Over the past two years I've tried many things to both lose weight and gain muscle. I've tried various diets, tried eating a little bit, tried eating a lot, ate mostly meat, etc. After two years of experimentation here's what's helped me (continue to) lose weight, gain muscle, and enjoy the process.
The Nine Keys
- Set a concrete goal. By “concrete” I mean be specific and give it a deadline. For me that goal is currently “Weigh 170 pounds by December 1, 2015”. The goal doesn't have to be weight, it could be a certain body fat percentage (perhaps a better goal than weight) or a certain dress/pant size. Having a date allows you to tell yourself that it will come to an end, so just stick with it for now.
- Determine your why. I don't care why you want to achieve your goal, I only care that you have a why. It could be purely vanity, health, whatever. The why should be strong enough to keep you motivated during your adjustment phase.
- Figure out what it will take to get there. I figured I was eating too much to lose weight, but I wasn't sure how much I should be eating. I used the calorie calculator at Muscle For Life (a great resource) to determine what my current calorie needs were, deducted 20% from that (on Mike's recommendation), and am using that number as my daily calorie intake.
- Track the key metrics: food intake, exercise, and measurements. I am horrible at eyeballing portion sizes so I use MyNetDiary to track everything I eat. I also use it to track the amount of exercise I do as well as my measurements (weight, waist size, etc.).
- Plan ahead. I've found that, for me, if I plan ahead it's easier to stick to my plan. Every Sunday I plan my breakfasts, lunches, and second lunches (I eat 4 times per day). Dinner I'm a bit flexible with, though I stick to my calorie plan. It's a cliche for a reason – a failure to plan is a plan to fail. I cook my lunches every Sunday, box them up, and then put them into my bag before heading to work each day.
- Don't beat yourself up for falling off the wagon one day. I can't stress how important this is. If you eat more than you “should” at a meal, miss a workout, or whatever, do not beat yourself up about it. Determine to get back on your plan starting with the next meal or the next day. Keep going; one “slip up” is not an enormous setback. And no, you aren't a bad or weak person for giving in to a craving. Give yourself a break. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back on plan.
- Don't try to make up for a slip the next day. Simply continue with your plan.
- Keep it simple. The book Diet Cults provides an excellent diet quality hierarchy of foods to eat (see below). It also explains the why behind a lot of the popular diets that are out there – all diets that I reject. I enjoy being able to eat whatever I want as long as it works with my goals.
- Maintain flexibility. Try something for a month and see if it works. If so, great! If not, make an adjustment and keep going. Do you hate your workout? Try another one! Just be sure to give each adjustment time to work.
The “Diet Cults” Diet Quality Hierarchy
I highly suggest picking up a copy of the book to get all the details, but here's the overview of the hierarchy of foods, ranked from best to worst:
- Nuts, seeds, and healthy oils
- High-quality meat and seafood
- Whole grains
- Refined grains
- Low-quality meat and seafood
- Fried foods
Nothing is off limits. Does this mean I eat a ton of fried foods, doughnuts and other stuff like that? Nope. However I do have one every once in a while, and I don't feel guilty about it. That dinner with my family at Buffalo Wild Wings? Loved it! Having said that, when I plan my meals I start with the veggies and go from there.
Here's a list of resources that have helped me lose weight, gain muscle, and keep my sanity on my journey to greater fitness:
- Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us – if you only read one book on dieting, make it this one. You won't be let down.
- Fat Loss Happens On Monday – great recommendations on diets and workouts. I did the workouts before hitting straight kettlebells.
- Kettlebell Simple & Sinister – I ordered a 35lb and 50lb kettlebell and canceled by gym membership. This book is by Pavel, the man who brought kettlebell training to the United States. It keeps it simple and makes you stronger.
- Becoming a Supple Leopard – this book will help you gain greater mobility/flexibility and decrease the risk of injury. Don't think mobility is important? Even the Navy SEALS have mobility incorporated into their training.
Online / Phone Tools
- Muscle For Life – calorie calculator (online)
- MyNetDiary – for tracking your important metrics (online/phone)
- Headspace – great for meditations (online/phone)
- Spreadsheet (any) – I did say keep it simple
Supplements include everything from multivitamins to pre-workout fat burners. Rather than point you to specific ones I'll say this:
- Legion Athletics – this company was founded by Mike Matthews from Muscle For Life (yes, I'm a fan). All of the formulas are on the bottle, each ingredient justified, and they simply work for me.
- Netrition.com – this place has the lowest prices on most vitamins that I've seen. Generally speaking I purchase NOW products, such as the creatine monohydrate I've linked to
- Amazon.com – when in doubt shop on Amazon. I compare their prices with Netrition.com. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don't.
Are You On a Journey To Health?
If so, what's worked for you? Please share your experience below.