How to Lose Weight & Maintain Your Numbers
Manipulating your body weight is chiefly a measure of calories in, and calories out. The resulting energy balance will determine the output on the scale.
This daily energy balance can be manipulated through caloric input (eating) and caloric output (activity) – and these are generally the most easily controllable variables for effecting weight change.
Move less, eat more (than present-day) > increase in weight.
Move more, eat less (than present-day) > decrease in weight.
There are other variables that also affect caloric expenditure such as:
- the thermic effect of food (calories spent in processing what you eat)
- changes in lean body mass
- changes in physical activity in response to caloric reduction
- overall changes in caloric expenditure by virtue of there being less of “you” to maintain.
Smaller people necessitate, and therefore “burn” less energy. We will recall this information later.
Successful Strategies for Weight Loss
In my personal experience(s) during fat loss: managing food intake has proven the more effective lever in successful reductions in body weight.
Increasing activity (via cardio or otherwise) works but it’s time consuming. That’s important because it poses a challenge – life can easily get in the way.
Consider the following scenarios:
Walking 30-minutes at a light/mod pace expends roughly 140 calories.
Drinking a can of coke consumes 140 calories.
In a real-life situation, omitting the consumption of a can of coke would be a far more effective caloric reduction strategy.
Because it takes 10 seconds to drink a can of coke, while many things can interfere with your being able to complete a 30-minute walk.
- Things that just randomly happen that need to be tended to, etc.
Depending on how much time you have on your hands, it’s generally easier to omit eating something than it is to increase your activity levels.
And yes, sure. You can increase the intensity rate of your activity, and therefore burn more calories in that same time window.
But as a matter of practical application – I’ve found that, personally: eating less, rather than doing more is generally easier to adhere to.
And that is the key to successful long-term body composition management: creating changes and habits that YOU can adhere to for the long run, given your personal daily circumstances.
The National Weight Control Registry has enumarated the habits of over 10,000 people who’ve lost at least 30 lbs and kept it off for more than a year to be:
- 98% of participants modified their food intake in some way to lose weight
- 90% of participants exercise an average of about 1 hour per day
- 78% eat breakfast every day.
- 75% weigh themselves at least once a week.
- 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week.
Even if small changes might seem insignificant in the short-term, over a long period of time, they add up quick.
Consuming an extra 150 calories a day for a whole year comes out to 15.6 lbs of body weight gain.
Alternatively, expending 150 calories a day (or omitting 150 calories from your diet) can also result in a loss of 15.6 lbs of body weight.
In the last 9 months, I’ve lost about 40 lbs. With a two month break.
Here’s what I learned.
How I Lost 40 lbs. In 9 Months With Minimal Loss in Strength
“Losing weight” is in itself a vacant phrase without the context in which it happened.
Any time in which body mass is reduced, some of that mass will always be a combination of lean body mass and fat mass.
It’s an unavoidable fact of life.
When weight is gained, even if just sitting on the couch at home, some of it will be muscle. Similarly, when weight is lost, even if you do everything right – some of it will be muscle, as well.
Regardless of age, amount of hours slept, protein intake, maximization of muscle protein synthesis, never missing a single rep – regardless of everything that you can do to mitigate strength or muscle loss: some will always occur.
This is where strength training comes in.
Strength training skews the ratio of muscle and fat mass being lost favorably. Consider these two scenarios:
- Person A: Loses 20 lbs through caloric reduction and 45-minutes of walking daily.
- Person B: Loses 20 lbs through caloric reduction, walking 30 minutes daily, and strength training three times a week.
While both individuals in this instance lost the same amount of weight – the proportion (and total) of fat wouldn’t be the same.
In the case of Person A, in achieving their 20-lb reduction, they might have lost about 10 lbs of fat.
In the case of Person B, chances are that around 15 lbs of the weight lost was actual fat mass.
A 50% greater effectiveness in fat loss which is the more desirable outcome.
In that way, strength training plays a pivotal role during a weight loss phase by making the changes in body composition skewed to what you’re looking for. In its absence, the outcome will generally be less than ideal.
First Round: Figuring It Out
During my first round of weight loss, I used activity as the primary tool for creating the caloric deficit. This meant doing an hour of cardio four times a week, strength training three times a week, and I had set my calories at 2,500.
This went on from September to late October. I lost roughly 4 lbs in two months. The goal had been 1.5 lbs per week as the ideal weight loss rate. The rate was 33% of where I wanted to be at.
At the time I was working 9 to 6. And I was in the gym until about 7:30. Then the commute home, shower, eat, meal prep for the next day, and by the time I was done with all of that it was nearly 10.
I had about an hour left for myself, and back to bed. Additionally, I was up to an hour of cardio a day by this point.
Needless to say, it would’ve been difficult to create a larger deficit with those time constraints. Adding additional activity would’ve been challenging.
So I dropped to 2,000 calories. Suddenly, 6 lbs came off in October. In November, I dropped to 1,800 calories. Another 6 lbs came off.
By the end of five months, I had dropped 16 lbs – ish. This was the end of my first weight-loss cycle.
The lesson had been clear: using calories as the main control for inducing weight loss was far more effective than increasing activity.
I could’ve introduced HIIT, sped up the treadmill & raised the incline for LISS, and added some more volume to my lifts – for what?
It was just more practical to eliminate 500 calories. And more sustainable long term.
Doing two to three hours of continuous activity after a full day of work during a caloric deficit can wear you out mentally. At least I felt that way. But although those first four months were challenging, I knew that with some adjustments I could scale my weight loss efforts considerably.
Second Round: Steady Losses
Second time around things changed. I was still following roughly the same kind of programming template. I walked four miles a day as my primary activity all throughout the process.
For the first month, my calories went from 2,800 (to lean bulk) down to 2,000. I assumed my maintenance was around 2,500.
Here’s how things played out:
I lost about 25 lbs. in total. There were rough patches here and there, but for the most part, it was a steady period of weight loss.
As time went on, my caloric intake had to “update” in order to remain effective in the face of physiological changes.
These “physiological changes” as a result of weight loss are:
- There’s less of you, so your body necessitates less energy to fuel all your bodily functions.
- You’re consuming less food so there’s less to process.
- There are reductions in BMR due to loss of lean body mass (unavoidable).
- There also reductions in NEAT (non-volitional activity)
As all of these changes are happening, your calories need to re-adjust to reflect this reality. Otherwise, the rate of weight loss will slow down dramatically.
How much and how often your calories need to be adjusted is a matter of personal debate. Those who are patient can make smaller reductions in caloric intake over longer periods of time; those who are like me can make bigger reductions in food intake quite frequently.
I try to maintain my weekly rate of weight loss around 1% of current body weight. In the last cycle of weight loss, I also set rigid parameters that I did not want to exceed:
- 25-lb bodyweight reduction
- MAX: 16-week duration
- Strength loss no greater than 10%
My calories were adjusted as such: reduce by 200 calories every four weeks. Starting at 2,000 for the first month; 1,800 for the second month; 1,600 for the third month; and I stopped at 14 weeks consuming 1,400 for the last two weeks.
Yes, my calories were a bit low, but we were under quarantine throughout this time.
Naturally, my levels of activity were far lower than would’ve been otherwise ‘normal’. In any other scenario, I would’ve consumed more food to maintain that 1% rate of weekly weight loss.
Because gyms were closed and I didn’t have access to conditioning equipment, I walked around 4 miles a day.
And that was it, I tracked everything in an Online Google Sheets file, and remained consistent through the process. I gave myself a one-day break about once a month, but for the most part – I didn’t miss any walks or had ‘cheat days’.
Strategies for Successful Weight Loss & Long-Term Bodyweight Management
Tip #1: Eat Protein in Every Meal
Protein is very satieting. In many occasions where I DIDN’T consume protein in a meal (particularly if it was later at night), I’d find myself constantly thinking about food, even spending an inordinate amount of time watching people cook and eat….But this wasn’t the case when I actually did consume a substantial amount of protein.
It would also occur that if I had some meal composed of fats & carbs without protein, I’d feel just completely out of it. Hungry, cloudy, irritable. I know you know the feeling.
Time, and again I found that protein usually allowed me to regulate my hunger the best and remain sharp throughout the day.
High-protein sources are also very lean, excellent sources include:
- Fish (cod, tilapia, shrimp, canned tuna)
- Poultry (chicken breasts, turkey breasts, ground chicken, ground turkey breast)
- Low fat dairy (fat-free milk, greek yogurt, non-fat mozzarella cheese
They’re also not as calorically-dense as fats. Which means you get to eat more food, and still be well within your caloric range…which leads to the next tip:
Tip #2: Choose Volume Foods
Foods that are low in caloric-density can allow you to eat a substantial amount while still being well within your caloric targets.
Some of my favorite, and go-to’s are (besides protein which I listed above):
- Sweet potatoes
I cycle through these ingredients and the ones listed above, for about four times a day. I’ve listed several recipes in other blog posts.
Just pair one with the other in the desired quantities:
- Sweet potatoes & Cod
- Chicken & Potatoes
- Ground chicken, rice, and beans
- Chicken burrito with beans & non-fat mozzarella
- Ground turkey breast, non-fat mozzarella, and pasta
The great thing is that they are interchangeable, and making them go together for perfect meals conducive to weight loss is simply a matter of:
Tip #3: Learn to Cook
There’s a ton of resources out there for learning to make high protein recipes. And even turning some of your favorite meals into high-protein, volume variants.
My process for learning how to make things taste good has been long, slow, and challenging: but it goes without saying that being able to make your own food is extremely helpful.
- You can create foods you like from scratch, and adjust portions to your caloric goals.
- It’s easier to know what you’re actually eating in terms of caloric count
- It’s much cheaper to make something yourself, than to buy it.
- The list goes on.
By far the most important point being:
Tip #4: Track EVERYTHING
For the most consistent results, tracking all the variable inputs that go into weight loss are a must.
It doesn’t mean that you need to track calories, weigh foods, or live by nutritional labels forever – but if you want to be consistent and achieve predictable results, you do need to track.
I would suggest recording all of the following information in a spreadsheet, somewhere:
- Scale weight: every day, first thing in the morning after using the bathroom.
- Measurements: waist circumference is the most valuable. Once a week before eating/drinking anything is fine.
- Calories: Weigh your foods using a kitchen scale. Track them by scanning the label into MyFitnessPal.
- Weigh your foods dry: On that note, weighing your foods dry will provide the greatest accuracy. Cooking methods such as baking, broiling, air-frying, pan-frying, etc will all change the water content of the food. If you weigh it dry, you have a greater probability of measuring the actual caloric content.
- Create a chart: Using a chart to visualize your daily caloric intake, and body weight will allow you to better visualize what’s happening with your body. This helps for me, tremendously.
Programming Strength for Weight Loss
I alluded to my training earlier, but didn’t expand on it too much. I followed a training program that I outlined in my “Beginner Powerlifting Program“.
The only difference being that the exercise selection was less specific.
During weight loss phases, I like to experiment with new exercises. During this time around, I dropped the “Paused Squats” and replaced them with “Pin Squats”.
For the tertiary squat movement, I went with “Front Squats”. The main Squat movement remained the Competition Squat.
For the Benches, I did – Competition Bench, Close-Grip Bench, Feet-Up Bench, and Touch & Go Bench.
For the Deadlift movements, I went with: Competition Deadlift, Block Pulls, and Deficit Deadlifts.
It can be fun to try out new movements and equipment you haven’t done before. It also pulls the focus away from numbers.
It’s mentally challenging to see the lifts you’ve worked so hard to build up slowly decrease in front of your eyes. Trying out new movements can help you, in some way, shift your focus from previous strength numbers under the guise of “I’m just trying this out”.
Alan Thrall discussed it beautifully in this video.
Break it Apart
I would also recommend losing weight in phases. Why?
Because it allows you to re-build some of the muscle mass lost during a specific stage. That way, throughout your entire journey, you can maintain similar numbers to what you started with originally, but at a much lower bodyweight.
Which brings us to the conclusion. Let’s outline the points made in this article:
- You must be in a caloric deficit to lose weight
- Rely on calories to drive the deficit, as opposed to activity levels
- Adjust your caloric intake every so often to maintain steady weight loss
- Choose low-fat, high-protein volume foods for hunger management and satiety
- Strength training is critical for retaining as much muscle mass as possible
- Try out new movements and equipment to shift your focus away from your strength numbers
- Break it up in phases so that you can re-build your strength levels to what they previously were before continuing
And that’s all!
I hope this article provided you with all of the tools and resources necessary to lose weight, retain your strength, and do it all within a proven, reliable system.