Every time I see a new weight-loss product advertised, it reminds of the famous line uttered by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. “You can’t handle the truth!” he extolled. It’s a response that could be shouted at millions of yo-yo dieters who refuse, as I did, to acknowledge the simple truth about weight-loss: you have to burn more calories than you consume.
It’s the elephant in the room. It’s the brutal indifference of logic. And despite all the best-selling weight-loss books, despite the multi-billion dollar diet industry churning out endless promises in the form of powders, potions, pills and pre-packaged foods, the fact remains that the only honest way to lasting weight-loss is to burn more calories than you consume.
I speak from experience. I was one of those people who thought I could find a way to somehow outsmart basic math, reassuring myself even as I reached an unlikely 360 pounds.
So instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, I went back and reviewed what I had learned about nutrition and weight-loss, and put together a plan that organized “eat right and exercise” into simple, easily repeatable steps that I could follow.
I wish I could claim credit for original thinking, but the only thing I can take credit for is a year and a half of field-testing that proved that common sense, paired with persistence, is a formidable remedy for obesity.
Here are the six steps to weight-loss I followed and continue to follow:
1. Determine your Resting Metabolic Rate: Your RMR is basically how many calories you need to stay alive for 24 hours, were you to lay in bed quietly blinking and breathing. You can google yourself an RMR calculator and enter some basic data to find out your RMR in just a couple of minutes.
Determining your RMR is critical because it provides you with your maximum allowable calories, and you need that number in order to set your personal calorie limit.
2. Set your calorie limit: Now that you know your RMR, decide on what your daily calorie limit will be. You will want to pick a number that is aspirational but also one you can live with, because this whole plan requires that you stay within this limit.
The lower your calorie limit is from your RMR, the higher your daily bankable calories will be. It’s tempting to pick a very low number, but keep in mind that you’ll have to make do with it once selected.
For example, let’s say my RMR was 3,000 calories. That means that if I consume 3,000 calories I neither lose nor gain any weight – I just maintain. So I set my daily calorie limit at 2,000 calories, thereby banking 1,000 calories per day, or 7,000 calories per week. That translates into a two-pound weight loss per week (It takes 3,500 calories to burn one pound)!
It always astonishes me when I do basic math and it’s correct. In the case of steps one and two, I have checked my math and it’s remarkable how well this way of approaching weight-loss holds up. The numbers do indeed match. Specifically, I divided total calories burned by 3,500 (# of calories required to burn 1 pound), and the result was very close to my total weight-loss at that time.
If you are significantly overweight as I was, you really ought to consult with your doctor when deciding on your calorie limit.
3. Overhaul your diet:
Staying within your new calorie limit also means overhauling your diet. I moved to cleaner, whole foods and away from processed choices. I found ways to make meals interesting and fun, tried new recipes, joined a farm co-op, and made sure each meal was its own little event.
I wanted big results fast, so I temporarily banned pasta and most bread from my diet. I also eliminated all alcohol. I focused on clean protein like chicken and fish and set about finding interesting and tasty ways to prepare it.
During the warm months I grill outside almost every day. whether it’s a simple chicken or shrimp dish, or something slightly more elaborate like wrapping a fresh piece of salmon in tinfoil with some fresh veggies, I kept it lean, clean and simple.
I used to think weight-loss was synonymous with boring, tasteless food. I was completely wrong. It just means taking ownership of your diet instead of subletting it out to corporations that have no interest in your health!
3. Use the Tools: Download an app to your smart phone that will allow you to track your calories. I have been using Map My Walk for over two years (Available here for Android and here for Apple). It’s not the slickest app or the easiest to use, but it handles both my calorie record-keeping and my exercise tracking; most health apps tend to do one or the other but not both.
There’s been an explosion in health apps and products since I began my weight-loss program, and there are now many more choices. Whether you use an app on your phone or a separate, dedicated device, all that matters is that it handles both your calorie and exercise record keeping.
I cannot overemphasize how important it is to track your daily efforts. I’ve read that most people who are overweight are exceeding their daily calorie limit by only a few hundred calories. That means they are off by just a couple of glasses of wine, or a couple of cookies, etc. So you can see that tracking your calories will always keep you moving toward your goal.
4. Exercise: Exercise acts as a force multiplier; it adds to your daily bankable calories and helps speed up your weight loss, not to mention many other benefits.
When you are significantly overweight, the last thing you want to do is exercise. This posed a real problem for me. I decided reluctantly on walking, and it was one the best decisions I had ever made. Though the first walks were painful, my body adapted quickly and the resulting benefits far exceeded my expectations. Today I can’t imagine a lifestyle in which walking does not play a large role.
Whatever you choose for exercise, just remember to pick something you can do easily and conveniently. It has should be something with a very low barrier of entry. Gym memberships and rock climbing are great, but if you honestly don’t see yourself at the gym or rock climbing regularly, try looking for something more accessible.
5. Persistence: Stick to the plan. Results come with little fanfare. Pounds are lost walking trails on rainy days when no one is there to celebrate, and you absolutely did not feel like walking. Inches are lost from making smart meal-planning decisions over and over, when no one is there to comment on your brilliant choices.
There is no horn section behind a curtain waiting to play you out every time you do the right thing. And that is probably one of the reasons so many people give up.
But the results will come, and they will be big, obvious, wonderful results. And there will be plenty of people who will notice what you have accomplished. Some will whisper to you in astonishment, “Did you have the surgery?” as if the notion that you earned your weight-loss through that damn eat right and exercise adage is beyond comprehension. Who does that!?
You did that.