If you’ve ever Googled how to lose weight, gain muscle, or lose fat and gain muscle, then you’ve probably found a lot of very attractive social media influencers offering to tell you about their successful method – for a price of course. I’d like to offer you this same information free-of-charge. Including what you need to know to eat healthy, some really easy recipes, exercises to try at the gym, exercises to try at home, and how to progress your exercise regiment over time to achieve your goals.
If you’re thinking I am about to go into some really time-consuming things, then I’d like to clarify that I do NOT enjoy spending hours and hours exercising or cooking. Honestly, there are just other things I’d rather be doing, and I am guessing you feel the same way.
Let’s start with the metabolism, which is critical to understand no matter what your fitness goals are.
Health 101: The Metabolism
Every day you eat food with calories that your body uses for fuel to keep you alive. If you eat more than your body uses, you gain weight or vice versa. You probably knew that. What you might not know is:
- Your metabolism burns more calories every day just to keep you alive than you will exercising
- The metabolism adapts to weight changes. It burns more calories for people with more mass, and (unfortunately) burns fewer calories as you lose weight.
So imagine that you’re killing with your exercise goals and you lose some weight. You change your diet a little and lose more weight. You’re feeling yourself a little bit, right? But then after a while you stop losing any more weight even though you’re still exercising and being healthy. Your metabolism adapted.
The human body evolved to survive, not to have a six-pack. So when you start burning more calories or consuming fewer calories, your body adjusts to make do with what it has and keep you alive . The way around this is a few calorie calculations (the internet will do all the math) and a solid plan, which we’ll cover next.
How to Eat Healthy & Keep Losing Weight:
Weight loss first requires you to eat fewer calories than what your body needs so that it uses fat stores for the extra calories. The result is you lose weight. To figure out how to give your body less than what it needs, you first need to know your maintenance calories, which is the approximate amount of calories needed to maintain your weight. When your body adapts, you recalculate.
Step 1: Figure out how many calories your body needs to maintain its current weight (maintenance calories).
- Go to: (https://tdeecalculator.net/). Input all your information (except body fat percentage) and press Calculate. The number displayed in the upper-left of the following screen is your maintenance calories, which should look like the image below but with a different number:
Step 2: Figure out how many calories you need to make your body use fat stores (called a caloric deficit)
- Enter the top number (the daily number) in the yellow box of this spreadsheet. It is going to do some math for you. Here’s how it works:
- 1 lb of fat is about 3,555 calories. So if you want to lose 1 lb a week you need to eat 3,555 fewer calories than your body needs that week.
- If you want to lose 2 lbs per week, you double that (3,555 * 2) and eat 7,110 fewer calories than your body needs.
- The total number of calories you should eat every week is divided by 7 (for seven days a week).
How To Use the Spreadsheet:
Daily Calories: Personally, I like routines. So to me, it just makes sense to try and hit the same number of calories every day, which is the number in the blue box of the spreadsheet. If you put together a few recipes that you know will make you hit those calories (I’ll show you how to do that later) then this is very easy.
Weekly Calories: If you like flexibility over routines, then you can also use weekly totals. Go find the number in the green box under “Weekly Total.” As long as you stay near that number of calories per week, you’ll be fine. So if you’re going to have more calories than you should then just restrict your calories a little more another day.
How To Keep Track of And Use All This Information:
Now that you know your maintenance and deficit calories, it’s time to make a plan for how to hit those every day or every week.
Step 1: Download MyFitnessPal or LoseIt!. These are both free apps that will count the calories of everything you eat in a day. They can scan barcodes and even retrieve nutrient info from items at certain restaurants. I personally prefer MyFitnessPal just because it makes it easier to add things once you’ve added them before.
Step 2: Make a typical day in your app. Use MyFitnessPal or LoseIt to input what you would normally eat for breakfast on a workday. What would you normally have for lunch, snacks, and dinner? Now compare the number of calories you’ve eaten to the amount you should be eating.
Step 3: Buy a food scale. Both the apps I mentioned will ask how much of a food you ate, and research shows that if you try to eyeball your meal portions, you’re going to be wrong more than half the time.
The kind of scale you choose isn’t important. All that matters is that the scale allows zeroing out weight. For example, sometimes for lunch I will eat 10 ounces of chicken, 6 ounces of broccoli, and 6 ounces of brown rice. To do that I place a bowl on the scale, hit zero, pour in rice until it says 6, hit zero, pour in broccoli until it says 6, hit zero, and repeat with chicken. In 2017, I bought this food scale for less than $20 and it still works perfectly.
Step 4: Make an actual day. Once you have your scale, measure and track everything you eat in a day within the app. Compare the number of calories you ate to your typical day and to how many calories you should be eating.
Step 5: Make adjustments. If you’re eating more/less than you should then modify your day. Try deleting or adding certain foods from your day. Could you eat less at dinner? More at breakfast? What if you didn’t have one of those snacks mid-day? Or maybe you need to eat more snacks? Keep tinkering until your actual day becomes as close to your target calories as possible. Then eat that tomorrow.
Eating Too Little:
It could be that you’re trying to lose weight and that you’re eating much less than you should be. But you’re not losing weight. What gives? The answer is going to seem illogical and that is that you actually need to eat more .
Your body evolved to survive so when you eat very little food, your body assumes food is scarce and does two things :
- Drastically slows down your metabolism so that you burn fewer calories every day
- Stores as much as it possibly can in fat reserves.
These things would keep you alive longer if you were starving but for weight loss, all you’re doing is slowing down your progress. Eat less in the evening and more in the morning or early afternoon to get your metabolism up and running .
Now that you have a plan it’s time to talk about some good recipes and flexibility habits.
- Gibney, Michael et al. Introduction to Human Nutrition 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell. 2009.
- Novak, C.M. “Central Neural and Endocrine Mechanisms of Non-Exercise Activity
Thermogenesis and Their Potential Impact on Obesity.” Journal of Neuroendocrinology. 2007. http://faculty.biology.kent.edu/cnovak13/files/2015/04/Novak-2008-JNeuroendo-NEATreview.pdf