How to Lose Weight Without Dieting More Nonsense Than You Need To
We don’t talk much about weight loss here at Lifehacker, mainly because weight loss is a thing that our culture says too much. If you take a little time for it, you will find yourself on a slippery slope: “the more you lose weight, the better”, and you think about food and exercise only in terms of how they can shrink your body.
In other words, I hate it when publications put information about “health” and “fitness” behind slimming lenses, because there is so much more in these areas of life. Food is both fuel and pleasure; exercise can make us healthier as well as improve our sports activities or the things we want to do in our daily life. This is all true regardless of your body size.
But you can lose weight if you really want to. Perhaps a health professional has advised you to do this, or perhaps you have your own reasons. (As a dumbass, my reasons are usually to “shed some of the fat I gained in my last mass so I can go back to building muscle.”) However, if you feel like you’re constantly trying to lose weight at the National Association Eating Disorders have a helpline and many online resources that can help you. Your mental health is more important than your body size.
Therefore, I am not going to convince you that you have to lose weight, and I am not going to assume that everyone wants to. But today I’m going to share with you the basic facts about how weight loss works, so that you get it as neutral information, and not as part of an advertising campaign for a new fashionable diet.
Difference between losing weight and losing weight
When people talk about “losing weight,” they almost always want to lose fat in particular.
Your body is made up of different tissues. Fat one; muscle is different. Then you have bones and organs, and there is water in all of those tissues. (Water is a good and normal ingredient: if you could completely dry out the human body, you would have jerky.)
People in the fitness world love to talk about body fat percentage. The lower it is, the less fat on your body. And the less fat you have – the “leaner” you are in that jargon – the more noticeable your muscles are. If you want to be “toned,” it means that you need muscles, but at the same time you need to be slim enough to see them.
Don’t worry about your body fat percentage or trying to measure muscle mass, because the scales used to measure it are often very, very wrong . There are more accurate means – in some states you might ask for medical grade DEXA scans just for fun – but even they have their error bars, and in truth, it doesn’t matter. Nothing useful can be done with these numbers.
On the other hand, the base scale gives you a single number (your weight) that masks all this complexity. This is a useful tool, but make sure you don’t just chase the number on the scale. If you lose a ton of weight, you may lose both muscle and fat, and in the end it will disappoint you. Muscle mass is important to health , to say the least.
So let’s go over the basics of weight change.
When you gain weight, you gain fat and possibly muscle
If you regularly exercise with weights (like lifting weights), your body wants to build muscle. If you are consuming enough protein for your workouts, you will gain a little more muscle. It is not easy to gain a lot of muscle mass, at least when you get to the beginning stage.
Unless you are training with weights, you usually gain weight primarily from fat.
When you lose weight, you lose fat and muscle.
When you don’t eat enough food, your body uses its own tissues to fuel you. Some of it is fat, and this is what you strive for when you say you want to “lose weight.” The trouble is that muscles are often lost along with it.
Therefore, when you are losing weight, you need to try to lose as little muscle as possible. To do this, engage in strength training and make sure you are consuming enough protein to maintain it.
Another important factor is that you will retain most of the muscle if you lose weight slowly. It could be a pound a week, but for a smaller person it could be as little as half a pound a week. On the other hand, a slow diet is usually easy to follow since you eat almost as much as you normally would.
Is it possible to lose weight without losing weight?
Yes, with some caveats. If you train with resistance and consume enough protein, your body will build or maintain muscle. It is possible to stay at the same weight while gaining muscle and losing fat (this is sometimes called “rearrangement”, for example, when rearranging the body).
The catch is that building muscle and burning fat are asymmetric processes. Losing a pound of fat isn’t that hard: just eat 500 fewer calories every day for a week. It’s damn hard to gain half a kilo of muscle; a person my height (I am a small woman) probably cannot expect to gain more than five pounds of muscle mass a year . If you give up the excess calories – in other words, if you refuse to gain weight in the process – muscle growth will be even slower.
For many of us (especially beginners), recompulation happens by chance. You don’t gain or lose weight, but after a year you look back at your old photo and think: yes . If you don’t have specific weight goals, you can just let it happen. But if you’re looking for faster or more dramatic changes in your physique, it makes sense to decide if you want to lose weight or gain weight and eat accordingly.
So let’s talk about how you lose weight (in order to lose weight). If you want to gain weight, you can reverse the instructions by maintaining an excess of calories instead of a deficit. And if you don’t want to change your weight at all, you can stop reading here.
Your Most Important Tool: Calorie Deficit
Okay, here’s one thing you really need to know: you lose weight when you consume fewer calories than you burn.
Yes, there has been a lot of debate about whether a calorie is a calorie or some foods or diets are better than others for weight loss. But all these different opinions are about how to achieve a calorie deficit, not whether you need to.
The simplest approach is to simply count the calories you are eating (usually using a food tracking app) and estimate what you are burning. Simple and effective.
Another way – to adhere to a particular ideology diets: one that says that you should have so few carbohydrates, so you immersed in the (harmless) ketosis , or one that completely prohibits the use of sugar and beans (yes, beans) , or one that forces you to eat only at certain times of the day . The end result is the same: you eat less. (You don’t need to count calories to eat less.)
Each of these diets will try to tell you that this is the only or best way to lose weight, but there really is no such thing as a “best” diet . Do what works for you, and remember that some of the truly restrictive diets can harm your mental health . Never assume that you need to follow a specific diet to lose weight; none of them have any magic secret.
How to create a calorie deficit
In theory, it’s simple: you find out how much you burn and then eat less. The only problem is that you never know exactly how many calories you are burning, and you have to come to terms with this fact.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Come up with an initial guess about how many calories you burn in a day.
- Eat a little less than the specified amount.
- See if your weight changes.
For this initial guess, the most accurate way is to track what you eat over the course of several weeks, when your weight is not changing. (We recommend an app called Cronometer for tracking.) The average number of calories you eat per day during that time can be counted as weight maintenance calories.
But you are in a hurry. We are all for a reason. Look for a TDEE calculator (not BMR or RMR) like this one . TDEE stands for Total Daily Energy Expenditure and includes everything your body does during the day, including exercise.
No calculator is going to be completely accurate, but this one seems to work pretty well. He drew me to about 2300; I know that with my current exercise schedule I gain weight if I eat 2800 and lose weight by 2000. (It is also highly recommended by several fitness forums. This does not guarantee accuracy, but remember that we are looking for a very rough starting estimate.)
Subtract a few from there. According to sources such as the CDC, a “healthy” rate of weight loss is often considered the maximum of one to two pounds per week. If you are a big person who has something to lose, you will be on a higher level. Even so, I would go more conservatively, especially at first. In theory, if you subtract 500 calories from your daily diet, you will lose about a pound per week. A 250 calorie deficit would be more than about half a pound a week. While a faster rate of weight loss will lead to faster weight loss, a slower rate will be much easier to cope with: less hunger, more room to enjoy desserts and snacks, restaurant meals and cocktails, and whatever else you like.
Watch to see if you are losing weight at the expected rate. After a while, weight loss will slow down, and this is normal. Research shows that even if a pound of fat is “worth” about 3,500 calories (hence the 500-day deficit), by the time you go deep into the diet, you need to burn roughly 7,000 calories to lose each. pound of fat . (Thermodynamics hasn’t been disrupted; your body is just really good at saving energy by throwing away your calculations.)
Exercise is important, but not in the way you think
Okay, you think, how about burning calories through exercise ? Here’s the thing: he’s overrated.
Of course, you should still exercise, but I would recommend that you not worry about how many calories your exercise burns.
Cardio is important to your health for many reasons. Reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases; it also gives you the ability to carry out your daily activities (walking, gardening, etc.) without feeling very tired. And strength training is just as important: you will retain more muscle mass and reduce the risk of accidental injury, aches and pains. Regardless of whether you are trying to lose weight or not, you should do both strength training and cardio .
But how many calories are you burning? Ignore these numbers. First of all, they were included in your TDEE when you were choosing whether you were doing “light exercise” or something else. Second, calorie counts on exercise machines and activity trackers are rarely accurate.
And third, remember how your body is really good at storing energy? Exercise doesn’t always burn as many calories as intended . You may be spending more time lounging on the couch after your HIIT workout, or in some cases, your body may conserve energy through obscure bodily functions (research in this area has found things like changes in the energy expenditure of your internal organs ). You’re just a bag of meat in front of the bathroom scale. No need to go into details.
To be clear, exercise does burn calories, even if we can never be sure exactly how much. Many of us find that the more we exercise, the easier it is to lose weight without feeling unhappy. If I had never exercised, I would have a TDEE of about 1600 calories and would need to eat something like 1200 to lose weight. (It’s kind of the only Chipotle burrito.) But as a very active person, I burn a lot more, and I can lose weight by eating 2,000. Living with 2,000 calories is much nicer and ultimately healthier than living with 1,200 calories.
Difference between diet and lifestyle changes
Every diet these days reminds us that it is not a diet. This, of course, is bullshit. If you eat to lose weight, you are on a diet. You can do this along with healthier habits such as eating more vegetables and exercising more. Great! But “lifestyle change” implies that you will do the same for the rest of your life and get the same results. It is impossible to lose weight forever, and I would not want to.
It’s better to think of losing weight as something that you do for a certain amount of time, and then stop. Instead of setting a target weight and doing everything in your power to achieve it, set a time frame – maybe two months – and see what happens if you are in a sensible calorie deficit during those two months. Take a break to eat during maintenance. Then decide if you still want to lose weight or you’re done.
This way, you won’t be on a diet forever, and you won’t be tempted to go on a fast food diet to lose X pounds in Y weeks. Drinking nothing other than spicy lemonade or expensive juice (or whatever is the latest “detox”) is just not worth your time .