This article is to help those who have a lot of fat to lose. It is not for the experienced bodybuilder, preparing for a competition, or even the fitness enthusiast struggling to drop those last 5 or 10 stubborn pounds. This is for those who have a long ways to go.
It is for those who always dreamed about being in shape, about fitting into jeans with a 32-inch waist but right now are still struggling with that large silhouette in the mirror. It is for those who realize that they may not achieve their goals in 4 or 8 or even 12 weeks, because they have to drop an amount of fat equivalent to a small child.
As the opening quote suggests, the "answer" to good health and weight loss has been known for thousands of years and is simple. Doing what it takes, however, is not so simple - there are a number of reasons why dropping excess fat can be quite a struggle.
I am keenly familiar with the struggle. While I lost over 65 pounds of unwanted fat, after struggling with the extra weight for most of my life, the clients I work with have had twice that much or more to lose! It is a tough battle, but it is one you can win.
I know from my own personal journey that fighting your way through the fat to that lean, fit person you want to be can be like a maze, littered with obstacles and dead-ends. I am painfully familiar with those dead-ends, and hope that by identifying them here, you can avoid the many pitfalls involved with massive fat loss and burn your way to the lean bodybuilder you deserve to be. So, let's find out what the ten fattest mistakes you can make are!
1 / Decisions, Decisions
TRUTH: Don't fail to make the decision up front!
Are you kidding me? Of course you've made the decision. You know you want to get rid of that extra tire, exchange the six-pack of beer for the type of six-pack you can show, rather than share, at the beach. It was a simple choice, wasn't it? You're sick and tired of being overweight, so it's time to go. Right? RIGHT?! Wrong!
The biggest mistake many people make is starting a fat loss program without truly making a decision. Sure, we know you want to get rid of the extra weight, but have you stopped to truly think about why? It may seem trivial, but having a deep, meaningful reason is critical to success. It is one thing to throw the scale into the corner and bust down the gym door with a barbaric yell and start smashing iron around. But these things don't happen overnight - it takes time.
You spent years filling those sacks of adipose tissue with extra fat calories, so why would you expect them to empty their precious load overnight? Eventually, you will lose that initial high, and reality will come crashing down in its entire splendor.
You'll prepare a healthy meal and suddenly it will look too bland, or even revolting, and the only thought on your mind will be something taboo - something unhealthy.
Or you will hear the alarm blaring and decide you are just too tired. You might be staring at the treadmill and suddenly get the uneasy notion that it is mocking you, and decide you don't feel like struggling with the sweat and pain today.
It is these moments of weakness that the decision comes into play. See, if you just jumped into the endeavor, chances are, it will be just as easy to jump out. Sure, you are overweight, but man, that meal makes you happy, so you're just gonna sit down and have it anyway, right? Oh, yeah, you wanted to drop weight, but these workouts are tough, and don't you just want to rest? Sure, you can rest.
There is always tomorrow to train. You know what? It has been a rough week. Let's just start over again next week. You lull and coddle yourself into a pipe dream that isn't real, but hey, you let it seem real - you let it pull you in. You haven't truly committed to anything, so it gives you a nice, comfortable back door - push the eject button and stay awhile.
Let's get real. You've spent I don't know how long living a certain way. And you know what? You do not know what it feels like to be lean, strong, and healthy. Sure, you can try to imagine it or read articles about it, but how does it really feel? Don't you owe it to yourself to make a choice - an informed decision? I think you do. I think you can handle living a few months differently than you have before, even if you hate every moment of it, if it means emerging from the other side with a new physique, a new you.
It might be a battle but then you will know what it feels like to come out victorious. Sure, if it isn't what you had it chalked up to be, feel free to lapse and fall back into old habits... but how will you ever really know for certain?
Make a goal. But don't just make it. Make it real. Make it tangible. It should not be "I will lose weight." Instead, "I will lose 40 pounds," is better. "I will lose 40 pounds by July of next year" is probably best. Did you know that the only difference between a dream and a goal is a deadline? You need a specific deadline. You want something realistic? Consider this: men can typically lose between 0.5 - 1.5 percent of their body weight per week in fat if they are aggressively performing cardio, resistance training, and eating healthy.
Women are more in the 0.5 - 1 percent range. If you are male and sitting at 300 pounds, then look to lose between 6 - 18 percent of your weight (18 - 54 pounds) in 12 weeks. Wow, a big range, I know, but let's get real - you know where you are starting and how well you will stick to it. Slow and steady? 18 pounds is comfortable. You think you're ready to go balls to the wall, all out, and hit it like no tomorrow? Then set those sights high and take the 54 pounds.
Now, it is not enough just to lose the weight. You need compelling reasons. See, your mind will play tricks with you every step of the way. It is very easy to talk yourself into the "I will be happy if I just eat this piece of food - so I am going to do it" if you don't have a solid reason.
Just want to drop the weight? Hey, who cares, take an eternity. But if you are doing it for health, then you'll realize this isn't something to stop and start at will - it is a full time commitment. If you are doing it for your children, then you know that you need to set an example around the clock, not just when it is convenient.
Set those goals, know your reasons, and explain how you will achieve the goals. Write these down. Put them on paper. Share the word with everyone you are comfortable with. Print multiple copies and carry them with you. Read them every day. Most importantly, make the decision. Don't lie to yourself and sell yourself short - this is a major decision. If you make it, you'd better be willing to see it through to the end. (Check out Chris Zaino's article, Contract your Goals to Keep You Motivated!)
2 / Cardio Until You Crawl
TRUTH: Don't put too much emphasis on cardio!
For some reason, aerobic exercise continues to be pushed as the end-all, be-all answer for fat loss. It does not take much common sense, however, to look around and realize this may not be the case. Now, I have nothing against overweight aerobics instructors - every person has their own reasons for being who they are - but if aerobics were really the key, wouldn't that concept become an oxymoron? And when we look at marathon runners, we see they are lean ... but so are sprinters, and I don't know many sprinters who spend hours at a time on treadmills or recumbent bicycles.
This huge stumbling block for fat loss (excess cardio) has a basis in an argument that sounds entirely logical. Let's do a little energy systems 101 and we can better understand why this myth is so prevalent, and figure out what to do to fix it.
First, your body has something called energy systems that are used to fuel activity. Contrary to what some people may believe, your body draws on all of these systems, all of the time. The activity you perform, however, dictates which system is the one mainly being used (not exclusively). Just as your body always gets some of its energy requirements from protein, your body is always using a little bit of each system.
Two systems are anaerobic, which means they do not use oxygen. The ATP-CP system is used for short, intense bouts of work. Without getting too technical, a molecule in your muscle cell is split to generate energy, and creatine phosphate is used to rebuild that molecule so more energy can be produced. This system is especially important for high intensity activity such as weight training, but it only lasts for around ten seconds. Creatine supplementation can increase the capacity of this system.
The second anaerobic system is known as the lactic acid system or anaerobic glycolysis. This system is the predominant system for moderately intense activity that lasts around 2 minutes. This system uses glucose (a form of sugar) present in your blood, or glycogen stored in your muscle cell, for fuel. Post workout nutrition, such as shakes, may help recharge this energy system and keep you primed for the next workout.
The final system, and the one that takes center stage with aerobic activity, is the oxidative system because, yes, it uses oxygen. This system can use protein, carbohydrate, or fat for fuel, but relies mainly on carbohydrates. What is interesting about this system is that, depending on your heart rate; it will use more or less carbohydrate, protein, or fat. The lower your heart rate, in general, the more it will use fat for fuel rather than carbohydrate or protein.
This is where science stops and pure speculation can ruin the whole affair. First, people get excited when they realize that the lower heart rate burns more fat. If you think about it, sitting at your desk or sleeping makes you a fat burning machine! While this is, to a certain extent true, if you focus too closely on the details, you'll lose the big picture. What is most important for fat loss is total calories, period and point blank.
The type of activity you perform and the nutrition you use and even supplementation will all affect this, but without the right calorie balance, you will simply not have a net loss in fat.
Choosing a system that uses more energy from fat doesn't necessarily burn more fat. Huh? Let me illustrate. Let's say you are sitting at your desk for a few hours. You may burn, say, 80 calories and maybe 80% of those calories are from fat. I am using arbitrary numbers here to illustrate a point - you just burned 80 total calories and about 64 of those were from fat. Great. Now let's get on the treadmill and run on an incline for 1.3 miles in 10 minutes.
You probably burned 200 - 300 calories in 10 minutes. Sure, you may have only used 50% or even fewer calories from fat, but in those 10 minutes on the treadmill, you still burned more fat than in 2 hours of sitting at your desk! So, you can burn a high percentage of calories from fat but a lower number of total calories, or you can burn a lower percentage of calories from fat but a higher number of calories.
The fact is, zeroing in on cardio is oversimplifying and setting you up for failure. Sure, incorporate some cardio. It is great for your heart; it helps to burn calories and will contribute to fat loss. But nutrition is just as important - you will have to stay on the treadmill for a long, long time to make up for one super-sized value meal at a fast food restaurant.
Resistance training not only burns a ton of calories when done intensely, but can actually raise your metabolism so that you can burn additional calories even after you are done exercising! Not only that, it stimulates muscle growth. Muscle tissue burns additional calories and contributes to your ability to drop fat.
An interesting fact about gaining muscle is that more muscle tissue means more enzymes and small cellular structures called organelles that are used to burn fat. That's right. Muscle tissue gives your body more materials used in the processing of fat for energy - so its contribution to helping you lose fat goes beyond just burning extra calories. This is why a program that balances proper nutrition with cardio and resistance training is key to maximize fat loss.
I tried to avoid citing specific studies for this article, but a few key examples may help drive home the point - weight training combined with diet burns more fat than weight training by itself or diet by itself (1). Weight training combined with cardio burns more fat than cardio by itself (2). So the best combination appears to be all three! And don't get caught up in that more-is-better mentality, either.
Save the extra cardio and exercise for when you are closer to your goal - add too much, too soon, and you will simply burn out with nothing more to give. (Check out the training section for the right resistance training program for you!)
3 / Fear Of The Scale
TRUTH: Do not fear the scale!
It seems to be fairly popular for people to run around these days and scream, "Don't believe the scale! It lies!" The truth is, many people use the scale to measure their progress and are successful with using it as a fat loss tool. A good scale does not lie - it tells you exactly how much you weigh. The danger comes from interpreting that number the wrong way, or placing too much emphasis on it.
Understand that fluctuations in the scale do not represent pure fat or muscle - it is a combination of both. The scale reflects the amount of water you are retaining along with any food that has not yet been processed by your system.
The key to using the scale is to understand this:
- If you have a large amount of fat to lose, the scale will go down. If you are 300 pounds, unless you have access to some cache of steroids like none other on the planet, you will be hard-pressed to drop 100 pounds of fat and gain 100 pounds of muscle at the same time.
- Your scale weight will fluctuate from day to day, based on many factors, including the amount of carbohydrate you ingest and the ratio of sodium to potassium in your food (both which pull water into your system - carbohydrate through glycogen in your muscles and sodium through water retention via the ion pump)
- You might gain 7 - 10 pounds after a cheat day and even 4 - 7 pounds after a cheat meal. It really depends on your nutrition plan and how drastic the cheat meal is. This rapid gain is not all fat. To gain 10 pounds of fat would require overeating 35,000 calories, a tremendous feat to achieve and one that would be worthy of the record books. Instead, it is more than likely some fat and a lot of water weight.
- Don't weigh every day unless you are mentally ready to handle the fluctuations. I weigh each day but I know my body fluctuates, so I do not freak out when I register a 3-pound rise from the day before. I enjoy watching the trend but it is the average weight change over several weeks that I am more concerned with than day to day.
In summary, do not use the scale as your only guide. You might gain 2 pounds of muscle and drop 2 pounds of fat in a given week, and the scale will not move. But taken as an average over time, those with a lot of fat to lose should expect the scale to go down. Very few people actually reduce body fat while the scale remains the same or moves up, and those people are usually lean to begin with.
Used in conjunction with tape measurements, skin-fold measurements (body fat), strength, and other parameters, the scale is a great tool for those with a lot of weight to lose. Learn more in my article, 'Learn How To Measure Your Success!'.
Finally, there is one last reason why the scale could be an ally for someone standing to lose a tremendous amount of fat. Research shows that when you are extremely overweight, you are more likely to drop fat than muscle when reducing your size. The converse is also true: a lean person is more likely to lose muscle when they are cutting than fat, which is why preparing for a bodybuilding competition is infinitely more difficult than dropping the first 100 pounds of weight, because more care must be taken to preserve or even increase lean muscle mass.
Therefore, if you are over 30% body fat, focusing on the scale is probably your most accurate measure of success. Tape measurements will help but skin-folds and other body fat assessments are probably not going to be accurate. You can be assured, however, than even an aggressive 1% drop in body fat per week (for a 300 pound person, this is 3 pounds / week) or more is more than likely going to be fat and water weight if you are resistance training and obtaining proper amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats from your nutrition plan.
4 / Body Fat Worship
TRUTH: Do not live and die by your body fat percentage!
Body fat is, like the scale, another way to gauge progress. But when you are extremely overweight, body fat measurements can be extremely prone to error. It seems like every male over 250 pounds is automatically thirty (30) percent body fat regardless of their height or weight or size. I say this sarcastically but the fact of the matter is that many body fat measurements were not calibrated to extremely overweight people.
The problem with worshipping a body fat measurement is that it can set unrealistic expectations. I remember when I first computed my body fat. I quickly calculated what my lean mass was and then did the math of what I would weigh at 8% body fat if I did not lose any muscle mass. Then I started dropping pounds and eagerly waited for the day I would see my ripped six-pack.
Of course, that day came and went - but no six-pack! I was frustrated, and many people at this point make up the excuse, "My genetics must be keeping me from it". The reality was that my "measurement" was off by a long shot and I put too much weight in that one measurement.
If you are curious to track your progress, use a combination of measurements. Sure, body fat is a valid one to use because you do want that measurement to go down. But don't place too much emphasis on it being the exact, correct measurement. While stating that you lost exactly 10.5 pounds of fat and gained 2.5 pounds of lean mass in a given time frame might be great for supplement ads or to promote the latest weight loss fad, numbers that precise aren't realistic without expensive, laboratory-grade equipment or at least a very skilled professional.
Instead, use body fat to track trends along with the tape measure and your scale weight. Don't worry about trying to figure out what you will weigh at a particular body fat, because every person is different. It is hard to predict just how much lean mass you will gain or lose. I have seen so many people frustrated by loss of lean mass due to body fat calculations, who do not even realize what lean mass is.
Lean mass is not only muscle - it includes most of the non-fat substances in your body. Even fat itself contains water, so when you lose a significant amount of fat, you lose a significant amount of water. This will register as a loss of lean mass, but that does not mean you lost muscle!
It is amusing sometimes to see people who are far from seeing their six-pack claim they are 8% body fat while some who are ripped to shreds swear they are 18%. This is an example where the number becomes too much of the focus. Really, who cares except you? You are the key person - if you feel great and like the way you look, does that exact number really matter? Remember, we are not talking about a bodybuilding competition here!
If you are really interested in giving yourself a reality check, consider the fat free mass index. The equation is your weight (in kilograms) divided by your height (in meters) squared. A study of elite athletes who both admitted to using steroids, as well as those who claimed not to have, combined with analysis of 20 Mr. America winners in the pre-steroid era (1939 - 1959) has determined that 25 is pretty much an upper limit for someone who does not use steroids (1). A fat free mass index of 19 is the average for males (2).
So, take your estimated body fat and compute your lean mass. First, subtract your estimate for body fat from 100 to get the lean mass amount. For example, if you believe your body fat percentage is 30%, then your lean mass percentage is going to be 70% (100% - 30%). In decimal, that is 0.7. You will multiply this by your weight to get lean mass.
Calculate Your FFMI
Take your weight and divide by 2.2 to convert it into kilograms. I am 185 pounds and I believe that I am 10% body fat, so my lean mass percentage is 90%. 185 / 2.2 = 84 kilograms * 0.9 = 76 kilograms of lean mass. So now I just take my height in meters (take your height in inches and multiply by 0.0254) and use the equation. I am 5 foot 10 inches, or 70 inches tall. 70 x 0.0254 = 1.78 meters. My fat free mass index is 76 / (1.78 * 1.78) = 23.9. In the study, they also adjusted it for a 1.8 meter individual, so I add 6 * (1.78 - 1.8) = -0.12 = 23.8.
Fat Free Mass Index (FFMI) = Lean Mass (kg) / Height (m) ^ 2
Adjusted FFMI = FFMI + 6.0 * ( Height (m) - 1.8 )
If you use this equation and find that your fat free mass index is higher than 25, then there is a good chance your calculations are off. If it is less, it does not mean it is more accurate but at least it is in a more probable range. (Check out the Bodybuilding.com store for your own set of fat calipers and tape measures)
5 / Fat & Carbohydrates
TRUTH: Do not think that fat or carbohydrates are the only macronutrients to tweak in order to reach your goals!
Almost everyone agrees that protein is important. What becomes a matter for debate is the role that other macronutrients, such as fat and carbohydrate, should play.
In the previous two decades, fat was considered the evil culprit. Americans were inundated with the message to avoid fat at all costs, and the food industry responded by generating a plethora of new food items that touted their amazing low fat qualities. Of course, the rise in obesity was not curbed despite the innovative new products that essentially amounted to lumps of refined sugar with no fat to slow digestion.
We have since learned our lesson, and realize that fats are an important part of the diet. The mainstream has come to accept such space-age sounding terms as omega-3 and omega-6 and even the average consumer can talk about eating cold-water fish and taking their flaxseed. We are still unnecessarily afraid of saturated fats, however.
While saturated fats are definitely are not the most favorable fats, consumption of them is not a prescription for a slow, agonizing death. Someone who is maintaining or dropping weight will more than likely metabolize saturated fats for energy. There are certain saturated fats like coconut oils that are a different type of saturated fat than their animal counterparts (yes, even saturated fats have their own styles).
One of the greatest advantages of saturated fats is that they retain their molecular structure under high heat. The recent increase in knowledge about trans-fatty acids has taught us to beware of vegetable-based oils and other unsaturated fats. While these oils may be healthy in the diet, when they are superheated (as in frying), they can transform into carcinogens. A little bit of saturated fat, on the other hand, keeps your eggs from sticking to the plate and does not add hundreds of calories if kept in moderation.
An egg yolk here or there, from the right type of egg (i.e. from free-range or grain-fed chickens rather than the corn-stuffed mainstream version) can actually provide a healthy dose of healthy fats, Vitamin E, and high-quality protein.
Of course, once we realized that the irrational fear of fats was a knee-jerk overreaction, we had to find some other obsession to craze the nutrition world with, so we focused on carbohydrates instead. The notion of limiting carbohydrate intake has been around for several centuries. It has been studied extensively for its role in treatment of epilepsy, but everyone with a lot of weight to lose dose not suffer from recurring seizures.
It is not the concept of limiting carbohydrate that is new, it is the trendy marketing packages that wrap them up and serve them to us. Nearly a thousand low carbohydrate products have been introduced to the market over the past few years ? can you say, "trend"?
Let's get the facts straight. Your brain prefers carbohydrate as fuel. Your liver dedicates itself almost exclusively to the management of carbohydrate in your bloodstream, so it stands to reason our bodies were designed to handle carbohydrate. Muscle requires carbohydrate to contract, stored in the form of glycogen.
While a low carbohydrate diet can slowly replenish muscle glycogen through the process of converting proteins into sugars, this is an inefficient process. Most people report feeling fatigued, drained, and losing strength on low carbohydrate diets.
Protein can and will be stored as fat if eaten in excess. While it requires more energy to metabolize, it is not magic and will increase your midsection. On the other hand, reducing carbohydrate may reduce your ability to train intensely. This, in turn, can reduce the number of calories that you burn during a particular training session, which can therefore limit muscle gain or even cause loss of lean tissue.
Everyone is different. People will respond to different ratios of fats and carbohydrates. Take a step back, however, and don't get lost in the trend. All macronutrients are important to lose fat - water, protein, fat, and carbohydrate. You should not instantly minimize one or the other without understanding why you making the change. Most people can successfully drop fat simply by restricting overall calories.
This means it is okay to eat the occasional cold-water fish or lean ground beef despite the fat. It means that a baked potato or piece of fruit is not going to automatically shut down your ability to drop weight. More important than obsessing over carbohydrates or fats is to find a program that you enjoy (who wants to live on foods they don't like), and that supplies sufficient energy to allow you to both train intensely and recover fully. (Check out the Bodybuilding.com cutting up diets and nutrition calculators!)
6 / A Picture Is Worth A 1,000 Pounds
TRUTH: Do not make the mistake of not taking a before picture!
In August of 1999, I stood in front of the blinds at the front of my house and waited patiently as my wife snapped a photo of me holding a newspaper for a competition I would enter. At the time, this was just a necessary step for the competition. I did not think much of it, except that I felt humiliated and disgusting. When the pictures came back, two things happened. First, I realized what an amazing woman my wife was for being so supportive of what I saw, and second, I was fully motivated to make a change because while I trick myself looking in the mirror, the photo did not lie.
Not everyone is entering a competition for prize money, and not everyone is comfortable sharing his or her photographs. Some people are starting out much heavier than the 245 I began my own journey with. However, I cannot tell you how powerful taking a picture can be. It may be the one decision that makes or breaks your efforts to lose fat!
Even if you have no plans of sharing that picture with anyone else, I encourage you to take it. Tuck it away somewhere safe. You might not even want to look at it for months. But, inevitably, two things will happen. Those who struggle or hit roadblocks will pull out that old photograph.
It will remind them of how trapped they felt before they began the long journey to losing fat, and it will inspire and reinvigorate them to continue the journey. Or, someone who is making great progress will look back, and, with nostalgia, vow to never return. They will print that picture off and use it as continuous motivation to live the healthy lifestyle.
If you transform and decide you never want to share that picture with anyone, you don't have to. But what if you did not take the picture and suddenly you want to remember where you came from, or to share it with someone else to prove that they, too, can make the journey? It would be a shame and a great regret to find you had no photographs to share.
This is where the power of the picture really comes into play - it is not only something that can help you with your journey, but it holds tremendous power to spur others to make the amazing change themselves. And that can and should encourage you to continue - not because you need to drop those pounds, but because in doing so, you'll not only be making a difference in your own life, but for the lives of others as well! (Check out the transformation section at Bodybuilding.com for amazing before/after stories!)
7 / The Black & White Syndrome
TRUTH: Do not get stuck in an all-or-nothing mindset!
I first learned about this from David Greenwalt, a former coach and mentor of mine who helped me break the mysterious "single digits body fat" barrier in 2000. Understanding this made a huge difference with my progress!
Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it is not happening. Sometimes you might be improving your health in less visible ways. It seems there is a prevalent "either/or" mentality that can disrupt many programs. Either you are perfect, or you just give up. Either you train at exactly 4:30am, or you simply don't train that day. The either/or, or black and white syndrome, can interfere with a lot of progress.
Keith Klein, a well-known and respected nutritionist, has a great way of describing this. He compares it to a car. When you get a flat tire, what do you do? If you can, you change the tire. If you don't know how, you have someone help. Eventually, you repair or replace the tire and move on. So why is it, on nutrition programs, do people get a flat tire, then instead of fixing it and moving on, they insist on flattening all of the other tires as well? It is like taking a crow bar and smashing the car instead of saying, oops, there is a set back, time to move on.
This can be applied to working out as well. For example, someone might read that morning workouts are superior for burning fat. Without debating whether or not this is true, the either/or mentality would say that if you cannot get your workout done in the morning, why even bother.
In reality, working out in the evening is still better than not working out at all - you should train when you can do it consistently, and when you have the most energy. So if you cannot always train in the morning, why not go ahead and try it in the evening? Be flexible and don't get caught in the black and white syndrome.
Another example comes with rest between programs. People recognize the need to take some time off from training every once in awhile for recovery or sometimes even special "detraining". One complaint I get is, "It was so hard to discipline myself to get up at 4:30am to train. If I take a week from training, I will break out of that habit and not be able to start again."
This is a great example, because let me rephrase: either I wake up at 4:30am to train, or I sleep in. Why not compromise? Why not spend that week waking up at 4:30 and then writing down new goals, or reading a new book, or taking a calm walk? Keep the schedule, keep the discipline, but let your body have a break!
There are many other examples to follow, but the fact is, there will never be a perfect 8 weeks or 12 weeks or whatever time frame you design your program around. Life happens, and obstacles appear. You can choose to have a rigid, inflexible standard for yourself, and allow the first bump in the road to derail your progress, or you can avoid the black and white syndrome, and adapt to changes while focusing on progress.
8 / 10 Pounds In 2 Days?
TRUTH: Do not think you can undo overnight what took years of neglect to create!
We all are trapped by some notion that we need to see changes right away. We give a program our full, all out effort, but within 2 weeks we don't see our abs or cuts in our legs or the scale stops moving and instead of progressing, we stop. We step back. We try to change things, switch programs, or buy a new supplement. The fact is, that first program may have been the best one - but if you are too impatient, you may never know.
It took years to build the physique you have now. I sometimes jokingly refer to my before pictures as the biggest investment of my life. I look at the gut I had at 245 pounds and think about how many six packs, pizzas, fast food visits, videos that I sat and watched instead of training, etc. went into building something that large. This is not meant to belittle anyone who is overweight - it is an honest tool I have used to motivate myself. Like it or not, a lot of time and lack of energy went into building your physique!
While some people have experienced rapid weight gain, for many this was a gradual change. It started out when the first pair of 34" pants got too tight, and after losing patience with squeezing into them, pulling in your gut, and not tucking in your shirts, you went ahead and bought the next larger size.
This lasted for another several months, and then we went up a size again. What is nice is that jeans and slacks can be forgiving - we can stretch and squeeze into them for quite some time before the zipper stops working or the buttons pop off. So, over time, we invest in size.
This investment, however, is not going to suddenly unroll. Just as it took time to put the weight on, it will take time to take it off. Let's be very real here - while the weight may drop quickly the first few weeks or even months, ultimately (and optimally, I might add) you may only lose a few pounds per week.
When you have 100 pounds to lose, that may seem an eternity. What is worse, you typically don't allow yourself to see the changes until you reach lower body fat levels - this is when the muscle definition shows through and the abs start to pop. At that level, changes can be seen almost weekly - but until then, you simply become a smaller you, and the flab still hangs on.
This can be very frustrating. But the trick is to use many ways to gauge your progress and not get too caught up in one or the other. Accept that this will take time. Even if you only lose 1 pound in a month, guess what? That is 12 pounds a year. With 100 pounds to go, you can only move closer to, not farther from, your goal.
A few tips to help bide the time:
- Take pictures and use these to monitor your progress (see tip #6)
- Buy a pair of pants that is one size too small. Then, periodically try this pair on until you can fit. Then, buy the next size down.
- Take waist, biceps, and other measurements. The waist should always be going down, never going up, as you drop your weight.
- Find examples of other people who have lost similar weight. Read their stories. Look at their pictures. Talk to them and learn what to realistically expect.
- Remind yourself of the time it took to gain the weight, and don't expect to lose it any faster
- Look at other indicators of progress. If you did not lose a pound this week, think of the fact that other changes are happening as well - you may be reducing your cholesterol, lowering your blood pressure, and in general, improving your health
- Don't give up. Focus on progress, no matter how slow, and keep in mind that every pound you lose, no matter how long it takes, is another pound of unwanted fat you will not have to deal with again!
9 / Supplements To The Rescue
TRUTH: Do not think that supplements are the only way to lose fat!
How often have you wondered, what supplement will burn this fat for me? Or have you been on a forum or in a chat room, and heard "I just tried a new fat burner, and man, it is really working for me." You felt a surge of excitement - here, a firsthand testimonial! You quickly ask what the product is, and rush out to buy it. And when you get it, it does work. You feel a rush. It feels great. You are skipping. But a few months later, the weight loss stalls again. What was it? I know, I know... your body "adapted" to the supplement, right?
In reality, supplements are a complex matter and the point of this article is not to debate which ones are effective and which ones aren't. But after working with countless people who have had a ton of weight to lose, I can tell you this: supplements are not the solution. There are merely tools that can help you create the solution and achieve your goals, but they cannot fix bad nutrition or lack of intensity in the gym.
Supplements are more like a tool - like a screwdriver. Now a screwdriver, by itself, may help you drive a screw into wood or some other material. But ultimately, you are the one who has to perform the work. And the screwdriver in the hand of a skilled carpenter may perform much more effectively than one in the hands of a child. The point that I am trying to drive home is that the tool itself helps perform the work, but you must put forth the effort.
There are many supplements targeted at burning fat. Unfortunately, many of these supplements are surrounded by hype. The one supplement that has been studied the most for losing fat, the renowned ECA stack (the combination of ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin), has come under fire for more political reasons than anything else, and therefore is being pulled from the shelves by many manufacturers.
Even this supplement, which was very effective during many research trials, only achieved the equivalent of an extra 50 - 150 calories per day. This same deficit could be easily obtained by limiting portion sizes or increase activity.
The problem with this is that someone who has a very detailed nutrition plan can afford to make a tweak that is 50 - 150 calories. Their nutrition and training are consistent and the additional "burn" may be beneficial. Many people, however, are haphazard with their nutritional approach. They consume foods based on eyeballing the portion sizes and allow themselves to snack on various foods throughout the day and even take entire days to eat whatever they like. Think about it - for a product that affords an extra 400 - 800 calories per week, does it make sense to overeat another 1000 calories and expect to see results?
Many supplements are marketed based on the "I feel it" syndrome. Most end users do not keep detailed journals of their weight or measurements or even food logs. So they really have no clue if something is working or not - they only have their emotions to go by. So when they start taking a product, it gives them a buzz or some other kick. This makes them believe they can "feel" the fat burning, literally "sense" the supplement working.
While this is great for sales, it does little to really help you move closer to your goal - feeling a buzz from drinking a cup of coffee or popping a thermogenic pill is a far cry from actually burning fat.
As I mentioned, supplements will not and cannot fix a broken program. You must already have the discipline to control what goes into your mouth and what effort you put forth when training. Once you have established this baseline, you can look to adding these new tools. But be realistic. First, regardless of what the latest study says, you need to know if it works for you. Saying that most people lose an extra 5 pounds of fat is fine, but that doesn't help you - you are not "most people", you are unique in your environment, with your own set of genetics, your own training regimen, and your own nutrition.
So, study the supplement - and go to the sources. Don't learn about protein powder by reading articles published by protein powder companies - that is like asking Phillip Morris if it is okay to have a cigarette. Instead, dig deeper, find qualified research, ask fitness professionals, and read FAQs and other sources of information such as those provided here at Bodybuilding.com. Then, take the supplement, but keep that journal. You should just the effectiveness based on how your weight changes or how closer you come to your goals, not how you feel when taking it.
Remember, supplements may help, but you must put forth the effort yourself, and remember they will not rescue your program, only help an already effective one perform better.
10 / To Think That Exercise Will "Burn It Off"
TRUTH: Do not get caught in the trap of thinking you can eat anything you like, because you can simply exercise to "burn it off"!
I have heard this time and time again. "I am going to be fine for Thanksgiving dinner - I'll just run extra." Not that I think that running or exercising after overeating is a bad idea - it is not. It is a good idea. It is smart to burn extra calories and train to take advantage of the extra calories you consumed. But it can be fatal to assume you can consistently overeat and then fix it through training.
Let's be realistic. A person who runs an incredibly intense 20-minute HIIT session may burn around 400 calories. That is fine if your splurge was limited to a few extra French fries or a typical Snickers bar. But when you consume a large plate of Italian pasta in a cream sauce loaded with sausage and then have that Cesar salad on the side with the buttered down rolls and finish it up with a chocolate mousse pie and espresso shot mixed with Kahlua, you may be in for a surprise.
This meal, alone, can account for 1000 - 2000 calories due to the fat, alcohol, and carbohydrate content (there may be protein, too, but not as much as a bodybuilder would desire). So a simple 20 minutes hard on the treadmill, or even an hour going easy, just won't cut it.
What is worse is that your body continuously adapts to your level of nutrition intake and exercise. Eventually, homeostasis will slow your metabolism. At this point, the only solution will be to eat less. Normally, you could increase exercise, too, but you are already overdoing it by continuously knocking out hours of cardio to overcompensate for meals that you could have simply controlled in the first place. Not a fun situation to be in.
Instead, a more sane approach is to balance your nutrition and training. You do not necessarily have to weigh everything or count calories, but you need to be consistent.
Whether you know a meal is 400 calories, or a cup of something, or a fist-sized portion of something, is irrelevant - what is relevant is that you have a consistent method of making that meal. This way, if you find you need to cut back in order to lose more, you can move to 300 calories or ? of a cup or just less than your fist size. Be consistent with your portions and you will be able to adjust them.
Nutrition is by far the major component that determines success or failure for fat loss. So eat clean, most of the time, and try to allow yourself only occasional cheat meals. One meal a week should be fine, and then adding exercise to compensate is not necessarily a problem. It is when you overeat every day that no amount of exercise is going to account for those additional calories.
Probably the most important thing to consider is the mentality behind this. Regardless of the science, giving you the ability to "exercise off" the calories is just giving yourself an easy out, a backdoor, an excuse. It is keeping you from truly committing to the lifestyle. In the back of your mind, you never truly have to learn to enjoy the new, healthy way of eating because you can always slip and burn it off.
It is exactly this thinking that can prevent you from succeeding at point #1 - truly making a decision. So, don't sell yourself short or give yourself any excuses - forget the nonsense about burning it off. You are looking at it backwards. Instead of burning off the foods you eat, eat to fuel your body for the workouts you use to build a better body and burn off the unwanted fat. There is a clich?xpression that describes this perfectly - eat to live, do not live to eat.
In my experience, these are the top ten (10) major mistakes many people make when trying to lose a lot of fat. More importantly than avoiding these mistakes, however, is focusing on the positive changes that you can make to take you closer to your goal. A friend of mine, Cory Babstock, started at 300 pounds. He is now under 200 and is preparing for his first bodybuilding competition.
He shared with me the top ten (10) things he has focused on to remain successful while dropping fat. I would like to share that list to conclude this article!
Top Ten Things To Remain Successful:
- Set goals
- Keep a journal
- Educate yourself
- Move your body
- Eat, but eat smart
- Keep the focus
- Maintain intensity
- Ignore distractions
- Embrace success
(1) Kouri EM, Pope HG Jr, Katz DL, Oliva P. Fat-free mass index in users and nonusers of anabolic-androgenic steroids. Clin J Sport Med. 1995 Oct;5(4):223-8.
(2) Schutz Y, Kyle UU, Pichard C. Fat-free mass index and fat mass index percentiles in Caucasians aged 18-98 y. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2002 Jul;26(7):953-60.