It’s April already, I can barely believe it. It feels like only a week ago I was bringing in the new year with my friends and several terrible renditions of Wonderwall. After months of allowing myself to develop some chub (ok, a year or so, whatever), and a year of being too skint for a gym membership, i’ve finally got enough motivation (and money) to get my arse in the gym, put some veg on my plate, and shift some of the excess rolls that have appeared since I began working full time.
Before I begin, here’s a big fat disclaimer: I am not a dietician, nor a trainer of any kind. I’m just a girl who is painfully insecure about her body and got super obsessed with diet and the gym a couple of years back, did a shit load of research, and actually got pretty fit in the process. I figured now is a good time to share my knowledge as we’ve reached the time of the year where everyone is stressing about their ‘summer bodies.’
Now that’s out of the way. This is the first part of a two-part series for people who just want to know the basics behind eating well and shedding some fat in the gym. I know bugger all about macros, micros, and workouts for specific muscle groups, so if that’s what you’re after, this is not the post for you. If, however, you have been running miles and miles a day and consuming nothing but smoothies in a bid to lose some weight and you’re starting to feel as though you’re looking at an early grave, this might prove useful to you. I figured i’d start with diet as, i’m very sad to say, what you put in your mouth is a lot more important than the amount of exercise you do in the gym, if you want to lose weight. I know, it sucks, but life’s a bitch.
So, first things first:
Weight loss is basically calories in, calories out – but not all calories are made equal
It is absolute possible to lose weight eating exclusively chocolate cake, as long as you consume fewer calories than you burn. Say you eat four slices of chocolate cake per day, amounting to some 1,000 calories, and consume nothing else but water, you’ll probably lose weight, especially if you’re working out and burning extra calories on the side.
That said, don’t get excited, because not all calories are made equal. If you want to lose weight in a way that is sustainable, will keep the pounds off, and won’t make you miserable and angry, my made up chocolate cake diet is not going to work for you. Let me explain by example; a medium sized banana has approximately 100 calories in it. That’s equivalent to around two and a half Oreos. The banana will keep you fuller for longer and as such means you are less likely to snack again in the near future, thus cutting your calories overall.
You see, different calories burn differently, some are slow burners and some are fast burners. This is where it all gets a little too technical as it comes down to how the molecules break down inside you *proudly adjusts lab coat*, but essentially, ‘fast carbs’ include things like white pasta and bread and sugary stuff, and ‘slow carbs’ include most vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds. As the name suggests, the ‘slow carbs’ take longer for your body to burn through, giving you energy for longer, and based on that logic, if you eat more ‘slow carbs’, you’ll need to eat less overall, thus lowering your overall calorie intake, which is exactly what you need to do, if you want to lose weight. The banana example is perhaps flawed as bananas are very high in sugar (naturally occurring, which is better than not, but still), but you get the point.
The scales aren’t everything
To be honest this is really a topic for part 2, but it’s so important that I felt the need to mention it now. Just know that the scales never tell the whole story. At my thinnest and fittest I was barely half a stone lighter than I am now, but my waist was a good four inches smaller and my stomach was almost completely flat. Muscle weighs more than fat, so it is completely normal for a person who is physically fit to weigh more than a person who is not while looking slimmer overall. It’s also important to note that it’s hypothetically possible for me to shed that half a stone in two weeks (but very unwise), but it is not possible for me to get my old body back in two weeks; I was packing a lot more muscle than I am now, now if I shed half a stone, i’d just be a slightly smaller equally as flabby version of myself currently.
BMI is another indicator that really doesn’t offer much if you’re even partly active. People that lift a lot of weights and as a result are heavy are often considered obese on the BMI scale, which, in many circumstances, is utterly ridiculous. The best way to place yourself onto whatever mental sliding scale between “i’m very happy with the way I look” and “Oh god I look like i’m pregnant with 11 burgers” is to just look at yourself in the mirror, and if you get really into it, take measurements of various parts of your body and track your progress that way. Really, fat loss is a better goal than weight loss for both your health and your sanity, and I imagine if you asked most people if they’d rather weigh a little more but have flat abs than weigh less but be “skinny fat”, most would choose the abs, I know I would.
Let’s also not forget there is no “standard” human form. People vary hugely, some have bigger bones, heavier bones and are taller or smaller overall. Some people are naturally heavier than others and it’s got bugger all to be with being “fatter”. So if it pains you that your best pal is lighter than you and yet you look very similar, it’s probably just cos your bones are heavier and/or denser.
Back to dieting – the first few pounds are the easiest and it only gets harder
Simply put, the more weight you have to lose, the easier it is to lose it. If, like me, you’re a totally healthy size but you’re insecure and dislike your body despite its broadly healthy state, you’re going to find it tougher to lose weight because your body isn’t necessarily going to jump into action and work with you in quite the same way that a person who has a few extra pounds to lose might. I find I can lose the first couple of pounds relatively easily, but when I hit a certain weight, I really struggle to lower the number on the scales (which shouldn’t bother me anyway, see above).
Speaking of losing the first few pounds, fad diets can be useful, but will do nothing for you long-term
If anyone is interested, I know a fantastic fad diet that I promise will you make you drop weight. I’ve used it before and lost more than half a stone in a week. Fad diets are useful if you’ve got an important event like a friends wedding coming up, or you’d like a little motivation boost before embarking on a diet and fitness regime – but they are totally unsustainable.
During my time on the aforementioned fad diet, I was so weak I nearly fainted. I literally couldn’t think straight because I was consuming so few calories. It’s also normal to binge after a fad diet as a reward for completing the programme or just go back to eating as you did before, and because you’ve starved your body so intensely for a period of time, you’re actually likely to put back on more weight than you lost because you’re body has entered starvation mode. Yup, again, life’s a bitch.
Make as much as you can from scratch because sugar is the enemy, and it’s in everything
As I alluded to earlier, sugar is the goddamn enemy if you’re trying to lose weight. Sugary stuff tends to be high in calories and won’t fill you up, leaving you wanting more. Unfortunately, sugar is in fucking everything pre-made, in abundance. Even in things that you might not think, like Dolmio pasta sauce, or in “fat-free” or “diet” options of our favourite foods because marketeers (is that a word?) realise that we humans are turned on by “diet” and turned off by “fat”. This is basically to give the “healthy” version a better taste, ironically making it worse than the initial food offering.
The only way around this really is to make as much as you can from scratch. This can be a pain for time-poor folk who work long hours or have big families to cater for, but ultimately, it’s the only way to avoid excess sugar. To make all this easier, I tend to have a few stable items in my cupboard that I know can go towards making a lot of things from scratch. I always have tinned tomatoes, onions, garlic and various spices around because they can be used in so many dishes and all taste heavenly.
Eat fewer carbs as the day goes on to lose weight
Yes, if you want to lose weight really, really fast, it’s probably productive to cut carbs out altogether. However, it isn’t sustainable. For a start, carbs are in absolutely everything, so really you’re not actually cutting out as much as you think you are, and secondly, carbs give you energy, and you need energy to be a productive human being. The answer? Eat GOOD carbs more sparingly as the day goes on. As I said earlier, ‘slow carbs’ (the brown ones, just avoid white carbs altogether), have a slow burn rate. We need more energy at the start of the day than we do before bed, so start the day with some porridge (beware cereal, it’s likely loaded with sugar), have a brown pasta or rice salad for lunch, then have some protein and veg for dinner. I almost promise you you’ll lose weight just by doing that, so long as your portions aren’t ridiculous and you’re making an effort to get some exercise in.
An example weekday plan that should result in weight loss, can be taken to work, and isn’t hassle to make:
Breakfast: Porridge with fruit
Lunch: Brown pasta salad (google it, don’t go for the ones drenched in mayo)
Snack 2: Carrot sticks with hummus
Dinner: Salmon and veg
And for the weekend, when we’ve got more time to spend on making food:
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs on brown toast
Snack: Fruit, veg, apple and peanut butter, nuts, whatever’s in your cupboard..
Lunch: Fajitas (one medium sized wrap or two small cos it’s only lunch y’know)
Dinner: Pre-marinated chicken breast with salad or vegetables.
I find I eat really weirdly on the weekend, I find eggs very filling so often won’t eat lunch (and i’ve definitely had brunch cos HELLO weekend lie-it…), and I rarely snack because I don’t keep anything “snacky” in my cupboards at home, but if you have a more ‘normal’ schedule at the weekend, I think this could work as a more fun alternative to the weekday boredom.
If you’re brand new to this and really can’t think of meals that you’ll actually enjoy long term, I highly recommend buying books by Joe Wicks, aka, The Body Coach. His books are split into post-workout high-carb meals, and low carb meals. The recipes are straight forward and don’t require much prep, and are pretty darn tasty. You’re welcome.
Figure out roughly how many calories you need to be eating to lose weight (and take it with a pinch of salt)
We all have a basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the amount of energy we spend doing sweet fuck all. Those with higher metabolisms have a faster BMR, meaning they need to do less to burn the calories they put into their body. The lucky devils. It is useful to get an approximation of what your BMR is in order to work out how many calories you can consume without putting on weight (note – this is your BMR plus an estimate of how many calories you burn doing day-to-day tasks), and to calculate how many calories you need to lose weight sensibly. Google it and you’ll find calculators all over the internet, just beware that they only serve as a guide and should not be taken too seriously.
Finally, consistency is key and importantly – there is no magic pill, smoothie, shake or food that will make you skinny
Consistency is absolutely key to everything in life if you want to succeed, and diets are no different. Fundamentally, keeping a healthy diet long term is the key to initially losing weight, and then maintaining it. That doesn’t mean no cheat days – everyone needs a cheat day or we would all be utterly miserable – but try to make it a token cheat day at the weekend, or even a cheat meal, rather than “well, I ate a cookie this morning so today is a waste and I can eat what I like.” I’m sorry to say this, and I know it’s very typical but, I think the most productive way to look at weight loss is seeing it as a lifestyle change. Don’t think you’re on a diet, just acknowledge that you now eat like a healthy person, and the desired effects will follow.
And finally, believe me, a magic pill, plant or tea just doesn’t exist. Trust me, as a teen, I tried fucking everything. Name a goddamn diet, and i’ll bet you i’ve had a go. Don’t believe the hype, don’t believe ad campaigns, don’t believe Kylie Jenner and her ‘Flat Tummy Tea’ (all those teas do is give you the shits in the morning). There isn’t a damn herb or spice on this planet that will magically make you drop weight. Supposedly there are some ingredients that promote weight loss, such as green tea and chillies, but the jury’s still out on that one, i’m no scientist but if you think drinking some green tea is going magically to make you skinny, then i’ve got some real bad news…
I hope some of that was at least a little useful. Not everybody wants to be stick-thin with a flat stomach and that’s absolutely fine, but most of us do want to slim down and tone up a little bit here and there, and there’s nothing wrong with that either.
Stay tuned for part 2 ‘Things I Wish i’d known about Exercise a Decade Ago’ which will be a lot shorter because I don’t know half as much about exercise as I do about diet!