I lost a total of 7 kg (15 lbs) over the last few months in the pursuit of my best condition to date.
I got what I wanted. But I screwed up more times than I care to admit along the way. Re-reading the list below, I can’t help but shake my head seeing as how I made some of the most notorious beginner mistakes.
Lesson(s) learned. I made the biggest diet mistakes so you don’t have to.
Cutting Calories Too Aggressively
I hate math.
But there’s no denying that quantifying weight-loss with the aid of numbers makes it a little more tangible and maybe even more translatable to the dinner table. Consume fewer calories than you expend and you’ll lose weight. Old news, I know. But let’s take a closer look at the numbers involved.
Calories are a unit used to determine the energy content of food. 1 calorie being the equivalent of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by one degree celsius. [Don’t fall asleep just yet Jimmy. We’ll keep this short and simple.]
Calories are energy and bodyfat is your body’s energy storage. Thus, to lose fat you need to create a calorie shortage (many ways of doing that, as you know).
1 pound (0.45 kg) of bodyfat equals 3500 calories.
To lose 1 pound of fat per week you’d, theoretically, need to burn an extra 3500 calories every week. I say theoretically because it rarely plays out like that in the real world. Still, weight-loss protocols frequently recommend a 500 calorie deficit per day to get the job done. Why 500 calories? 500 calories x 7 = 3500 calories = 1 pound weight-loss per week. Now that you have a general understanding of the mathematics involved, here’s my problem:
I’m impatient. And like you, I want results fast.
So instead of sticking to a moderate deficit, I frequently dipped down into the dieting dead zone (1000+ calories below maintenance). Not good. Going too low in calories (what is too low?) will cost you. It cost me. General fatigue, weak shit workouts, irritability and lackluster sleep were my new side-kicks.
Cutting calories too aggressively is the cardinal sin of fat-loss dieting and the single biggest reason why people fail to stick to their diets. A close second being…
Not Eating Enough Protein
I was residing in Thailand for the initial stretch of the diet. And while I can appreciate the Thai cuisine, it’s certainly not optimal for body composition. A high carbohydrate diet with low amounts of protein isn’t going to get anyone in peak physical condition.
But I thought I was smarter than them.
I thought I was smarter than the juiced-up bodybuilders and magazine experts espousing the virtues of a high protein diet. I thought I could get the job done eating much less protein. Turns out, yes, I am smarter, but I underestimated the importance of protein during calorie restriction. Keeping protein intake high, especially while dieting, is a must.
You want a metabolism? You want more muscle on your frame? You want to maintain performance during a cut? Eat your damn protein.
While you’ll still never see me eat Tupperware chicken or drink 3 shakes a day, I’ve made it a point to get in at least 50 grams of protein per meal (if it doesn’t contain a minimum of 50 grams it’s not a meal, it’s a snack). I raised my daily protein intake from roughly 100-120 to 160-200 grams. The difference in performance and appearance was night and day.
I dropped water weight, my muscles remain fuller, I recover faster between sessions and I’m less hungry. Getting enough protein doesn’t require you to live-off of chicken breast, egg whites and shakes, though. My main protein source is dairy (cottage cheese, high-protein yogurt). Don’t be afraid of consuming a good chunk of your daily protein from dairy (unless you’re intolerant to it). It’s packed with vital muscle-building nutrients, it’s cheap and tastes great. That’s an A+ in my book.
Caught Up In The Details
The perfect macronutrient ratio, the optimal meal frequency and timing, the best foods to eat for fat-loss… All a bunch of bullshit.
I wasted many weeks trying to tweak my routine to perfection and getting caught up in the details. I experimented with various macronutrient ratios and meal timing strategies, thinking I could outsmart energy balance (i.e. eating more of the “right foods” while still dropping fat).
I was dead wrong.
Don’t make this more complicated than it needs to be. Focus on the dieting fundamentals, maintain a moderate calorie deficit, eat more protein and give it time. That’s the “secret”.
Despite making (almost) every mistake in the book, I got leaner by the day (I still kinda know what I’m doing). But I wasn’t getting the results I expected.
I got so locked in on the target and my daily routine that I stopped listening. I ate too little, trained like my life depended on it (to be fair, it does) and ignored all the red flags along the way.
Looking back, it’s hardly a surprise I lost muscle, got weaker and routinely felt like a brain-dead zombie. Turns out, I’m not only impatient but also stubborn as a rock, so I bit the bullet and gritted it out for months, refusing to reflect and reassess. Refusing to wake up and smell the coffee.
I made a lot of mistakes and paid the price. Again, nothing new here. You gotta play the game by the rules or you’ll get your fingers burned. Eating way below maintenance calories is not going to work unless you’re a fatty to begin with. Pushing yourself beyond your limits every workout and hiking through the jungles of southeast Asia for hours every day is not going to work unless you’re a fatty to being with.
Listen to your body.
You have to support your metabolism by consuming enough (of the right) food and getting adequate rest between workouts. You have to signal your body the need to hold on to as much muscle as possible and let it know it’s OK to dig into its fat stores for energy. You have to start listening.
Don’t eat a low protein diet, train like you have a gun to your head every time you step inside the gym and think you’re smarter than the game or you might just end up looking worse than before unless, you know, you’re a fatty to begin with.
The Take Home Message: How To Diet Like a Pro
- Focus on the weight-loss fundamentals
- Don’t massively restrict calories (minimum of BW x 10 calories)
- Eat more protein (30%+ of total calories)
- Don’t train balls to the wall every time you work out
- Sleep more, sleep better
- Don’t be an impatient, stubborn blockhead
You’re not going to get it right the first time you push the potato chips aside and decide to lean down. Trust me. You will make plenty of mistakes. But that’s not the point. The point is, how will you deal with the setbacks? How will you deal with the frustration? Will you go back to your old habits, blaming your busy schedule (don’t make me laugh!) and, obviously, your “sluggish metabolism” or will you look for a different, a better way? Will you keep going until you make it to your destination?
Thank you for reading
Thomas DM et. al. (2013) Can a weight loss of one pound a week be achieved with a 3500-kcal deficit? Commentary on a commonly accepted rule. Int J Obes. Dec;37(12):1611-3.