I’m going to mirror a lot of what I write here into one of my static pages, then update that as I go forward. Over the past 4 months or so, my entire life has really changed, and I wanted to really put together a comprehensive “SOP” if you will on how to go from really out of shape and unhealthy to a much better place. The traditional thinking is “go on a diet and exercise” – and this is really not the full story. In fact, without qualifying this, it can become counterproductive and you end up gaining weight over the long run.
In my line of work, sometimes things break. When there are patterns that emerge, often you want to investigate WHY problems occurred, then perhaps consult those who are the “experts” in doing it right to then form best practices. Often, you are faced with an “expert” who has been fit their whole lives trying to give “weight loss advice” to someone who carries significant weight. While there is a lot of expertise than can be gleaned from some of these professionals, the “best practices” might be found in those who lost over 100 pounds.
Below, I’m going to highlight some of the “best practices” that I’ve found that has helped me los 37 pounds in 4 months as of this writing. I am not quite sure how much muscle mass you can gain in a month, but it might be a pound or two. I feel like perhaps I have lost 45 pounds of fat and gained 8 pounds of muscle. That’s how good I feel. Those numbers might be exaggerated, but you get the idea.
Best Practice #1 – motivation
I will address this on a continuing basis below, but let’s examine the problem.
Problems addressed: poor diets, fad diets, falling off the wagon, peer pressure, peer reviews
Answer #1 – I read this quote this morning from this site, and I needed to incorporate this into my life.
“Motivation is what gets you to start your journey. Discipline and habit are what keeps you going for months and years.”
This is, in a nutshell, how to succeed. Life happens, and once we are motivated to begin, we need rules…codes to live by…discipline.
Answer #2 – get on YouTube to watch vloggers. More on this below. This is your virtual community of support. While in the “analog” era it was Weight Watchers meetings – this is support on demand.
Best practice #2 – DRINK
Problems addressed: hunger, headaches, fatigue, proper body functioning, dehydration
Answer – I drink 5 quarts of water a day. Consult a professional on how much water you should be drinking. For nearly a DECADE…my hydration would consist of 2-3 diet pepsis a day, 1 cup of coffee, and maybe a juice or soda. I had headaches for 2-3 days a month, every month, for most of my life until 4 months ago. Proper hydration also reduces hunger. If you’re drinking water all day, you’re going to notice reduced hunger pangs. Apparently, when you are dehydrated, a survival instinct your body has is to send hunger pangs in a last ditch effort to get hydration. Furthermore, when you hydrate properly, your body can actually do things properly like metabolize and repair cells. When dehydation happens, your body also goes into a fatigue state to conserve energy.
For me, it’s about 10 pounds of water a day I’m drinking. I think I’ve been hungry once or twice in four months. Really, this was a life changer.
Best practice #2 – EAT
Problems addressed: hunger, hair loss, depression, anger, fatigue
How many of you have done the 1200, 1400, or 1600 calorie diets? My guess is this is what happens -you take off weight quickly at first, then it slows down, then it stops. You continue to eat your scant meals, you are hungry all the time, and ultimately, you cave and fail. All the weight you lost in 2 months comes back in about 2 weeks, then her sisters come uninvited for another 5-10 pounds on top of that.
Answer #1 – Get your BMR checked by a professional. While there are BMR calculators you can use online, it might be advisable to start with a higher number then gradually decrease to a lower number and adjust.
Answer #2 – Use MyFitnessPal to track food and macros. Ask your professional who gave you the BMR number to recommend macros. These might have to be adjusted here and there, but it gives you a good start.
Answer #3 – Eat all foods. I would avoid the Atkins or low fat, or whatever south beach/zone whatever. All of these “diets” have restrictions on food, and makes certain foods out to be the enemy. I lost weight o Atkins before…like 40 pounds. No one could tell me otherwise, because it worked for me. Well, it’s not something you can live by, all the time, forever. It’s just not right. Carbs are fuel for you. Any of these “gimmick” diets have one drawback…you seem to “enter” a diet phase, get motivate, stumble, and “exit” the diet phase until at some future point you enter again. Why demonize anything? If you understand how the macros work, and understand how certain elements of foods aren’t particularly good for you, you can make your own judgements.
Answer #4 – have a “cheat meal” not a cheat “day”. And when I say “cheat meal” – I want you to still hit your macros and calories for the day. So, if I haven’t had pizza in a month, maybe I’ll have 2 slices for lunch. OK…but I know it’s a bit high in fats and carbs – so my other meals that day I’m probably eating lean protein, get some carbs from greens, etc.
Answer #5 – get your veggies. I am surprised how much I like green beans these days. It’s amazing how much veggies take up on the plate as opposed to how little calories they are. These ae good ways of getting fiber, greens, and some carbs while also getting full…
Answer #6 – hit your fiber. Having fiber makes you feel fuller. I eat Kashi most mornings and use Arnold’s health nut bread. Try to incorporate this into your daily routine.
Answer #7 – get your protein. While you should be tracking your macros, protein also helps satiate you. I had one of those “overnight oats” this morning for breakfast at 7 and that held me over well until 11:30. I use Fage 1% greek yogurt for a lot of this.
Answer #8 – Eat the meals you log, don’t log the meals you eat. This falls under the motivation area, but I wanted to add this under food. Every single night for the last 4 months, I plan out what I’m going to eat the next day in MyFitnessPal to hit my macros. When I wake up that morning, I already know every morsel of food going into my body that day. This then falls under “discipline” as well. But reading the tips above – if you are never, ever hungry..you are also less apt to steal a cookie off the counter.
Answer #9 – Meal prep. I can tell you this is one of the biggest reasons I’ve had problems losing weight over the years is that “I don’t know, what do you want to eat” is never an acceptable answer from your significant other or spouse. I mean…6 years of grad school, long commutes, long hours – who the hell wants to get home from work at 7, see there’s no food in the fridge, then go to the store, shop, come home, then cook for an hour? Often, these long days and stressful times were met with what me and the wife refer to as “window food” which is never a good option. I might have eaten McDonald’s once in the last 4 months. I understand how the macros work now and avoid it like the plague. Eventually, after my MBA, I had to tell my wife, “honey, I love you, but I’m divorcing you from food. Do whatever you want for dinner, I have to go my own way for now on”. We also don’t share a lot of food interests, and she HATES chicken. Chicken might be the most important staple to my entire existence. It was the most liberating moment of my adult life. I no longer have to have concessions for dinner, or be tempted by going out to dinner at a place I know I want to eat something bad at. At any given time, I probably have 10-20 meals frozen and 2-3 in the refrigerator thawing. I’ll then have a few “fresh” meals during the week, like chicken/salad, and others I might make up in larger batches, eat one serving, then freeze the other 3 servings. This will usually give you some nice variety.
Answer #10 – cook at home, if you can. When you are doing the cooking, you know exactly what is going into your meals. Restaurants might add tons of butter or cream to something and the calories could be invisible to you. When I go out, I usually keep it to a lean steak, baked potatoes, and some form of greens.
Answer #11 – get a food scale. You want to weigh/measure everything. Many of us grew up not necessarily recognizing, by site, proper portion sizes. I’d eat pasta by the plate, not oz. I’d drench my pasta in sugary sauces, then pile on the parmesan cheese, then eat it with 3-4 pieces of buttered bread. It tasted SOOOO good I never really dove into the real calories. In retrospect, a pasta dinner I may have thought of at about 1,000 calories could have been closer to 2,000 or even 2,500. Until you get really good at eyeballing this stuff, you need to use the measurements.
In MyFitnessPal, you can enter your items, and you can also make recipes and import ingredients. So I made up a big vat of soup, I entered the ingredients, and the recipe served 14. BAM…all of your macros for one container of soup right in front of you.
Answer #12 -reduce the sugar. This might be one of the worst things we have as Americans. I drank coffee every morning, and used to just write in 150 calories in my fitness pal for my coffee. One day a month or so ago, I measured everything out, and my 150 cup of coffee was 315. Turns out, my sugar was about 90 calories alone, and I dumped the powdered cream in. Today, I measure out the powder and use stevia for my sweetener. It’s not as good as sugar, but when you cut back sugar, your body thanks you. First, sugar can easily pack on calories to anything. BBQ sauce is LOADED with it, and you can get “Nature’s Promise” at about half the sugar. Second, sugar is really GRREEAT for those wannabe type 2 diabetics out there. Even if you didn’t pile down the powdered donuts your whole life, if you have a lot of belly fat, you are already borderline type 2 and you didn’t know it. Fun, huh? Third, when you reduce your sugars, your body doesn’t ache as much. Apparently sugar does a nice number on your arteries and can cause inflammation. Consider sugar like sand paper inside of your blood vessels. Fourth, when you cut back sugars, you start to taste the natural sweetness in certain things like green beans.
While sugar IS a carbohydrate, consider having your carbohydrates in the form of veggies (broccoli, potatoes, green beans), fruits (apples, bananas), and complex carbs (whole grain breads, whole grain pasta, brown rice, barley, etc). While there is a decent amount of fructose in things like apples, they also have fiber which reduces the affect on your blood sugar levels. When you “juice” the apple, you lose all fiber and are stuck with….sugar only.
Answer #13 – fuel your body. Carbs are great fuels. So I have my carbs set at 40% of my calories for the day. If I’m going to go workout, I’ll have carbs before it and protein later. For example, a meal prior to working out might be a half a cup of cooked oatmeal, 1/2 cup blueberries, honey, and cinnamon. This gets me going for my 15 minute cardio warmup and I use that fuel to bang out a good workout. After I lifted, I get quick protein in me.
Best Practice #3 – working out/exercise
Problems addressed: being a fat ass, cardio training, strength training, general fitness levels, lower BMI, stress
All growing up, I played a ton of sports. Loved the competition. You find that when you graduate college, there’s not a lot out there anymore. You go from team sports to nothing. The question then is…what should I do? How much of it should I do? How do I get involved? I’m at a different place in my life than I was 5, 10, 15 years ago. Gone are the parties, the bar nights, the hangovers…..and while sports teams may not be something any of us can easily do these days, I’m going to list a whole bunch of things that get me excited about my newer lifestyle.
First, I’m going to tell you something that also might be counterintuitive. All of that cardio is not helping. Trust me. I’ve not only gotten the T Shirt, I probably was the plant that manufactured the T shirt. I don’t know how many times in my life I went on 1600 calorie per day diets and went running 2-4 times a week for months on end. As suggested, I’d lose some weight at first, then it would slow down, then stop. Then you get exhausted from running, and it gets harder and harder to lace up the sneakers.
My trainer told me to have 2800 calories per day. I was like…wha? For 6 weeks or so, I did this. It was HARD to eat 2800 calories of healthy foods. I lost 10 pounds (this includes my birthday, thanksgiving, christmas, and new years). I also was chronically dehydrated, and consume 10 pound of water a day. I have been strength training twice a week. I’m adding muscle while shedding some stored fats. Recently, we adjusted down to 2400 calories. She said, “let’s get the deficit in the gym”. So – the 1600 calorie idea was bad. Very bad. I did that a good 20 times in my life.
At this point in my training many times before, I would be at wits end…tired…hungry. Now, I have more energy than ever and I cannot WAIT to do more activity. I can’t wait to try new meal prep. To say I’m active is an understatement. I’m 4 months in and feel amazing.
Answer #1 – choose exercises that are low impact. After many years of running, I have gotten to weights that make repeated attempts at running literally break my foot. Fifth metatarsal, to be exact. Currently, my cardio to warm up is usually 10-15 minutes on the elliptical or stationary bike. For my longer sessions of “serenity now”, I’m now swimming 3 times a week for about 30 minutes of laps each.
Answer #2 – use strength training. While your calorie deficit is not too much, use strength training to add muscle fibers and increase your metabolism. My trainer does a form of muscle confusion, which I’m loving. How many of you have had the same strength training routine for years and got little to no gains? Bored of it? Hire a trainer. For many of you, this might be tough to afford. However, if you join a gym, often they will give you 3 free training sessions. This might be good for you to get a baseline, get a BMR analysis, and get a suggestion for macros for you. You can also try and get up to speed with proper form. For me, having a training session once a week or so keeps me accountable as well, as any time I might get asked to step on the scale. Many women are worried about “bulking up”. Take a look at Jen Heward’s youtube page. She a solid 145 pounds and there is not a heterosexual guy on earth that would consider her overweight. She uses HIIT training, which is something I’d like to get more involved in as I shed a lot more weight off.
Answer #3 – get walking. You might be surprised how many calories 20, 30, or 40 minutes of walking burns. Even taking a few strolls per week for 30 or 40 minutes can make a difference.
Answer #4 – get biking. I don’t consider this cardio like running. I do some long distance biking, and it’s more of a leisurely pace of 11 or so MPH. If you think you’re a fat ass, get a more comfy seat. It might hurt the first day or so, but you’ll be fine. Before it got too cold 3 months ago, I was up to about 16 miles. This burns a ridiculous amount of calories as well as works your largest muscles.
Answer #5 – list of activies. I’m 41 now, and while my days of team baseball are likely over, here’s what I want to do in my 40s with my second lease on life:
- Enter a 5k. While I know I could complete that distance now, I still have some lingering foot issues from 2 months ago. After I take off another 40-50 pounds, I’ll probably start the running again.
- Sprint triathlon (indoor). I did one of these 8 or 9 years ago, it was FUN. My goal was to not finish last. I finished second to last!
- Go to the gym as a habit. I’m a member of my local JCC and love it. Great weight room, pool, and tons of classes. As my weight is further reduced, I’d like to join a lot of those classes.
- Make new friends. While I love my fraterity brothers, it seems we are now in a situation that rather than it being a weekly binge drinking event, it’s now a semi-annual dinner or drinking night. I would like to make some more friends in the fitness world to do things with…train for events, go out to healthy restaurants, have couples over for dinner, play in tournaments, run in races, etc.
- Hiking. My wife hates snakes, so I’ll never get her hiking. I don’t mind them so much. Spring and fall for me will be used taking a camera to some cool locations and spending an afternoon enjoying nature.
- Biking. I love it soooo much. So freeing. I have a rail trail near me that I use. Someday I might get a different bike and go some REALLY long distances on it. Not there yet.
- Over 40 baseball team. While I played my fair share of beer league softball over the years, I would love to know if I could still compete in baseball. I could always hit, I had a strong arm…I just was never “fit” when playing. This could be interesting.
- Tennis league or a rotation of a few tennis friends. While I was cut from the college baseball team, I made the college tennis team as a freshman in the 4th flight. Before the season started, the coach kicked me off the team for being in a fraternity. I played through most of my 30s until a few years ago I felt a twinge in my right knee from serving.
- The beach. I’d like to know what my beach experiences might be like as a fit individual. While I didn’t particularly like basting with 40,000 other people, I did like walking the beach early in the morning and later after dinner. Maybe some beach volleyball?
- Karate. I took Isshin Ryu karate in my late teens. Loved it. Might also be a good way to stay in shape.
- Camping. I used to love this. However, when you’re a tad bit overweight, this no longer is considered “fun”. I want to start by renting a cabin somewhere local here and see how it pans out.
- Fishing. Same thing with camping. When you are overweight and have to lug around a lot of gear, it suddenly becomes a pain in the ass.
Best practice #4 get a support system
Problems addressed: boredom, loneliness, structure, new ideas, expertise, entertainment
Some of this was covered above, some I covered in other blogs recently.
Answer – get plugged in to the YouTube-verse. My wife has been watching “vlogs” for years. I made fun of her for it. Things she watched were pretty mindless shit. Pranks, etc. One day I signed in and looked up “meal prep”. Fuck. Tons of videos. Lots of channels. This linked to another idea which linked to another idea, etc. etc.
Back in the day, it was “Weight Watchers” or Jenny Craig. They’d sign you up. You got a support group. You talked. You went home until next week. This is next level shit. These are people talking to a camera, which feels like they are talking directly to you. Here are some things you need to look up:
- meal prepping
- exercise ideas (HIIT)
- strength training forms
- swimming – proper form
- people who have lost over 100+ pounds and are cut (they have walked the walk)
Best practice #5 – be an adult
Problems solved: not sucking at life, living past 45
Answer: Stop Smoking. Drink sparingly, if at all. You know, I asked my 90 year old grandmother the other day when my grandfather had lost all the weight. Apparently, he lost a ton of weight at 50. My dad lost over 100 pounds at age 40. Looks like I’m next. I think if you presented me with these solutions in my 20s, I would not have been ready for them. I was too busy chasing tail and getting bombed. Most of my friends quit smoking by 30. My dad died of lung cancer at 57. I was someone that chased the party scene since college. As a staunch introvert to those who don’t know me, alcohol helped me talk to people. Think of Raj in the Big Bang Theory. I was never addicted to alcohol, it was the party scene I liked.
If you have any vices like tobacco or too much drinking, you’re going to fail. I don’t know how many times I quit smoking before I kicked it for good, but I always kept trying. I hit the wall at 30 with drinking and hit the wall with smoking at 40. I now have a resting pulse between 63 and 65 on any given day and I breathe pretty deeply these days. Cardio is a cinch now that I actually have oxygen.
Best practice #5 – gear
Problems solved: tracking macros, tracking exercise, making exercise fun, cooking properly, meal prep
While I didn’t grow up with the most money, these days I’m doing ok. To some people, items I’m listing might be a hardship for you. For example a fitbit can be $150 or so. Last I heard, an open heart surgery is $50,000. So -the return on investment for some of this might be worth it.
Answer – here’s the gear I got over the last 4 months to support my new life. I have spent little to no money on anything except “healty me” in roughly the same time.
- Workout clothing – I got some really good stuff from Under Armour, which sells larger sizes these days online.
- Running/workout shoes – I got a pair each from Nike and Under Armour, and like UA’s better.
- Smart phone – This is almost a necessity if you are under 60.
- Apps – I paid the money for upgraded MyFitnessPal which has some cool things in it.
- Scale – I got scale that has a bluetooth connection that syncs with an app. The scale tracks a lot of other things besides weight.
- wireless headphones – I don’t know what took me so long to get these, but I love them. I use them for cardio and taking walks.
- Gym Bag – I swear I don’t work for UA, but both me and my wife bought the exact same bag independent from each other. Meaning, we both liked this one bag without sharing notes.
- Goggles – needed for swimming laps.
- Waterproof MP3 player – got this for Xmas. Didn’t even know it’s a thing. I kinda feel bad ass doing laps while listening to some ZZ Top.
- Fit Bit – I have two of them now, one is the Surge for my basic needs, the other is the flex 2 for my swimming. It’s really cool that you can track your laps!
- USB hub – for all of my electronic shit, I now have a USB hub plugged into my laptop so I can charge all of my things!
- Digital scale for food. While I had one, you might want to get one.
- Digital thermometer for food. It helps to ensure your meat is cooked to the proper temps!
- Meal prep containers. There are lots of different kinds you can get.
- Rice cooker. I love the one I have, it’s in most of the videos so I guess I made a good pick!
- Slow cooker. This is also really good for soups/stews.
- Embrava water bottle – never did I put much stock into water bottle technology until now!
- Lunch box – You want to take prepped meals to work with you.
- Shake cup – mine is 16 oz and has a little ball in it so when you shake up your drink, it mixes well.
Best practice #6 – buy in bulk
Problems solved: running out of shit, buying bogus foods, lowering unit costs
Answer: There are a few locations near me where I can get bulk rolled oats, honey, chia seeds, brown rice, etc. You also want to buy things like blueberries frozen in bulk and use them in your oatmeal or overnight oatmeals. Buying things like that fresh can also spoil rather quickly. Buy the big pack of chicken…ground turkey, etc. Use these bulk items for your meal prep. However, things like rolled oats last a VERY VERY long time, and I have all kinds of mason jars to store these types of ingredients. Here’s my list of items I buy in bulk that can last a long time:
- rolled oats
- pearled barley
- brown rice
- lima beans (dry)
- chia seeds
- flax seeds
- frozen fruits (strawberries, blueberries, mango)
- frozen veggies
- whey (it’s hard to get 30% of cals from protein without a supplment. Buy it in bulk)
- Beef stock (if I ever want to make soups, I have this on hand)
- diced tomatoes, tomato sauce (used for pastas and soups)
- meats (to freeze)
Best practice #7 – home gym
Problems solved – excuses for not going to the gym, bad weather, cost savings
Answer – home gyms can be affordable and convenient or expensive and never used. Your mileage may vary. Over the years, I got equipment here and there. Many of you can probably find lightly used exercise equipment on Craigslist a few months after the new year for a low price.
I would say the staples for this would be:
- a piece of cardio equipment (I have a bike and treadmill)
- dumbbells (I have the power block, so it’s just one pair rather than tons of dumbbells.
- bench of sorts
- some form of ball and/or band. You don’t need 200 pounds of iron to make you fit. My trainer kicked my ass yesterday without 1 piece of equipment.
I also have a bow flex, but I wouldn’t invest in something like that unless you really had a hard time getting to a gym. For me, time was never available for me for years, so if I could go downstairs and sneak a 30 min workout, I did. Now, I’m driving to the gym 12 mins away and spending 2-2.5 hours there before coming home.
To conclude – As you can see from above, most of the items here dealt with nutrition in some way. Exercise is important, but you need the right fuel for your body!