Thursday, July 12, 2012

So you say you want to get in shape...

but you're not exactly sure how to start. You've tried before, but failed and are currently convinced that your body is magic and just won't lose the weight.

I'm here to tell you, with some assistance from the internet, that you're wrong.

Your body is NOT magic. You CAN lose weight. You WILL lose weight. If you WANT to do it and are willing to put in the time and effort to do so.

The short version of this whole post is this (roughly in order, but that's up to you):
  • Be honest with yourself.
  • Set reasonable goals.
  • Take pictures of yourself right now, in your skivvies and save it for later. You'll be glad you have that when you're setting up your "after" picture.
  • Measure yourself (e.g. chest, waist, hip, thigh, upper arm). Track how those numbers change over time.
  • Weigh yourself, but take what the scale says with a grain of salt and only track your weight weekly.
  • Count (and track!) your calories.
  • Weigh your food.
  • Drink lots of water. No, more than that, lots of water.
  • Sleep.
  • Layer in exercise after you've gotten the hang of tracking your food intake.
  • Give your body time to rest between workouts.
  • Weight training is fantastic for both men and women. (Forget terms like "tone".
  • Updated to add: My friend S (She of Red Flashlight) reminded me that it's also great to get support from your friends and family on your weight loss journey. More thoughts on that way down below.

Don't bother reading magazines that suggest you can get "bikini ready" in 6 weeks. Skip any magazine that tells you that you can lose X pounds in Y time period, and oh! here's the latest recipe for this great summer time dessert! All of those folks just want to sell you crap. Mostly the concept that you suck and that you need to be skinny and yet eat all of these yummy, well photographed convenience foods.

Weight loss is about calories in vs. calories out. The hardest part is being honest with yourself and properly tracking your food intake. Get yourself a kitchen scale and sign up for myfitnesspal.com - a calorie tracking website where you can log what you eat, track your measurements and progress.

"There is an inflexible law of physics — energy taken in must exactly equal the number of calories leaving the system when fat storage is unchanged. Calories leave the system when food is used to fuel the body. To lower fat content — reduce obesity — one must reduce calories taken in, or increase the output by increasing activity, or both."
-- http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/10/health/nutrition/q-and-a-are-high-protein-low-carb-diets-effective.html?_r=1

Weigh your food. Eyeballing whether that chicken breast is 4 oz or 6 oz is not going to cut it. Start your diet by first tracking all the things you are currently eating this week. Note that you are the only one looking at this information and that if you lie to yourself about the data, you are not going to have significant progress in weight loss. The first step is to tell yourself the truth. After you've documented your actual intake for a week, I bet you can look right at the list of food you're eating and immediately know which kinds of foods to cut out.

Just in case you don't know, here are my suggestions:
  1. Any liquid calories other than water, coffee or tea (I only leave those latter pair in because I know how hard it is to give up caffeine in our daily lives).
  2. Candy.
  3. Snack size anything other than vegetables.
  4. Fast food.
  5. Food ridiculously high in sodium.
  6. Daily desserts.
  7. Any food you eat that you justify as you "deserve" to have it, you've "earned it" or "you only live once". No one is trying to take anything from you. Remember that you have made the decision to lose weight. Thoughts that keep you focussed on food you're weak towards will only drag you down. Also, keep in mind that dieting is meant to be temporary. What is meant to be permanent is your relationship to food and the knowledge that you are what you eat means the difference between being healthy or unhealthy.

Over 1/3rd of the American population is obese. Houston, we clearly have a problem here. -- http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html/

Once you've started tracking, cut out the "low hanging fruit", it will be time to have a look at the rest of your diet. Is it primarily made up of convenience foods? Guess what? That kind of food, while fast to make, isn't good for you in the long run. Have a look at the ingredient list. Do you recognize those ingredients as food? It's time to eat real food again and it will take effort. It's up to you to decide how much effort you want to put into making food for your daily meals, but remember that you will pay for your choice with your health.

http://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/unhappy-meals/

OK, so you've got your food under control, but you're desperate to lose weight so you're thinking you can lose 2 lbs or more a week if you starve yourself. Don't do it. My Fitness Pal will make suggestions, you get to choose how fast or slow you want to lose the weight and set your calories appropriately, but I'll tell you right now that if you're eating well in excess of 2500 or more calories per day, if you suddenly try to cut it all down to 1200 calories per day you're going to hate your life. And then you'll fail at weight loss again. Instead, consider trying to lose 1 lb a week. That's 3500 calories you would need to cut out of a week's worth of food - 500 calories a day. Want 2 lbs? OK, but that's 1000 calories, on average, every day. Set a reasonable weight loss rate as your goal that you can handle and stick to it.

You didn't gain all this weight in a month, you surely won't lose it in a month. It may take you years to lose it, if you have a significant amount of weight to lose. That's OK, though, because you're in this for the long haul. This is the only body you get and the sooner you stop taking it for granted, the sooner you will get healthier.

Take pictures of yourself, right now, just as you are today. Do it in your skivvies, or your bathing suit or your workout gear. That photo is the truth about what you currently weigh and what you currently look like. No matter what you may think you weigh, that picture is the actuality of it. You don't have to show it to anyone, but you do have to face up to it. It can be your motivation. It will be your "before" photo. Trust me, you'll appreciate it in a few months as you progress.

Take your measurements. Get a tape measure and note your chest, waist, hip, thigh and upper arm measurements. As you progress in weight loss, you may reach a point where you think nothing is happening if the needle on the scale isn't budging. It's very likely, though, that you are going through a period of body recomposition and are losing inches but not pounds. This is much more important to pay attention to than your weight on the scale.

Weigh yourself. Jot that starting number down. You can weigh yourself daily or weekly or monthly, but remember that your weight will fluctuate wildly depending on the amount of water you're currently retaining, what time of day you weigh yourself, whether you had a big meal late at night or any number of other reasons. I recommend weighing yourself first thing in the morning, but only tracking your weight once a week. Do not freak out when the number on the scale remains the same. That would be a great time to check your measurements again. Your body is an amazing instrument but all a scale can actually tell you is the effect of gravity upon your mass. That's it. It doesn't know the difference between the fat you or the more muscled you. Don't panic.

Thoughts on the scale from MFP:  http://www.myfitnesspal.com/blog/BruteSquad/view/the-scale-281137

Paper towel theory of weight loss. A great analogy. http://www.healthyweightforum.org/eng/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=16540

Drink lots of water. No, more like lots of water. Eight or more glasses per day. First off, it will help to stave off feelings of hunger and will assist in weight loss. Often we don't drink as much as we should and it leads to snacking. It also helps to flush your bodies waste products. It's good for you and it's free. Squeeze a little lemon or lime in there if you want. Drink up!

Get some sleep. If you're sleeping, you're not eating and your body has a chance to rebuild and repair your cells as well as burn more fat.


Get active. I left this for last since this is the section I could rant on and on about, but honestly, if you aren't controlling your diet you can exercise all you want but you can never outrun your fork. Don't try to diet, run and lift weights all at the same time. You will get frustrated and quit. Layer in additional levels of exercise after you've gotten in the habit of putting down your fork and saying no to all of those tempting snack foods. There are a ton of sites out there that recommend doing this or that for losing weight. At the end of the day, it's all about controlling your intake and then getting a move on.

Start by walking. It's free and you already know how to do it. Track your mileage, speed and route with Runkeeper or any similar running program. If you're a goofy geek like me, join Fitocracy and sync your Runkeeper to your fitocracy account and get points just like a character in a video game.

Fitocracy is the game you play to improve your fitness. Track your progress, compete against your friends, and get real world results. It’s time to be fitter and look better naked.

Also, what could be more fun than leveling up, running fitness quests and making new friends online? Getting fit, that's what!

If you're feeling like you want a challenge, get off the couch and start running. The Couch to 5K program may be just what you need to move your weight loss along. Also, cardio is the first rule of Zombieland. It also helps you to keep up with your kids or pets or catch that bus. Very useful.

Weight training is awesome and filled with win. I highly recommend Starting Strength and have heard good things about You Are Your Own Gym, The New Rules of Lifting for Women and Strong Lifts. You will not get "bulky" if you're a woman. That's just utter crap. Also, how many times in your life have you ever wished you were weaker? Here's a great article on the myth of toning. There are so many fantastic resources out there related to getting fit, I can't possibly list them all. There's also an even larger helping of crap and lies. For a really great overall site, with a fun writing style, have a look at Nerd Fitness. He's awesome and so is Staci who shows us how it's done.

Get support from friends and family members. You know what else is great about losing weight? Doing it with someone else. Someone you can suffer with, share the highs and lows with, and with whom you can trade ideas or provide feedback on your weightloss journey. ("Honey, that 170lb squat makes your ass legs look fantastic!") It also makes it a lot easier to get into the gym if there's someone else who you, out of the goodness of your heart of course, have to ensure makes it to the gym. They need you to get them going. Sometimes it's easier if we play head games on ourselves, to keep going even when your motivation is low. Having someone else to depend on and who is depending on you is fantastic.

That being said, there will be plenty of friends or family members that will not like you getting in shape. That, however, is a topic big enough for a whole other post. It's incredibly important for you to be self motivated when it comes to weight loss since you are the only one putting the fork in your mouth. It's also why you may note that fitocracy.com and myfitnesspal.com are both social sites. Take advantage of the tremendous number of people - currently strangers - that are willing to give you a fist bump or virtual highfive for any attempt or success you post. Those strangers can turn out to be great fitness friends if you let them!

So you want to be in shape? Get up and get going. You can do it. Have a look at reddit's Lose It to see thousands of ordinary people, just like you and me, who are losing weight and talking about it. There's no magic. No way around it but hard work and sticktoitiveness.

You can do it.

4 comments:

Courtney at RRI said...

Wow, you're absolutely right about darn near everything in this post! People can get so caught up in the mental game of weight loss and expect to lose it overnight, or some miracle LOSE 20 POUNDS IN 30 DAYS cure is going to fix their problems.

The issue long-term is with our own behaviors and patterns, not what magic food we're eating or not. Hope the message gets out there!

Red Flashlight said...

Great article! Ima repost it.

Connie Fuller said...

This is a great article, I will repost this link.

AC Leming said...

I lost about 15-20 pounds in about three months after I was diagnosed with food allergies, which kept me sluggish, easily fatigued & prone to getting sick (which environmental allergies will do too). I yoyo-ed 5-7 lbs of weight loss & gain until I got back on the regular walking schedule with the pups (down to one now) and still struggle with getting those weight lifting sessions in. It's gotta be a life-style change you plan on doing. And setting up an oh-sh!t plan, when your day falls apart. Will share your blog post, if I may.

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