Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert on diet and weight loss. This post is about my personal experience and if you are struggling with weight, reach out to a professional. Internet is filled with articles and videos about losing weight. Most of them are plain BS. Let me share what worked for me and which should be the only way to lose weight, scientifically. Trust me I have struggled a bit with weight and I know what I am talking about.
There are many techniques and therapies in the market but as long as you are not overly obese, you don’t need those. All you need is to understand how body works, have some patience and a lot of will power.
Like many others, I was a guy with a perfect weight during my school days. I was not athletic, but I had enough workout to keep myself trim and fit. I loved eating, but when you are young, your metabolism works on an overdrive mode. Because of this, even though I did not have much workout other than occasional sports we played in school, I was a fairly fit and healthy guy.
First time I felt I was putting on weight was during the first year of my college life. I stayed in hostel for four years of my college. This meant more freedom. In addition to having calorie heavy meals at the mess, I used to go out with my friends to have milkshake and ice-cream. Hostel food was mostly fried items with lot of fat content, add ice-cream to it and you have a perfect recipe for weight gain.
In the first six months, I put on considerable amount of weight that my jeans and pants became tighter and harder to get into. At the end of first year, I came back for two month vacation to my home and I heard everyone saying that I have become heavier. This wasn’t a good feeling. I did not want to be fat. I hated the taunts from my room-mates about my weight gain. I wanted to settle this once for all. I did the inevitable — joined the gym.
First day of gym and I was all set. The instructor gave me some points and started by warming up and gave me directions on few starter workouts. I was all pumped up and wanted to be a bodybuilder from day one. I was warned not to work out too hard, but in my excitement, I decided not to take that advice. In few minutes I was dizzy and throwing up.
I felt stupid. But on the way back I was feeling really happy that I was on the road to lose weight. I wasn’t really overweight or something but I wanted to get back to college trim and fit. Couple of guys I met at the gym said food intake should be increased to compensate for the workout. Only thing was they were already skinny and I wasn’t. But I did not factor in this size difference between myself and them and started eating more to make sure I am taking in enough to be strong enough for the workout.
I was working out hard everyday and could see changes coming in my body. First week was really painful as my muscles were undergoing these tensions for the first time since I was born and I was bed ridden for couple of days. I felt searing pain in my arms, back, legs and abs, but I was more motivated as I was losing weight. Or so I thought.
We always have this notion of looking at us a little bit better than what we actually are. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes you look at yourself a tad better than how others see you. I say this because, at the end of two months, I felt really great. I thought I had lost enough to make my friends back at college to be surprised seeing me. But the truth wasn’t exactly that.
Back to college
As I reached my hostel, I was excited to see what my friends say. Though they accepted that I had lost weight, apparently that loss wasn’t as much as I thought. This was true and the reason for this was something that I realised many years later. But good news is, I did lose weight in the subsequent years also for reasons I’ll be explaining later in the post.
Ever since then, I have had highs and lows in my weight loss story. But in past few months, I really understood the reason that I was struggling with my weight and probably the reason that you are struggling as well. But before I get into how to lose weight, lets look into some general misconceptions that will make you fail in your weight loss journey and make you feel dejected.
There many misconceptions that people have about losing weight.
- You have to starve: Thinking that eating less will help them lose weight, people end up starving themselves. You’ll not lose weight by extreme dieting, you might either fall sick or die soon. Starving your body is never ever a good idea. Body needs everything in right amount or deficiency will have adverse effect.
- You can’t eat good food: Most of the times the food you love fall under the category of high calorie stuff. So people say that you should stop eating this and stop eating that. But more than what you eat, it is about how much you eat. We’ll see this with scientific backing.
- You have to workout like hell: Few of us spend hours at the gym burning ourself down and finally ending up in hospital. This isn’t a good thing either. Your workout should be as much as your body can take. Do no go to extreme levels of exercising and end up in trouble.
- You need to eat more to compensate workout: This is the biggest mistake I did when I was hitting gym. If your intention is to lose weight, eating more as you workout isn’t gonna do much help. This is because it is easy to consume calories than to burn them down.
The real math
Now lets get down to business and see how it all really works. How is your calorie intake related to your fat accumulation and at what rate you need to burn fat to lose weight. Contrary to what few people believe, your weight loss isn’t actually a direct result of what you eat or how much you work out. Yes they are factors, but the real science behind weight loss is different. Weight loss is achieved by creating something called calorie deficit.
A normal man who is 5’8 and 75 kgs requires roughly 2300 calories per day (may vary based on various factors) to sustain his normal daily activities. A pound of fat is equivalent to around 3500 calories. Anything you take in excess of 2300 cal is excess fat. Let’s say you had 3000 cals in a day. So excess is 3000–2300 = 700cal. If this continues for 5 days, your excess intake is 5 x 700 = 3500cal. This means you have added a pound to your weight.
Over a period of time these excess calories add and you end up being overweight. If we take a kilogram to be roughly equal to two pounds, with the above calculation, you’ll add a kg to your weight at the end of two weeks. So thats the story of weight gain.
Now to keep your weight under control, there are two ways:
- Increase your daily calorie burn
- Reduce your daily calorie intake
Calorie burn can be increased by working out or doing activities that will burn up all those excess calories. Or you can watch how much calories you take in each day and try to reduce it. Either ways you are creating a calorie deficit in your body.
So if you are say 85kg and your goal is to come down to 65kg, let’s see how much deficit you need to create and how many months it might take. If you create a deficit of 500cal, it takes two weeks to reduce 1kg of weight. Taking it forward, it takes 20 x 2 weeks = 40 weeks or 10 months to lose 20 kgs. This is the reason that even though you keep working out, it seems like you aren’t reducing weight at all, you need to be patient and consistent.
On the other hand, if you create a deficit of 1000cal a day, in seven days you lose 7000cal or a kg of fat. In this case you need just 20 weeks to reduce to 65kgs. But fast weight loss is never recommended as it may have unintended side effects. Ideally you should aim to lose between .25 to 1 kg every week. Not more than that.
The following table shows hoe many weeks you need to lose 20kg for various amount of calorie deficit. Assumption here is that calorie requirement for a day is 2300cal.
Intake (cal/day) Deficit (cal/day) Loss (kgs/week) 85kg to 65kg 2100 200 .2 100 weeks 1800 500 .5 40 weeks 1500 800 .8 25 weeks
As you can see, it takes time for you to lose weight and it depends on the calorie deficit that is being created on a daily basis.
Intake vs Burnout
Now that we have seen how much we need to burn in order to lose weight, let’s see why is it so difficult to lose weight. Next time you eat your favourite donut, remember that it is around 190 calories. An hour of walking burns close to around 100 calories. So to completely burn your donut, you need to walk almost two hours! See why it is difficult?
The best way to lose weight is to keep a track of your calorie intake and work out accordingly. Try to avoid high calorie food as much as possible during the weight loss phase. Don’t expect to reduce weight by eating a lot and working out. It is all about controlling calorie intake. You can eat whatever you want as long as it stays within the daily calorie limit. There are many apps these days that aid in weight loss by tracking the calorie burn.
Also drink a lot of water!
Don’t give up just because results aren’t showing up. As you see, it takes time, patience and will power, so good luck!
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