Any one of these tips could be another post, but I wanted to put together a list for how to start a program with a little bit of explanation.
1) Collect current data about your food intake. You need an honest appraisal of what is happening now. Eat normally, but log it for a full week, at least. (I’ve been logging for most of the last 4 ½ years.) You will need to measure and weigh some things. Get a digital scale to make this chore easier. I’ve used a digital scale every day since I started and I’ve never used an expensive one. Use an online food log to have access to extensive data base. It takes a few weeks to get things set up, but if you eat the same foods over the week, it becomes a matter of clicking frequent foods instead of searching.
2) Come up with a good estimate of how many calories you burn in a 24 hour period. I remember that “ah-ha” moment when I realized that I’m burning calories all the time, not just when I exercise. The cardio machines at a gym will give an estimated burn, but in my experience, they can overestimate quite a bit. There are calculators online, too. If you can make an investment, there are gadgets that you wear that will give better estimates based on your personal activity over the entire day. I use a Bodybugg. I have friends who use a Fitbit. I rationalized the purchase by comparing it to the medical costs I had at the time for my high blood pressure meds and an ER visit to rule out a heart attack.
3) Make a food plan based on what you do now. For safe fat loss and a sustainable, lifestyle change, keep the calorie deficit between 300 and 1000 calories. In other words, it is my recommendation that you burn no more than 1000 calories than you intake each day. But there is a minimum number of calories you need to eat for a healthy metabolism. The USDA’s recommendations for minimum calorie intake levels are 1600 calories for women and 2000 calories for men. If your intake is already at a minimum and you still need to increase a deficit, do it with moderate exercise. The metabolism is not a linear equation where the bigger the deficit, the more fat you lose. To over simplify a complicated process, your body will adapt so when it is not getting enough calories, it will use as few calories as possible to maintain functions and store what little is left over as body fat. It may even breakdown muscle for additional energy. This is why people who don’t eat a lot can maintain their scale weight, or even gain scale weight. Over time, body composition changes so that there is more fat and less muscle at the same weight. This is what is meant by “skinny fat”. Metabolism is not designed for looks – it’s about staying alive. Through repeated attempts at weight loss by calorie restriction, many people have trained their bodies to maintain their weight eating less. It’s really important to get that baseline intake information I discussed in Tip #1 so you can determine if you have slowed your metabolism a little bit. If you are a woman maintaining your weight at 1000 calories, jumping right up to the recommended minimum of 1600 would cause fat gain.
4) Make food substitutions gradually. It is not practical for most people to completely overhaul everything in the kitchen. Food prep becomes a new routine that will change how you spend your time – and that means “life” will need to be adjusted. That takes time. It took me months to figure out a system that worked for me. If there are other people in the house, their favorite foods may be trigger foods for you. I’ve been there. I practiced telling myself repeatedly that “I control what I eat.” Self-discipline really is an emotional muscle that needs to be strengthened. And it is hard. That’s OK. Hard doesn’t mean impossible. Each time you don’t cave to a temptation, it gets easier. Especially when you focus more on how you “feel” instead of how you “look”.
5) Train with weights. There are several reasons why resistance training needs to be part of the program for fat loss. Resistance training preserves muscle and builds bone mass. To change the appearance of the body, the muscles need to be developed. One of the most common questions I get is about how I dealt with loose skin. First, I lost my weight very slowly and that helped minimize it. But I also filled spaces with muscle – especially in my arms. A full body program done twice a week, that uses multi-joint exercises, like body weight squats, is a good way to start.
6) Don’t overdo cardio. There is an abundance of research out there about cardio. Personally, long sessions of cardio elevate my cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone similar to adrenaline. I believe I’ve had a cortisol problem for a long time and it contributed to my weight gain and health decline that led up to that “before” picture. When my cortisol levels are up, I feel very anxious without a reason and I have trouble falling asleep. My body stores fat quickly during those times. Cardio is one of those variables that will start a lot of discussion. I know what the research says, what works for me, what doesn’t, and that is exactly what I believe everyone needs to know for themselves. But when I started, I knew nothing. I had no idea that the cardio I was doing contributed to the anxiety I felt about the process.
7) Sleep. The body needs to rest to recover from the stress of the day. Add in exercise and a moderate calorie restriction and there is more stress on the body. Lack of sleep will elevate cortisol levels, too. Drink water! I instruct my clients to drink a gallon a day, knowing that’s a goal, not necessarily a reality. The body uses water to process nutrients, lubricate joints, maintain healthy blood pressure – well, just about everything.
8) Drink water. I instruct my clients to drink a gallon a day, knowing that’s a goal, not necessarily a reality. The body uses water to process nutrients, lubricate joints, maintain healthy blood pressure – well, just about everything. I know some say it helps them feel full, but that’s not my experience. When I’m hungry, I’m HUNGRY. For food.
9) Keep it simple. Avoid the urge to over-plan and under-do, despite all the information I’ve just thrown at you. Your program does not have to be perfect. As you learn more, you’ll adjust things. You have to have movement. You need more food your body recognizes (whole foods) and less food designed to make you want to buy more of it (processed foods). When asked, I tell people that most of my food is grown by God – a very simple description of vegetables, fruit, lean meats, fish, nuts, olive oil, and limited grains for personal digestive reasons.
10) Be patient. Permanent changes happen slowly. You are changing your life one cell at a time. A scale measures total body weight – that is mostly water, by the way. It’s easy to feel impatient when looking at a transformation picture because the eye just goes back forth between the two versions of that person. But note the dates. Took me three years to get from “before” to the first “after”. It helped me psychologically to accept that this was the LAST time I was going to lose most of these fat pounds and my life was going to be different from that point on. I know I’m happier, excited to get up every day, and my life is likely to be longer because I decided to finally do this thing and not quit.
References & Resources
© Tammy White and Lifting My Spirits, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tammy White and Lifting My Spirits with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.