How to Lose Weight

LEVEL ONE : A Weight-Loss Plan for Gamers & People Who Like Numbers

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I’m not a dietician, and I’m not Weight Watchers, hell I’m not even a food blogger. This blog typically deals with heavier issues than weight (pun intended). I’ve made it abundantly clear elsewhere that I am not an expert on any topic that I write about, and that I write about whatever the fuck I want. So today, I’m going to give you my method for losing weight. Maybe it could work for you too.

My method for losing weight is super simple.

  1. Drink more water. Replace as many of your drinks with something that is zero calorie.
  2. Only eat when you’re actually hungry.

End of article.

Haha, ok maybe I’m oversimplifying a little bit, so allow me to elaborate. But when you’re finished reading this article, remember that it really could be as simple as those two things.

A Little Bit of Background

I had a baby a little over a year ago. I nursed him, so I lost a lot of weight shortly after my pregnancy. I was feeling pretty good about that. Nursing must come to an end eventually, though. 😦 My son weaned himself, having a preference for the convenience of his bottle. Producing another human’s food consumes a lot of calories, and while I was nursing I was in the habit of eating more frequent, bigger meals. When the need to consume those calories left, my habits remained, and I managed to gain at least 20 pounds in a few months. So, as I write this, I am at 150 pounds. I’m not a tall person, only 5’2”. I feel pretty uncomfortable.

I’ve been at this number before, actually. It was another transitory time in my life–college! Between moving away from home, being under the stress of completing my class work, weird sleeping patterns, and crazy eating habits, I managed to get myself up to 152 pounds. But once college was complete, I was back to somewhat regular patterns again, and I was able to drop back down to my preferred weight: 122 pounds.

I did it then, and this time is no different. I’ll share my method and maybe I’ll update you with results later.


LEVEL ONE

A Weight-Loss Plan for Gamers & People Who Like Numbers


Introduction.

This is a very simple weight-loss plan that puts more focus on calorie consumption and eating habits, less focus on nutrition, and can be successful even for those who don’t have a daily exercise regimen.

What this plan DOESN’T do:

  • It doesn’t plan all your meals for you in advance,
  • It doesn’t force you to eat food that you hate,
  • It doesn’t require you to go outside your usual eating habits,
  • It doesn’t allow you to lose weight in an unrealistic time frame. (Following this plan, I lost 25 pounds in the course of a year.) You need to stay patient and committed.

What this plan WILL do:

  • It will ask you to reduce the amount of food you consume,
  • It will require you to honestly consider your portion sizes (and think about what you’re eating),
  • It will require you to drink more water.

Note about exercise: I admit lack of exercise is a flaw in the plan’s design. You can lose all the weight you want, but core body strength is essential for balance, flexibility, endurance, and overall long-term health.

Note about nutrition: Another flaw in this plan is dietitians will tell you that it’s not particularly nutritious. You can exercise, eat crappy food and lose weight, but it’s important to incorporate a wide variety of healthy foods to get the fiber, (healthy) fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals your body needs for long-term health.

Even though I pointedly ignore exercise and nutrition, it does not mean they aren’t important. They are—but some people need to start somewhere, and that’s why this weight-loss plan is called “Level One”.

Weight loss can be a game.

Here’s the deal. If you’re already feeling bad about your weight, it can be difficult to tackle all three things at once (eating, nutrition, and exercise). There are simply too many details to focus on! It is my firm belief that nutritious eating and exercise play in tandem with each other, but they can be treated as three separate levels when it comes to losing weight and leading a healthy lifestyle. Compare this weight-loss plan to a video game:

  • LEVEL ONE: Develop proper eating habits to control the calorie intake, and over time reduce your weight.
  • LEVEL TWO: Begin exercising to build muscle and re-shape your body into a better “form”, while at the same slowly increasing your calorie intake without upsetting the weight loss you’ve already achieved.
  • LEVEL THREE: Incorporate good nutrition to increase energy, and give you an overall feeling of well-being.

“The Game” gets harder with every level because there’s much to learn about each stage, and requires adjustments to your daily habits. For some (like me), it’s easier to start with the food intake. Once you see the results and lose several pounds, it becomes easier to psych yourself up for exercising as well. Not to mention, losing several pounds simply feels better—you feel like you fit into your own body, and are more comfortable overall. Finally, once it becomes second-nature to eat right and exercise, you can get into the finer points of swapping/adding to your diet foods that are more nutritionally dense.

What makes this plan successful?

At the end of the day, “Level One” is successful because it doesn’t require you to change what you eat. Here are some reasons why people struggle with pre-fabricated diet plans (Atkins Diet, South Beach Diet, Caveman Diet, et al.) :

  • It’s time-consuming to plan and make all those meals (and let’s face it, I’m lazy).
  • For those of us who are cost-conscious, pre-fabricated diets can be expensive because food goes to waste or recipes call for specialty foods.
  • Pre-fabricated diets are great for single people, but families or significant others might not be so keen on getting on-board with your mission.
  • Picky eaters don’t have many choices within the diet, or they don’t like the food at all. However, one thing I will say in defense of a pre-fabricated diet—if you’re a picky eater, it might help you branch out a little, and that is very important in LEVEL THREE.
  • Pre-fabricated diets don’t take eating out and massive holiday dinners into account.
  • Finally, pre-fabricated diets are great for helping you lose weight, but you must stay on it indefinitely to maintain your ideal weight. You will get sick of the food and fall off the bandwagon.

This plan is effortless once it becomes a part of your lifestyle, and to use a computer metaphor, it’s an “application” that can run in the background, or be booted up again at any time as needed. That’s why I love this plan—and that’s why it works great for me.


Step 1, First things first.

You need to decide you’re going to stick with it. Only you. External pressures from doctors or loved ones can give you guilt trips or motivation, but in the end, the drive for a “leaner you” has to come from within.

Decide for yourself today!


Step 2, Getting the big picture.

Let’s get a big picture of what your body really needs. Calories.

We’re going to run your current stats through a BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) formula so we can determine how many calories your body consumes every day by just doing what you usually do. The equation below will be accurate overall, but for the very muscular it will underestimate calorie needs, and for the very fat it will over-estimate calorie needs—so be warned.

If you want a quick calculator that will do the math for you, do a Google search for “BMR Calculator”. There’s hundreds out there; here’s one for example.

Here’s the formula for those that are interested.

English:

Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )

Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) – ( 6.8 x age in year )

Metric:

Women: BMR = 655 + ( 9.6 x weight in kilos ) + ( 1.8 x height in cm ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )

Men: BMR = 66 + ( 13.7 x weight in kilos ) + ( 5 x height in cm ) – ( 6.8 x age in years )

Now, take the number you get from the BMR formula, and run it through the Harris Benedict Formula.

  • If you are sedentary (little or no exercise): Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.2
  • If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week): Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.375
  • If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week): Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.55
  • If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week): Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.725
  • If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training): Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.9

At the end of all of this, we have a number. It’s kind of meaningless at this point, and we’re not going to jump into trying to consume fewer calories than your number right away. Write it down somewhere and keep it in the back of your mind as we continue on with our next section.


Step 3, The hardest part—counting calories.

Okay, before I lose you here, I just want to reassure you of two things.

  1. You will not have to do this every meal, every day, forever.
  2. We’re not trying to aim for the number in the previous section.

The purpose of this exercise is to get a general awareness of the foods you like to eat every day and how much they contribute to your daily calorie count. This activity is not intended to make you feel bad about what you’re eating, so don’t flinch or fudge the numbers when you write them down. Also, the more thorough you are, the better you will do later, so don’t omit foods that are high in sodium, sugar or fat just because you think they’re “not allowed”, or the calorie count goes over the “limit”.

Need a little help? My Fitness Pal (MFP) is an amazing, free, online resource that will make this process incredibly easy for you (and even more “game-like”). My Fitness Pal has a lot of foods’ nutritional data already stored in their database, so all you have to do is search for the name of the food, adjust the quantity, and click “add”. It gets a little tricky when you’re making meals from scratch, but MFP has a tool that allows you to input recipe ingredients and serving size or even just a recipe URL, and it will spit out nutritional data for you.

My Fitness Pal website has a vibrant, supportive community and other resources for your weight-loss journey. It can be addicting! I encourage you to delve in, meet people, and get encouragement. Don’t forget to come back to this guide, though! 🙂

Q: So, when have you collected enough calorie data?

A: When you start to memorize the calorie and serving size information for your most-eaten foods.
A: When you know about how many calories you usually consume every day on average without “watching what you eat”.
A: If I had to put a time frame on it, about a month—maybe two.

Truthfully, you should never completely quit collecting calorie data. Now that you’ve survived the grueling process of recording your daily food intake, be aware of it when you go grocery shopping or eat at restaurants. Compare similar meals and ingredients, and select the one with fewer calories. I’m not saying you should only order salads—you should get what you want—but instead of the double quarter pounder, order a cheeseburger instead. This will ensure your long-term success.

Finally, what I really want you to come away with is a big-picture understanding of how many calories you burn on a daily basis “just doing what you do”, and an awareness of what you’re eating. Look back at what your BMR was in Step 2. Are you over the amount? Pretty close to it? It’s unlikely that you’re under it if you’re reading this guide. Now, let’s look at easy ways to reduce your calorie intake and start losing weight.


Step 4, Drinking more water.

I read somewhere once that most people don’t realize how many calories they consume in liquid form, and—in general—liquid is not perceived by your brain to be as filling or satisfying as solid food. Therefore, just by replacing your drinks with water you could significantly reduce your calorie intake. The thought stuck with me. Think about it: coffee/tea (with cream & sugar), milk, orange juice, sugared pop, beer, wine, smoothies, etc. all amount to hundreds (if not thousands) of calories per week.

Being realistic: most people are addicts.

However, there’s a significant roadblock in this plan, as most people LOVE one or all of these “substances”—coffee, pop, and/or booze. Let’s be real here. Unless you are one of those rare people that don’t have an addiction to something, this “diet” is never going to stick unless you get to enjoy that stuff, too.

At this point, I would like to draw inspiration from the “Eat THIS, Not THAT” book series. You need to find a substitution plan that you can live with.

Some ideas include:

  • Skip the macchiato at Starbucks and have a simple black coffee with a little cream and sugar at Holiday Gas Station. (Not to mention you’ll save a fortune in coffee, holy hell.)
  • If you are already drinking plain black coffee/tea, try cutting sugar or cream—or both!
  • Drink light beer. (Yuck, I know—you beer snobs are going to have trouble with this one.)
  • Drink diet pop. (Try spiking it with a spoonful of sugar water to take the edge off the aspartame taste.)
  • If you like your daily cocktail, use a spirit (vodka, rum, whiskey) in diet pop.

If you are struggling to keep the promises you make to yourself, keep tailoring until it fits, or slowly wean yourself down to a lower dosage.

Water with every meal.

Not a year goes without some new study on how much water we should (or should not) be drinking. Headlines range from “Are Americans Chronically Dehydrated?” or “Studies Show 8 Glasses of Water Not Needed After All”. Another article I read mentioned that people usually eat when they’re not actually hungry because it’s the body’s natural defense mechanism against dehydration. Maybe all that stuff is true, maybe none of it is. Who cares. The point is, water is zero calories and it’s good for your body.

Alongside the plan you made for substituting your vices, you also need to add a large glass (16 ounces) of water with every meal, and a medium glass (8 ounces) of water with every snack.

2.5 Gallon water dispenser for the refrigerator
2.5 Gallon water dispenser for the refrigerator

For those of you (like myself), that are picky about water, do whatever it takes to make this enjoyable and easy for you. I like to buy three-gallon water jugs from the grocery store and fill a dispenser in the fridge for instantly delicious, inexpensive cold water. Others might choose to add slices of lemon, or drops of essential oil to give it a bit of flavor. I personally love La Croix sparkling water for their variety of flavors and convenience. Still others can add Crystal Light powder for flavoring. Should a food craving strike, make water easily accessible no matter where you are.

It takes about 20 minutes after you begin eating your meal for your brain to get the signal that you’re not hungry anymore. So, drinking a gulp of water with every bite of food will slow down your eating—and besides that—physically fill up the space in your stomach with water, and give you the feeling of fullness.

For example, lets consider the lovely Snickers bar. Mmm.. chocolately, peanutty, nougat goodness. How Mars Inc. manages to make such a perfect balance in a confection I’ll never know. It also comes in at a whopping 300 calories! Ack! Ask yourself—what will satisfy your hunger craving more, simply eating the Snickers bar straight through without stopping? …Or drinking a big gulp of water between every bite of Snickers? (By the way, it is easy to finish a 20 oz. bottle of water in this fashion.)

Being religious about having a big glass of water with every snack or meal you eat will not only help manage that “eat for no reason” urge, and trigger your “stop eating” light, it will also “lubricate” your body’s digestive tract and facilitate the food’s movement through your system.

You will notice at this point that we haven’t even talked about adding or removing certain foods from your regular routine, nor have we talked about using your BMR results to set a goal for yourself to “undershoot”. Right now, all I want you to focus on is making regular water consumption a habit until you no longer have to think about it anymore. When you have successfully done so, you are ready for Step 5.


Step 5, Portion control & mind games.

Ooh, scary portion control. We’re amping up the difficulty of “the Game” by changing yet another set of habits.

While you were looking at the calories for everything you were eating in Step 3, you were probably also noticing the number of units per serving in a box or bag of something. You should be following the serving suggestion on the nutrition label. Some serving sizes look bigger, others look meager.

Portion control is a bit of a mind game. You might prefer to eat foods that have a bigger quantity in the serving suggestion because because you appear to be able to eat more. Hence, you’re tricking your brain into thinking it’s satisfied.  In the case of  portions that look meager—think back to that 300 calorie Snickers bar—simply knowing that it is 300 calories signals to your brain, “Ok, my body was just given 300 calories. I’m good now, and I’m not going to freak out and keep sending hunger signals to my stomach.”

Since we’re using the video game metaphor, what follows are a number of diet “trophies” to win. Work toward multiple trophies at a time or knock them out one by one. A lot of these trophies are a little pedantic and overbearing at first, but they work—and after some practice you will get better at regulating portion sizes without having to think about it too much. At the end is the Boss Fight.

Trophy: “Am I actually hungry?” Many people don’t realize that hunger is a sense—just like sight, touch, sound, smell and taste. Learn what it really feels like and embrace it. When you feel hunger, it’s your brain’s way of signaling to you that your body needs nourishment and energy. When you start dreaming of yummy things like Oreos and Doritos, just get all up in its grill and be like, “Hey Stomach, are you actually hungry?” Then, stop—listen to your stomach for a second. If it grumbles a little, then yes—you’re hungry—and you shouldn’t starve it. (Proceed to working on the “Couch Potato” or “Leftover King” trophy.) If your stomach does not feel like it’s running on empty, then it’s a boredom issue—and you just want to eat something for the sake of eating. Drink a medium glass of water, chew some sugar-free gum, go to stumbleupon.com and surf the web for 20 minutes (or do something that breaks the thought train on Oreos and Doritos). Repeat the process until you’re actually feeling the physical symptoms of hunger.

Trophy: Plan Out Your Caloric Clock. I am not a believer in scheduled mealtimes. If you’re the type to get up and eat breakfast right away and you weren’t feeling hungry, or if you’re eating just because it’s lunch time, you’re consuming wasted calories that are not satisfying you. If you can, make your mealtimes adjustable. Only one specific suggestion on timing & portion size: try to make your last meal of the day a small one, and wait at least an hour after eating before going to bed.

The Caloric Clock is something I made up to help meter the flow of calories throughout the day. If you have a regular daily schedule, this activity will be much easier for you use as a weight-loss tool.

  • Write down the time you wake up (Example: 6:30 a.m.)
  • Write down the time you go to bed (Example: 9:30 p.m.)
  • Subtract one hour from your bed time (8:30 p.m.)
  • Write down the amount of time between those two values (14 hours)
  • Remember your BMR? (Example: 1200 Calories) Divide it by the number of hours. (~86 Calories per hour)

Let’s say you really love your McDonalds breakfast. Your first meal of the day is a an egg McMuffin, large coffee (with four creams & four sugars), and a hashbrown. (Have I done this a few times? Yes.) This costs 560 calories.

That is 6.5 hours of fuel for your body, which in theory should take you all the way to 1:00 p.m. If you eat it all at once right away when you wake up, you can’t eat for another 6.5 hours! Not a smart thing to do, as dietitians recommend you consume calories at 3-4 hour intervals. So here’s what you do:

  • Drink your coffee at 7:30, and really enjoy every bit of that 120 calories.
  • You’ll probably start to feel hungry again at about 9:00. Eat the 290 calorie sandwich with a big glass of water. This should really fill you up. Enjoy every bite of what you’re eating, because it’s an egg McMuffin, dammit. They’re amazing!
  • You won’t feel hungry again until about 12:00. Eat the 150 calorie hashbrown with a small glass of water.
  • Finally, at 2:00 you’re hungry again and it’s time for “lunch”.

Yes that’s right—breakfast took you 4.5 hours to eat!

I know that all of this sounds absurd, but the point of the activity is to make you aware of the caloric value of what you’re eating (even “unhealthy” food like McDonalds!) and how long it should last you until you need to “put more gas in the tank”.

Trophy: Say No to Peer Pressure. Something weird happens when I go to my parent’s house or out to lunch with friends. When I’m with other people who are eating, it’s really hard to not also be eating too. What if I’m not hungry? Should I not eat anything? I feel like I might hurt their feelings, or it will be weird that they’re eating in front of me by themselves. Try to avoid these situations altogether, but don’t be afraid to say, “No thanks, I’m not hungry. I’m just here to enjoy your company.” If you can’t, that’s where the Boss Fight comes in (below).

Trophy: Free Fruits & Vegetables! If you love the produce department at the grocery store, this is a boon for you. If you hate it, well… you might consider warming yourself up to the idea of shopping there more. Lean fruits and veggies (specifically low in carbohydrates), can be eaten by themselves at any time. On that note, if you include a dip such as peanut butter, hummus, or ranch, a glass of water is required.

nutrition-factsTrophy: Defeating the Couch Potato. Don’t sit down on the couch with an entire bag of potato chips to watch TV or play video games. Just don’t. If you want to get super crazy about this—and I’m talking about really going off the deep end—as soon as you buy a bag of potato chips, separate it into single servings. If you’re craving some potato chips, go ahead and grab a serving, drink a medium glass of water with it, and set a timer 20 minutes. If you’re still craving more, repeat until you feel satisfied. Once you feel you can confidently stare a bag of potato chips in the face without feeling the need to obliterate it, you can just reach in there, grab a fistful, place it in a bowl, and take that to the couch (with your water, of course).

9-oz-leftover-container
9 oz. rectangular leftover container

Trophy: The Leftover King. Throw away every leftover container you have that is bigger than 9 ounces. After you cook a meal, divide the food into 8 or 9-ounce containers—eat one at a time with a big glass of water, and waiting 20 minutes before tearing into the next one. This is particularly useful for “heavy” entrees that have a lot of calories in them, as it prolongs your meal and gives your brain time to turn on the “I’m full” signal.

Boss Fight: Eating Out/Holiday Dinner. At some point you are going to face the dreaded Thanksgiving Feast, or perhaps the huge portions served at restaurants. This can be navigated by a professional portion-controller, and there are four basic rules of thumb to follow while you’re out.

  • Divide your plate in half, and decide at the beginning of the meal that you are only going to eat one half and take the other half home with you. The best part? This tactic saves some money on dining out, as you get two meals instead of one.
  • For big feasts, take a small sample of every dish passed to you, eat everything on your plate, and take seconds of your favorite entrée or side. Then stop. Wait 20 minutes, and if you’re still actually hungry, go ahead and take thirds.
  • Keep water, unsweetend tea or diet pop handy and drink some between every bite.
  • Don’t drink booze before or during your meal; go ahead and go nuts right after—after all, you’re there to relax and have fun!

Once you have received the trophies and defeated the boss, and you continue to do this over a long enough period of time, your stomach will actually shrink a little and require less and less food during each meal. And that means you are probably:

  • Under your BMR, and—
  • Losing weight.
  • WOOOO!!!!! Go you!

I do have a few more things I’d like to add to this guide, and maybe I’ll get to those later, but this should be enough to get you started!

Potential Future Topics:

  • Weighing in
  • Chewing gum
  • Getting lots of sleep
  • Reducing stress
  • Managing your money
  • Keeping the house clean
  • Expansion on the topics of LEVEL TWO and LEVEL THREE

Featured Image Source: Michael Stern

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