Weight loss doesn’t have to be difficult. You don’t have to starve yourself, do a ludicrous juice diet or kill yourself in the gym for hours on end every single day to shed those extra pounds, there are much easier ways to kickstart your weight loss.
When it comes down to it, weight loss is actually pretty straightforward. A few simple but effective changes to your training, diet and lifestyle will go a long way. We asked personal trainers at Ultimate Performance for some tips for how you can get your weight loss off to a great start in 2019.
If you build these 10 sustainable habits into your lifestyle, you will quickly start seeing weight loss results which will help you start to build a lean and healthy body for life. These 10 healthy habits work for every one of the hundreds of successful body transformation clients we see at Ultimate Performance.
There is no way around it – calories count. In order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume.
So many of us have a hard time losing weight because we’re simply consuming too many calories day to day. The key is shifting your ‘energy balance’ towards burning fat and losing weight – this means you need to be in a ‘calorie deficit’. Don’t be blinded by the science – this simply means you need to consume fewer calories to create the right conditions for weight loss. A simple way to do this is to find out what your ‘maintenance level’ is (the number of calories your body uses to maintain weight) and then reduce this intake by between 10-20%. You can find all of this out on MAN v FAT’s calculator here.
The next step is all about consistency and tracking what, and how much, you’re eating to make sure you’re remaining in a calorie deficit. This is how you sustain weight loss and don’t unknowingly stray into a ‘calorie surplus’, which will see you gaining weight.
This is the ‘secret’ behind any diet – whether that’s Paleo, pescatarian, vegan, keto, Atkins or whatever the latest fad is – you’ll lose weight simply because there is a calorie deficit.
There are loads of different ways to keep track of your calories, MyFitnessPal, LoseIt, or just good old pen and paper – as long as you get it down somewhere. Invest in a pair of digital kitchen scales (doesn’t have to be fancy ones, Argos do ones for £8.50) to help you be as accurate as possible.
One thing to remember is, if you’re not just trying to lose weight, but improve your body composition, you need to preserve muscle tissue. And this is why number 2 is vital…
Eat protein at every meal
Every client at Ultimate Performance is advised to eat a good source of protein at every meal. Why? The primary reason is to do with body composition.
If we are looking to achieve a lean and muscular aesthetic when losing weight, we want to lose fat but preserve the muscle we have. Protein is responsible for the repair and regrowth of muscle tissue – so getting a good source of protein in at every meal is important to preserve the muscle we have, especially if we’re in a calorie deficit.
Not only that, but protein is really satiating. This means it will help you feel full for a lot longer, so you don’t get hungry between meals, fall off the wagon and snack on calorie-laden junk foods that will dent your weight loss efforts.
Interestingly, protein also has what’s called a higher ‘thermic effect’ of food – much higher than protein and fat. Put simply, this means it takes your body more energy (calories) to break down and digest it. Studies vary, but some demonstrated that the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) of protein could be between 25-30% compared to carbohydrates (5-50%) and fats (2-5%).
So it’s worth loading up on protein – meat, especially chicken breast, is a fantastic source of protein, as is salmon, but if you’re a veggie or a vegan there are plenty of sources of protein that are suitable too, with tofu, lentils and seitan all being high in protein.
Prepare your meals
Successful and sustainable weight loss comes from keeping on top of your diet.
If you’re already tracking your calories and macros, something that will pretty much guarantee success is preparing your meals for the day well in advance. Having your meals measured and prepared ready for the day means you’re less likely to be caught short without a healthy meal, where it’s likely you will grab the nearest convenience food, which often won’t benefit your weight loss goals.
It’s so much harder to lose sight of your goals and eat something sub-optimal if you have all your healthy meals planned, prepped and ready to go when you’re hungry.
Two simple tips to help you become a food prep master are:
- Buy your food in bulk. It’s more cost-effective and you can portion it out – whether that’s your protein, vegetable or bags of nuts.
- Batch cook your food. Find recipes you love and match your weight loss goals, and then cook a batch in one go so you can portion them out and freeze them for a later date. It will save you loads of time in the long run. You can read more tips on batch cooking here.
Reduce your carbs, at least at first.
Firstly, carbs are not the devil. There’s a time and place in everybody’s transformation plan for carbs.
However, if you’re starting a weight loss journey, you’re carrying excess weight and your body is inflamed, a period of low carb eating can be really beneficial for kick-starting your weight loss. It’s always best to start by cutting out highly-processed sources of carbs from your diet (bread, pasta, cereal and baked goods) and replacing them with green vegetables and carb sources with a lower glycemic load (like sweet potato and lentils).
Green vegetables are particularly good – firstly because they’re full of vitamins and minerals, but also because they’re very low calorie, so you can eat them in large quantities without pushing the calorie count up too high. The high fibre content of green vegetables like kale, spinach and broccoli also aids digestion and helps keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Will you die if you don’t eat carbs for a few weeks? No. People believe you need to eat carbs at every meal, but unlike essential amino acids and essential fatty acids, ‘essential carbs’ don’t exist. Your body can function very happily without them. Remember – the leaner you are, the more carbs you can ‘handle’.
When it comes to reintroducing carbs back into your diet, we always advise adding in a small amount post-workout and also in the final meal of the day (yes, carbs in the evening! Carbs promote the production of serotonin in the brain, which aids sleep).
Going low carb for a short period is a great way to kick-start weight loss – nothing is more motivating than seeing progress in the first week or two.
Eat healthy fats
Just like carbs, fats have a bad reputation. It’s not fat that makes you fat, it’s simply eating too many calories that makes you fat.
The thing to remember with fats is that they contain more calories than protein and carbs, so they’re just easier to overeat. Losing weight and living a lean and healthy lifestyle actually requires some essential fats in your diet.
Fats become even more important if you’re reducing your intake of carbs – a low fat and low carb diet is the recipe for dietary disaster, and fat is a great energy source when you’re low carb dieting, so if you’re cutting the carbs make sure you’re eating enough healthy fats to keep up your energy levels.
But that’s not all, fat is also vital to hormone production and it aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A,D,E and K. It is also important for cell membrane health and managing inflammation and metabolism.
Healthy sources of fat to include in your weight loss diet are avocados, oily fish and whole eggs, but always avoid man-made ‘trans’ fats which can be inflammatory and are associated with a myriad of health complications.
Be sure to track your fat intake as the calories can quickly mount up. The difference between a 25g handful of cashew nuts and 50g is 154 calories, for example, so track as you would track any other food.
Boost your daily activity levels
If you want to lose weight, you need to increase your activity levels – and not just the 60 minutes you spend working out at the gym either. By this, we mean moving more and increasing the amount of activity you do during the whole day.
So many people fall into the trap of thinking all they need to do is a quick hour session in the gym to lose weight, but if they’re sedentary for the other 23 hours in the day, their overall energy expenditure will still be pretty low. Your activity levels play a big part in whether you successfully lose weight or not.
One of the biggest weight loss tools that everyone overlooks is something called ‘non-exercise activity thermogenesis’ (NEAT). Put simply, this is the energy you use doing day-to-day activities that aren’t exercise – things like shopping, cleaning, walking and even fidgeting at your desk. It can be a game-changer where weight loss is concerned.
Depending on how active you are throughout the day, NEAT can account for anywhere between 15-50% of your total energy expenditure throughout the day – and can be the difference between you being in calorie maintenance or a calorie deficit.
We always advise clients to aim for 10,000 steps per day and build in activities like walking to work, taking the stairs and carrying the shopping home to their routine which will boost your calorie burn far more than a quick session in the gym.
You can track this easily with a fitness watch or step counter on your phone.
Start resistance training
Following a progressive, well-structured and challenging weight training program consistently is one of the most effective ways to achieve fast and far-reaching body composition change.
Performing big ‘compound’ exercises like the squat, deadlifts and pull-ups are a great bang-for-your-buck way to recruit more muscle mass in training and burn more calories. These exercises should be prioritized above isolation exercises like leg extensions and bicep curls if fat loss is your goal.
If you are trying to lose fat and shed some unwanted pounds, lifting hard and heavy is incredibly effective. Doing 1,000 reps with a 2kg dumbbell isn’t enough to stimulate muscle growth needed to improve body composition.
If you’re new to weightlifting, it’s best to start out by performing a full-body workout programme three times a week.
One of the best methods we use at Ultimate Performance with our body transformation clients is using upper and lower body supersets, like the German Body Composition protocol, which allows you to get your heart rate up and do more work in less time (great if you’ve only got 45 minutes on your lunch break at work).
Drink more water
Making sure you’re drinking enough water is a crucial part of any weight loss plan for many reasons.
Firstly, water ensures your brain and body are functioning optimally – remember, dehydration downregulates every cellular process in the body. Not consuming enough water during the day dents muscle protein synthesis and even a 3% dehydration can impair your strength, power and performance output in the gym.
More specific to weight loss, not getting enough water means your liver will metabolise less fat as it has to step in and assume some of the functions of your kidneys when dehydration sets in.
Water plays a more prosaic role too when it comes to weight loss – it will help fill you up more, stave off hunger and keep you from overeating. A useful tip anyone can use is drinking a glass or two of water 10 minutes before you eat a meal – it really helps with dietary adherence and curtails overeating.
A good daily water intake target to aim for is around 1 litre per 25kg of bodyweight.
Improve your sleep
The relationship between sleep and weight loss has long been documented by science.
Sleep underpins optimal health, recovery and performance and is vitally important when you’re trying to lose weight. Sleep lays the foundation for a healthy hormone balance in the body. Testosterone and growth hormone levels (important for both men and women) reach peak production while you sleep at night – they’re key hormones to help improve your body composition.
Quality sleep also reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Conversely, when you’re sleep deprived, cortisol levels increase to help keep the body running – this, however, results in fatigue, food cravings, mental fog and lower ‘real’ energy.
Sleep is a cornerstone of sustainable weight loss and we advise every one of our body transformation clients at Ultimate Performance to get around 7-9 hours of good quality sleep per night.
Make a long-term plan
Successful and sustainable weight loss is never achieved with a quick-fix solution.
Crash diets, weight loss pills and extreme training regimes are never the answer – they’re not sustainable in the long-run and will always end badly. Building healthy and sustainable habits into your lifestyle, like the ones mentioned above, will not only help you lose weight, but will then give you the framework to keep it off for good and maintain a lean, toned and healthy figure for years to come.