you simply make a decision to do so.
So my main point to people who obsess about a number on a scale is simply this: do you walk around with that tattooed on your forehead? Of course, the answer is no. And even if you did, do you really think that the people who care about you would judge you based on that number? I can only imagine a horrible society where if you drifted into the upper range of BMI you would be labelled with a red flag and your coworkers, friends and family would shun you because you are a horrible person. Some people seem to think this is going to happen to them.
This just doesn’t happen. Fundamentally, the only person that really cares about how much you weigh – is you. And you’re insecure about it because at some point in your life you decided that words from someone else or a number on a scale meant more than feeling good about yourself. Or you think that by dropping that number you’re going to look better to yourself and other people. Here’s a news flash – they don’t care. Or at least they shouldn’t, and if they do then you’re probably hanging out with the wrong people.
Your conversation with yourself about that is usually based on what you have been told by other people, some of whom are too stupid to realize that when you were a kid or an adult or they were supposed to care about you they were actually beating you down. I have a very blunt way of dealing with that: forget them. You should always be trying to improve, but in my opinion it should be for your own reasons, not one that another person gave you.
Too much today we focus on what other people think, and in a book by Dale Carnegie I read many years ago he summed it up best: Why are you letting other people decide how you are going to feel? Let’s be happy with who we are and what we have before we allow any type of words (which mean nothing) to affect our daily lives and how we feel about ourselves.
Let’s focus on the right things:
Feeling better every day.
Performing better every day.
Maybe looking better (for yourself, not someone else).
Come from a place of support for yourself.
Every day try to make yourself and the world around you a little bit better.
If you feel like it, take a picture of your scale weight and post it on your forehead for the world to see. Maybe we will start a trend so people will figure out how silly it is that they are defining themselves by a number.
The fundamental truth about changing anything in your life is that it takes time and effort. I have talked about this many times before and constantly have to talk people down from expecting things to change overnight. In our society we are used to getting things right away, whether it be email, text messages, fast food, even watching a movie can be done instantly online thanks to modern technology. We forget about the fact that advancing a career, learning, growing a family and relationships take time and effort, like anything in life.
But in our society people rush into relationships and when they aren’t instantly happy they get divorced because it is easy. We take up workout programs and diets over and over again because they are really easy to start – but somewhere along the way we lose momentum because we expect this massive change within a short period of time and when it doesn’t happen, instead of continuing for some reason we just stop. We consume crappy things because it makes us feel good for the moment, but then the negative things that happen afterwards just stall our progress.
By just continuing on the path, even if the results don’t happen as fast as you like you’re going to be far better off over time than if you stop and start something different. Ours is a society where we don’t finish what we start. We give up way too easily. We needlessly over-complicate things like health and nutrition and exercise when most tried and true methods are always accomplished given enough time and effort.
So as a message to take away for today, remember that even making one simple change – today – can fundamentally alter the way that your future unfolds before you. Today you always have a choice as to what you want to do, eat, drink, how you want to sleep, what you want to accomplish. The world is in front of you, but we as humans always allow what is behind us to guide our path rather than just moving forward. Once you realize that each day doesn’t have to be affected by what you did the day before it can be a very liberating feeling. Just because you have missed 5 days of working out doesn’t mean that you have to – today. Just because you ate a pint of ice cream last night because you were feeling depressed doesn’t mean you have to do it again – today. You skipped yoga yesterday, but you can find another class to go to – today.
Our lives have an immense duration. Who you were five years ago isn’t who you are now and who you are now isn’t going to be anywhere close to who you are five years from now. You might have a different job, city, partner, spouse, and this can all be guided by making that one simple choice and then doing it consistently over time. Remember, even the Grand Canyon started as a little stream at some point. But it had to start. And all of us can start whatever we want to – today.
So say it out loud – “I am going to do (whatever you want to get done) today.” Make a choice and move forward. That’s the only way to possibly change over time.
If you’re looking for a good book, I recommend The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. It’s what inspired this post and is an easy read. I hope you enjoy it.