Our goal is to help readers to be healthy, wealthy and wise, and we regularly partner with companies that share that same vision. Some of the links in this post may be from our partners who may pay us a small commission.
It’s always the way isn’t it? When you want to drop weight, you want the results to be instant and spectacular. I get it. Me too. I’ve been there. I was always a bit heavy, then after school, my weight slowly but surely grew. Driving everywhere instead of riding my bike, sitting all day working, long lunches eating and drinking, entertaining clients, partying on the weekends, cake in the office kitchen. It all added up slowly but surely and I no longer recognized or liked the reflection in the mirror. So I tried to lose weight, I started running and I hate running. I tried no carbs, but I love carbs, it worked for a bit, but I always ended up back where I started or worse. It was too hard, or I was too weak. Other people could seem to lose weight, why couldn’t I be on of those transformation people you see all over the internet?
I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong. My diet wasn't terrible, I didn’t eat fast food that often, I exercised a bit, but there was no way around it. It wasn’t working and I was incredibly frustrated, here I was a fairly intelligent person I couldn’t work it out. So I started researching and reading as far and wide as I could. It took me years of continual research, and trial and error in the kitchen and the gym. But I finally got it. I finally cut through the noise out there and understood how our bodies work and what I needed to do.
The problem, in our modern day world is our bodies are survival machines and are tuned to do certain things that preserve us, like hang on to fat for a later day when it might come in handy. But in this day and age, for a large proportion of the population access to food is not a problem. There won’t be long stretches when we don’t have food. Compounding this is that our “food” has been become more processed and calorie dense and we are less active.
The good news with our bodies being so rational, is that we have a pretty good understanding these days of how they work. So in this guide you won’t find any magic pills or hacks, but you will find the only methodology proven to work by science. You’ll find out what calories are, how many you need and how your body uses them.
You’ll then design a strategy for you to use and practical ways to implement it, set yourself up for success and manage any disasters along the way. This is the exact method that I used and refined over the years to now be in the best shape of my life. If you want your future self to thank you read on.
Calories are a measure of energy Our bodies use the energy in food to power all the things our body needs to do. If we intake more energy than our bodies need, that excess energy is stored as fat for a later day when we might intake less calories than we need. This ensured our survival throughout the ages, so in times when food was short (like in a drought), we as humans could survive until food became available again.
How many calories do you need?
This is a combination of a number of factors, including age, height, current muscle mass, and activity level. You might see around that the average daily intake is 2000 calories, but being an average this is fairly misleading for the general population. How can the caloric requirements of a 6"1 athlete, and a 5”0 couch potato be averaged and produce a meaningful result?
Basel Metabolic Rate (BMR)
What we do all have in common are the critical functions our bodies need to perform like brain activity, liver and kidney function, beating our hearts, breathing, creating new cells, growing hair, growing skin etc. This base level of calories used is called the Basel Metabolic Rate (BMR). Put another way BMR is the number of calories your body needs if you were to lay in bed and do nothing else, not sitting up, not walking, not doing your job. Just laying there existing. Given the differences in height, age, and muscle mass in people, BMR is not the same for everyone. Even two people of the same weight (mass), height and age, can have different BMR’s due to their levels of muscle mass.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
Now because we don’t lay around all day, we get up go to work, stand on our feet all day, hit the gym, play sports etc, we have a need for more calories to support our activity levels. Combining this with our BMR we get a total number of calories we need to support our bodies as they currently are. Not putting on weight, and not losing any. This total number of daily calories is called Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
Fortunately, scientists have been able to translate our BMR and TDEE into a formula, and even more fortunately we have calculators that crunch the numbers for us, so we don’t have to remember our algebra. Just enter your details below and it will calculate your TDEE. The most subjective part however is your activity level. Most people overestimate how active they are, so if you’re not sure, go for the lower activity level.
Muscle Mass Affect on Calories
So now you know what your total daily energy expenditure is as you currently are and at this point, I think it’s important to touch on the importance of muscle mass in health and fitness. Muscle isn’t just about aesthetics or deadlifting 1,000 pounds. Muscle mass is vitally important as we age. Generally speaking the more muscle mass you have as you get older the less feeble you’ll become and enjoy a greater life span and quality of life. People with more muscle mass suffer through less illness and injury and recover faster than those who don’t.
But muscle mass is also important to you right now when trying to lose body fat for three reasons;
- Doing resistance training burns calories as your
body is put under stress/load to move.
- After the workout the body needs to repair the
muscles you just used and create additional muscle fibre. For the body to
create muscle fibre it needs to work harder. To work harder it needs more
- Once the muscle mass is made, the body needs
calories to maintain that muscle mass, otherwise the body will cannibalize it
and use the energy stored in the muscle mass as energy.
As you can see increases in muscle mass can have an exponential effect on your fat loss efforts and massively increase your calorie deficit.
Creating a Calorie Deficit
By now you’ve got the number of calories you need to consume to maintain your body at its current state and activity levels. But to lose fat, we need to use more calories than we are consuming, so the body is forced to use the stored energy (aka fat).
To do this we need some more math to calculate what you are currently consuming, and the number of calories in the 50 pounds you are trying to lose.
How Many Calories are in 50 Pounds of Fat?
There are approximately 3,500 calories in a pound of fat. So, 50 pounds of fat is equal to 175,000 calories.
If there are 8 weeks in 2 months, that means there are 56 days. 175000 calories / 56 days = 3,125 calorie deficit per day. That’s a LOT. So before we go any further I want you to consider your time horizon. Losing 50 pounds in 2 months is possible, but more importantly a) is it healthy and b) is it sustainable. The last thing you want is to wind up in hospital or put it all back on in 4 months-time.
If you were to increase your time horizon to 6 months, you’d need a daily calorie deficit of ~ 970. If it was over 12 months you’d need a daily deficit of just 479. That’s easily do-able and sustainable.
Whatever your time goal, let’s continue with our science based approach. Because it’s the only way that works.
How Many Calories Are You Currently Consuming?
We now know our daily calorie deficit to lose 50 pounds in 2 months needs to be 3,125 calories. The next step is to know how many calories you are currently consuming per day. To do this I recommend using a tracker like MyFitness Pal. The free version does everything you need it to. It takes a bit of effort initially while you’re entering your recipes and meals, but once they’re in there, it’s a fairly quick and easy thing to do each day.
So download the app and start tracking what you are currently eating each day. Don’t make any changes to what you would normally eat. Do this for a few average days and see how many calories you are consuming on average each day.
The next step is to determine the number of calories you’ll be using in your chosen exercise program. You can find a detailed comparison table here. For our purposes let’s assume you can burn 400 calories in a 30 minute workout.
Planning The Deficit
So now you know the components of the formula, lets put it all together. The deficit needs to be created by both calorie restriction and calorie use. So take the average daily calories you are consuming from MyFitness Pal subtract 3,125 then add 400 (or the number of calories used in the exercise you’ll be doing).
The resulting answer is the number of calories you can eat each day to lose 50 pounds in 2 months. If this is less than 1200 per day, you really need to re-consider your time horizon. Eating less than 1200 calories is not advisable.
So in other words you’re TDEE needs to be 3,125 calories less than what it is today, but the 3125 is made up of eating less calories and increasing calories used in exercise.
Planning Your Food
For weight loss to happen you need to plan. Meal prep here you come.
This means breaking down your daily calorie allowance into the various meals and snacks. I am a very structured eater, so I eat at the same times most days, but my wife on the other hand will eat breakfast some mornings at 6am, and other days she won’t eat until 11am. My point is that you need to plan something that is going to work for you. If your life doesn’t allow 3 meals and 2 snacks every day, then work with it. Have bigger meals in between just ensure that your total daily calories are right.
So once you’ve worked out how many snacks and meals you’re going to have, you need to find the actual foods you are going to eat, and then add all the calories together to make sure you hit the calorie goal. You can use MyFitness Pal to plan your food too. Just enter stuff in ahead of time to plan your days. The next step is to go shopping and make the food ahead of time as much as possible
You should really be shopping for things that don’t come in a packet, in fact you should be buying lots of fresh vegetables as these will help you get micro and macro nutrients and drop fat.
Heaps of vegetables, some fruit, and lean protein. And please don’t think protein just means meat. You can get lots of plant-based protein through legumes like Chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans). Spend a day on the weekend in the kitchen to do all, or most of your meal prep for the week ahead. Make batches of food, freeze it and eat them throughout the week. Have the same snack each day, same breakfast for a couple of days, same lunch a couple of days. That way you don’t have to spend forever working out the daily meal plans, or cooking.
You’ll get to know what each food/meal is calorie wise and which ones you can put together and hit your target – just make sure you keep using MyFitness Pal for a while until you’ve got a plan and good understanding of what each food is calorie wise. This will also increase the awareness about what, and how much you are eating each day. Studies have found that just tracking calories helps people consume less and lose weight . Being prepared ahead of time also helps to stop you just grabbing the easiest option when you’re hungry which we will touch more on a bit later.
Planning Your Exercise
Now we need to start feeling the burn. You’ve got to make a choice of which exercise to do, how often and when you’re going to do it. You will need to find something you like because you’re going to be doing it a lot. For weight loss and general fitness, I don’t think you can go past high Intensity interval training (HIIT) or functional training, using methodologies like Crossfit and F45. To lose 50 pounds in 2 months you’ll need to be working out 5 days per week. For best recovery use a 3 on, 1 off, 2 on, 1 off timetable. But again, you need to make this work for you. My life doesn’t allow this timing, so I just
workout 5 days straight. Not ideal, but better than just 3 (or 0).
INSIDER SECRETS FOR A LEAN BODY
Detailed information on health, nutrition, what exercises to do and how to do them, from Mike Geary, a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Specialist.
You could work out 6 days a week but given the calorie deficit required your body will be under sufficient stress already, so it needs time to rest and repair itself. You don’t want to work yourself into exhaustion. Many elite athletes, like Chris Spealler only train 5 days per week, so us mere mortals thinking we need to do 6 is a bit ridiculous. Results are a function of intensity and consistency. You’re better off having a 2nd rest day and then having high intensity when you work out than trying to push through and under performing. The more you can maintain intensity, the more reps you’ll do, the more muscle you’ll build, the more calories you’ll use, the more pounds you’ll lose. Plus doing more reps means your body will adapt (aka become fitter) faster, so you can do more and more in less time. As you do more and more, your body requires more calories to support this progress and muscle development, which means you burn more calories and can consume more calories. It really is a virtuous circle and Intensity and consistency are the keys to it all.
Results = intensity x consistency
If joining a gym is out of the question you could use an at home workout plan, many of which require no equipment. Try free apps like Nike Training Club and just follow along or follow some of the free programming at Crossfit.com, or the facebook/Instagram of Icon Athlete or Crossfit Invictus. Whatever you choose to do, do it regularly, do it consistently, do it with intensity. Do it when you don’t want to do it (and that will be often). When you’re struggling with the process, remember why you are doing this, what your values are and what you want the end goal to be. Once you’ve got that clear in your head, take action aligned to those values.
There are no shortcuts, and no hacks. No body hacked themselves to greatness. You just need to do the work.
Set Yourself Up For Success
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns
As every one of us sometimes learns
And many a failure comes about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell just how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit—
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.
Don’t Quit – John Greenleaf Whittier
You’re about to undertake a transformation. It’s going to be hard. You are going to have days of low energy, and low motivation. So rather than trying to deny that reality, plan for it. What are you going to do, think about, or eat when it’s all feeling very hard and you’re very hungry? If you need motivational posters, hang them up. If you need a bit of sugar, have a bit. But don’t leave a block of chocolate in your draw. Break it up, and just leave 2 or 3 pieces there. But enjoy them. Savor them. They will taste sweeter than ever before, and if you take your time and enjoy it, the sugar craving will be gone. Knowing you can have a small bit each day or 2nd day is a lot more sustainable than trying to deny yourself for the rest of eternity. There is no point in denying yourself everything that you like. You just need to reduce the amount that you are going to eat. Denying yourself everything, will make you miserable. You’ll get to the thought – “this isn’t worth it” which could end up causing you to binge eat way more, then feel guilt and that vicious cycle with food starts again.
So plan for reality. Have your meals and snacks planned using a food planner, stuck on the fridge and made ready to go. Your gym gear in your bag or by the door, alarms set or whatever you need to do help yourself succeed. Your future self will thank you. Visualize what the end the goal is. Then take the action to achieve that goal.
If you want to understand more about how to change habits, I highly recommend “The power of habit: Why we do what we do in life and business” by Charles Duhigg
And if you’d like to understand more about how to change your mindset, what thoughts, feelings and urges really are and how to deal with them in a positive way so you can live a rich, full and meaningful life, then “The Happiness Trap” by Dr Russ Harris is a must read. It is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Even with all the best intentions and motivation in the world, it’s likely that you’ll overeat something, miss a workout or two or go to a party and eat cake. Have a bad day at work and knock off a bottle of wine and eat a block of chocolate. Of course, it’s preferable for this not to happen, but if it does, you need a disaster management plan and the “let’s try again on Monday or next week or after the holiday season” method isn’t the answer. If you’ve tripped up, accept it, try to enjoy the foods, the rest or whatever you did. If you’re feeling guilt, thank your mind for that thought but know that feeling isn’t helpful. What is helpful is getting back on track straight away at the next meal/snack. Don’t try to punish yourself - because I ate all that cake, I can’t have dinner. If you feel hungry to eat dinner, then eat the dinner you had planned and continue with the plan.
“Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater”.
You don’t stop your hike to the mountain peak because you stumbled on a pebble. Babies don’t stop trying to walk because they fall down once. You are not a failure because you ate something that wasn’t on your plan.
One bad decision/meal/day is not cause to stop it all. It happened, get straight back on it. Don’t beat yourself up, accept it and move on. Try again at the next meal/exercise time.
By losing 50 pounds you will be transforming not only your body, but your mind. You will become stronger, fitter, have greater self-esteem and belief and enjoy more of everyday life. You’ll have more energy and feel “cleaner” than you have in a very long time. By now you should have a good understanding of the science behind weight loss, and the information and tools you’ll need to set yourself up for success. I can’t stress enough that consistency is the key. Some days the scales may go up and that’s ok. Just keep at it. Be honest with yourself, and make sure you take a moment to look back from where you’ve come from and visualize where you’ll be in a few months if you stick at it. This isn’t going to be easy, but it is going to be worth it. For both your physical and mental health in both the short and long term. I know you can do this. I believe in you. Now it’s over to you to do the same.
INSIDER SECRETS FOR A LEAN BODY
Detailed information on health, nutrition, what exercises to do and how to do them, from Mike Geary, a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Specialist.