It’s that time of year again.
The time of year when everyone and their grandmother is trying to lose weight, trim down and get in shape for the new year.
Unfortunately, it’s also the time of year when people are most susceptible to fad diets, weight loss gimmicks, and straight-up bad information.
So if weight loss is a priority for you this year, then listen up, because today we’re going to break down how you can finally start burning the fat off for good.
Understanding The Role Of Calories
In order to understand how to lose weight, it is absolutely vital that you understand calories…and unfortunately, most people don’t.
Because if you believe everything you read in the media, you probably believe that the “secret” to losing weight is meal timing.
Or zero carb diets.
Or “magical” superfoods.
The reality is that losing weight fundamentally comes down to energy balance. Or, to put in a very cliche way – calories in, calories out.
If you consume less calories than your body needs, you’ll start losing weight. If you don’t… you won’t.
Now, that’s not to say that all those other things don’t factor in. Meal timing can help with the issue of perceived hunger.
Low carb diets can help reduce cravings and provide a solid structure for people to follow.
And magical superfoods… well, they don’t do anything at all.
But the point is this – all of these things can (for some people) be beneficial because they assist in the service of reducing calories.
So, with that out of the way… what is a calorie?
A calorie, contrary to what a lot of people believe, isn’t actually a thing, but a unit of energy. Specifically, one calorie is the amount of energy required to raise one gram of water by one degree celsius.
Everything you eat in the form of food has a certain number of calories (or a “caloric value”). This varies from food to food, with some foods (obviously) having more calories per gram than others.
Now, here’s where this relates to weight loss. Each day, your body uses a certain amount of calories to perform it’s basic functions. These include things like breathing, pumping blood, and keeping your other organs running.
This is referred to as your “basal metabolic rate” (or BMR).
The amount you burn as part of your BMR is determined by your gender (men typically have a higher BMR than woman), and your physical size (how much lean muscle mass you have and how tall you are).
You also, (unless you’re literally bedridden) use calories to move your body through the world. This figure, plus your BMR, is referred to as your “total daily energy expenditure” (or TDEE).
While your BME is largely fixed to your gender and size, daily energy expenditure varies tremendously from person to person, and is influenced by everything from how active you are to how much you fidget.
Any calories eaten above and beyond this number get stored as body fat (or used in the creation of new muscle and lean tissue, but that’s a topic for a different article).
This may seem like a pointless biology lesson to you, but understanding these concepts is critically important when it comes to figuring out how to ACTUALLY lose some damn weight.
How To Create A Caloric Deficit
If you want to lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit.
Or, to put it another way, you need to be feeding yourself less calories than your body is using each day for fuel.
And in order to start losing weight, you need to get your numbers straight.
Step #1: Determine Your Caloric Maintenance
The first number you need is your “caloric maintenance”. This is the number of calories that your body requires each day simply to function and move while maintaining your current level of mass.
So, the first thing you need to do is figure out your BMR. There are a number of different calculators for determining this, but the most straightforward is the Katch MCardle equation.
Now that you have that number, the next thing is to figure out the number of calories burned from daily activity.
This unfortunately is less straightforward. There are an absolute ton of TDEE calculators out there with “activity multipliers”, but the margin of error for all of them tends to be quite high.
Instead, we’re going to have you take a different approach. For the next week, you’re going to be tracking your calories. Use an app like My Fitness Pal, and keep track of everything that goes in your mouth.
At the same time, you’re also going to be tracking two measurements – your weight, and the circumference of your waist (if you’re a women, you’ll also want to track your hip measurement, since women tend to store fat around this area).
At the end of the week, take the total number of calories consumed and divide by seven. If your weight has remained stable throughout this little experiment, congratulation – you now have a fairly accurate idea of how many calories you need to eat every day for maintenance.
If, however, you found your weight going up over the last week, then simply repeat the experiment next week. Only this time, you’re going to subtract 200 calories each day from your original figure.
Repeat this process until your weight remains stable.
Step #2: Subtract 200 Calories Per Day
Alright, so you’ve figured out how many calories you need to eat for maintenance. Now, here’s the fun part, because this is how you’re actually going to shed some pounds.
For the next few weeks, make sure that you’re eating 200 calories per day less than you were eating the previous week.
No really, that’s it.
You can eat whatever you want, in whatever combination you want, as long as you’re simply creating that deficit of 200 calories per day.
If, after a week or two, you’re not losing weight, don’t freak out. Simply take your calories down by another 200 next week.
Rinse and repeat until the scale starts moving.
Step #3: Adjust As Needed
What most successful dieters find is that, as they get leaner over time, they need to periodically adjust their calories.
If, after a few months of successful dieting, you start to hit a plateau, you may need to drop your calories down even further.
Again, if this happens, it’s important that you not freak out about it. You don’t need to plummet your calories down to starvation level, you just need to keep making small, periodic adjustments (100 calorie intervals are typically sufficient).
Tips and Tricks To Avoid Hunger
Now, at this point, you may be skeptical.
“Can I REALLY eat whatever I want and still lose weight?”
The answer is YES…with one caveat.
While it certainly is possible to lose weight eating nothing but processed junk, the vast majority of people will find it next to impossible to stick with this diet, because processed food is designed to be very appetite stimulating.
Think about the last time you ate a bunch of brownies for lunch. Not only did it probably not fill you up, but you likely walked away hungrier than you were before.
If you’re looking to lose weight without the hunger pangs usually associated with it, here are some tricks to keep you on track.
It’s absolutely shocking how many people don’t drink enough water.
Not only will staying hydrated prevent the dreaded water retention (which LOOKS like fat), it will also do a lot to stave off hunger. In fact, one of the first signs of dehydration is a sensation that feels like hunger.
The bottom line is that drinking anywhere from 6-8 glasses of water per day is not only good for your health, it’s an easy way to keep hunger at bay.
Fill Up On Fibrous Vegetables and Low Glycemic Carbohydrates
If you’re looking to avoid hunger and stick with your fat loss diet in the longterm, then you need to choose your carbs wisely.
High glycemic carbs like white rice and pasta are digested and converted rapidly into glucose. While this isn’t a bad thing in-and-of itself, it’s definitely not optimal for dieting because of the hunger response it stimulates.
Instead, choose low-glycemic, slow-release carbs like sweet potatoes and brown rice, as well as fibrous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage that will digest slowly and keep you feeling full.
Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Protein
Contrary to what many will tell you, protein isn’t just for bulking up. It’s also optimal if you’re trying to lose weight.
This is perfect for dieters for two reasons. The first is that protein is highly muscle sparing. While this isn’t really a concern if you’re overweight, it’s important to understand that the leaner you get, the greater the potential for muscle loss while dieting.
Along with regular weight training, a high protein diet has been shown to preserve muscle in a caloric deficit.
But it’s also been shown to be highly satiating. If hunger is something you’ve dealt with in the past, then loading up on protein is one of the best things you can do to prevent this from happening. Choosing lean cuts of meat like chicken and turkey, as well as low fat dairy and egg whites are going to be solid choices.
You can also opt for a whey protein supplement like Diet Protein. Not only does one serving contain almost 33 grams of protein, but it also contains 10 grams of slow-release, low-glycemic carbohydrates, as well as Green Tea Extract, a powerful supplement that’s been scientifically shown to increase exercise-induced fat oxidation.