1. This blog is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of the guidelines herein is at the sole choice and risk of the reader.
2. I went to art camp in 6th & 7th grade. It obviously failed me. I apologize for the illustrations you're about to see.)
You’ve been trying for a long time to lose weight. You haven’t lost weight.
You probably feel like you literally have no control over your weight. It’s scary.
You feel like there’s not a solution out there for you.
You worry that maybe it really is just your genetics. Maybe you’re always gonna carry this weight.
Luckily, this isn’t the case.
You can regain control of your weight. You just need to change your approach.
First, let’s look at some things potentially sabotaging your weight loss.
Things You Don’t Think Affect Your Fat Loss... That Are Affecting Your Fat Loss
You’re insecure about your weight.
You’re confused why diets don’t work for you like they do your friends.
Confused and insecure.
Know who loves confused and insecure people? Supplement companies. (And people trying to sell MLM supplements on Insta.)
They’re quick to convince you that since your weight loss attempt was futile, there’s something drastically wrong with your body. Something out of your control. (Something hormone related or “toxins” is normally the go to here.)
Lucky for you, X supplement is the solution.
Are your hormones really what’s keeping you from losing weight? Probably not. Is it the toxins? Absolutely not.
Anyone quick to convince you that there is something “wrong” with your body that’s out of your control is likely trying to sell you the “solution”.
*Spoiler alert: your answer isn’t a supplement
Emotional Aspects of Eating
A conversation I had while training a client is permanently burned in my brain.
I was scolding her for the umpteenth time after she admitted that she had another terrible weekend with her diet,
She kept blaming her husband.
“This has nothing to do with your husband. You’re 100% in control of your own life.”
I was irked.
She needs to take more ownership of her diet and her life. I mean c’mon. Why can’t you just see that and diet?
After several more minutes of me being more condescending than I should have...
“Our marriage is on the rocks. Yeah, he brings home shitty food for dinner. But when we all sit down together and eat, that’s the only time it feels like we’re a real family again. It’s comforting.”
And here I was, accusing her of “not wanting it enough”.
It wasn’t at all that she didn’t want to take ownership. In a way, food was a comforting way to briefly escape the reality of her life.
Conclusions from this heartbreaking story:
1. Your environment is stronger than your willpower. If your environment isn’t conducive to positive dietary changes, you’re gonna fail. More on environment later.
2. The reasons we eat are a lot more complex than just “being hungry”. And everyone’s reasons are different.
The environment around you plays a huge role in the foods you eat.
This is an oft-neglected aspect of nutrition and training.
Someday, I’m going to decide to get in shape. I’ll set my mind to it, my willpower will increase exponentially, and I’ll finally be able to follow through.
It’s highly unlikely you’re going to be able to increase your willpower that much, for that long.
The issue isn’t usually that you “don’t want it enough”, it’s that you’re looking to change internal factors (something very difficult to change) to force weight loss, when you should look externally. External factors are much easier to control than changing the essence of who you are as a person.
Six months ago, I was in much worse shape than I am today. I was still an extremely knowledgeable, and driven personal trainer. So why wasn’t I in tip-top shape? I wanted it just as bad as I do today. What was the issue?
1. The gym I trained clients at was also where I worked out. I would get stopped by some work-related issue at least a few times per workout. This drug my workouts out much longer than necessary. In fact, I usually had to cut ‘em short to get to my next training session.
“I’ll finish later, I do work at a gym after all.”
I rarely finished later.
2. I was having trouble sticking to my nutrition plan. I’d track the first half of the day... and then guesstimate that the second half was "close enough" to my calorie goals.
3. I was bored with my workouts. I pour hours into programming for clients. But for myself, I had a tendency to rely on my knowledge to allow me to “wing-it”. This resulted in my workouts being pretty similar for months.
1. I got a membership at another gym. I loved my gym and my clients. But segregating my workouts to another gym that I had to drive to, and giving my workouts a specific (distraction free) time block, made it much easier to complete my workouts.
2. I hired a coach to hold me accountable. I was required to enter my macro totals daily, which meant no more guesstimating. My training programs were laid out for me and required zero mental effort.
Nothing internal changed. I’m not any more motivated now than I was 6 months ago. I simply changed the environment by adding a new gym and bringing another person into my life that would make achieving my goals easier.
Ask yourself: Do I want this? Am working as hard as I can to achieve my goals?
If no: Ok, you do just need to try harder.
If yes, but you still are consistently failing, you need to look at changing external factors to make your success more likely.
For diet specifically, this comes down to looking at what, when, and why you’re eating.
Do specific people trigger you to want to eat, or encourage behaviors detrimental to your goals?
It’s time for a conversation.
If you’re constantly surrounded by food detrimental to your goals, or by people who encourage you to/make you want to eat food detrimental to your goals, you’re gonna eat said food.
To quote John Berardi: “If a food is in your possession or located in your residence, either you, someone you love, or someone you marginally tolerate will eventually eat it.”
Having food you have trouble controlling yourself around, or that often pushes you over your calorie goals, means eventually you’re gonna eat said food. The easiest solution here is to simply not get said food when you go shopping.
If completing eliminating said food from your house isn’t an option:
1. Put your healthier foods/foods you want to focus on in plain sight. On the counter, on your desk at work, even keep your car stocked if fast food stops are tempting on the commute home.
2. Put foods detrimental to your goals out of sight, in harder to reach places.
(*Note: The above IS NOT intended to encourage you to identify "good" or "bad" foods that you should or shouldn't eat. Rather, foods you have trouble controlling yourself around, hindering fat loss.)
Are there specific times where you tend to overeat?
One of my clients would stick to her diet all day, but had a tendency to start craving sweet foods around 9 pm. Most of the time she would give in to the cravings, and end up going over her calorie goal.
When “Just try harder” didn’t work, we instead figured out a low-calorie, sweet snack that she was required to eat nightly at 9 pm.
Suddenly, going over her calorie goal wasn’t an issue. We didn’t place any restrictions on her diet or tell her she couldn’t have the sweets she enjoyed. But by implementing the snack, she just had less desire to overindulge afterward.
Understanding the importance of environment is one of the biggest epiphanies I’ve had as a coach.
I used to constantly stress, because my client's success (and my own success as a coach) depended solely on their willpower to stick to the plan. My clients had to constantly stay motivated in order to get results.
Then it dawned on me: Why not just help clients change their environment to one that requires as little willpower as possible. External factors are much easier to change than internal.
A large part of my coaching service now is devoted to talking clients through the places they spend the most time: at work, at home, in the car, etc… And determine what things we can change.
If you’re always munching on the healthy snacks that you now stock your desk with, so those break room donuts are never as tempting. You still love donuts. But you’re usually full from your desk snacks. So you eat a lot fewer donuts than you used to.
Cheat days: You diet all week, and then reward yourself for your week of good work with a “free day”, eating whatever you want.
Most people look forward to/plan their cheat day all week. By the time 6 days has passed, their list of “have to eat” foods for the cheat day is pretty expansive, and it turns into a day of binge-like eating.
The amount of calories consumed on a cheat day is usually enough to completely erase the work you’ve done the last 6 days. Week after week you’re stuck in the same spot.
It’s like spending all week saving your money and living extremely frugally, only to buy a $5000 dollar apothecary table from Pottery Barn on Saturday.
Despite being miserable all week, your net gain is probably close to zero (at best).
If you’re craving a food, find a way to work it into your calories/diet, in a moderate amount. Don’t establish one specific cheat day. Just focus on keeping 80-90% of your intake whole, nutrient-dense foods. Do whatever your heart desires with the other 10-20%. Your progress will be much better.
Again, it's too easy spend way to much time focusing on getting more motivated, when you should be focused on more easily changed external factors instead. So this is gonna be short.
But, if you want to lose weight, you can’t play the victim.
The scariest, but truest thing ever said is: everything is your fault.
Or rather, how you react to everything is your fault.
Maybe you weren’t blessed with the best genetics. Or kids made fun of you in high school.
But no one is coming to save you. No supplement, cleanse, or wrap is going to lose the weight for you.
Eventually, you’re going to have to put in months of consistent, hard work if you ever want to change.
K, ready to take ownership? Perfect, let’s move on.
Majoring In The Minors
Diets often fail due to people getting super caught up in stuff that makes very little difference to their fat loss. Things like:
Controlling sodium intake
Eliminating artificial sweeteners
All this stuff matters. But in the big picture of your weight loss, it’s not nearly as important as:
Being in a calorie deficit
Moving a lot daily
If you don’t know how many calories you’re eating, don’t worry about when you’re eating, or taking a fat burner. You're "putting the cart in front of the horse".
There’s lots of noise in the fitness industry, trying to sell you on something that will make a minuscule difference for your weight loss. Stay focused on the important stuff.
The Important Stuff
Tied with calorie deficit for the most important factor of fat loss.
Your diet needs to be something you can stick to for a long time.
Even fast weight loss doesn’t happen that fast.
In one of the most dramatic transformations I’ve seen, a client lost a bit over 90 lbs of fat in a year. He’s literally a completely different person, physically and mentally.
But it took a whole year.
Remember that insanely long stretch of time between Stranger Things: Season One and Stranger Things: Season Two? Just a bit over a year.
So yeah. You need to find something you can stick to for a long time.
To figure out what you can adhere to right now, you need to determine what trade-offs you’re willing to make. Fitness is all about the trade-off. Faster results always come with the trade-off of you giving more in return (time, energy, etc.)
Onboarding a new client, determining trade-offs looks something like:
“Are you willing to plan meals ahead, and track/meet specific macronutrient goals within 5 grams daily, in a trade-off for extremely fast progress?”
“Aight. Are you willing to track your calories + hit a daily calorie goal in exchange for a bit slower (but still good) progress?”
“I hate the idea of tracking TBH.”
“K, tracking’s out the window. Are you willing to follow the handful diet method? Good results, no tracking…. But with the trade-off of having to prep ahead and less flexibility with foods?”
...And so on and so forth.
It could come all the way down to:
“Are you willing to drink 2 sodas a week instead of 4?”
“Yes. That I can do.”
Lit! That’s your starting point.
No need to feel guilty, or try to force yourself into something you’re not sure you’ll be able to stick to.
The beauty of this is, as you progress, the list of trade-offs you’re willing to make will continue to grow. But by asking yourself to do more than you want to, or can do right now, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Constantly reassess what trade-offs you’re willing to make. If you’re not at least 90% confident you can stick to a trade-off, don’t attempt it.
1b. Calorie Deficit
Why yes, I did draw that myself.
If adherence is 1a, this is 1b. You can’t lose weight without either.
When you take in fewer calories than you burn in a day, you’re in a calorie deficit. Your body doesn’t have enough external fuel to burn, so it finds internal fuel (your fat, and sometimes muscle).
Creating a calorie deficit is literally the only way to lose fat (outside liposuction).
You simply have to eat fewer calories than you burn in a day.
(Now, it’s much more complex than “Eating X amount of calories = continuous weight loss. As you eat less, hormonal changes and metabolic adaptation come into play. Check out this blog: Why Fat Loss Stalls (And What To Do))
But still, it all boils down to creating a calorie deficit. Literally, every diet in existence that works, is because, in some way, shape, or form, it puts you in a calorie deficit. Yes, that includes Keto, Paleo, Veganism, and Intermittent fasting.
The same principle applies to gaining fat.
Fat gain comes from eating in a calorie surplus. Eating more calories than you burn in a day. There are no specific foods, diets, etc., that cause you to gain fat.
You can get fat by overeating literally any food that puts you in a calorie surplus. You can lose weight while eating any food that allows a calorie deficit.
(*Note: dieting isn’t a lifestyle, and you don’t need to be scared of eating in a calorie surplus from time to time. For more about how to eat to maximize muscle growth and minimize fat gain, read this blog.)
All foods contain some combination of the three macronutrients:
1. Protein (4 kcal per gram)
2. Carbohydrates (4 kcal per gram)
3. Fat (9 kcal per gram)
Understand the importance of each macro is crucial to maintaining a health as you diet. Let’s start with...
When it comes to weight loss, protein is the macronutrient that makes the process easiest. It’s also the one that most beginners are under-consuming.
...So, why do you need protein?
1. Protein and the accompanying amino acids it supplies are essential to a variety of bodily processes: building muscle, bone health, and producing hormones and antibodies, just to name a few.
If you under consume protein, looking AND feeling healthy will be extremely difficult.
2. Protein also has the highest thermic effect of all the macronutrients. It takes energy/calories for your body to digest any food, this is the thermic effect of food (TEF). Protein takes more energy/calories to digest than any of the other macros.
By increasing the percentage of your calories consumed as protein, you’re increasing the number of calories you burn of daily via TEF.
3. What’s the number one thing that makes dieting hard?
Uhhhh I'm hungry...
Exactly. Protein is the most satiating of all the macronutrients. It keeps you full the longest. Being full, longer makes dieting much easier.
How much protein should I eat?
Protein is an essential macronutrient. Under consuming protein can create serious health issues.
As a general recommendation, you’ll get the peak benefits of protein by eating .8-1 gram per lb of body weight, daily.
Past this point, more isn’t better. You can eat quite a bit of protein without any negative effects, but you won’t get “extra gainz” for eating more.
How do I eat that much protein?
Say you’re a 130 lbs woman. Following the typical Western diet, you’re likely eating around 50 grams of protein per day. Well below the recommended 100-130 grams per day.
Trying to go from eating 20-30 grams of protein/day to over 100 is a drastic change.
Some strategies to make it easier for ya:
1: Don’t try to do it all at once. Just gradually increase your daily protein intake by 20 grams per week, until you hit the mark.
2: Spread your protein intake throughout the day. People tend to try to eat their protein in big chunks. Going for a 12 oz piece of chicken at lunch and then maybe a shake to do ‘em for the day.
There’s nothing wrong with this approach (it’s a myth that your body can only absorb 30 grams of protein at a time. Read this.). But if you’re the 130 lb woman from above, eating 12 oz of chicken in one sitting is gonna be extremely hard for ya.
Just spread it out.
Here’s a sample layout of a 130 gram day of protein.
3 egg whites: 11 grams
1 whole egg: 7 grams
1.5 cups Fairlife skim milk: 20 grams
4 oz chicken breast: 26 grams
Whey protein shake: 24 grams
1 cup Greek yogurt: 19 grams
4 oz beef patty: 23 grams
Slice of American cheese: 5 grams
For a grand total of 135 grams of protein. Doable, right?
Once you have a diet that you can adhere to, and know for a fact that you’re in a calorie deficit, the next logical step is to focus on protein consumption.
If you’re tracking:
Multiply bodyweight X .8-1. That’s your protein intake. If you’re very obese, this is going to give you a crazy high number. Use the below prescription instead.
If you’re not tracking:
Men: Eat 6-8 palm-sized portions of protein dense food per day
Women: Eat 4-6 palm-sized portions of protein dense food per day
Just like protein, fat is an essential macronutrient. Under consuming fat can create serious health issues. (Notably, Omega-3 deficiencies and hormone production issues.)
High-fat, low-carb diets are extremely popular lately. I encourage you not to think of any diets as “bad” or “good”, some just work better for specific populations than others.
The most important factor of your diet isn’t how it’s perceived by the public, but your ability to adhere to it.
The ketogenic diet is especially popular. Ketosis is the process of your body essentially “switching fuel sources” after being deprived of carbohydrates. Your body now runs off of ketones (basically, fat) as its main fuel source.
Sooo doesn’t running off fat mean I burn more fat?
Well, yes and no. You do burn lots of fat.
You’re also eating lots more fat.
And just like any other diet, the keto diet only causes you to lose fat if you’re in a calorie deficit. Not by any magical fat burning properties that allow you to eat everything you want.
Despite what you’ve heard, carbs don’t make you fat. Overeating any food or macro makes you fat.
Carbs are non-essential. You’ll be perfectly fine without ‘em.
Does that mean you should go keto? Not necessarily.
From the adherence perspective; if you love carbs, attempting to go low-carb is likely going to make your diet much harder to sustain.
From the physiological perspective; carbs are your body’s preferred fuel source. Low carb intake means your ability to generate explosive force is much more limited. This impacts your ability to build muscle and strength in training sessions.
None of this is to say low-carb diets are “bad”. Again, it’s just about finding the diet you enjoy most and can stick to.
Takeaways from all this macro talk:
None of the macronutrients are “bad”.
None of the macros “make you fat” in isolation. Over consuming calories from any combination of macronutrients makes you fat.
You need adequate protein and fat to be healthy.
Generally, a diet that is fairly balanced between the macronutrients is easiest to adhere to. That being said, find what works best for you.
Many foods also contain key vitamins and minerals essential to staying healthy. These include:
Vitamin A- Good sources include...
Ugh ok. You’re gonna skim this boring ass list (at best) and forget it all. And writing a list of vitamins and their benefits sounds mind-numbing.
Let’s not make this complicated.
Basically, fruits and veggies + all unprocessed foods have tons of nutrients in ‘em. Your body needs these nutrients to function optimally. If you don’t eat enough of ‘em, you’ll feel crappy.
To feel good, and for optimal health, trying to eat mostly whole, unprocessed food is a good idea.
Eat a diverse diet, full of lots of colors.
And seriously. Eat some vegetables. At least a few servings a day.
Simple enough? Good. Thank you for not making me write that list.
Thus concludes “The Important Stuff”.
Shorter list than you expected?
Past this point is all the little things people who can’t lose weight get caught up in, while forgetting “The Important Stuff”. We’re not gonna go there.
Just know “The not-so-important stuff” includes: supplements, meal timing, sodium intake, etc... Waist wraps, detoxes, and juice cleanses don’t make any list, as they have zero effect on fat loss.
If you have any questions about the above, feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm happy to help.
COMING NEXT WEEK: STRATEGIES FOR CREATING A CALORIE DEFICIT (working title).