Are you confused by all the talk of dieting, how to lose weight and how to do it effectively?
There has never been so much information out there on how to lose weight. A google search of “How to lose weight” gets 550,000 searches a month. “How to lose belly fat” gets 246,000 searches. Traipse over to Amazon and you will find “weight loss” turns up 66,000 results.
It’s clear we want a result and there is plenty of information out there on how to get it. So, how come the figures for people being overweight are going up not down? For example Public health England state 83% within the 40-60 age bracket are classified as overweight.
The US is no better where nearly 70% of the country are considered overweight.
In this article I am hoping not to add to the confusion but provide a ‘one stop bookmark’ on how to lose weight effectively. You get what you need to know and how to get started.
Get Off Yo-Yo Dieting
My aim is for you to get off the yo-yo dieting cycle. You know what this is:
A trigger prompts you to want to lose weight. You decide upon a diet to follow and for at least the first couple of weeks motivation is high. You follow the plan, cut out the ‘bad’ food and exercise more than you’d normally would.
After a couple of weeks you weigh yourself (probably not the first time and usually your only marker of feedback) you find you have lost weight. RESULT!! The following days and weeks your attention starts to drift away from the diet protocol. Exercise becomes less and the ‘bad’ foods start creeping back in again.
You are aware of the weight creeping back on again but it won’t be until another trigger prompts you to begin the diet cycle again
This has to stop and in this article I aim to provide you with what you need to lose weight effectively.
Firstly semantics: Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss
Before we begin it is important to get into a bit of semantics around “weight loss” and “fat loss. These terms are used interchangeably but they are subtly different and can dramatically change what you focus on.
Weight loss is defined as a loss in body weight. Yet, your body weight isn’t determined ONLY by fat. It also includes your muscles, organs and retained water to name a few. When you record your weight as reduced it doesn’t necessarily mean fat, it could mean (and generally does when on a low carb diet in the initial stage) a reduction in water retention.
Fat loss is defined as a loss in excess fat storage. Fat is stored in our body subcutaneously (under our skin), viscerally (around our organs) and to a minimal amount within our muscles (intramuscular).
Whilst we very much need fat stored within our body, an excess amount causes the adipose tissue (what fat is stored in) to expand. A continual excess of stored body fat is linked to an abundance of ‘lifestyle related’ conditions such as heart disease, strokes, cancer and mobility issues.
How To Tell Whether Fat Loss or Weight Loss?
Knowing whether you have lost fat is very hard if not impossible to gauge if your only marker of feedback is the weighing scales. The use of measuring your waist & hip circumference, skin fold caliper measurements and on a grander scale DEXA scanning are more accurate measures of whether you have lost body fat.
I highlight this distinction because success in body composition change (the fancy term for changing your body shape) relies on a clear alignment between your expectation, time and markers of change.
For example, if you have a wedding in 6 weeks you might just want to lose weight. It doesn’t matter if the weight lost is fat or retained water. All that matters is whether you can fit into the clothing for the wedding without it feeling tight.
However, if you are sick of dieting and you want long term change, these same expectations can be damaging and the focus on ensuring what is reduced is body fat would be more appropriate.
So, as a summary losing body fat CAN result in a loss of weight but a loss of weight doesn’t NECESSARILY indicate a loss of body fat.
What affects weight
If you want to lose weight effectively, it is a good idea to be aware of the main influencers that contribute to the loss of weight. Much has been made about what causes weight gain and the most prominent theories revolve around:
The Calorie Model
This is the theory that a calorie is a unit of energy. The body needs energy to function and will use the digested & absorbed food consumed to carry out the various functions of the body (moving, your beating heart and your brain processing to name a few).
Your body is strictly regulated in maintaining a certain weight but a continual excess of calories consumed that exceed your body’s requirement mean more energy is stored as fat than the body has use for.
The Carb-Insulin Model
This relates to the hormone ‘insulin’. The idea is, when you eat something, namely carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels will rise.
When this happens insulin, which is a transport hormone, is released from the pancreas to transport the sugar (in the form of glucose) out of the blood and into your liver and muscles.
How this relates to weight is, when this process take place, fat ‘burning’ (known as fat oxidation) is inhibited. If fat burning is inhibited then you have no way of reducing body fat.
For at least the last 5 years this has been a popular theory and has propelled ‘low carb’ diets into the mainstream. However, it is problematic for at least 2 reasons:
- It is not just carbohydrates that raises insulin levels, Protein does as well, as does dairy.
- When researchers tested two diets one high carb and one low carb but of the same calorie measures, there was minimal difference in weight loss
So, it falls back to calorie that is the main factor affecting your weight. If you are at a weight you find as being overweight, it is highly highly likely if not certain you are eating more calories than you need over time.
So, on certain days you may be undereating but over the week this will be cancelled out as you consistently overeat on other days.
This is why it is important to look at your eating patterns over time (like a week for example) rather than one particular day.
Energy Expenditure: Calories out
When people think of energy expenditure they tend to assume this means exercise. However there are actually 4 different types of energy expenditure that your body requires both stored and recently consumed energy for:
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
This is the energy required to sustain your vital functions in a waking state. Even if you lied in bed all day watching Netflix your body would still require energy to still function.
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
This is defined as “energy expelled for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sport-like activity” (Levine, 2002). Here we are talking walking, gardening, cleaning right down to fidgeting and facial expressions.
Thermic Effect of Food (TEF):
This is the energy expended in the processing and storage of food. This differs with certain food groups with Protein having the highest thermic effect and fat having the lowest of food groups.
Exercise Energy Expenditure (EEE):
This is energy expended during exercise.
Now, logic would state the more exercise you do the better chances you have to lose weight, but that wouldn’t necessarily be true.
Studies that have examined groups who either attempt to lose weight with diet alone and diet + exercise have found the results to be inconclusive, even when they have taken out the main trouble spot; adherence.
However, in terms of the other 3 there is a level of importance. With increased level of non-exercise movement requiring energy to sustain and by eating foods that are higher on the thermic scale you will optimise your energy expenditure for fat loss.
The conclusion regarding exercise is this; It is necessary for weight maintenance, but is not the main tool for weight loss.
Start where you are to lose weight
How to measure your energy requirements
In order to lose weight effectively it is important to know where you are. Not in terms of how much you weigh but how many calories you currently consume and how much of a calorie deficit you need to create.
To do this is fairly simply but you need to do a bit of maths!
Step 1: Find your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
Males: 66 + (13.7 x Bodyweight in Kg) + (5 x Height in cm) – (6.8 x age)
Females: 655 + (9.6 x Bodyweight in kg) + (1.8 x Height in cm) – (4.7 x age)
Female, 65kg, 165cm, 30 years old
655 + (9.6 x 65) + (1.8 x 165) – (4.7 x 30)
655 + (624) + (297) – (141) = 1435
Step 2: Determine your physical activity level
There is a fairly time consuming method of doing this and there is a fairly accurate guesstimate way of doing it. For our purposes I am going to describe the guesstimate version.
Choose which one closely resembles your usual habitual activity pattern.
Note: EXCLUDE what you do as exercise on this. This is your levels of activity outside of the exercise capacity.
Step 3: Calculate Daily Energy Expenditure (DEE)
BMR x PAL
PAL = 1.3
DEE = 1435 x 1.3 = 1866Kcal
This figure is the amount of calories you require on a daily basis to maintain your current weight and energy demands.
Now, in order to lose body fat you have to give your body the opportunity to use your stored fat as energy. The most effective way of doing this is creating a calorie deficit.
What About Exercise?
Why do I not say exercise like a mad man/woman? Surely by exercising more your body will use more calorie energy? Not necessarily!
There are 3 factors where excessive exercise to lose weight can pose problems:
- If you wanted to exercise excessively, the chances are you’d be doing it already and the fact you are not is likely due to you having a busy lifestyle and/or your desire for exercise is low.
- When you exercise far and away above what you would normally do, your body signals hunger a lot more frequently than usual. Whilst on the surface this is not a bad thing, it does set up an environment for potential overeating.
- With a calorie deficit and more exercise you may in fact get impressive early results. However, your body has sophisticated processes in place to keep you at the weight you were. It will do everything in its power to get you back there (slowing BMR, increasing hunger signals). If the method you have used to lose the weight fast is not sustainable, you’re likely to put it back on again.
How much of a calorie deficit?
Initially aim for between 250-500 calories a day to take off the daily energy expenditure figure you calculated in step 3 (1866 – 250 = 1616Kcal)
This then brings us onto step 4
Step 4: Track for a week
For a week, track the food you eat. Weigh it and sticking as close to the calorie deficit figure as possible. The only time to go below the calorie deficit figure is if, for example, you are having a heavy social weekend where food & drink galore is abundant.
In that case, it is possible to reduce your daily calorie deficit by a further 50 calories (for example) to allow extra breathing space at the weekend.
Tracking and weighing can be time consuming, however it is not forever. Once you can see what a daily amount of food that stays within your calorie region, you will have a more explicit representation of what an acceptable level of food is.
The other point of tracking is, this process is trial and error. I have given you a more detailed account of how to lose body fat (and weight) effectively. However unless you were put in a metabolic ward with a group of science researchers there will always be a margin of error.
If you find you are sticking to your calorie deficit but the measurements on your waist and hips are not reducing, reduce your calories by a further 50 calories and monitor it again.
We are living in an environment where it is easier to be overweight than ever before. Processed food is cheap and these foods are all around us.
Yet, you can lose weight by eating only these foods. Professor of nutrition Mark Haub lost 27lbs in 10 weeks on the ‘twinkie diet’. He ate nothing but doritoes, oreos and twinkies but stayed within a calorie deficit.
You may be rejoicing and bulk buying your favourite sweets right now, but hold on. This had a very fixed & purposeful agenda (stay in a calorie deficit eating junk). Usually when we eat junk food, we eat for pleasure known as hedonic eating.
The Desire of Sugar, Fat & Starch
Processed food is very finely crafted to have the right formula of fat, sugar and starch to get our dopamine (neurotransmitter linked to motivation & learning) going crazy in our brain. Anything that causes our dopamine to do this will inevitably compel us to want more.
If your day includes a lot of processed food, this creates a lot of occasions where you want more. A common phrase you may have heard is “all I think about all day is food”? No wonder when a lot of the food eaten is design for you to want more.
This is why it is important to be smart for long term success. Eating foods that are nutrient rich & calorie poor can keep you within your calorie deficit AND reduce the neurologically urges to eat more.
The Key Factor: Adherence
I have mapped out what you need to do to lose weight effectively. However all of this is useless without the most important factor of them all; adherence. If you do not stick to whatever plan you set for yourself, no amount of advice will help.
When you are thinking about what can increase your likelihood of adherence, think about:
- How the new protocol can fit into your current work and life schedules.
- What you can do in your quieter periods of your week to reduce the burden of your busier period (e.g prepping your lunches for the week at the weekend).
- What thoughts need to be clearly present in your mind and environment that remind you of what you are doing this for.
In this article I have highlighted what you need to know to lose a stone. Calories count but being smart about what type of calories you consume can help you out in the long term. I have provided the formula for knowing what your daily calorie deficit should be around and why excessive exercise might not be the answer.
By being smart about losing weight, you will find it will be easier and more sustainable than ever.