Reflections on weight-loss from a fat guy.

John Sanderson on the bench

*John is a Powerlifting client of mine. Who I have worked with for sometime. He put this excellent post together on Facebook which he has allowed me to share here.

I’ve existed in and around the fitness community for several years now, and in that time I’ve learned a few things about a few things. I am not a fitness model, nor am I am triathlon competitor or a CrossFit athlete. I am fairly strong for someone that’s lifetime drug free and has only been seriously training strength for a few years. I’m also fat. I’m not talking chubby, or “could do with losing a few pounds”, I mean fat, proper fat; I’m currently at about 34% bodyfat, and that’s not great. But I’ve also been a lot worse, and I’m making progress.

There are countless guys and girls that are sub 10% bodyfat telling you exactly what tricks you need to lose weight… why are you listening to them? They’re usually young enough that their metabolism is in overdrive, they’ve never been fat so don’t actually know what it’s like to try to lose it, or they’re “wind-assisted” in the gym and they’d find it hard to put on much fat if they tried!
Here’s a few things that I’ve learned, and I hope they can be of some use to you.

1. Calories in – Calories out. This is what it’s all about. There’s no such thing as a magic secret to losing or gaining weight, it’s just science. If you want to lose weight then you need to be in a calorific deficit, and if you want to gain weight then you need to be in a calorific surplus. It’s that simple. All those fancy diets that the celebrities use just follows that principle, they’re just dressed up in fancy gimmicks. Low carb – by cutting out 1 of the 3 groups of macros what they’re doing is actually having a calorific deficit… if you don’t follow that principle you can still put on weight without carbs… I’ve done it. Slow carb – the same. Atkins – the same. Intermittent fasting – amazingly enough, by limiting your food intake to a small window each day you’re not eating as much as you did before… calorific deficit again… but if all you eat in that window is chocolate and doughnuts you’re gonna put on weight… I’ve done it. 5:2 diet… the same as intermittent fasting. Juice diets – calorific deficit. Herbalife – have a guess? Yep, calorific deficit. Are you seeing a pattern here?
Regardless of what limits you place on your diet, if you’re not conforming to calories in – calories out you’re going to fail. I know because I’ve done it and failed every time.

2. If you eat alone you’re probably going to eat more that you would if you eat with company. This works 2 ways, by eating alone there’s no one there to judge you on your choices, so you eat the dinner you prepared, and then the lump of cheese in the fridge because, well, why not right? And now you’re on a roll so let’s have that chocolate you’ve got left over from Easter, and then the cake your nan made you go home with the other day… and before you know it you’ve had 2000 calories in 30 minutes and you ate it all so quick you didn’t really enjoy any of it!

The other benefit of eating with company is that, generally, we tend to chat when we’re with people, and that adds time on to the meal, this actually gives your body a chance to realise that you’ve put some food into your mouth and given your body some time to tell you when it’s had enough, we’ve all eaten so much so quickly that we feel ill for the rest of the night right? Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to go through that again?

3. If you want to lose weight then just reducing your calories isn’t always the best option, sometimes you need to increase your activity instead. I know loads of people that seem to think that dropping their intake to 1200 calories per day (or even lower) is the only way they’ll lose weight, but when you’re intake is that low you’re more likely to do even less than you were because you’re tired, so you drop the calories some more, and some more and then you fall into a pit of despair eating – I’m talking pizza, cake, chocolate, nachos, cheese, more cheese, anything bacon flavoured, ice-cream, doughnuts… and why wouldn’t you? You’ve basically tortured yourself with meniscal portions and endless salads that taste of tinned tuna and hatred. But take a step back… from the chair and then a step forward, and then another step forward, and then another one… I’m pretty sure you see where I’m going with this. Try just walking more, and not meandering, I mean actually walking, with purpose and a decent pace; this is going to increase your activity for the day on its own which means you drop have to drop another 300 calories. Go to the gym, lift some weight, use some machines, do some HIIT classes, just do something that gets the heart rate up. There are so many different activities available out there now, there must be something you enjoy, and if you don’t have time for classes then try to fit something into your normal routine, go for a walk at lunch, spend a little less time sat in one go, walk back and forth from the water dispenser a few more times each day.

4. Monitor your calories honestly. This is something I’ve struggled with before, not the act of monitoring them, but doing it honestly. Apps like MyFitnessPal and the like are great tools for recording your food, there’s a massive libraries of information on there so pretty much everything you eat is a barcode scan away from going in the diary… but sometimes we don’t like the numbers it’s coming back with… surely that tiny bit of chocolate isn’t really 212 calories? That must be wrong… how much for a biscuit? Nah, must be a glitch. Well, if I don’t put in that I had that doughnut at lunch then I’ve stayed under my calorie goal for the day, so… it was a one off, I’ll leave it out. What’s the point of recording the data if you’re going to filter what goes in there? You’ll get 4 weeks down the line and you won’t see the progress you want to see and assume that there’s something else wrong because you’ve stuck to what the app told you to do… except you haven’t really have you? I’ve you’ve had a bad day then put it in, I’d love to say you learn to not have them, but that’s just not true, what will happen though is that you’ll look back over your dairy and realise why you’ve not seen the progress you want to see. It’s not the fault of the method, it’s just that doughnuts are really tasty and willpower is a lie. I think I’ve found a way to deal with that though… for now…

5. Routine is your friend. If I plan my food for the week, or even just for the day, then I know what allowances I have for stuff. For example, I tend to have the same thing for lunch a couple of days in a row, so I put that in my diary ahead of time, and I also tend to have the same breakfast every day, so I put that in ahead of time, and now I know how many calories are left for the rest of the day, which means that when I get offered that chocolate biscuit later one by one of my co-workers I can make an informed decision about it… sometimes I’ve say “thank you very much” and swallow that damn chocolatey treat whole and then have a few less calories for dinner, and sometimes I’ll politely decline because I’d rather have that extra bit of cheese on my spag bol for dinner, because cheese. Routine also means that you can find some things that you really enjoy and that fill you up without spending all of your calorie tokens on them. I’m not saying you should eat the same thing for every meal every day, I’m just saying that all plans fail if you fail to actually plan.

6. Cheat days are a lie. It’s good to have a planned deviation every now and then, a day where you get to eat the things you’ve been craving so that you get it out of your system and can be good for the rest of the time, but when that happens every week, or even every few days, are you actually maintaining a deficit? I’ve known people, and I’m included in this, to have a nice little 500 calories deficit Sun-Fri and then overeat by 3000 calories on a Saturday… what’s the math there? (6*-500)+3000=0

So you’ve not actually achieved anything there have you? If you’re gonna have pizza for dinner, try to reign it in a bit, the same with ice-cream or cake, all of it really, just make sure you actually think about how much you’re gonna eat that day and work it in properly. You can’t actually CHEAT!

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