Diet Hard – The Simple Science to weight loss…
As part of a tribute to those who have inspired me to change my own body shape over the years, I am bringing you a series of posts based on my own knowledge and experience on the subject.
They cover tips and techniques that I have adopted in making that change in my own life and may help you make that change in yours too.
The first series will concentrate on food since this is 85% of the issue. I will come back to resistance training at another point in time, perhaps when I’m more knowledgeable in the subject.
So I’ve broken down this food series into five separate articles,
- The Simple Science to weight loss
- The reasons why you’re not losing weight and understanding the key issues in tackling weight loss
- The basics of today’s most popular meal plans
- How to create your own diet mission statement and develop a tailored meal plan that’s right for you
- My own personal experience, tips and views on weight loss..
Each themed by a different Die Hard movie. As you may have guessed, I’ve appropriately named the entire series
Some of it is informative
Some of it is entertaining
Some of it is motivating
I hope the majority of it is reassuring and may just help a few of you (or people you know) with your personal struggles with becoming healthier version of yourselves.
Most of all, I hope you enjoy,
Here is part 1 below.
A Heavy Hearted Departure
Recently, the world’s heaviest Manuel Uribe passed away,
He was only 48.
He weighed approximately 560kg at his peak in 2006.
That’s over half a ton.
I was originally going to slate this guy as an example of our fallen society since he’s an easy target but here’s the thing. He wasn’t the heaviest man in the world when he passed away.
Infact, he was over 200kg lighter at the time of his death.
That’s a different story altogether. Dare I say, this guy is probably lost more weight in his life than anyone else in history.
And he managed that all without doing any real exercise because he was bed ridden the whole time.
Now that IS something… and it inspired me to write something on the subject.
Since I have recently been dabbling in weight manipulation/loss, I thought I would share my thoughts on it.
It’s a simple science in theory and I hope it helps any of you reading this about to embark on that journey. If it means one person avoids going through a fraction of what Manuel had to, it’s served its purpose .
Do I actually want to lose weight?
This is something that again tends to be a bug bear.
The majority of people that sit within the middle aren’t too fussed about weight to be precise. They are more conscious of ‘SHAPE’, losing weight is a means to an end in order to obtaining a shape they desire.
It is the thriving for the ‘athletic’ look that I described in my post here that is the real goal.
Weight loss is a term that is overly misused, most people actually want to be lose mass, or to be precise, fat mass.
Because of that, when people usually ask me what’s the best way to lose weight, the first thing I say is
Fly into outer space.
Then they’d go, lose mass and I’d say they should
Chop a limb off.
If by then they haven’t thrown a brick at my face, they’d catch on to the notion they actually want to lose fat.
That’s when they’ll have my full attention :).
However for the sake of argument, I’m going to use the term ‘weight loss’ going forward because there’s no point being a tit all the time.
What is the best way to quantify my current weight and size?
Over the past Jillion years, we have been using the scales to measure our total body weight
Unless you are talking about very small numbers (anorexia) or very large numbers (morbid obesity), the weight itself will not scream out many concerns to people.
For weight to mean something, it needs context. Over the last few decades, they have adopted something called the body max index in order to provide this.
The body mas index was a way of representing weight with a respect to height. So you divide one by the other to give you a weight: height ratio
Then some geeks decided a generic numbering range and said, if your index is below this, you’re too small, if it is above this, you are too fat. If you fall in here, you are just about right…Baby bear style…
However, the body mass index doesn’t take into account what your body is made up of. Your body is essentially made up of a mixture of a few things
- Organ tissue
Muscle and organ tissue is generally considered lean body mass. It’s really the ratio between your lean body mass and your fats that gives an overall picture of what your body looks like. And let’s be honest, it’s the looks that count here.
Now in my experience, the best way to quantify someone’s looks is to consider five factors. You look at their
- Gender (is a given)
- Total weight
- Body weight percent percentage that is made up of fat.
With these five indicators, you can pretty much give a good example of someone’s build and a better representation of whether it would be beneficial if they lost weight or not.
Saying that, In order to prove the importance of the body fat percentage factor, the two individuals shown in the picture below have the same age, height, gender, weight and are identical on the body mass index scale. however one has 7% body fat while the other has close to 40%. There are clearly on different sides of the weight loss spectrum, yet are identical on a BMI scale.
Most people won’t be used to working with body fat percentages and you could be tempted to go and get tested to determine what yours is. This isn’t necessary, once you’ve got your eye in, you can have a pretty good guestimate which is all you really need to assess yourself.
Here is a rough guide to what people at certain body fat percentages look like.
Simple take a selfie in the mirror (or have a partner/friend take a pic of you) and objectively see where you fit into on the pile. So hopefully now, with a good eye, you should have a reasonable indication of what your body fat percentage is?
How do I decide if I need to lose Weight?
With respect to the body fat percentage index, Healthy ranges for men are between 10-20%, Healthy ranges for women are between 18-25%.
So if you are over the upper limits, I would suggest you lose weight for health reasons and bring yourself within these ranges.
If you already sit in these ranges, then it’s up to you whether you want to lose further weight for aesthetic reasons. What ever you do, don’t do it out of peer pressure and don’t do it because you think you are fat, you are perfectly normal and healthy and the decision should be yours and yours alone to make.
If you are below the lower limit of these ranges for long periods for no aesthetic or commercial reason, I would suggest you actually gain weight for health reasons.
How much weight should I lose?
So, based on the information above, if you are planning on losing weight for health or aesthetic reasons, you now have an idea of what type of shape you wish to get into with respect to body fat percentages.
So you can say something along the lines of,
I want to get my body fat percentage from 25% to 12%.
Because of this, you can work out the approximate deficit. In this case above, that means you would want to lose 13% bodyfat,
If you know your total weight, say 106 Kgs, you can now set a target weight loss of 13.6 Kgs (13% of 106).
This is much more powerful than setting a generic figure in your head because it sounds nice. You now have an obtainable end goal in sight and a clearer indication of what you’ll look like when you reach it.
Now, let’s get on to the most efficient way to make that journey.
The underlying principle to weight loss
If you wish to remain the same weight, you simply need to consume the same amount of energy that you use up in a day. In general terms this energy comes from food and drink sources.
Your body is built for survival, so if you end up consuming more energy than you require, your body will store the excess in your muscles as glycogen (stored ‘sugar’ in our muscles) or if it is long term, it will convert this into fat (glycerine stored as triglycerine) and store it somewhere on the body. The body does this, as it is unaware of when you might feed again and rather than passing it up, it keeps it for a rainy day.
It is this act of continually storing energy on an individual as fat that predominantly causes the phenomenon of long term weight gain.
With all things being equal, if you wish to lose weight, you simply make sure that you are consuming less energy than you require. You body will compensate for the deficit by tapping into your energy reserves, first in the glycogen stored in your muscles, then in the fat cells stored on your body.
If you continue to consume a less but stable amount energy, your body will repeatedly do this until you reach another weight equilibrium (when the food that you are consuming matches your energy requirements). You will then stop losing weight and remain at a new stable weight (albeit lower than what you started out with).
If you consistently shift your consumption values so you remain in this deficit phase, your body will continue to eat into your reserves. Over time this will manifest in you seeing gradual and steady weight loss, proportionate to how much of an energy deficit you remain in.
Remaining in an energy deficit is the most fundamental principle behind weight loss.
How do we measure the energy in our food?
The units we normally measure energy with is Joules and kilojoules (KJ) but for some odd reason, the food industry adopted the use of calories as a base unit with regards to nutrition.
So just for clarity, a calorie is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of a litre of water up by a single degree Celsius.
Just out of reference, when you boil a litre of water, you are taking it from room temperature to 100 C degrees, so roughly your kettle requires 75 odd calories (energy in the form of electricity) to perform that task.
Cool, er I mean Hot (you know what i mean).
How do we find out the calories in our food?
It is a lawful requirement that all packaged goods must contain nutrition information on it. For some reason alcohol bypasses this as well as on-site prepared items, such as freshly baked/cooked goods.
Be wary of these items as these are the culprits most likely to fuck up your momentum big style.
Nutritional information for other items is usually in tiny writing on the back of the packaging in some inconsequential part you probably never read in too much detail.
So by using this labeling or checking nutrition information on various websites, we can see roughly how many calories are in a variety of our foods. The information is usually broken down, as a fraction of the total product using 100 grams (or suggested serving sizes) as a base. So you may need to multiply it out by your respective portion size to know what you are consuming. It is pretty simple once you get used to it.
What makes up the calories in our foods?
With regards to finding out where the majority of your calories come from, the nutritional information provided usually breaks it down, into various macronutrients (or macros). The reason they are called macros is because, when they are metabolised (broken down by the body), they carry the biggest proportion of nutrients your body needs. The big ones are
- Organic acids
Of these, only the first two are required by humans for survival. Proteins break down into Amino Acids and are the building blocks of life. Fats help regulate your hormones and organs. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy (since they all eventually break down to sugar) but Alcohol will be metabolised before any of these, if consumed at the same time, hence why we all get so pissed around the holidays (your body knows how to party).
Depending on your weight and body composition, you will need a different ratio of proteins/fats/carbohydrates in order to make up your total daily calorie requirements.
For the sake of strict weight loss, you can pretty much ignore all the other nutrition information on the packaging. You’ll deal with salt indirectly if you take all of this on board.
Do all Macronutrients provide the same amount of calories?
Nay, in the same way various things chucked on a bonfire will burn out at different speeds (because they have different levels of stored energy), different macronutrients have different energy levels associated with them. Details are provided in the list below
- A gram of protein has approximately 4 calories
- A gram of carbohydrates has approximately 4 calories too
- A gram of fat has approximately 9 calories
- A gram/ml of alcohol has approximately 7 calories
So you can see why the body likes storing fat, it has a bigger bang for its buck.
By breaking down a meal into its macronutrient components, we can calculate the total number of calories that meal contains. Lucky for us, most packaged nutrition information does this for us, so it’s just a case of adding various meal components up, for the total meal value.
When we do this continually, we’re able to calculate the total amount of calories we’ve consumed in that day.
As stated earlier, monitoring this will make sure you are obtaining the recommended daily calorie requirement for weight loss. Otherwise you might as well be pissing in the wind.
Are all Calories equal?
This question is specifically asking, when it comes to total calorie consumption, does the breakdown of macronutrients matter? It encompasses the following two questions below.
- Can I get it all my daily calories from Carbs or do i need to mix it up ?
- Is a calorie of protein the same as a calorie of fat.
This is a double edged question.
You see, the answer is Well, yes and no.
Your body requires a base level consumption of protein and fats in order to survive. So up to a certain amount of your daily calorie intake (let’s say for the sake of argument, it’s 40% protein and 20% fats) no, you cannot interchange.
However once you have met those requirements, then technically yes, your body will burn up proteins, carbohydrates and fats and anything it can get its hands on, in order to fuel you during the day.
Kinda like Mr Fusion from Back to the Future.
So after your basic requirements, you could obtain the rest of your calories from fats, protein and carbs, your body’s reserves or a mixture of them, or even some of the other macronutrients (stop looking at the alcohol like that, only Mr fusion is allowed some).
As long as you are taking in less calories than your body needs, you Will lose weight.
That’s not to say you won’t feel different on a day when you consume mostly carbs to a day without any at all. Nor does it take into account how your body might react to digesting high amounts of fats or proteins.
To be fair, the body will even react differently to different types macronutrient sources and this could start getting a lil complex if I delve into it.
HOWEVER, I’m not going to deal with the psychological and biological affects of various food sources right now, I’m still looking at strictly weight loss here. So the highlighted quote still applies.
How do I find out how many calories I need per day ?
Firstly, don’t go with that government recommended shit.You’ll be led astray.
The most accurate way to determine what calories your body needs to maintain your weight, would be to buy one of those calorie counter type devices and wear it for like a week straight, then divide the total number you get by 7 to give you a realistic daily figure.
In most cases though, people just calculate it based off a couple of parameters (most are listed below).
- Your height
- Your weight
- Your gender
- Your age
- Your activity level
- Your metabolism
- Your hormones levels
- Your current body fat percentage
The best thing to do would be to use the information above to guestimate it using various calculators on the internet. Working it out from scratch can be a bit laborious and to be honest, I don’t think it’s necessary. Having calculated my own and compared them to the online calculators, they are not far off at all.
A few of the ones I’ve used are provided in the links below.
Personally I would recommend using a few of these sites to calculate yours and coming up with a rough average. Try them out and see whether or not you gain/lose weight on over the course of the week. If you don’t maintain your weight, then adjust accordingly until you do.
Once you know how many calories you need to maintain, you can start planning how many calories you need in order to lose weight. It’s that simple
Some of these calculators also provide additional assistance and give you a breakdown of your macronutrient requirements.
This makes life easier in the long term, as they provide the optimum ratio of macronutrients to help sustain your weight (maximising carb intake while making sure the daily requirements of protein and fats are met).
For those that don’t, as a starter for ten, use these ratios below (because I like the picture)
So once know how many calories of each macronutrient you require, you can start tracking them alongside your calorie intake.
How do I find out how much of a calorie deficit I need to lose weight?
There is a simple science behind this.
Below is a picture of a pound of fat (453 grams). Of this total weight, the actual fat cells represent 87% of its total mass (the rest is water) so that means 395 grams of it is stored energy.
Going by the macronutrient information provided earlier, 385 grams of fat has approximately 3500 calories stored energy in it. So in order to burn a pound of fat, you have to enter a period of time when your total net calorie deficit equates to 3500 calories.
If you wish to do this steadily, you can spread this deficit out over a longer period.
Let’s say you want to lose this amount in a week.
This means if you have a 500 calorie deficit per day, on the morning of day 8, with everything else being equal, you should be a pound of fat lighter.
So just some rough numbers to remember,
- 500 calorie deficit a day, lose 1 lbs of fat a week, burning 3500 calories worth of energy reserves in a week
- 1000 calorie deficit a day, lose 2/b of fat a week, burning 7000 calories of your reserves over the course of a week
- 1500 calorie deficit a day, lose 3lbs of fat a week, burning off a massive 10,500 calories worth of your reserves over the course of a week.
However there is a slight dink in this
If you try and be clever and enter too big of a calorie deficit consistently each day, the body will go into survival mode. This is where it tricks itself into thinking you are on a desert island (even though you wish you were on a dessert island).
In this situation, your body will reduce its metabolic rate, i.e. the amount of energy it requires to sustain itself, thus reducing the deficit and slow down the fat loss process. It will also value your fats reserves over muscle and start to eat into muscle instead, further reducing your overall metabolism.
So while you’ll still lose weight, you won’t be losing fat and you’ll end up in that skinny fat phase where you just look smaller but still have the same overall unappealing pudgy soft shape. You’ll actually increase your body fat percentage since you’ll have less muscle which goes against what you’re trying to achieve in the first place.
Remember what I mentioned earlier, for most people, weight loss is about obtaining a certain shape, so you want to make sure your weight loss strategy achieves that.
Based on this, you can set out a plan to have steady weight loss with measurable expectations, you can mark your progress against time. You can also adjust your deficit accordingly at any time if you wish to speed up/slow down the process.
The rule of thumb is to never enter a calorific deficit that makes you go below say 1100-1200 total calories a day, for a consistent period of time. Keep your deficit manageable. Most folk would recommend between 1-2 lb/week steady weight loss.
Also remember, as you lose weight, your calorie requirements will change, so you need to regularly shift your intake requirements or up your activity level to keep you on track.
Many people fall off the wagon because they stop losing weight. It’s not because the diet doesn’t work. It’s because their calorie intake and energy expenditure has reached a new lower equilibrium. You will need to create a new deficit in order to continue losing weight. So if you see no results after two weeks, re-calculate your calorie requirements and create a new deficit.
Whatever you do, DO NOT GIVE UP.
Like I said, it’s not a dark art or mystical secret. The process is easy by requires will mental power to stick to it. However, if you know how much weight you should be losing each week, with your calorie deficit in check, then it also provides you with clear and steady motivation to carry on.
Case Study 1: I need to lose a stone in 3 weeks for my bikini holiday…
So based on the information above, let’s see if that is possible.
Going off the calculations we did earlier, a stone is equal to 14 lbs.
If you have a caloric deficit of 500 calories a day, at a pound of fat loss each week, it will take you 14 weeks to lose that much weight.
It’s pretty simple to figure out you won’t lose it in time at that rate.
But is it possible to lose 14lbs in three weeks…without cutting off a limb? 🙂
Let’s see, 14 lbs of fat is …49000 calories…spread over 21 days is… a 2330 deficit per day.
Unless your calorie intake requirements is over 3500 calories a day to maintain, and you’re were willing to live on starvation calories, I would say losing a stone of fat in that short period of time is unobtainable.
Clearly no bikini love for you this holiday. 😦
So how SHOULD you do it?
The BIG trick is not to rush it, alot of people are impatient with the process and we live in a time when everyone wants results NOW.
I don’t care what anyone tells you, losing it overnight is not gonna happen, the weight didn’t take three weeks to get there, what makes you think it’ll take three weeks to get it off?
If I were you, I would start my diet 12 weeks before my holiday, with a relatively unnoticeable deficit of 750 calories a day. I would also give myself a few weeks leeway since I’m only human and I can get dialed down to my desired weight and shape with no problems and no stress involved.
Case Study 2: I’m fine with everywhere else but want to lose that stubborn fat on my arms/thighs/belly
Like I said earlier, your body doesn’t give a fuck about where you ‘want’ to lose fat.
When you enter a calorie surplus, your body first stores the additional calories as glucose in your blood thinking it will probably use it soon, then it sucks it into your muscle and stores it as glycogen for a little longer. If you don’t use it, the body will turn it into triglycerides (or fat) and then store it somewhere on the body.
Your body chooses where it stores it on your behalf without any consultation from yourself. We have no conscious control over this process.
On average men tend to store it on their bellies,hips and chest, women store it on their chest, hips, bums and limbs. Some people load up everywhere equally, some people load up in specific areas almost exclusively.
Genetically you will find different races also store their fat differently. That J Lo and Kim Kardashian booty just so happens to be because they are genetically inclined to store fat (and develop muscle to smooth it out) in those locations.
So just in the same way you don’t decide where it eventually gets stored, when you are in a surplus, you don’t decide where it comes off, when you are in a deficit.
So while you can pretty much guarantee that a daily calorie deficit of 500 calories will cause you to lose a pound of fat in a week, because it is impossible to minimise fat in a specific location, you can’t forsee exactly where that pound will come from.
One thing you can gauge is that fat will come off in the reverse order it was put on in. So it’s like getting into a packed elevator. First on, last off.
If your chubby cheeks have only just popped up in the last few months, more than likely, they will be one of the first storage locations to disappear. If though you’ve always had those bingo wings, then the law of chance says it’s probably the last half pound of your weight loss regime that will get rid of them. Your bum fat is also pretty much the last thing to go as well, so be patient.
Also ladies, note that your breast tissue is made up of fat. So your beautiful cleavage can be victim to this random body fat loss , so be prepared to lose some fullness in your boobies if you are that way inclined.
It’s just the way the cookie crumbles, which may be disconcerting but just remember what you’ll look like at your final destination and use that for some motivation.
Is that it?
So yeah…that’s pretty much it. The the simple science behind weight loss in a nutshell…
A nutrition rich nutshell…
So if it’s that simple, why isn’t everyone in great shape then?
Er, good question..
Thanks for reading, let me know what you think