That means it’s time to diet for summer.
But… Isn’t it still winter?
Yes, but truthfully, waiting until February to start a diet is cutting it close. Most people vastly overestimate how much fat they can lose and underestimate how much time it takes to lose it. So, this is my friendly reminder: the time is nigh if you want to get lean for summer! With that, let me share a few things I’ve learned over the years about dieting:
- It takes a long time to lose the weight. You can expect, if your diet is actually working, to be able to healthfully lose about 1 pound of fat per week, maybe 2 if you’re pushing it. That means you should expect 4 months to drop those 15 pounds. If you are needing to drop a lot more, expect to be dieting for a long time.
- The point is to lose fat. Not “weight” per se. If you get focused on the number on the scale, rather than what it is supposed to represent, you can deceive yourself. Fasting for multiple days or doing a fad “cleansing” diet of lemon juice will burn off precious muscle that you (male or female) will need to support your health and metabolism.
- Muscular people have higher metabolisms. That means putting on a few pounds of muscle (easy to do if you are newbie) will make it easier to be lean for the rest of your life. Don’t neglect strength training. This goes for women as well. You won’t ever “look like a man” by lifting weights and you won’t get “bulky.” I think this myth got perpetuated years ago by seeing women who were full-on bodybuilders and used various kinds of steroids becoming the faces of female weightlifting. And to that point, men shouldn’t expect to look like male bodybuilders. These are extremists who use performance-enhancing drugs and you shouldn’t expect those kinds of gains at the gym.
- The best diet is the one you can stick to. There is no perfect diet as everybody is different and has different wants as far as food. If keto works for you, great. If it doesn’t (or if the lifestyle is intolerable), do something else. If you like to intermittent fast, you can do that, or not. As long as you are in a calorie deficit, you’ll burn the fat. Thus, diets really shouldn’t be miserable.
- You have to continually drop your calories or up your exercise. This is due to metabolic adaptation, but also the fact that as you lose weight, you burn less calories since it requires less energy to move your body through space. As a diet proceeds, you may notice a plateau, which means you need to cut more calories from your diet or increase the amount of cardio you do to put yourself back into a calorie deficit. An easy way to do this is to have a consistent part of your diet (I use a daily casein protein shake) that you slowly reduce the calories of over time (I’ll usually start with milk, then go to nonfat milk, then mix it with almond milk, then almond milk alone, and then finally water).
- The first five pounds are easy, the last 5 are extremely difficult. When you hop on a diet, you tend to lose water weight for a variety of reasons including unintentional reduction of sodium intake. As you get leaner, your body wants to hold on to its remaining fat reserves to a greater degree, which means burning off the last bit of fat becomes very difficult.
- “Low carb” can be deceptive. Just to go with the above, most people begin a low carb or keto diet and see big changes in numbers early on, then things slow down (or stop). This is because carbohydrates stored in the body also cause water retention, so as you burn off your glycogen stores, you’ll drop a lot of water, which will make the numbers on the scale go down to a greater degree. The real fat-burning effect of the diet will happen later on, after these initial losses. If weight-loss stalls, you probably need to drop your calories. Cutting carbs or eating only meat will not allow you to violate the laws of thermodynamics.
- You can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Most of us aren’t Olympic swimmers, so eating piles of pancakes every day will make us fat, even if we are very active. To put things in perspective, a 200 calorie cookie can take 20 minutes of solid cardio to burn off, IF you are over 200 lbs. The lighter you are, the fewer calories running will burn. Would you rather have the cookie or run for an extra 20 minutes?
- Expect a rebound. Once you “finish” a diet and reach your target weight/bodyfat, you can expect a rebound, especially on the scale. Some of this will be water as your body replenishes its glycogen stores, and some of it will be fat. It’s difficult to maintain discipline year-round, so don’t get discouraged if you gain back weight unintentionally. As long as you don’t gain it all back you’ll be doing alright.
- Eat lots of protein. This is one thing that I think is universal for all “diets.” Protein is a nutrient you can’t store (except as muscle), has a fairly low calorie density (same as carbohydrates), and is very satiating. It also helps you build muscle, which will help everything along.
That’s it! Just a little motivation (hopefully) for anyone thinking about getting a bit leaner for summer.
I’m not a fitness personality; I’m a writer. Check out the conclusion to the (first) Moonsong trilogy!
Or start at the beginning:
A nice trick for reducing plate sizes is to eat lettuce prior to every meal. You get good micronutrients while also filling up stomach space, reducing the inclination to overfill a plate or cup. This idea fits into the “reduce temptation” philosophy, which is to acknowledge that we have limited willpower and to find ways to not have to spend it.
I try to eat a lot of leafy greens for that reason, usually with the meal.
You can do sort of the same thing with water (or sparkling water). Drink a full glass before/with a meal helps stretch your stomach and feel full on a smaller quantity of food.