This is a guest post by Greg from gregstransformation.com
Losing fat, and I purposely use the word fat not weight, is not an easy task. If it was easy everyone would be in great shape. The weight loss/fat loss industry is a multi-billion dollar business to help people in the task of weight loss. It is also an industry that is full of misrepresentation and misinformation. When I started my transformation progress I tried to cut through the bull and find what really matters. Here is what I came up with so far on my journey from fat to fit.
I wasn't always fat. I was actually a pretty healthy skinny kid growing up who spent a lot of time outdoors with friends just roaming our neighborhood on our bicycles. I was actively involved in sports by the time I was 10 and I have continued to excel in long distance and cross country running throughout the years. By age 14 I could run 5-minute miles and finish a 10k race under 35 minutes. I also ran my first, and only, marathon at age 13 and finished in 3 hours and 26 minutes. I ran five days a week and swam three times a week for an hour. I felt like I was invincible and on the top of the world.
Transformation From Fit To Fat
My problems started in high school. I quit athletics completely, I had started spending time in front of my computer instead of outside on my bicycle. The only thing that didn't change was my eating habits and appetite. I could still eat incredible amounts of food but I was no longer burning them off. Slowly but surely I gained weight. My classmates noticed it and started calling me fatty even though I was still well under the 200 lbs mark. Some would still have considered me fit but I was far cry from my lean athlete physique I once held. I knew that things were heading in the wrong direction.
By the time I started college I was already pegging the scale at 200 lbs and I managed to add a "freshman 20" to that number. I was up to 220 lbs by my sophomore year. I reached my all time high of 240 lbs right at graduation which has also coincided with my wedding. My graduation and wedding pictures were ruined by the terrible blob I had become. But it wasn't enough to get me to change.
First Try And Failure
In 2002, I had finally decided things could not go this way any longer. I started walking around the block every night and joined a gym. I managed to drop my weight in 6 months to around 210 lbs and by the time my wife graduated from college I felt a lot better. But this transformation was a failure. I failed because I only changed one thing and I only changed it temporarily. The only thing I changed was that I walked in the evenings and after I lost 30 lbs I quit exercising and went back to my original sedentary lifestyle. I never bothered to look at the other side of the equation — diet and nutrition.
By October, 2009 I was pegging the scale close to the 240 lbs mark again which seems to be my deadly threshold where I say "enough is enough". One day in October I went on-line and stumbled upon a message board thread about fat to fit transformations. It had numerous photos of men and women losing tremendous amounts of weight and transforming themselves from obese to lean and mean. I thought to myself "What is different about them, why can they do it and why can't I?" And I have realized there was really no difference, they just did it and so could I. I have also witnessed two co-workers transform from fat to fit in the last couple of years and I thought "if they can do it, I can do it too!" So I started my adventure!
Doing My Homework
I'm the kind of person who when they get something in their head they really go after it. I'm a perfectionist. I like to know everything about how things work and why they work that way. I'm an engineer with an engineer mind. When I started paintball I had to know about all the equipment that was available, who made the best equipment, what made it the best, was it really justified to spend thousands of dollars on paintball equipment or was it just marketing hype? When I was involved in remote control car racing I would constantly research the best modifications and the latest parts that you could use to make your race car better. I am no different with my fat loss program.
I knew for me to succeed I had to find what works and what doesn't. What is myth and what is truth. What is important and what isn't. So I did some research. The Internet has helped me tremendously in finding out about proper nutrition, diet and exercise. I also knew that I would have to have quantitative, objective goals and results. I couldn't just wing it; I had to go all in. This might have been a mighty long introduction for a short set of tips but I wanted you to know where I was coming from and how I got where I did. I have tried to condense all the research that I have done into a basic, easily digestible and followable plan. I'm not saying the things on the list are easy to do, I'm just saying they're easy to follow.
This is the number one rule of fat loss. If you eat fewer calories than your body needs, you will lose weight. No "ifs" or "buts" about it. If you eat more calories than you need you will gain weight. Period. Keeping this very simple rule in front of you will make or break your fat loss goal.
People tend to overestimate the calories they burn while exercising and they tend to underestimate the calories they eat. My favorite tools are a Polar Heart Rate Monitor that uses VO2 estimation to measure my caloric expenditure while exercising and NutritionData along with a kitchen scale to know exactly how many calories I eat in a day. My heart rate monitor constantly reads much lower than the elliptical machine or treadmill when it comes to calories burned and I'm constantly surprised just how small a pile 1 oz of almonds really is; it's 28 pieces, yet packs 210 calories. Without doing the math right you're shooting in the dark. People also fail to calculate their true basal metabolic rate correctly. Just because you go to the gym and lift weights 3 times a week does not mean you can eat another 500 calories every day. I recommend this website to calculate your BMR/RMR. I also recommend estimating your BMR/RMR at a sedentary rate even if you work out and would consider yourself active. If you are overweight, you are not active enough to make a difference, trust me.
The biggest problem people face on a low calorie diet is that they're constantly hungry. They're constantly hungry because they don't eat enough. They don't eat enough because they can't eat so much of the calorie dense foods they have been eating and still maintain a caloric deficit. What people tend to do is cut their portions in half but eat the same thing as before. Now they feel hungry because their stomach is no longer full. To solve this dilemma the best solution is vegetables. Instead of eating two cups of rice with your 8 oz steak, eat a half a cup of rice, a cup of green beans and a cup of broccoli with 4oz of steak. I guarantee you will be just as full as before yet with the fraction of calories. I am eating 1,700 calories in a day and I walk away full every time from the table. A cup of green beans has 30 calories while a cup of rice has 200 yet they fill you up about the same.
When you're on a diet your body is in a deprived state. It would like to turn whatever it can into energy. It will turn your muscles into energy and make them disappear making you skinny-fat. That is unless you use them. Every time you exercise you're sending signals to your body saying "hey, I need these muscles, please don't turn them into energy!". And your body will comply. It will use fat and retain your muscle weight. You want to lose fat, not weight. And when I say work your muscles I don't mean spending hours upon hours at the gym. Do some squats, lunges, push-ups and invest in a Chin-up bar. Squats and lunges will work your your legs, push-ups will work your chest and triceps, a chin-up bar will work your back and biceps. If you have access to a gym, you should still only concentrate on what they call compound movements; exercises that move multiple muscle groups instead of a small isolated set. You don't need to do preacher curls and wrist rollers to keep your muscles during your fat loss progress. Leave those exercises alone, they are a waste of your precious time at this point.
A big problem with living on a caloric deficit is that your body does not get enough protein. USDA recommends your nutrition should come from 15%-30% protein. If you already ate protein at the 15% rate while eating 2,400 calories you're eating very little protein by the time you reduce your calories to 1,700 or even below. You need to eat protein. You can get it from egg whites, nuts, peanut butter, chicken, turkey. My problem has been that I can only eat so much of those before I get sick of them. So I started drinking protein shakes once a day adding 40-50g protein to my diet. 50 grams of pure protein is 200 calories. Any kind of protein shake will do as long as you can stomach the taste and it's low in carbohydrates and fats. If you don't eat enough protein to maintain your muscles your body will shed them and you will lose them along with fat. How much protein is enough? I'd recommend around 1 gram per lean body mass pound per day. For example if you weigh 250 lbs and your body fat percentage is 35% your lean body mass is 250 * (100%-35%)= 162.5 lbs. You should probably eat about 160 g of protein every day. Since protein contains 4 grams of calories per gram that is 640 calories from protein in a day. The rest of your calories can come from any of the other two sources, fat or carbohydrates.
Macronutrients, the caloric distribution of fats, carbohydrates and protein in your diet, play a role in how easily you can maintain your diet. I have already mentioned proteins and the minimum you should be consuming. The benefit of eating less fat and more carbohydrates for the rest of your calories is going to be volume. While 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories carbohydrates only contain 4 calories per gram. It means you can eat twice as much sugar than lard to get the same caloric intake. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying you should eat sugar and lard! Quite the opposite. You should eat plenty of complex carbohydrates that can be found in vegetables and whole grains such as brown rice and eat healthy unsaturated fats that can be found in nuts and fish. The reason is volume. You can eat a lot more of these foods than sugar cookies for the same amount of caloric intake.
A lot of people start their weight loss endeavor by getting on a treadmill or elliptical machine or walk around the block and assume that will solve all their weight problems. Unfortunately it will not work by itself unless it's part of a complete lifestyle change which includes proper diet and strength training. If you need to give up one of these three pillars of fat loss, diet, strength training and cardio, the first should be cardio exercise and the last should be diet. To make my point I'm just going to ask one question: Which is easier or fits better into any schedule? Not eating a Snicker's bar or walking for 30 minutes? Both make a 270 calorie difference. I'd rather give up the Snicker's bar than have to get on the elliptical for half an hour. If your diet is in order and you are on a steady weight loss pace you can certainly accelerate it by doing some cardio exercise. However, cardio workouts have benefits besides weight loss and they should be part of a complete healthy lifestyle.
While the previous list of advice might seem very strict and detailed it only scratches the surface when it comes to diet and fat loss myths and methods. With nutrition you can get involved in discussions around saturated fats, sodium intake, whether refined sugars are the root of all evil, whether carbs should be banned from any diet, or whether refined grains are the "white death". With strength exercise you can worry about how many reps and how many sets of each exercise you should do. Do I lift heavy weights or do I do more reps? Do I exercise my muscle groups once a week to give them time to recover or do I exercise everything every day? On the cardio front you can argue whether low intensity steady speed (LISS) or high intensity interval training (HIIT) is the way to go. Should I stay in the fat burning zone or should I try to get a real cardiovascular workout at a higher heart rate? Is it better to exercise on an empty stomach first thing in the morning or should you eat some carbs and protein before exercise? While all these things sound important and can make a difference they are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Concentrate on the basics and stick with those.
If bedtime LISS cardio fits your schedule the best what does it matter that a morning fasted HIIT one might give you marginally better results? If one doesn't fit your lifestyle but the other one does, do that one! It's still a lot better to walk around the block every night for 45 minutes than forcing yourself to get up in the morning twice a week and try to hit the gym and get worn out and tired of it. Do what works for you!
Since I have started my transformation I have tried more new food items than I have tried in the past decade. I never thought I would enjoy eating 7 cups of raw baby spinach in one sitting. I never imagined that non-fat plain yogurt can be so refreshing in the morning with a couple of almonds and strawberries. I didn't know that farm raised salmon tastes fatty and yucky when you eat it right after you ate some Alaskan king salmon from the wild just a week prior. I didn't know that shrimp has nothing but pure protein in it and it's very calorie scarce meaning you can eat a bucket load of it guilt free as long as you grill it instead of batter frying it. I didn't know Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) was an Aztec power food that contains all essential amino acids and tastes great. I never would have thought that you can buy the frozen vegetables at the store, zap them in the microwave in 3 minutes and they're ready to eat. I recommend for you to experiment and try new foods, you might actually like broccoli after all.
At this point you might think this sound way too complicated plus I want to see some results. I have been taking my own advice to heart and went at it full steam for the past 8 weeks. I'm not going to lie and tell you it was easy. It wasn't. It takes a lot of dedication and sacrifice. But something that looks like a sacrifice at first will become second nature and a new good habit as time goes on. Who would have thought that I can watch TV while doing cardio on the elliptical instead of laying in bed with a bag of chips? My transformation progress is an open book. I keep a public record of all my nutritional and exercise choices on my blog. There are no magic pills or secret elixirs involved but a lot of dedicated time and effort. While a lot of people would consider losing 27 lbs in 8 weeks a success, I only consider it the tip of the iceberg. Since the beginning of my transformation I went from 237 lbs to 210 lbs. My body fat % dropped from 38.7% to 31.2% which means I have retained all my lean muscle mass in the process and I have lost almost 4.5" off my waist. I feel excellent and I skip on the stairs at work. People walk up to me and ask me if I had lost weight. It is a great feeling. But I would not consider it success. I think I'm far from it. I need to lose another 50 lbs to be where I want to be in terms of body composition and I need to maintain it for the rest of my life. Based on my 8 week ride I know I can do it. You'll just have to tag along and do it with me.
Greg is a software engineer who tries to apply quantitative methodology in his transformation from fat to fit while showcasing his experience for public accountability and mutual support. You can read more about his transformation progress at his blog, www.gregstransformation.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/gregstransform