They say everything is bigger in Texas. The land, the roadways, the sky………my appetite. I moved to Dallas in late August and it only took a month and a half for me to realize that I, unfortunate as it may be, had also become bigger in Texas. “What the funk? How could this happen?” I asked myself as I ate another spoonful from my nightly 1200 calorie bowl of Frosted Flakes and chocolate chips. I could always justify the eating to myself because I was playing 50+ holes of golf every week and training harder than I had been in a long time so my activity level was high and I “needed to refuel”.
But alas, come the back half of October I was looking more like a dough goat than I would like to. It wasn’t bad, only a few extra pounds of fat and someone who doesn’t look at me everyday would never notice but for me it had to go. So on October 20 I decided enough was enough and it was time to make a change. I’m about to walk you through how I went from being slightly overfat (per my own standards) to the number 1 ranked dieter in all of the land according to The New York Times*^. Buckle up clowns, we’re going deep.
^But if the New York Times kept track of this there is no way I wouldn’t be number one so I get to count it. Put it on my resumé.
Before We Start
The amount of disinformation and chicanery surrounding how weight loss occurs and what a person should be doing is astounding. It is my belief that the reason for this is because the correct answer isn’t sexy and people are so hungry to achieve success that they will believe anything. I want to explain my thoughts and reasoning for all of the major decisions I made during my own weight loss. I personally learn best by example. I enjoy reading stories about other people in my situation and seeing how they solved the problem for themselves. Hopefully many of you are like me and will find the remainder of this article immensely helpful.
Here are my starting numbers. Unfortunately I didn’t have the foresight to take a true before picture but this one was taken at some point this summer. I’m probably a few pounds lighter here than when I actually started this diet, but it’s close enough.
Starting Weight: 176.6 lbs
Activity Level: Moderately Active
Part 1 – Boring Stuff We Need To Talk About First
Once you have decided it is time to make a change you must then decide on how you want to do so. You can count calories, you can cut out soda, you can try a low carb lifestyle. There are an infinite number of combinations and permutations you could try. Seeing how weight loss is dependent on creating a caloric deficit and how I like to have objective numbers I decided to go with calorie counting as my strategy for weight loss. Any method that leads you to being in a sustained calorie deficit will lead to weight loss. Keto diets, intermittent fasting, Whole 30 and others all “work” when they lead to caloric restriction. Calorie counting is tedious and annoying but once you get into the swing of things it becomes second nature. While counting calories is a bit more laborious than other methods it also leaves more room for flexibility. You can fit whatever you want into your calorie box, even cookies and ice cream if you really wanted to. With some of those fad diets you don’t have that luxury if you plan to follow them by the letter of the law. Picking a weight loss strategy ultimately comes down to one ever important factor, can you sustain it long enough to reach your goal.
Part 2 – Boring Stuff We Need To Talk About Second
I next needed to determine how many calories I was going to eat per day. Before I do that though I need to have a rough estimate on how many calories my body requires in a normal day to maintain my current weight. I always have a general idea of where that number is simply by living a normal life and keeping an eye on my intake and weight. I’ve gathered enough data points over the years to know that I can average between 3000-4000 calories a day and still maintain my current weight. There are other ways to get this value though. Listed from most accurate to least, here they are:
1. Go to a laboratory, live in a metabolic ward and have scientists measure.
2. Do an experiment for 2 weeks where you count your calories and compare your starting and ending weights.
3. Use a metabolic rate calculator.
I highly doubt any of you are going to give up a few days of your life to go live in a chamber. You likely don’t even have that as a reasonable option. I’m also skeptical you will take 2 weeks to perform an experiment just to get a value. Fine. I get it, you want to get started now. That leaves us with the metabolic rate calculator. I like to use a formula called the Harris-Benedict Equation. It’s obviously can’t account for all of the complexities of your biology but we can at least get a ballpark value from it using your age, height, weight, sex, and activity level.
Here is a calculator you can use to estimate your own value. Again, it’s not going to be perfect but it will get you close. I always find that people overestimate how much activity they actually do so I recommend choosing one level below where you actually think you are.
This calculator estimated my Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) to be 3,232 calories. Your TDEE is the summation of all of the energy you burn throughout the day including your exercise activity, non exercise activity, the thermic effect of the food you eat, and your basal metabolic rate. This number is an estimate of how many calories you would need to eat in order to maintain your weight. If you wanted to validate this number you would do the experiment I mentioned in Number 2 above. Eat this amount for 14 days and compare your weights on Day 1 and Day 15. If you lost weight, this value is lower than your TDEE. If you gained weight it is higher and if it is the same, you have found a good estimate for your TDEE.
Part 3 – We’re Getting To The Good Stuff
Next we have to create the calorie deficit. Because making body composition changes is a function of energy balance and we want to lose weight, the energy we intake from our eating must be less than the energy we output from our daily living and activity. This is called negative energy balance. We use calories as a measure of energy.
For long term success the slower you lose weight the more likely you will keep it off. However for dieting purposes we don’t want to go too slow as it could lead to discouragement and complacency. We want to reach the goal before we’re old and gross, you know? You need to see some movement on the scale, it will be helpful for the psychological side of things. My recommendation for weight loss is to shoot for 0.5%-1% of bodyweight lost per week. This allows for slow but consistent weight loss but more importantly, it is sustainable.
So for me, 0.5%-1% of my starting weight would be 0.88lbs-1.76lbs of weight loss per week. The steeper your deficit the more likely you will be to lose lean mass as well. We can combat this to a degree by keeping protein intake high, but there is still a good chance that muscle loss can occur. I decided to split the difference and go for 0.75% of body weight lost per week.
176.6lbs x 0.75% = 1.32lbs per week
So how does this relate to calories? One pound of body weight is equivalent to approximately 3500 calories. So if we multiply the two values together we can determine how many calories per week we need to cut from our eating.
1.32lbs x 3500 calories = 4,620 calories
4,620 calories / 7 days = 660 calorie deficit per day
3,232 calories – 660 calories = 2,572 calories per day to lose 1.32lbs per week
There we have it. I rounded up and decided my calorie goal per day was 2,600 calories.
Part 4 – But What About The Macros?
Any time I bring up dieting people always ask what my macros are. I don’t count macros. I keep a close eye on protein and try to hit a certain mark but I’m not religious about it and just try to make sure I get a good amount. For fat and carbs I could care less what they end up at as long as I meet my calorie goal. I don’t have specific athletic goals so my carbohydrate intake is not of concern. Counting macros is just an added step to calorie counting that isn’t necessary for most average people. As I mentioned though, I do like to keep an eye on protein and if I find myself deficient towards the end of the day I’ll take a lil protein shake
Part 5 – The Fun Begins
Now let’s get into the actual eating part. A few days ago I photographed every crumb of food I put into my mouth so I could show you a sample day of what I eat when I am trying to watch my calorie intake. Creating a general plan of what you are going to eat each day is important to put you on the correct path. I always make sure I have recipes meal prepped in the fridge and protein sources at the ready. I put more of my thought around the timing of my eating rather than the contents. Here is a timeline of the day that I documented.
Let me explain what I mean when I say the my daily eating is planned more around timing rather than the actual contents. Because I meal prep at least 2 recipes per week, I always have a constant supply of delicious, high quality meals in the fridge. Meal prepping allows me to have satiating and calorie friendly meals at hand call whenever I need them. So while some days I may eat 1 of the prepped meals and other days 2, I don’t actually plan what I’m going to do in advance. I let the day come to me knowing that those calorie friendly meals allow me to have more freedom throughout the remainder of the day to fit in what sound good to me. The timing of my eating is placed strategically around when I know I will be hungry and not when society tells me it is time to eat. We don’t need to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at regularly scheduled time intervals if we don’t want to.
One method I use to adhere to my daily calorie goals is to refrain from eating my first meal until around 11AM and sometimes even later if I am not feeling too hungry. I think too many of us get stuck thinking that when 9AM or 12 noon or 6PM rolls around it means that we have to eat. The number one most important consideration when trying to lose weight is to honor the laws of energy balance. Calories in must be less than calories out. If you aren’t hungry in the morning then there is no reason you should have to eat, especially when you’re dieting. I know I am always ravenous after my workouts and at night so allocating more calories in that meal is something that helps me get through the day. I try to backload my calories for two reasons, one so I can ensure I have enough left over to fill me up before bed and two because it gives me more freedom in my food choices. I don’t have to worry about if I have room for cereal or not because I almost always do 😎
Part 6 – Protein
Protein intake is an integral part of dieting. It is the single most important macronutrient not only for dieting purposes but also for life. Protein is muscle sparing, the most satiating macronutrient, and it has the highest thermic effect of all of the macros. When we are in a calorie deficit we are in a catabolic state, meaning our bodies are breaking down proteins and lipids for energy. Maintaining a high level of protein intake helps to spare some of our lean mass when we are in a calorie sparse state. The number I shoot for is 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight (or goal weight if you have a lot to lose). I usually don’t have a problem hitting this number and often go over but that is not an issue and higher protein diets have been shown to be more beneficial for weight loss.
I know a lot of you struggle with protein intake. The foods that are high in protein usually take some form of cooking to prepare so its not as easy to get in if you don’t prep your own food. This is one reason why meal prepping is so important for dieting in my opinion. Having food on demand that is calorie and macro friendly will increase your chances at success. Think about those times you are hungry at 9PM. If you had high protein, lower calorie snacks in the freezer ready for you to go would you be more likely to choose those over the chips and cookies in the cabinet? Yes or yes?
Chicken breasts, ground chicken, egg whites, protein powder, Greek yogurt, and lean beef are all examples of good high protein low calorie foods. You can make the chicken into popcorn chicken or chicken tenders and the ground chicken into nuggets or fries. The egg whites can be cooked like scrambled eggs and topped with cheese. I like to do air fried potatoes with the egg whites and melted cheese over the top. The protein powder and Greek yogurt can be made into a number of different things. Protein Pancakes. Pancake Bites. Cheesecake. I eat an apple with Greek yogurt and a bit of splenda almost every day.
Part 7 – The Numbers
I use the app MyFitnessPal to track my calories and a digital kitchen scale to measure. The app makes it very easy to do and all of the TMPM recipes are in the MyFitnessPal database, just search for the name of the recipe followed by TMPM and it will show up. Using the digital scale you can obtain a weight for the food that you eat and enter that value into MyFitnessPal which will give you an estimate for the nutritional information of that food. The app even has a barcode scanner to make your tracking even easier.
I started this lil diet on October 17, 2020 at 176.6lbs and my goal was to get to 170lbs and then call it a day. However, once I reached 170 I reassessed and found that I wasn’t struggling at all and was in a decent groove so I decided to shoot for a goal of 10lbs of weight loss. I reached that goal on November 30, 2020. Six weeks and two days after I began, which put me slightly ahead of schedule but that just means I underestimated my TDEE. If you’ll recall my goal was to lose 1.32lbs per week which was 0.75% of my body weight. I ended up losing 1.59lbs per week, 0.9% of my body weight but still within the 1% threshold. Take a look at these charts. The first one is my weight taken every morning and the second one is my daily calorie intake over the course of the last 6 weeks.
After looking at these two charts take a wild guess which days I didn’t have any meals prepped or a plan for what I was going to do. The first outlier day was when I was driving back home from Dallas to Missouri and I forgot all of my good snacks in the fridge so I ended up housing an entire box of Cinnamon Chex and Kind bars on the way home. The 2nd and biggest outlier came from a day that I didn’t restrict at all. It was a day that my friends and I went out to dinner and I also went for a 50 mile bike ride so 4,500 calories probably isn’t too bad all things considered. I refueled that night with tacos and froyo and it was totally worth it. The 3rd outlier was when I was driving from Missouri to our new house in Denver. I was prepared for my drive this time and remembered to bring all of my good road snacks except I bought a jar of cashews and couldn’t stop myself from eating the entire jar.
So many people get worked up about one bad day in their eating and worry that it’s going to derail all of their progress, especially around this time of year. Look at my chart again. I had 3 of those bad days within a week. Sounds like a problem doesn’t it? But it wasn’t. I still met my goal and even came in ahead of schedule because every other day I was adhering to my goals. The days after the outliers I got back on track and made it happen. The power of averages will be in your favor as long as you are meeting your daily goals most of the time and staying consistent. Check out the table at the bottom of this article. It has every day of my eating logged. Remember how my goal was to eat 2,600 calories a day? My average over the course of the 6 weeks was 2,623 calories, including the splurging days. Moral of this story: don’t let one (or three) bad day(s) destroy what you’ve already worked for. Move on with it.
Part 8 – Wrap It Up
Making weight changes ultimately comes down to one thing: can you adhere to your plan in order to reach your goals? If the answer is yes then you will see success. To summarize how I found success in losing weight, you start with the method you want to use in order to create a caloric deficit. For me that way (and in my opinion the very best way) is to count your calories. Determine how many calories you need to eat per day to lose between 0.5%-1.0% of your body weight per week and after that you simply have to execute. Set yourself up to succeed. Meal prep a couple of recipes each week and keep lean protein options at the ready. If you find a food or meal that you enjoy and wouldn’t mind eating it often, stick with it. Make it everyday. It will take decision fatigue out of the equation. Lastly and most importantly stay consistent. If you have bad days move past them and get back to your plan. Making weight changes doesn’t happen overnight but if you stay consistent they will happen faster than you think.
Now I didn’t mention anything about exercise throughout this article but obviously it plays a considerable role in augmenting body composition. I continued with my regular resistance training plan of 6 days a week. During this time I hit an all time deadlift PR even as I was losing weight and improved my overall general fitness. I believe this can be attributed to a number of things such as intelligently determining my caloric deficit, keeping protein intake high to spare muscle mass and following a good strength training protocol to actually train the deadlift. Getting stronger while losing fat at the same time is the dream scenario. It sets you up for easier success in your training following a diet. It’s hard for me to believe that anyone who has body composition goals shouldn’t be including resistance training into their strategies.
This before picture isn’t quite accurate as it was taken about a month and a half before I actually started the diet but I didn’t think I was going to need a before picture when I started so I didn’t take one. I’m actually smaller in this picture than I was when I started on October 17 so pretend I had about 2-3 more pounds on my frame and that’s what I looked like.
My hope is that this article has helped you learn at least one thing to assist you in your own journeys. We all live different lives and while following exactly what I did will probably work for many of you, it won’t be what is best. I want you to apply this information in your own strategies and construct a plan that is customized to your lifestyle. One of the reasons I decided to do this little experiment and write this article was to show you that it is possible with a bit of dedication and consistency and it can happen faster than you think. Best of luck to you.