I lost 5 kg over the past 6 weeks. I want to share how I did it, in case this is something folks are interested in.
Usual caveats apply: everyone is built differently, everyone belongs to different stages of fitness, etc.
I am not a nutrition or fitness expert and absolutely do not play one on the internet. This is only my perspective. Nothing more, nothing less.
The first thing to do – if you’re interested in losing weight or cutting fat – is rationalize the WHY. Why do you care? WHY does it matter to you?
Without a motivating reason it is meaningless and unsustainable.
For me, I’ll be honest – I didn’t (and still don’t) care about a number on the scale. At all.
I just want to be healthier. It’s about developing and sustaining long-term healthy habits.
Looking better in the mirror played a secondary factor. It helps. But it doesn’t drive me.
- Healthcare is expensive. Proactive maintenance, in the long run, is cheaper.
- Getting stronger is fun and a personal challenge.
- I want to stay in shape for possible 2022 races: marathons, half-marathons, and so forth.
IMPORTANT: don’t do anything like this to prove a point to anyone but yourself. Find the right reason to be healthy.
If you do it to seek validation from others, then it WILL end badly.
There will be people who love you. Similarly, there will be people who dislike you and criticize everything you do. You’ll never please the second group.
To complement the WHY, it’s important to view healthier habits as a gradual process.
Therefore, short-term “failure” or setbacks are perfectly OK. It is acceptable to “fail” and not get the results you want right away.
Looking at things in a binary “0-or-1” lens is generally not productive AND de-motivating.
- Identifying as vegan, eating meat one day out of the month, and thinking you’ve “failed.”
- Going water-only, drinking a soda, and thinking you’ve somehow “failed.”
There is no “fail.” There is no need to get back to square one. Acknowledge it happened, plan your next move, and get to it.
Back to my personal example. If I gain the 5 kg back via unhealthy regression of habits, it will definitely be upsetting. I will beat myself up…but only for a limited time.
Mistakes are temporary. Setbacks are an opportunity to learn and get better.
Celebrate the small wins.
OK, that was a loooong intro. But the mindset stuff is key. Can’t get anything done without it.
Now, let’s examine the things I did to lose the weight:
- Eat 20% less for dinner
- Run 3 times / week
- HIIT 2 times / week
- Sleep 7 hours / day
Time to break it down.
1. Eat 20% less for dinner
Generally speaking, reduce carbs. I’m not disciplined enough to commit to intermittent fasting, which would mean cutting down to 2 meals / day.
What has worked well for me is reducing my intake of foods.
My willpower isn’t strong enough to completely cut out foods. But I can convince myself to have less.
The biggest thing to internalize is that nutrition is the key to weight loss. It is hard (impossible?) to get it done solely through exercise.
Of course, almost everyone knows this and it’s still hard. Psychologically, it is a HUGE challenge.
Motivation can only come from within. There are a billion books on how to do everything. In the end, we lean on ourselves.
For me it was realizing why I ate. I didn’t always eat because I was hungry.
I ate because of comfort. Of complacency. Of putting life on auto-pilot.
Figure out your triggers. When you automatically do things, it’s often to compensate for something else. Conditioning can be removed.
If you enjoy certain foods and see no reason to change, then that’s fine, too. There is more to life than a number.
There is no magic bullet. IF you go down this path, sacrifices must be made.
Life is tradeoffs.
Discipline is tradeoffs.
Discipline is freedom.
2. Run 3 times / week
Find some form of consistent slow cardio that you enjoy doing.
It must be sustainable. If you hate doing it, it won’t last. You’ll crash and burn.
It usually comes down to walking or cycling for most people. Some people enjoy team sports. Find the happy balance.
If I’m being honest, though – I’ve been running for years. And my biggest gains – for running, no less – came from the weight room, not from logging miles on the road.
Running more lets you…run more.
Functional strength matters, and leads to muscle buildup, which leads to more resting fat burn.
Slow burn cardio generally isn’t effective for fat burning, but this category is the BARE MINIMUM you need to do.
Think of cardio like breathing. It’s a base activity that complements the other healthy lifestyle habit changes.
Breathing in itself doesn’t make you healthier. You just need to think of it as an essential task.
If you’re just getting started on your fitness journey and don’t want to overwhelm, by all means – do just cardio for a while. Find something you tolerate and plug away at it, because your mind needs to adjust, too.
It might take months to make something a routine, which is why having the long term outlook and asking yourself WHY is a must.
3. HIIT 2 times / week
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is awesome. Search for “HIIT” on YouTube and you’ll find a plethora of great free programs to sweat to.
You don’t have to do a lot of it, either. A combined 50 minutes of HIIT a week, spread over 2 or 3 sessions, is plenty.
If you have to do one type of exercise for maximum effectiveness, then HIIT is it.
It’s WAY better than slow-burn cardio. The high intensity means you continue burning fat long after the exercise is done. (As I said before, I am no fitness expert. Do your research!)
Personally, I started getting into YouTube exercise vids ever since COVID-19 hit:
- It’s free
- It’s convenient
- No worrying about looking like a sweaty mess in front of others
If you need social motivation and/or accountability, there are plenty of IRL HIIT classes offered in gyms, too. Find the method that works best for you.
The main challenge with diving into HIIT is that the exercises are DAMN HARD.
If you can complete a 30-minute program on your first try, with no breaks, then congrats — you are really fit.
I wasn’t that fit. I struggled with it in the beginning. It’s a humbling yet intimidating experience for most.
There’s also a real risk to HIIT. There are squatting and jumping exercises you need to develop proper form for. You injure yourself by overdoing it, especially as a beginner.
That’s where the magic of YouTube exercise vids comes in.
PAUSE. FAST FORWARD. Take a break, drink some water. Use all the tools in the arsenal to build up your aerobic base.
To mitigate injury, start slow and steady for the first few weeks.
For example, take a 30-minute routine and complete just the first 10 minutes. Replace the last 20 minutes with slow-burn cardio or other substitutes.
Again, it’s not a 0-or-1 proposition. Always better to live to fight the next day than to overdo it and get hurt.
As you do HIIT, remember why you signed up for it in the first place. There is no badge of honor for pushing yourself too hard, in the name of becoming healthier.
There are days I plan for a HIIT workout, and I’m just not feeling it. So then I go for a run or walk instead.
Keep things flexible and listen to your body. If your body is hurting or needs some rest, then take it easy.
Now it’s time for the secret weapon. The one trick to beat them all, and in the darkness bind them…
4. Sleep 7 hours / day
Getting sufficient sleep is one of the most important things you can do to achieve your fitness goals.
Bad quality or low quantity sleep not only impacts one’s brain function, but hinders exercise recovery.
Everyone has a different definition for “enough sleep.” Some need 8 hours. Others need 6 hours.
For me, I know I need at least 7 quality hours a day for optimal function.
Sadly, I tend to skimp on sleep in the name of doing more “life stuff.”
Recently, I decided that I wasn’t going to compromise. Is it a constant challenge? Yes. Am I getting better at it? Also yes.
Again, it’s tradeoffs. Do you value health more than temporary fulfillment? Do you want to sleep more or send 10% more emails a day? (sad but true example.)
There is no one-size-fits-all answer. You’ll just have to be honest and accept that it’s impossible to have it all.
In summary, that’s what I did to achieve weight loss.
The fun thing is that for me, it feels sustainable. It isn’t an uncomfortable slog to do all of these things.
I know that even if there are setbacks – even if I gain the weight back – I’m not going to be terribly upset. Healthy habits matter more than numbers do.
If I can keep the habits going, then the results will take care of themselves.
Besides, I choose not to be defined by what I do or don’t do.
I’m not a “healthy person.” I’m not an “unhealthy person.” I’m not a “runner.”
I’m simply James. I am mortal, I am fallible, I try things.
I’m always going to be me.
The real me enjoys trying new things and seeing results. That’s enough motivation. The process is the reward.
Find your motivation and the rest will follow.