The Best Way to Lose Weight and Stay Fit
Everybody wants their body to look different. When is the last time you met someone who was completely happy with their physique and wouldn't like to drop an inch or two here or there, lose a few pounds, turn ‘soft muscle’ (AKA unwanted fat) into actual muscle, or just reallocate their poundage?
My personal saga with weight loss has fit into all of these categories at some point over the past three years, and I've tried tirelessly to diet, adjust workout regimens, alter nutritional intakes, increase and reduce eating and physical activity, etc. My wife would probably tell you that I have body dismorphia (and she’s certainly not wrong), but the simple fact is that I know what I ultimately want to look like, and if I keep that in mind it is more difficult to stray too far.
So for me, the ultimate answer can be boiled down to two simple words: balance & control.
I don’t cut carbs, I refuse to starve myself, and I avoid eating schedules or regimes when it comes to my food. Deprivation is not the answer, and I feed my belly whenever it needs catering (notice, I did not say “gorge my belly”). I still relish my indulgences, but in a more timely manner. It takes some discipline, but is well worth the effort.
The first ploy I took a crack at was a diet from “The 4-Hour Body” by Timothy Ferriss; I was about 180lbs when I started. The practices and principles in Ferriss’ dissertation on eating and exercise sounded rational, the methodology seemed reasonable, and the sustainability seemed doable. So for five months I endeavored the slow carb diet, which at its most basic form is six days of no sugar, starches or“fast carbs”, and then on the seventh day, the cheat day, it’s a non-stop, eat-till-your-sick indulgence – oh, there were some glorious cheat days! Thank you IHOP! To shorten the story, I revert back to my theory of deprivation not being the answer; calorie confusion is one thing, but to completely cut out such significant food groups is absolutely unsustainable. So I slowly lost about 15 pounds over 5 months on the diet, which I was fairly happy with. However, the social implications of just being ‘weird’ at family dinners or saying, “no, I can’t eat that today” at friendly barbecues which were not on cheat days became intolerable. Aside from that, I was a slave to the stove, cooking a week's worth of lunches and snacks every Sunday just to sustain the week, and that does not include preparing dinner nightly (I had a young baby at the time, so cooking everyday is not always manageable). The diet ended. But now that I was able to eat ‘normal’ again, the cravings became fierce and overwhelming. I missed eating sandwiches at work and having a potato with my chicken, etc. So without even trying, I systematically gained back 25lbs within 8 weeks and was a whopping 190lbs, more than I had ever weighed!
I'm not alone in my take of the 4-Hour body; this article was posted on the Harvard Business Review and similarly negates the effectiveness and sustainability.
It took some time to regain a grip on my eating habits, and by combining thoughtful meals and snacks with a workout regimen of cardio 3x per week and weights 3x per week I was slowly able to gain control. I also participated in a Tough Mudder race with some buddies, so the fear of not being able to finish the race helped me to stay on track. But with my personality, working out soon became a subsequent addiction. I started lifting weights 6x per week and constantly looking up new workout theories and routines to build mass. But the bottom line is that everyone’s body works differently. I wouldn’t look like Taylor Lautner if I did 3,000 sit-ups and 6,000 crunches per day, my genes are just not the same. So the working out actually just bulked me up. I wasn't getting cut or ripped, just massive, and not in a good way – I hate that look. I've got a small head; I don’t want a huge chest!
So how could I shed some pounds now? Crash diet?
The starvation diet (where I essentially cut my daily calories to a negligible amount, just enough to keep me alive) lasted about two weeks for me. I'm lucky I stopped before I completely threw my metabolism into a tailspin. Think about the words "starvation" and "deprivation" - do you believe they could be associated with anything that's ultimately good for your body? What actually happens when you eat less is your metabolism slows, impeding the ability to actually lose weight. When you curb your metabolism, your body naturally adjusts and stores more fat while exerting less calories throughout the day thus making it more difficult, maybe impossible, to lose weight (so don't be scared to eat!). Oh, and not to mention your breath when you are that hungry could probably drop a charging elephant in its tracks!
On top of the physical issues, there are emotional challenges galore! You know the feeling you get when you are hungry, right? Irritable! Who wants to walk around with that chip on their shoulder all day? And I won't take credit for coining this term, but "hangry" is a great way to describe the feeling - hungry + angry.
If you want to know what level of caloric intake suits your body, I've found that this calorie calculator is very helpful.
Ok, so fad diets and crash diets are out. What's next?
Ever hear of HIIT (high-intensity interval training)? How about Insanity from Beachbody? Shaun T. runs a mean infomercial! I wanted to look like the guys on TV, so I gave it a whirl. I do believe in the principles of HIIT to lose fat and gain lean muscle, but my issue was food. Not the kinds of food, but the amount. When I was doing HIIT for 5-6 days per week I was eating like a malnourished dog – probably about 800 calories more than I needed to sustain my weight daily. So the bulk didn't go away, it just moved to different places.
I felt like I couldn't win. But if you have any faith in some sort of higher power, you might understand what happened to me next. A recurring back injury sparked up. After ignoring it in the past, I decided to check it out and it turned out to be a herniated disc. Two epidurals and cortisone shots later, the pain has subsided. But I was about eight weeks removed from the gym or any physical activity. You’d think that was bad – but actually I lost the mass, shed some of the fat, and felt really good. Since then, this is what I've incorporated to maintain my weight and help my body look proportionate:
To wrap this up, just one final note on control. The ability to just say no to certain things has helped me immensely. Bagels, pizza, desserts, snacks, etc. are consumed daily in my office, just not by me. I keep snacks and meals around that are much safer. At restaurants, I completely avoid the horrible foods – there is a week's worth of calories in some meals when you eat out, and this can be detrimental to anything good you've done. The upside is that once you begin to see results, it gets easier to stay on track. Good luck to you and please share your stories as well!