As discussed in the article about goal disengagement that I wrote a few months ago, I’ve recently shifted from heavy barbell training to more bodybuilder-type stuff focusing on hypertrophy. I’m having fun working on the aesthetics part of strength training.
With a shift in training style has also come a shift in nutrition.
When I powerlifted, it paid to be heavier. I ate a ton of food to fuel my recovery and put on mass to hoist more weight. Before I started barbell training seriously in 2015, I weighed 185 pounds. By 2019, I weighed 225. So I put on 40 pounds in about four years. This increase in poundage was a mixture of muscle and fat.
I hovered around 215 for the past three years.
But this May, after a few months of doing my new bodybuilding-like training, I decided to lose some weight. I wasn’t what you would call “fat,” but I wasn’t exactly trim. I figured since I didn’t have a goal to deadlift 700 pounds anymore, I didn’t need to weigh 215 pounds anymore, either.
To help me navigate my new weight loss goal, I turned to the AoM Podcast. What’s great about hosting a podcast is that I get to learn right along with listeners. Over the years, we’ve had several guests on the show who have shared their expertise on how to lose weight. I followed their advice, and by August, I was down to 194 pounds.
It was pretty dang easy, too. I didn’t follow any particular diet like keto, low fat, Whole30, or whatever. I just tracked my macros and gradually reduced calories during those three months. My approach even allowed me to eat Chick-fil-A on a weeknight or have a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese at the airport.
I’m looking pretty trim and jacked (at least for a 40-year-old dad) — the best I’ve ever looked. According to my fat calipers, I mainly lost body fat and very little lean body mass. My clothes fit better. I feel better.
Below, I share the advice I gleaned from the AoM Podcast that helped me the most in losing 20 pounds in three months. Maybe it will give you some ideas for reaching your own weight loss goals.
Take Your Time: Aim to Lose 1-2 Pounds a Week
All of the guests we’ve had on the podcast to talk about weight loss emphasized the importance of shedding pounds slowly. Crash diets don’t work, and you end up gaining the weight back and then some. In my conversation with Layne Norton about fat loss, he highlighted research about why people get stuck in the yo-yo diet cycle and why those up-and-down undulations are terrible for long-term weight loss. Basically, when we lose weight too fast, our body responds by making it harder to lose weight. It does that by ginning up your hunger and slowing down your metabolism.
When you set out to lose weight, understand that this will likely be a months or even years-long process, depending on how much weight you have to lose. Most weight loss experts recommend losing one to two pounds a week.
For the first few weeks, I aimed to lose two pounds a week. But that was a little too aggressive. I lacked energy, and my hunger distracted me from work. So I shifted to trying to lose one pound a week. Some weeks I lost more, some I lost less, but it averaged out to shedding about 1.5 pounds a week. That was sustainable for me.
Understand Progress Won’t Be Linear; Don’t Get Discouraged!
In my podcast interview with nutrition expert Trevor Kashey, he talked about the way perfectionism gets in the way of his clients making long-term progress with their weight loss goals. People expect that they’ll adhere to their new diet perfectly or lose weight every week. But that never happens because life is complex and full of twists and turns. When a person’s diet expectations aren’t met, they get frustrated and demotivated and think, “What’s the point?! I gained two pounds this week — might as well polish off this entire bag of chips.”
Don’t fall into the all-or-nothing trap! Understand that your progress won’t be linear. You’ll have weeks where you adhere to your diet nearly perfectly, and weeks you don’t. You’ll have weeks where you’ll lose weight and weeks where you won’t (despite near perfect compliance).
I had weeks where I lost two or three pounds and weeks where I gained two or three pounds. I didn’t let it phase me. As long as the long-term weight trend was down, I was okay.
Pick a Diet That’s Sustainable for You in the Long Term
A lot of digital ink has been spilled about the best diet for weight loss. What all the weight loss experts told me is that any diet will work as long as it puts you in a caloric deficit — that is, you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming.
There are no magic fat loss abilities in diets like paleo or keto. They work because you’re eliminating food groups from your diet, allowing you to reduce calories and lose weight.
So how do you choose between the different diets? When writer Barry Estabrook came on the show, he shared his experience of trying lots of different diets to find the best one, only to discover that the best diet is whichever one you can do forever.
There’s a diet out there that’s right for you. You don’t have to just tolerate a diet; there’s likely one you will actually like. There are people who genuinely like eating low carb or doing intermittent fasting. Find the diet or eating plan that suits you.
For me, it’s tracking macros. During my cut, I ate whatever I wanted (as long as it fit my macros) and gradually lowered calories. I ate burgers and pizza. I ate a cookie with my kids after dinner. I never felt deprived. Since I enjoyed what I was eating, I could stick with my diet . . . indefinitely.
Track Your Food
One of the first things nutrition coach Trevor Kashey asks his clients to do – even before he starts modifying their diet – is to track everything they eat for a few weeks. This does two things, he says.
First, it gives the person “food clarity.” Most people have no clue how many calories they eat in a day because they don’t know how many calories are in the food they eat or what constitutes a normal portion. That’s why you can have people who say, “I hardly eat anything, but I can’t lose weight!” Maybe they aren’t eating a lot, but what they do eat is very calorically dense. Or they don’t eat a ton at meals, but they are consuming a lot of snacks without really registering it. There’s inevitably a big gap between the number of calories we think we consume in a day, and the number of calories we actually do. Tracking your food lets you see where you’re really at with your diet.
Second, tracking your food can help you eat less, thanks to the Hawthorne Effect. The Hawthorne Effect is when behavior changes as the simple result of measuring the behavior. If you know you’re being measured, you tend to change what you do. Kashey has found that when his clients start tracking their food, they naturally (without any conscious intention or nudging from him) start making better food choices and eating less.
I’ve been tracking what I eat for years with MyFitnessPal. I detail how I track my macros in this article.
Focus on High Satiety Foods
One challenge you’ll face as you lose weight is that you’re going to feel hungry. (We’ll talk about how to handle hunger here in a bit). One thing you can do to reduce hunger as you go into a caloric deficit is to focus on eating foods that have fewer calories but still make you feel full. I got this advice from all of the guests I talked to, but Stephan Guyenet went into detail about it in my conversation with him:
Eat foods that create greater levels of satiety or fullness per calorie in the parts of your brain that process fullness, the feeling of fullness. And the feeling of fullness that you feel is only loosely connected to the number of calories you eat, but it’s more tightly connected to food properties, like how calorie-dense the food is, in other words, how many calories per gram or per volume. So if you have food that is very, very calorie-dense, like chocolate or bread is pretty calorie-dense, for the same number of calories, it doesn’t fill your stomach up very much. So, 100 calories worth of those foods is not very much volume.
Whereas, if you’re eating a bowl of oatmeal or a piece of fresh fruit or a piece of fresh meat, that is mostly water, so it actually, per calorie, fills your stomach up more, and that sends signals up to your brain that actually makes you feel full. And so you end up feeling full, having consumed fewer calories.
So base what you eat on high-volume, low-calorie foods — whole and unprocessed stuff that will fill you up. Get lots of protein, too; it both builds muscle and takes a while to digest, keeping you sated.
Most of the food I ate fit this bill. Oatmeal, potatoes, plain yogurt, meat, veggies, eggs. All those foods will leave you feeling full but have fewer calories than a breakfast sandwich from QuickTrip.
Keep Your Protein High; Lower Carbs and/or Fat by 100 Calories as Needed
As I mentioned above, I follow a flexible dieting plan. I can eat whatever I want if it fits my prescribed macros.
When I started my trim-down attempt back in May, my daily consumption broke down like this:
- 3180 calories
- Protein: 225 grams
- Carbs: 300 grams
- Fat: 120 grams
To lose weight, I needed to get into a caloric deficit. So I needed to reduce my calories. Instead of reducing them drastically, I just decreased them by about 100 calories. I kept my protein consumption the same (remember, protein is muscle-building and filling) and took those ~100 calories away from my fat and carb macros. So, the first week of my cut looked like this:
- 3,030 calories
- Protein: 225 grams
- Carbs: 285 grams
- Fat: 115 grams
I’d hold steady at that macro count until I stopped losing a pound a week. If I didn’t lose a pound in a week, I’d reduce my calories by another 100 by keeping my protein the same and reducing my carbs and fat.
I just followed that cycle for the next three months until I got to 195 pounds.
I now weigh 194 pounds, and here are the macros I’ve been consuming to maintain my weight for the past month:
- 2705 calories
- Protein: 210 grams (Since I weigh significantly less, I decided to lower my protein this month.)
- Carbs: 230 grams
- Fat: 105 grams
I did my macro adjustments on my own with MyFitnessPal. I offer guidance on determining your initial macro intake in my article on tracking macros.
If you don’t want to make your own adjustments, check out Layne Norton’s Carbon App. I’ve used it in the past and am impressed by it. It’s a macro tracker + nutrition coaching app in one. It’s pretty dang cool. You tell the app your weight loss goals, track your food during the week, and then check in with your weight at the end of the week. The app will then adjust your macros automatically to help you continue to lose weight. It’s like having a personal nutrition coach, but it only costs $10 a month. I highly recommend it if you don’t want to think about adjusting your macros.
Eat Mostly the Same Thing Every Day
Another tip I got from Stephan Guyenet to reduce overeating was eating the same thing every day. I went into detail about this idea in my article about “The Groundhog Day Diet.”
When it comes to food, novelty and variety increase your appetite. When you eat the same thing every day, you can reduce the amount of hunger you experience by reducing your excitement around food. One of the best pieces of advice I got from Guyenet is that you have to resist the modern expectation that every single thing you eat, each of 1000+ meals you sit down to a year, has to be delicious. See food more like fuel. It’s fine if most of it is just okay.
Another benefit of eating the same thing every day is that you reduce the decisions you have to make about food, making it easier to track your macros daily.
My breakfast, lunch, and snacks have been pretty much the same thing for the past several years. At dinner, I eat whatever my family is eating. It could be burgers, spaghetti, tacos, meatloaf, etc. I just follow the Japanese concept of Hara Hachi Bu at dinner and stop eating when I feel 80% full.
You Can Eat “Bad” Foods, Just Do So In Moderation
Even though I mostly stuck with my Groundhog Day diet and most of the food I ate was just okay rather than delicious, I also sometimes ate “bad” food. I simply budgeted for it. If I knew I was going out to eat at Freddy’s on Friday night with the family, I’d put what I planned to eat there that evening into MyFitnessPal in the morning. I could then see how much carbs and fats I had left for the rest of the day.
The thing about eating tasty foods like burgers and ice cream and the like is that they’re calorically dense but don’t take up much space in your stomach. So if you decide to eat a greasy burger and fries, you’ll get a lot of calories, but you’ll feel hungry again really fast because it won’t fill you up that much. And you won’t be able to eat any more without exceeding your caloric budget. So when you do indulge, you’ll have to pay for it with a subsequent exercise in extra self-control, and you’ll have to decide if the treat is worth the hunger.
Don’t Drink Your Calories
Many people get a lot of their calories from what they drink during the day: full-sugar sodas, coffees with sugar and cream, juice, and alcohol.
I’ve never been one to drink my calories, so this wasn’t a problem for me, but if you’re trying to lose weight, and you do drink caloric beverages, cut that habit out! You ingest a buttload of calories while getting almost zero satiety in return. You’ll still be hungry after you have a can of Mountain Dew, but you’ll have consumed 170 calories. It’s not worth it!
Opt for a diet soda over a regular soda. Drink your coffee black. Skip the juice. You can eat more delicious food with the calories you save from not sipping them.
Really, cutting caloric beverages out of your diet is the single easiest thing to do to lose weight. You might be able to lose a significant amount of weight by making that change alone. If you haven’t dropped caloric beverages already, you haven’t yet begun to fight!
Learn to Get Comfortable With Mild Hunger
As you lose fat, your body will start fighting you. It wants to hold on to that extra body fat because it thinks it might need it when you’re in starvation mode. One way your body tries to hold on to body fat is to make you hungrier. As you shed pounds, your body produces less of a hormone called leptin. When your body recognizes you have less leptin, your appetite will get stronger.
There are things you can do to reduce the amount of hunger you experience as you lose weight. Primarily eating filling foods, keeping your protein high, and mostly eating the same thing every day will help. As I’ll get into below, so will exercise. But even with these habits, you’re still going to experience some hunger.
One thing I learned from Trevor Kashey is that when you’re losing weight, you need to get comfortable with feeling some mild hunger. Being mildly hungry isn’t doing any health damage to you. You’re not starving when you feel some hunger pangs at night. You’re not in danger. It’s just annoying. According to Dr. Kashey, you can approach the annoyance of mild hunger the same way you do other annoyances: by exercising some self-control.
He likens the slight discomfort of mild hunger to the slight discomfort you experience when you hold in a fart when you’re in public. You’ve got no problem holding that fart in, even though it would feel really good to let it rip. If you can do that with farts, you can do that with your hunger pangs. Just experience some slight discomfort for a bit, and it will go away. Ride it out.
Early in my cut, I experienced some mild hunger, especially at night while lying in bed. At first, it was distracting and annoying, but eventually, I learned that if I just sit with it for a bit, it usually goes away in 10 to 15 minutes. I learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
If the hunger pangs got too bad and distracting, I’d eat some veggies and drink some zero-calorie Zevia. The fizziness makes my stomach feel full and takes away some of the bite of the hunger pangs.
Take a Break Now and Then
Long periods of dieting can run you down psychologically and physically. You’re depleting willpower when you control your eating and the reduction in calories can make you feel lethargic. That’s why Layne Norton recommends taking a break from dieting every few weeks. According to him, breaks from dieting do two things: First, they help prevent your metabolic rate from dropping too much as you lose weight. And two, it just gives you a break psychologically.
Breaks are particularly useful if you have a lot of pounds to shed and are going to be on a long weight-loss journey.
Layne recommends taking a break from your diet every six weeks or so. A diet break means you just eat enough calories to maintain your weight. Do that for a week or two, then return to calorie reduction mode.
About six weeks into my cut, I felt burned out on my calorie reduction. So I bumped my calories up by 100 and just stayed at that macro level for two weeks. By the end of the two weeks, I was ready to return to the caloric deficit.
While a lot of weight loss comes down to reducing calories, don’t discount the power of exercise when it comes to losing weight. Sure, you burn calories when you exercise, but as Layne Norton shared, the most significant benefit of exercise when it comes to weight loss is that it sensitizes you to satiety signals:
They did a study in the 1950s looking at Bengali workers, and they looked at sedentary people, people with a lightly active job, a moderately active job, and a heavy labor job. And what they found was from the lightly active to heavily active jobs people pretty much matched their intake without even trying. They just ate more calories and they remained in calorie balance. What they found was the sedentary people actually ate more than every other group except for the heavy labor jobs. So when you don’t exercise, you have much lower sensitivity to the satiety signals in your brain, so it’s easy for you to overeat, whereas when you exercise, you get more sensitive to those satiety signals.
While you might feel that exercise makes you hungrier, and you may indeed feel hungrier immediately after a workout, overall, exercise helps your body better match your caloric intake to your caloric expenditure.
For more details on how this works and why exercise should be the foundation of your weight loss effort, I highly recommend reading this article.
During my cut, I kept up my regular weight training and zone 2 cardio and also looked for ways to get more steps in during the day.
There you go. That’s what I did to lose 20 pounds in about three months. The same advice can work for you too.
Part of weight-loss success is keeping your goal and what you need to do to make it happen at the forefront of your mind. To do that, I recommend making the podcast episodes I mentioned a part of your daily listening routine until you’ve worked through them. You can find them all in this Spotify playlist I created.