I am pretty sure there is not much need to tell you why it makes sense to be at a healthy weight. The situation leading to the need of losing weight is often something like this: years of unhealthy eating and living a comfortable couch potato life taking their toll. Now you have decided – or at least already have a feeling that – it’s time to lose weight and get fit.
Congratulations on your intention. Now it is time to make a feasible plan to reach your goal. I am very excited that I might be able to show you what I experienced when I was at this same exact point. Hopefully you get inspired or even take away some of the lessons I learned the hard way.
There are only two major areas that you will have to cover, as the process of losing weight always has two main challenges: losing weight itself and maintaining your goal weight.
The good news: During the last years I have found my personal favorite way to lose weight and I am really happy to share it with you. The bad news: I am still figuring out a sustainable way to maintain my goal weight. At the time of this writing I am currently on my second cycle of re-gaining and losing weight (8 kg down to 97 kg so far with a goal weight of 85 kg). I really think I am on a good path this time to also keep my goal weight in the long run, but more on that later.
Main challenge 1: Actually losing weight
Starting the journey does not come easy to everyone
For me to start a weight loss journey is always a mental thing in the beginning. Not ever have I been triggered by external factors. Sure, those factors can be motivational and help. But never did I start down this path because someone or something else made me do it. I guess what I am trying to say is that no matter how you start, you have to want it yourself. Your own commitment is crucial and only you can help yourself get better. The rest is just positive/negative background noise that you absolutely can ignore – if you wish to. It’s also not that I have ever successfully set a specific date in the future for the ideal start. It always just happened naturally. A day where the stars seemed to have aligned right somehow and I just knew that was the day to start down this path. No secret hints, no hidden clues – it was just a feeling that it was the right day to begin losing weight. I admire people that can force themselves to start at will and keep at it. I never have been that strong. But once I was ready, luckily I was brutally focused and determined to finish what I started.
The secret to losing weight: there actually is none
You have to eat less calories than your body burns. That is all you have to do to lose weight. As for weight loss alone it does not even matter what you are eating. You could diet on coke and pizza if you just stay at a calorie deficit. Of course I would not recommend that. Most likely you will burn through the calories from such a diet quite quickly and be hungry for the rest of the day. Also, if you do this for a longer period of time, you will not get all the nutrients that you body needs to function properly.
There are tons of online resources that tell you – based on studies and statistics – what a good calorie limit is for you, given your gender, weight, height, age, and other factors. With some calculators you can even define the rate at which you want to reach your target weight. It will generate a very good forecast on when you will probably reach your goal. Personally I like to go at it very aggressively but there are many people that go at a very slow pace. Slowly decreasing their calorie intake and spanning their journey over several years even. In any case: the hard part is your discipline and commitment to stay in a daily caloric deficit.
A new kind of diary: calorie counting
You will find many tools that help you translate what you are eating all day long into its caloric value. Two of the most used apps are MyFitnessPal and LoseIt. Both have many similar features and make it really is easy of keeping track. Even if you are still in the progress of thinking about losing weight and have not started yet I suggest you try to log a few days. You will be surprised about the results. You most likely will also stumble upon the abbreviation CICO which simply stands for “calories in, calories out”, which exactly stands for calorie counting.
Most apps provide large databases with most common foods already pre-stored so that you do not have to manually put in the nutrient information which you on the package of most food products. Not only do they provide you with the calorie information but also with makro nutrient information (carbohydrates, fats and proteins), additional information about amount of saturated fats and sugar content, and other nutrients like e.g. sodium. You will learn to cherish this information in your quest for a healthy diet.
The unbeatable power duo: CICO + Keto
Calorie counting is nice as it makes sure you are losing weight. Still you should consider what you put into your body daily. This is where the ketogenic diet (keto) really comes in handy. Keto is a form of low carb, high fat diet. This means you try to limit your daily net carbohydrate intake to less than approx. 20 g and get the bigger part of your calories from fats and proteins.
In reality 20 g is almost nothing and carbs are in everything that tastes good: sugar (sweets, desserts, ice cream), flour (bread, pasta, pizza), rice and many other food items that you are used to at the moment. That is why many people cannot imagine doing the keto diet.
The main reason why I swear by this diet is that it sets your body into a very special mode. Carbohydrates are what make you full quickly but which are almost immediately burned by your body and sadly also converted into body fat. By almost eliminating carbohydrates your body is forced to power on alternatives which means it automatically will start consuming the body fat your are so dreading.
And after all there are plenty of things you can eat. E.g. eggs, meat, cheese, fats/oils, (green) vegetables and much more. The keto online community is very happy to share many keto recipes. Also many recipes that try to mimic things you should not eat. There are delicious replacements for many “normal” things. You can search for: “fathead pizza dough”, “cloud bread”, “keto pancakes”, “chocolate peanut butter lava cake” as examples. There are also many keto food supplies available in online stores (no sugar syrup, keto bread baking mix, etc.). You will find many recipes that use ingredients you like but which you just have not thought of yet.
So in short and simplified: CICO makes you lose weight and Keto tells your body how/where to lose it. Sadly there does not seem to be a way to target specific body regions.
Additional thoughts on keto
- You need around three days of keto diet until your body starts switching to body fat burn mode.
- Some people are prone to developing symptoms comparable to the flu but actually are not the flu. You will find detailed information if you search for “keto flu”.
- There are so called “keto strips” which you can buy online and which you can use to detect ketone traces in your urine. Really helpful to determine if you are in keto mode or not.
- If you switch back to a non-keto diet you will fall out of keto mode within one or two days.
- In our household I am the only person on keto diet. That means that I am preparing my food separately which sometimes can be time consuming. I am currently forming the habit of prepping my meals during the week on sundays. When you are used to it you are done in two hours and do not have to worry what you will be eating during the week. Also helps save a lot of money by almost eliminating spending money on eating out.
- Search for “keto food pyramid” if you want a quick overview which food is good for a keto diet and which is not.
Cut yourself some slack
Don’t feel too afraid if you fall off the bandwagon one day. Many people willingly include cheat days into their diet. I don’t as that would seriously jeopardize my overall discipline but there are rare occasions where you just want to enjoy yourself and not think about eating healthy. If that happens, don’t be too hard on yourself. Accept it, get back on track the next day, and forget about it. No need to worry. It won’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
Another thing you will experience is that weight loss over time is not necessarily linear. Especially in the beginning you will lose your first kilos quite fast. Do not be alarmed if weight loss slows down. There are even phases where you will not lose any weight for several days or weeks. That is the dreaded plateau. Do not let it deter you and keep on going. One day you will suddenly surpass it and make a noticeable decrease in weight.
There are many different diets out there. Take a look and apply what you think will work for you. But make sure you find a balanced diet. It does not necessarily have to be keto.
The importance of activity / sports
Ideally while losing weight you start to form habits of being more active or even do sports regularly. To be honest for weight loss alone my experience is that almost 80% is diet. Still I absolutely suggest being more active as it has many benefits. You will feel better, you will have more energy, you will tell your body to not only lose weight but to also get in shape. Again you do not have to start out extreme. Decide to sometimes take the stairs instead of the elevator. Take a longer walk instead of browsing Facebook endlessly.
Main challenge 2: Maintaining goal weight
Transition from painful diet to healthy lifestyle mindset
Sadly I am not yet very successful at maintaining my goal weight yet. But I am very optimistic about this weight loss journey. The key again is quite simple: To recognize the journey as a one way trip and not as round trip. You do not want to lose weight and pick up your old habits again. You want to build new habits that are meant to stay and will form your new lifestyle.
I deliberately used the word diet throughout this post as to not give the impression of someone who wants to forcefully impose his ideas onto you. Personally I try to adapt new habits that will support me in sustaining my goal weight for good. As such I really like the thought of seeing diets as part of a chosen lifestyle.
Making the kitchen one of my favorite places
This time I took the opportunity to make several changes to our kitchen that makes it a much more inviting place. Nowadays the first thing when getting home from work is to spend one or two hours in the kitchen to cook and eat dinner, even spending time reading and listening to music. I think that greatly helps in my effort to keep my weight, because I am now able to enjoy spending quality time in an area that naturally leads to activities that help me do something good for my daily diet.
Celebrating meal prep Sunday
Also meal prepping on Sundays for the next work week has improved my eating habits a lot. I surely won’t prepare every single week or always full weeks in advance but I will keep this habit as long as possible. Even if I switch to another form of diet. Not only do I have full control on what food I use in my recipes but I am also saving a lot of time/stress and money. Nowadays I just stroll to the fridge, take out the daily container and re-heat it in the microwave for 2 minutes. That is in total not more than 5 minutes to get a full healthy and delicious food during my stressful workday. Many ingredients can be bought in bulk and last a long time. So initial spending might be a tad higher but in the long run a meal runs 30% cheaper (or even more) than at any external food place. Preparation time on the first weekend was quite long – I spent four or five hours in the kitchen. And the output was basically one single meal that I had to eat every day. Already the second time around I spent less than two hours to prepare three separate dishes for five work days. I can see myself doing that quite regularly.