It’s that time of year again – where weight loss is the hot topic on everyone’s mind. Over the past few years, dieting has gotten a bad rep, and sometimes for good reason. Dieting should not be seen as a punishment or something you do that makes you feel horrible. The truth is, we all already have a diet, it’s just a matter of whether that diet is currently hurting or helping you.
The definition of the word “diet” is, “The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.”
I’m sure monkeys not have some weird mental complex about the word “diet”, it’s humans who have created that for ourselves. We’re the ones who made it into some overall negative word that means something along the lines of looking at a picture of a salad for your meals, but at it’s core, it just really means becoming conscious of what you’re eating.
Where most diets go wrong
The problem with going on a diet, especially one that’s the new flavor of the month, is that diets rarely work out in the long term. They rarely become something people want to do in the long term and instead become something we do for a few months while we mentally punish ourselves until we can get back to our regularly scheduled eating.
On the outside, fitness is simple: Get in a caloric deficit and, boom, you’ll lose weight.
However, just because something is simple on the surface doesn’t make it easy to do in practice. I would make a bet that at least half of Americans are on a diet or attempting to diet at any given moment of time, yet, they seem to fail in the long run.
Once most people stop dieting, they gain most of the weight back almost immediately.
Because diets are often temporary and not a long term shift in how they eat. Deciding to cut out carbs for a month or two only lasts so long and then people are right back to their old eating habits because they’re not tweaking anything for the long time.
People sign up for the newest trend, or worse, do some celebrity diet, only to lose the weight but put it on just as quickly as they dropped it as soon as it’s over.
The problem is, people do not mentally think there is any possible way to lose weight without starving themselves, which thus creates this bad circle of never really taking charge with their health. In their mind, if it isn’t hard and doesn’t come with pain, it’s not weight loss, which is so unfortunate because it doesn’t have to be so painful.
What to do instead
The first thing you need to know (or already probably know) is that so much of weight loss simply comes down to burning more calories than you consume in a day.
Now, the problem is that most people have no idea how many calories they need, how many they burn, and how many they eat in any given day. There are a ton of ways to do it, but here’s a generic site that should give you a good idea: TDEE calculator.
For example, entering in my data shows that my maintenance calories are 2,337 per day.
This gives me a good ballpark of where to begin when it comes to knowing how much I should be eating, if I keep up my current fitness activity level.
Now, when it comes to figuring out how much you need or how much you’re burning, this is one of the harder areas to figure out. Almost every single fitness tracker I’ve used wildly overestimates how many calories are burned. I see all these screenshots of workouts with calories burned close to 1,000, which is rarely the case.
Keep in mind, running for 30 straight minutes burns between 200-500 calories. That’s a wide range and can be hard to pinpoint your exact numbers.
First thing to try
One of the first things to try is to simply add more real food into your diet. (Yes, fitness nerds, I know all food is technically “real” food, but by this I mean something you could pick or hunt in the wild.)
I love Doritos just as much as the next person, but I’m also aware a small bag is over 400 calories. Listen, I’m not saying you need to go on a tirade and throw out everything processed in your house, especially since the definition of “processed” is up for debate.
However, you can know that one whole steak is about 679 calories. Between a bag of Doritos and a steak, which one do you imagine is more filling? One chicken breast is 231 calories and one cup of rice is 206 calories… so you can really cut calories down if you want.
I’m not saying you need to only eat vegetables until you die, but you CAN replace your snacks with more fulfilling options that also taste damn good.
Back when I was a personal trainer, just having clients challenging themselves to eat one vegetable before they ate anything else helped kick off their calorie reduction.
Sometimes this can help much more than just doing the latest “fad” diet out there.
Walk into any health section of your local bookstore, and you’ll be greeted with 90% diet books and 10% books on actual health. Diets are all the rage in America and everyone seems to think it’s the magic pill that will fix our obesity problem.
The continuous circle seems to be: gain weight, be shocked, get a new diet book, go on the diet, lose a few pounds, go back to what you were doing when you gained the weight. Rinse and repeat forever until you die.
How exercise plays a role
When people think of weight loss, they think about dieting. While dieting plays a huge role, the science behind weight loss is simple: You need to burn more calories than you’re consuming.
Another way to do this besides dieting is to increase the amount of activity you do in a given day or week. If you increase the amount of activity you do in a day, that can also give you more of a boost over the amount of calories you consume, leading to more weight loss.
Now, that’s not to say you can out-train a bad diet. On average, people burn about 100-150 calories running a mile while one slice of pizza is about 285 calories.
You still need to keep your calories mildly in check if you’re planning to workout more to lose weight. What I’m saying is the solution is not often to just workout for hours and only eat a single broccoli, especially if you still have a day job or other work you need to be alert and conscious for.
HIIT and Strength Training
If you want to get the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to fitness, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and strength training (aka lifting weights) is your best bet when it comes to losing weight without spending so much time in the gym.
Without diving too much into the science, what essentially happens is that because your body is recovering for the next day or two, it’s going to burn some calories while it does so. In comparison, just regular, casual cardio mostly only burns calories while you’re doing it.
It might seem simple, but you don’t need to do drastic steps in order to start getting some weight off your body.