Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Only Thing You Need to Know About How to Lose Weight

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And you can start right now, for free

A bold claim, right?

So, let’s get started. Google, “How to Lose Weight.” About 840,000,000 results. At least half of the first page is trying to sell you something. Most of the rest are of the, “quick and easy,” “without diet or exercise,” or “while you sleep,” variety. So let’s get three things out of the way upfront.

  • You don’t need to pay anyone to lose weight.
  • It may be easy, but it won’t be quick.
  • Call them what you want, but you will diet or exercise, preferably both.
  • The only thing you’ll do while you sleep is sleep.

A couple of the links actually seem to be helpful and logical, based on science.

Who wants that, right?


Gorilla thinking about a problem

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The Problem

Before I got too old and my knees revolted, I was a runner. I ran a lot. If I found myself out of shape, I could start running and slim down within a week or so. After starting a new job, I began my running and diet regimen. One day, I walked into the office and three coworkers stopped me.

“You’ve lost a lot of weight, how did you do it?”

“Diet and exercise.”

“If you don’t want to tell us, just say so.”

After a few minutes of trying to convince them, I finally said, “I began a new miracle diet,” and they all grabbed pen and paper. I told them I only ate beets and sauerkraut for a week, and they madly scribbled away.

I hope they’re okay.

The problem is that nobody wants to believe the basic, and yes, simple key to losing weight. It’s a math equation, with slight variations depending on your body type and metabolism, but don’t use those as a crutch or excuse. If you burn more calories than you consume, you lose weight. If you consume more calories than you burn, you gain weight.

The bigger problem is, people don’t want simple, they want complicated.

More to the point, they want magic. Eat kale for a week and you’ll lose weight! Well, yeah, if I only eat kale for a week, I would lose weight. I would also be a very unpleasant person, but I digress.


A diet salad

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Why do ‘diets’ work?

I’m not talking about dieting in the general sense, which I’ll get back to in a minute. I’m talking about the name brand diets we’ve all heard of, and the fad diets that come and go every year.

The reason these diets work isn’t some magic formula. Cutting out flour or foods that begin with a G, doesn’t miraculously increase weight loss. The reason they work is, however structured or the theories behind them, they make us pay attention.

You look at and evaluate everything you eat. And that attention to detail forces you to eat less if you are being honest with yourselves. That and no diet plan has a half-gallon of Chunky Monkey on it.

The exception would be the Paleo diet. I really don’t get that one. It seems to be a diet that has anything we like on it, and nothing we don’t like. The original concept is it follows the diet of the ancient humans of the Paleolithic age. But I’m pretty sure Paleo folk never heard of waffles. And even cavemen were smart enough not to eat kale.

But again, I digress.

The point is, whether it’s a diet of prepackaged meals, or a list of things you can and cannot eat, you are now paying strict attention to everything that goes in your mouth. And that’s one of the basic components of my plan.


Woman on diet eating a boring sandwich

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Why don’t diets work?

They’re boring. We lose interest. What’s for dinner? Same as last night, a kale smoothie. It’s not what we want to do as humans. Once we moved beyond the Paleolithic age, meals became more of a celebration. Eating should be enjoyable, not something you dread. You can’t put up with boring, tasteless food every day for a sustained period. We lose interest.

And I don’t care how much a diet plan claims how great their food tastes, they don’t. They taste like cardboard, and not much of it. Diets don’t work because they’re not sustainable. If you don’t look forward to a meal, you will avoid it. And the only way to do that is to eat something else. So you make substitutions. Like replacing the kale in your smoothie with chocolate ice cream.


Woman doing exercise

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What about exercise

There is one simple, basic problem with exercise.

It sucks.

Everything about it sucks. It’s hard. It hurts. It takes up a lot of time. It’s no fun.

Yeah, I can do that every day.

But that’s the thing about exercise, you have to do it every day. It’s a cumulative effect. You are burning calories; you are changing the composition of your body, and you are changing your metabolism.

Every day.

But…. it sucks. So how do you fix that? Well, that leads us to:


A Complicated Plan

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What’s your grand plan?

I’m glad you asked. And I’m glad you stuck with me this far because now we get to work.

And now for the great news. Trust me, you will love this.

For the first week, I don’t want you to do anything. Well, almost. Eat what you’ve been eating, as much as you have been.

Exercise, don’t exercise, I don’t care. Be a couch potato. Live a little.

But here’s the one thing I want you to do. Start keeping a diary. You don’t have to change anything, but write it down. All of it. Everything you eat and everything that might loosely be considered exercise. I walked for 5 minutes. Write it down.

To do this, you need to find a good food database. I use MyFitnessPal because it has almost every food you’ve ever heard of in it, including at restaurants, and you can look up most exercises.

So write everything down for a week. Find a method you like, because you will do this for the duration. It can be a notebook, or a spreadsheet, or an app like MyFitnessPal. You just need to be able to keep it up.

This is the important part. Write everything that goes into your mouth and how many calories it is. If you want to track other things like sugar or fat, be my guest, but that’s not part of my plan.

Sucking on a Lifesaver? 15 calories. Really? Yep, 15 calories.

Eat one peanut? 5 calories.

Write everything down for a week, totaling your calories each day. Don’t think about it or worry about it. Don’t start hedging your bets.

Don’t be too shocked.

I can guarantee you, you are eating way more than you think you are. Eating out a lot, snacking in between, and having plenty of desserts? You can easily top 6,000 calories a day. Don’t believe me? Come back in a week and talk to me.


Starting a Simple Plan

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Okay, here’s the actual plan

Did you have fun? I hope so. But don’t worry, I want you to keep having fun. Just maybe not quite so much of it.

The first thing you need to do is come up with a daily calorie goal. You can use the same app, google it, or ask a doctor. A caveat on the asking a doctor thing, and this is important for the plan overall. Those ideal weight charts that use your height, weight, and sex? They’re garbage. They tell me that my ideal weight is 155. I’m 65 years old. When I was 25, I ran marathons. I put in 70 miles a week and had a fat percentage of 7%. Know what I weighed then? You guessed it, 155. Barring some sort of amputation, I will never weigh 155 again.

So forget an ideal weight for now. You just want to lose weight, so let’s get started. Find that daily calorie goal. If you can’t find one, shoot for around 1,700. Except for rare occasions, I don’t want you going under 1,500 or over 2,000. ish

Now, you need to plan your meals and think about what you eat a bit more carefully. First, cut out the simple stuff. No sugary sodas or beverages. That can knock out hundreds of calories a day. Next start making simple substitutions. Mustard instead of mayonnaise, fruit instead of candy, that sort of thing.

Now, plan your meals, or at least some thought before you eat. You’ve got about 500 calories per meal to play with, plus some snacks. Look at what you ate last week and browse through your food database. There’s a lot you can eat for 500 calories. Half of some frozen pizzas are 500 calories. A Wendy’s junior cheeseburger and a small chili are 500 calories. You can make this work, easy.

But again, it’s all about choice and where do you want to spend your calories. It’s like a household budget. Do you want to go on a vacation or buy an 80″ flat screen? I used to hate broccoli. Now I love it. Not only have I learned to make it taste better, but there are fewer foods with more bang for your buck. You could eat three pounds of broccoli for 500 calories and have room left over.

I wouldn’t advise doing that. But you could.

The first week will be tough. Not because of how little food you get. If you budget your calories, you get plenty. It’s thinking about it. You must weigh and measure everything until you get used to portions. You will need to decode nutrition labels. Carefully. The calorie count on that muffin? It’s for 1/4 muffin. If you’re lucky. But once you get in a rhythm, it’s pretty easy. I always did a tally after dinner to see if I had any room left over for ice cream.

That’s right, you can have ice cream. But remember, a portion of ice cream is 1/2 cup. Who eats 1/2 cup of ice cream? You could hold a gun to my head and I couldn’t eat 1/2 cup of ice cream. So you buy portions. Ice cream bars and sandwiches. The fruit bars are delicious and come in at about 60 calories.


Woman walking on trail

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Photo by Kevin Wolf on Unsplash

You still haven’t talked about exercise

Oh yeah. I keep forgetting about that. But there’s excellent news. Those daily calories? Those are net calories. You get to add on for exercise. You don’t have to, and you’ll lose more if you don’t, but you can. A word of warning. If your exercise gets up into big numbers, then you need to add some calories in. You can’t get away with eating 1,500 calories and running 6 miles a day.

So… exercise. Collective groan. Go ahead and get it out of the way.

Then follow Nike’s old ad.

Just Do It.

It’s not as bad as you think, or you are doing it wrong. You don’t need to join a gym or hire a personal trainer. You just gotta move.

First, is there anything that involves movement that you find fun? Dancing, riding a bike, hula-hooping. Anything that you enjoy doing that burns more calories than sitting in a chair. That’s the baseline. Sitting in a chair burns about 60 calories an hour.

Just do better than that.

If you can’t find anything fun, then at least don’t do something that’s well, not fun. Don’t start jogging if you hate to jog.

Don’t lift weights if you know you will dread it every day.

If you can’t come up with anything, try walking. It’s easy and most people can do it. It doesn’t require any special equipment other than comfortable clothes and a decent pair of shoes. You can do it anywhere, inside or out.

Start with whatever is an easy, no-effort walk for you. Five, ten, or twenty minutes max. Do that every day. Multiple times if you can without getting sore. Whatever exercise you choose, getting sore or injured is like eating a gallon of ice cream. It will set you back several days. Easy and steady wins the race.

Do that easy walk once or twice a day for a week. That could but as much as 150 calories back in the bank. That’s dessert.

Build up slowly. Very slowly. This weight loss thing is a marathon, not a sprint. Literally. If you can build up to 30 minutes a day 4–5 days a week, you’ll be making some genuine progress. This not only helps with the calories in vs out calculation. It will speed your metabolism, and you will start getting slimmer without weight loss.

And that brings us to weighing. Please don’t do it every day. You will have days when the number goes up. There’s a lot of random stuff going on we’re not smart enough to know about. Especially with exercise. In the beginning, this may increase weight or stall the loss for a few days. Your body is saying, “Whoa! What’s this guy doing? We better stockpile some food.”

But it will correct itself. That’s what the body does. Eventually, the combination of fewer calories in and more calories out will show. So only weigh yourself once a week. And don’t expect too much. To begin with, the numbers may drop pretty quickly, but they will level off. And there will be weeks when it doesn’t go down at all. It may even creep up a pound or two. But keep at it, a week or two later, boom, a few pounds will suddenly disappear.

What you have embarked on here is not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. Follow this lifestyle for a long time and the weight will come off. At some point, you’ll naturally level off where you’re supposed to be. Not that mythical ideal weight, but your actual, ideal weight.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go roast some kale.

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