I am often asked about the best approach to weight loss. In general this question comes from those who are probably not committed gym users, may or may not be into some regular sporting activity, but have realised that this is a subject that they should turn their attention towards.
Most are not looking to become regular gym-goers. They certainly do not want anything too complicated with their weight loss or involving long lists of rules. They have active lives and need an easy approach that can be integrated with their lifestyles with the minimum of disruption to their daily routine.
I have created an approach called ‘Three Stage Fitness’, which is designed to be as simple as possible at the outset – Stage 1, adding more complexity at Stages 2 and 3. To keep the level of complication down, I don’t describe these subsequent stages until they are applicable to that individual which, with success at Stage 1, may be not at all.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
Fat loss not weight loss
Note that I want increase people’s fitness as well as help them lose fat, so I try to avoid the term ‘weight loss’. The idea is they get fitter at the same time as losing weight, even though they may not realise that’s happening.
I’ll discuss Stage 1 in this article, and cover the other stages later. As you read this article, you may think my approach to Stage 1 is simplistic, just statements of the obvious. I don’t argue with this, the simpler the approach and the fewer rules in a plan, then the more likely it is to be adhered to.
Stage 1 is all about making relatively small changes in people’s daily lives in order to achieve a steady and realistic weight loss. All I do in this stage is encourage people to move a little more, and consume a little less – especially of the bad stuff.
Although there are many additions I could make to this, I base Stage 1 on the traditional idea of instilling behaviours which will create a daily calorie deficit.
In terms of the weight lost, I see one pound a week as ideal for a long-term goal; perhaps a little more in the first few weeks. Some people think one pound a week isn’t much – but multiply that by a few months and you get a major drop in anyone’s books.
One pound of fat has around 3500 calories, the Stage 1 route to losing that fat is to adjust daily habits to create a calorie deficit of 500 calories for each day per week – achieved by a drop in intake by 250 calories, and an increase in expenditure of the same amount.
We could do some calculations on this, but at Stage 1, I don’t want to get into this, keeping it simple is going to encourage sticking to the plan.
So here are the simple guidelines I advise people to follow:
Firstly, I try to avoid the word ‘Exercise’ here, as it can be a deterrent. There will be more than enough ‘Exercise’ in Stages 2 and 3 if we go down that route next. Instead, I try to get the individual to agree to:
(1) walk more, both walking as part of their daily routine rather than a short car or bus ride, and also taking some extra walks in leisure time
(2) and for that walking, do so more quickly – as walking quickly burns more calories
(3) take the stairs rather than the lift or escalator
(4) if possible, when going up those stairs take them two at a time – which, although they don’t realise it, gives them a quads workout as well as being a good calorie burn. Finally, if they have a bike, use it rather than the car whenever it’s a bit too far to walk!
Again, I have a few suggestions that I’d like the individual to agree to:
(1) cut out as much as possible all the bad stuff – most fats and fast carbs
(2) focus on eating the good stuff – protein, slower carbs, fibre and fruit. Terms like proteins and fast carbs may not mean much to many, so I have created a food guide list which breaks these categories down into more detail, and I walk through this list with each individual.
Portion size is also important, and I ensure people realise the effects of this. Alcohol is an interest for many, and my guideline here is to minimise it for the duration of the stage; if total elimination is does not sound attractive for social reasons, then keep it to a minimum and make it good quality – ‘quality not quantity’, is my motto here.
I want the individual to feel at the end of each day they really have moved an extra 10-15% more than on a day before the programme, and eaten around the same percentage less – especially of the bad stuff.
If so, they probably have achieved something close to the 250 calorie change I am looking for in both factors. Yes, these percentages are highly subjective, but I don’t want to get into calorie or macronutrient counting yet – Stages 2 and 3 will cover this if needed.
I like everyone on Stage 1 to give it a go for one month. At the end of that month, I hope they have an overall weight reduction of between 4 and 8 pounds, and can see and feel some benefit in the mirror and on the tight trousers test too.
What happens next is very much dependent on the individual
- If the weight loss is less than that expected, then maybe they are not sticking to the programme, in which case we need to work out how to resolve this. Or maybe their starting calorie surplus was sufficiently high that the actions described just slowed down the rate of calorie growth, rather than reversed the trend. In which case, maybe they would be willing to become more involved and move to Stage 2.
- If the weight loss is more than that, then they probably need to cut back on some of the food reduction, and maybe some of the movement increase too. I’d probably discuss the benefits of moving to Stage 2 to ensure they are getting sufficient nutrients and starting some resistance training, as I’d be getting concerned that there may be some muscle wastage going on here.
Both of these are overall guidelines, and as before the specific advice varies massively from individual to individual, depending on their personal preferences, level of commitment, and how they feel at the end of the month. Including a daily food diary is a great idea for those that are willing to put the time in to update it.
I often find that Stage 1 can be repeated and, my ultimate goal for people who achieve success with this is when Stage 1 practices cease to be a special way of behaving for a month, but instead becomes the new norm for their lives.
But for those whose motivation and interest is such that they want to move to more complexity, then Stage 2 brings body composition, calorie counting, meal timing, a couple of all-body workouts per week plus a little cardio.
Beyond that, Stage 3 goes into grams of macronutrients and body part split resistance training, as well as adding some complexities to the cardio. And all of this will be described in another article.