Late in 2019, I decided I should probably make the effort to watch what I eat and lose a bit of weight. I was carrying some extra body fat (I had been for a while…) and decided it was about time to get leaner.
There are two major reasons why I‘m aiming to lose weight.
I turned 31 in October. It’s no longer my first year out of the 20’s. Excess body fat doesn’t correlate well with positive long-term health outcomes, so I wanted to get rid of some of this. Furthermore, I wanted to create better habits so that I can maintain a lower body fat percentage going forward.
I’m not going to lie. It would be nice to feel better about my appearance. Although I’ve never been substantially overweight, I’ve also never been that lean. So why not give it a try.
If we are honest, I think we all know it… If calories in are less than calories out we lose weight.
People argue over the details, but the principle is simple. But remember, simple doesn’t mean easy to implement – or stick to.
People often argue that the type of calories – aka. the macro-nutrients – you consume affect the calories you expend. Yes, there’s some truth to that. You may increase the energy expended (slightly) by what you eat, but that doesn’t mean the principle of calories in vs. calories out is wrong. Just that if you expend more it makes creating the deficit a tad easier.
Others may vehemently argue for one specific diet to lose weight. Claiming that paleo is the best, or keto is the best, perhaps vegetarian trumps them all. If something worked for you, great. Diets such as these restrict certain foods, hence they often produce a caloric deficit – because some foods you previously ate are now off limits. This commonly leads to people eating less calories. If you find it easy to stick to a diet that results in a caloric deficit, then you’ll lose weight.
The diet itself wasn’t magic. Your adherence to a calorie deficit was.
Yes there are certain things you can do that may aid adherence to diets, or help to limit overeating. However, this isn’t a post to argue over the details, or the best diet. I simply want to tell you what I’ve done (so far).
Be sure to focus on the principles. Not the exact method I used.
But you can do whatever you like. I’m not a dietitian. I’m just sharing what I‘m doing and some of the principles that have helped me so far.
I’m a strength athlete. I like to lift. I also like carbs. These things influenced the methods I chose.
Furthermore, I like numbers. I also love Excel and Google Sheets – which you’ll figure out as we move through this post.
One more thing to add regarding context – for me, this experience is also about learning. Learning about portion sizes, the number of calories in certain foods, what foods may help me feel full. I don’t intend to track my eating forever – only when I am chasing specific goals. Rather, I hope to learn from this experience, so that I can more easily maintain my weight in the future, without the need to track.
So I made the decision that I wanted to lose some weight. As a weightlifter, the logical first goal was to get down to the next weight class. For me this meant under 81kg as the initial goal.
Having this tangible number is valuable to me, it helps me to stay focused. I know if I get under-81kg I can compete in that weight class. There’s a clear outcome of my weight loss.
However, to completely go against what I’ve just said – it’s not just about lowering the number on the scale.
It’s not only about making the number on the scale go down. Remember my why – to improve health, by losing body fat, and to improve aesthetics, which means I need to maintain muscle mass.
To achieve this, weight loss needs to be gradual for me. About a pound, or 450g, a week. Yes I want to get under 81kg, but if I am to maintain muscle mass and primarily lose body fat, then smaller losses over a longer time frame are important. It’s not a race.
So, I have a goal to keep me focused. But I know fast weight loss won’t achieve the results I’m after. The priority is losing small amounts over time.
In order to hit daily targets, I need to track what I eat – at least during this phase of my diet. I’m using an app called “FatSecret”, another popular one is “MyFitnessPal”. It doesn’t matter what app you use, so long as it works for you and is easy enough to enter new foods.
I wouldn’t say I’m the most accurate tracker. I weigh some things. For instance, if I know things are particularly high calorie (think fatty foods or sweet foods – e.g. potato chips, peanut butter, lollies) I’ll almost always weigh them or track the portion size accurately. But I try not to get too nit-picky.
I’m trying to lose fat and learn. Not win a bodybuilding show. Now don’t take that as I don’t even try to track accurately, it just means sometimes close enough is good enough for me.
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to determine baseline calories. For me, I started with a simple BMR Calculator. Calculated my basal metabolic rate, then used a physical activity multiplier. This gave me an estimate of my daily energy requirements. You can now use a Google Sheet I made to do all of this for you, Click Here – feel free to share it with others.
What did this look like? Well, I began this process weighing 85.8kg. This was determined by daily morning weigh ins – after emptying the bladder – and using the average weight of the week (this is also how I track my weight changes).
So I used a weight of 85.8kg, my height of 1.73m, and age of 31 years to determine my BMR. Before choosing moderately active as my physical multiplier – I try to be conservative in my selection of physical activity level, especially as my job isn’t physically demanding.
This gave me a maintenance calorie target of 2,942 calories. Following the standard recommendation of a 500 calorie daily reduction to lose ~1lb (450g) a week. I set my target at ~2,500 calories.
To maintain muscle mass means I need to ensure I consume enough protein and continue to weight train appropriately. The weight training is already being performed regularly (and not relevant for this post), so let’s firstly look at protein.
The simple rule I follow here is to target around 2g per kg of body-weight. I started at 85.8kg. This means I was looking to consume around 170g of protein per day.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I’m discussing protein or calories, go check out an earlier post of mine called “Reading Nutrition Labels”.
Carbs and Fats
Honestly, I don’t have any set targets here. I consume adequate amounts of each of these macro-nutrients with my standard food choices to not result in any deficiencies. So I don’t stress about my carb or fat intake.
I just try to ensure I eat enough protein and then I’m not phased about the proportion of carbs and fats I eat. So long as my total calories remain in check.
This also helps me to not get too caught up in hitting exact macro-nutrient targets. I focus on the “big rocks” i.e. calories and protein. Then try not to sweat the small stuff.
Did I Mention I Quite Like a Spreadsheet?
After coming up with the above targets I started to track my regular eating habits for a few weeks in December ’19 and January ’20. It turns out I was eating pretty close to maintenance level – around 3,000 calories.
How did I track this. Well… I created a nice little Google Sheet.
Each morning I would track my weight (as mentioned above), along with the calories and protein I had consumed for that day. I made the sheet to automatically calculate my daily averages for body-weight, and the calories and protein I had consumed.
Furthermore, I made the sheet calculate my weekly weight change. Both absolute (in kilograms) and as a percentage.
One thing you’ll notice above is fairly large variations in some variables. I try not to stress about day to day variations, so long as I get near the targets as an average over the week. However, in the first few weeks – after my initial “practice” weeks – this was a bit of a challenge.
How Have I Been Going?
In all honesty, it hasn’t been easy. But I didn’t expect it to be. Controlling what you eat isn’t easy.
Our bodies love calorie dense foods. And let’s be clear – there’s no way I am eliminating donuts – I’ve still been enjoying some Krispy Kremes! However, I have had to limit my portions of such calorie dense foods, or simply say no at times.
At times I have eaten fairly normally. Whether at certain social events, or weekends away. However, during these times I have been able to make better choices than I previously would have. As I’ve been learning through this process.
Initially I weighed 85.8kg – I’ve now been tracking for 13-weeks and have achieved my goal of a bodyweight under 81kg.
As you can see above (red is calories and blue is bodyweight). This is a real situation. Things change, and although I have been disciplined, I’m not overly consistent. I hardly ever averaged my daily calorie target of 2,500. I’d often consume a little more in weekends, which would raise the weeks average up a bit.
But this wasn’t about winning Mr Olympia – it was about losing some weight to be healthier and be more confident in the way I look. Along with learning.
Even with the inconsistencies, to date I have averaged ~2,550 calories a week and lost ~410g on average per week. A total of 5.3kg lost from my first weeks average to the end of Week 13, from 85.8kg to 80.5kg.
I’m happy with the results thus far. I made it under 81kg. I’ve improved my eating habits.
For the next week I’m not going to track my calories. Aside from a few days here and there since this began I’ve been pretty consistent with tracking my calories. But to ensure I keep a healthy relationship with food, I need a break.
Hopefully this break from tracking will give me a chance to better regulate my eating by feel again. I now have a better idea of portion sizes and choose higher protein options. So it’s time to apply that learning.
Anyway, that’s enough from me! I hope some of the above has been useful.
One final thing before I go – remember that weight loss shouldn’t always be the objective. Sometimes maintenance, or even gain, should be the goal. But that’s a topic for another day!
If you want to learn more about effective weight loss, I highly recommend checking out some of the links in the section below.
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A great resource for strength athletes, that gives plenty of useful information, is Eric Helms’ Muscle and Strength Pyramid Nutrition book. That’s an affiliate link to Eric’s books that I’ve hyperlinked above.
If you’d rather not read any more, then you could check out Omar Isuf’s video about his weight loss in 2019.