After a long period of not dieting and eating whatever I want, about 5 weeks ago I decided to make fat loss a priority. Eating out excessively, buying a new house, renovating and partying a lot meant that dieting was the last thing on my mind. After deciding to enter into a fat loss phase, I began with 3 simple goals:
- Go to gym 3 times a week – No minimum standard or duration was set, I simply had to show up 3 times a week where I could fit it in.
- Walk my dog everyday – while I kind of failed at this one, I did increase my number of morning walks. I also started horse riding again which takes 2-2.5hours of my time each day, which resulted in less time for walks.
- Track protein in myfitnesspal – instead of tracking everything from day 1, I chose an easier target of simply tracking protein to ensure I was hitting 120-130g / day
When starting out, there is no need to go to extremes. 3 simple targets like this were enough to push me in the right direction. A mistake people make is trying to do it all at once. Start with where you are, then build slowly and consistently.
At the 4 week point, it’s time to reassess initial targets. Both to see how far you have come, and make improvements. After successfully losing about 5lbs, my stomach and arms were noticeably leaner. I needed to make further adjustments to move the more stubborn fat around my hips and thighs. This is where most people make the mistake of exhausting and excessive cardio, or starving themselves. Instead I set up 3 new targets:
SETTING NEW TARGETS
- Go to the gym 4 times a week and follow a set program (check out my women’s strength training guide here)
- Begin daily morning walks – this is a good destresser for me, gives me healthy sun exposure upon waking, as well as increasing daily NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis).
- Track all macros using myfitnesspal – this is the biggest factor in my successful fat loss. I set up my macros according to this guide.
These targets are a little more difficult than the first, but still easily achievable with a little dedication. To come up with your own 3 goals, look at what you are currently doing well, and what you need to improve on. Choose things that build on your strengths or help with your weaknesses. Some other examples include:
CHOOSE YOUR OWN TARGET
- Increase vegetable intake by including at least 1 serve at each meal
- Increase weight lifted in the gym on at least 1 exercise every time you train
- Cut out eating out and instead opt for homemade meals
- Meal prep all your lunches in advance
- Switch to diet soda instead of the high calorie sugar version
- Switch to low fat milk in your tea / coffee
- Have a piece of fruit with a chocolate protein shake after dinner instead of dessert
- Walk to school/work or park further away so you increase your daily steps
- Do more daily housework, gardening to increase daily activity
- Find friends to go hiking with each week or do a new activity like kayaking, rollerblading, biking
Think of 5-10 of your own weekly targets then choose 3 to start immediately.
WHEN YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE IT
The truth is, it isn’t going to be easy all the time. Some days you aren’t going to feel like getting up to walk, going to gym, or tracking what you eat. You are going to feel hungry and want to order pizza. These are the days that matter most of all. It is not when we are motivated and everything is easy that is important. Being able to stick to the plan when your brain is telling you to give up, or that you can’t be bothered, will make all the difference. Our brains tend to be like toddlers. They like to throw tantrums every now and again to pull us back into the comfort zone. Times like these are when it’s time to quiet your inner voice, and proceed as if success was inevitable.
DON’T JUST LOOK AT THE SCALE
Sometimes your scale weight will stall for several weeks, even though you are doing everything right. This is why we must have short term metrics like these mini goals to track progress. Installing these mini goals into your hard drive so they become habit is something that can make losing and maintaining significantly easier. When I was prepping for my first bikini show, my weight would stall frequently over my 20 week prep. I would go 2 to 4 weeks seeing little to no changes. Without a coach there telling me this was all part of the process, I would have thought I was failing. This is my reassurance to you, keep going – it IS going to work.
I understand that it is hard to keep going when it feels like things aren’t moving fast enough. The thing is, losing faster is not better. A slow and controlled fat loss phase is easier to maintain, which will save you time in the long run.
Accurate progress tracking is an important part of knowing when you have stalled, and when to make adjustments. To stay on track, measure your progress by:
- Scale weight – logging this DAILY in a spreadsheet to get an average at the end of the week. Daily fluctuations are standard, measuring averages over time paints a more accurate picture
- Waist measurement – this number decreasing is a good measure of progress when it comes to fat loss.
- Full body measurements – doing full measurements weekly or monthly is in my opinion better than putting all your trust in the scales.
- Photos – take photos in the same lighting, the same time of day and the same distance from the camera. Do this weekly or monthly.
- Log adherence to your targets – once you have chosen your 3 targets, track your success in achieving them each week. Aim for beating your old self each week.
By putting effort into preparation and planning, you can make staying on track an easier and more convenient option. If you have your cooked and tracked meals ready in the fridge, it’s going to be a hell of a lot easier to stick to the plan when you are tired, hungry and short on time. When getting to the lower levels of body fat, meal prep makes life easier.
Plan your meals, track things the night before, make meal prep a priority.
BREAKFAST IS OVERRATED
Having a set eating window and regular meal times can help control cravings and regulate hunger signals. Skipping breakfast has been one of the most powerful tools to transform my body and life. Waking up in the morning and not having to think about food is freeing. I have gone from waking up and instantly feeling hungry and thinking about food, to not being hungry or food focused until much later in the day. Learn how to transition into intermittent fasting here.
I use the following methods:
- Stick to 3 meals plus one protein based snack
- Set my eating window to 1pm to 8pm each day
- Breaking my fast with a protein shake or high protein snack plus a large bowl of veggies
- Choosing meal times that fit my schedule
- Always consuming carbs in my pre workout meal and last meal of the day
PHONE A FRIEND
Going it alone isn’t fun. If you can convince some of your friends to join you on your fat loss adventures, it will make everything a hell of a lot more enjoyable. If you are the competitive type, making some sort of challenge or bet between friends can make things fun. If you don’t have this kind of support you can always find support through a fitness meetup, fat loss facebook forum, or meeting people through gym and other activities. The more people you surround yourself with that are on the same journey or have already achieved what you wish to achieve, make you more likely to succeed. If you have unsupportive people in your life that hold you back, it doesn’t mean you have to cut them out. Sometimes keeping your workout stories and diet struggles to your fitness buddies means you will meet less resistance to revert to your old ways. When people who truly care about you see your results and how happy the results make you, they will be more supportive.
Gradually adding to the intensity, frequency or duration of your workouts will help you achieve your goal body. Don’t use all your tools at once. You’ll stall sooner and run yourself into the ground. Instead try the following:
- Add 1-2 sessions of 6-10 hill sprints (or spin bike sprints) to your weekly workout schedule
- Increase number of workouts per week
- Add in 20-30mins of brisk walking
- Instead of getting home and sitting down, be more active in the evening by cooking, cleaning, or finding a new activity
- Be aware of NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis)
ADJUST YOUR MACROS
This is the next logical step when you aren’t making progress. Instead of trying to cut down to super low calories right away, try cycling your calories. Let’s say you are on 1800 calories per day. Instead of going lower every day, try cutting down to 3 days a week on 1800 and 4 days on 1600. Having higher days to look forward to can make the lower calorie days easier to stick to. Remember to keep protein constant and only adjust from carbs and fats.
Setbacks will come. There are going to be times when you question whether it is all worth it. I am here to tell you that it is. Improving your health through fat loss and achieving your goals is rewarding in so many ways. It is completely normal to not be 100% perfect all the time. Fat loss and progress is not linear. You have to keep pushing through the times when it feels like nothing is happening. When most people fail to see the light at the end of the tunnel and give in too early, those who succeed keep pushing through regardless of what is happening. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t rush the process. Don’t expect fat that took a long time to gain, to be gone in a week or two. Decide that you are in this for the long haul.
“Consider this mindset: Never in a hurry, never worried, never desperate, never stopping short.”
Ryan Holiday – The Obstacle is the Way