Weight loss isn’t all that complicated and is relatively easy to achieve. The most effective weight loss secrets actually begin with science and an understanding of how the body works, but this information is not nearly as widespread or organized as it should be. Until now. We’re going to dig deep in this step by step guide to teach you the true ins and outs of how the body treats weight loss and give you the ultimate leg up on how to use this to your advantage. Let’s get started!
According to Slate Magazine, out of the 45 million people that go on a crash diet at the start of a new year, only 5% are actually able to keep the weight off in the long term. That is an astonishingly low percentage of people who can successfully learn to lose weight and keep it off at the same time. So, what’s the problem? It all starts with a severe lack of knowledge and understanding of how our bodies function on a natural scientific level.
I’m sure most of you heard by now, but the absolute golden rule to losing weight is burning more calories and/or eating less calories than your body needs. To be more specific, the total caloric value of whatever foods you choose to eat throughout the day, plus the number of calories you burn from exercise, must be less than your total maintenance calories.
Although the rule makes total sense, people just can’t seem to grasp where to start and even how to begin calculating what they eat. After reading this guide, not only will you get a better understanding of how to manage your diet and calculate calories, but you will see the full spectrum of what it takes to achieve long term weight loss.
What is BMR and Why is it Important?
The first step to figuring out weight loss is understanding your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR for short. BMR is the amount of energy (in calories) your body needs and burns in order to perform basic life sustaining functions (i.e. breathing, circulation, protein synthesis, etc.). Everyone has a unique BMR number that regulates their body and their respective weight.
Although your body doesn’t technically know the difference between a candy bar and broccoli, it does know how to effectively store energy for long term usage. This means turning all of those excess calories you consume into fat.
Well, why is this all important? Learning about your body’s BMR will help you understand the break even limit that your body naturally has and how you can eat different types of food that fit well under this limit. In other words, understanding the science behind BMR will help you build better diet plans for your weight loss goals. This brings us to our next topic, which is calculating your TDEE.
What is TDEE?
Now that we understand one of the crucial elements of weight loss, we need to take it one step further to help us calculate the calories we should be eating. The next step here is learning more about your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). TDEE is best described as the overall or total amount of energy your body burns in a single day.
TDEE can be viewed more as the total net number of calories your body needs using your BMR (described above), as well as the number of calories you burned at rest and through exercise. This is your true break even caloric limit. For example, if you consume more or less calories than your TDEE limit, then you will gain or lose weight, respectively. If you eat the same number of calories as your TDEE, then you will neither gain nor lose weight. Pretty straightforward, right?
Calculating your TDEE by hand can be a bit complicated, which is why there are a handful of amazing websites out there that do this for you. My personal favorite (and free) TDEE calculator is the IIFYM Calculator. A quick pro tip is to choose Total Body Weight Formula and also check Sedentary under your activities section. This will give you the most accurate TDEE reading by far.
Determining Your Body Type
Understanding the basics of BMR and TDEE will now help you determine what type of diet will be best for you. Before you begin Googling the hottest diet fad of the year, you need to first determine what your body type is in order to have the best diet response.
Everyone is born with a specific body type that determines our natural shape, ability to process specific macronutrients (more on that later), and the overall speed of our metabolism. Check out this article by Muscle & Strength that describes the three main body types: Ecotomorph, Endomorph, and Mesomorph.
I already know what some of you are thinking, “what if I’m a mix of two different body types?!” That’s totally fine! In fact, a lot of people exhibit traits of one or two different body types. I would consider myself a mix between an Ectomorph (hard to put on weight, fast metabolism) and a Mesomorph (defined muscle frame, more rectangular shaped body). Once you determine which body type best fits yours, then we can proceed onto the next phase, which is learning about macronutrients.
What Are Macronutrients?
I know you hear this term being thrown around quite a bit online. Check out any of the dieting or nutrition tip videos on YouTube and the cool kids are always referring to something called “macros”. But what exactly are macros anyways?
Macronutrients, or macros for short, are the largest nutrients or food sources that our body requires in order to function. Macros can be broken down into three primary food groups: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Depending on the body type that you identify with in the section above, you need to find the right diet that best fits you.
For instance, Ectomorphs are naturally more thin and have a faster metabolic rate than your typical Mesomorph. This means that their diets can be a bit more carb heavy. Whereas, the Mesomorph should focus on lowering his or her carb intake and try to gain more calories through high protein and fat diets. Again, each body type will lend itself to different macro breakdowns and personal preference can even play a role as well.
Determining Your Macro Splits
Woo! Now that we understand macros and their importance to dieting, we need to find the best balance or ratio to work with. After you calculate your personal TDEE number from above, you will need to determine what your true weight loss goals are.
If you want to lose fat and add lean muscle, then we recommend settling on a slow, but safe, 300 calorie deficit per day from your TDEE. If you want a more dramatic weight loss (with potential lean muscle loss), then you can up the calorie deficit number to about 500-700 calories below your TDEE. Personally, I’d recommend going with a slow and gradual burn, especially for beginners.
OK, now that you’ve settled on the number of calories you want to go into deficit, we need to figure out how to translate this in terms of macros. Let’s say your TDEE was an even 2,000 calories per day. Your weight loss goal is to lose fat quickly, so you decide to eat only 1,500 calories per day (a 500 calorie deficit from your TDEE). You need to figure out what types of foods you need to eat to properly achieve that 1,500 calorie goal. This is known as your macro split. To help give you a bit more guidance, you should do a bit more research on the proper recommended macro ratios for your body type.
Also, it’s very important to know the caloric value of each macronutrient. As a reference, proteins are worth 4 calories per gram, carbohydrates are worth 4 calories per gram, and fats are worth 9 calories per gram. This is a critical piece of information to keep handy and will be the backbone of your diet.
For those that are lazy, you can even use mobile apps like MyFitnessPal (download for Android and iOS here) to help you calculate exact macro splits on a per gram basis that matches your calorie goal. You pretty much input your TDEE and your goal calories per day, then the app automatically gives you a recommended macro breakdown to follow. I also highly recommend watching a few YouTube tutorials to understand this concept a little further. Here’s a video that helped me a ton when I was first getting started:
Meal Planning and Proper Nutrition
Here comes the hardest part–dieting. Again, I recommend downloading the MyFitnessPal app to track your macros on the go. Also, one of my absolute MUST HAVES for meal planning is getting a digital food scale. When I was taking my meal planning and dieting seriously, I finally caved and bought one of these Ozeri Pronto digital food scales because it had really strong reviews on Amazon.
I use this almost religiously on a weekly basis to measure out my grains, vegetables, meats, etc. by weight. This gives me super accurate readings on the number of calories I’m eating per serving and helps give me a small boost in dieting motivation since I know exactly how much I’m putting into my body. Get yourself a food scale immediately!
As a general rule, in order to lose 1 pound of body fat per week, you need to also burn about 3,500 calories per week. This means that if you maintain a steady 500 calorie deficit per day, you should be able to drop 1 lbs. of fat on a per weekly basis (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories).
Furthermore, some of my best advice for meal planning is to eat several small meals throughout the day that equal your total goal calorie amount (rather than going with one or two large meals). This strategy helps me stay feeling full throughout the day and really suppresses my cravings for unhealthy junk food. If you’re looking for some great meal planning ideas, definitely check out this 7 Day Heart Healthy Meal Plan article by Eating Well.
Incorporating Aerobic or Anaerobic Exercise
And now to the fun part of this whole weight loss journey–the exercise! Depending on your actual weight loss goals, you’ll need to decide whether aerobic or anaerobic exercises will be the best fit for you. Aerobic exercise focuses more on cardiovascular heavy training, such as running, cycling, swimming, etc. Additionally, anaerobic exercise focuses on strength and endurance, such as weight lifting.
Both forms of exercise will benefit your heart and aid tremendously in your weight loss goals. However, unless you enjoy running on a treadmill at a constant pace for long stretches, I would highly recommend the weight lifting route. Building muscle not only makes you look and feel incredible, but it can do wonders for your health!
The reason why building muscle is so good for fat management is due to the fact that muscle tissue requires much more energy to function than any other organ in the body. Furthermore, keeping muscle on your frame also increases your metabolic rate, as well as boosts the post workout afterburn effect, which is the process of burning calories even hours after you finish your lifting session. That’s a win-win for anybody!
For beginner weight lifters, I’d start with a very simple 5×5 strong lift program. This is essentially weight lifting using high intensity and high resistance compound barbell exercises to put your fat burning into overdrive. You can use the many 5×5 guides online to create an easy to follow three day a week program where you lift 5 sets of 5 repetitions of multiple body parts in one workout. This is a great linear progression program where you will see some impressive results in both strength and muscle building quickly.
On your off days, it is highly recommended to do some form of light aerobic exercise. This is where you can squeeze in your treadmill or biking time to keep your fat burners rolling. However, once you become a seasoned vet of the 5×5 program, you’ll notice that you need to burn a little more calories on your off days as your body adjusts and plateaus. This is when I really love to do short high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts.
My personal favorite HITT exercise to do is the INSANITY MAX:30 workout, which builds serious flexibility, endurance, and, as the name suggests, is a damn insane workout. The best part is you can do these exercises in about 30 minutes from home and they’re loads of fun. Definitely get a copy of this program!
Supplements and Extra Tips for Weight Loss
Once you get the basics down, it’s pretty much time to fill in the gaps and making sure you stay on course. Also, as you workout and change your diet, it will be extremely helpful to look into certain supplements, vitamins, proteins, etc. that will give you the extra boost you need.
If you’re looking for a one-stop shop for any health supplements, then I would do some price comparisons between a few online retailers. My two absolute go-to favorites are Amazon and iHerb. iHerb is one of the coolest companies out there since they deliver worldwide and they also have a pretty great rewards program. If you purchase items with my special coupon code (JOS8929), then we can both earn an extra 5% discount towards ANY purchase! This is part of their “Give 5, Get 5” promotion.
If you decide to go with iHerb or even Amazon, here are some of my favorite tips/items to keep in mind.
1. Use Whey Protein Regularly
Any sort of resistance workout will call for whey protein as a much needed supplement to help aid your muscle recovery. Those that lift frequently are pretty familiar with the phenomenon known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
As you engage your muscles in workouts, they usually form tiny tears in the muscle tissue itself, which is one of the reasons for soreness. Once these tears rebuild/regenerate, then your muscles will begin to grow and round out. Regularly taking whey protein post workout will help your muscles repair itself faster and give you the proper nutrition you need to continue working out at a high level.
If you’re a beginner, I’d recommend going with the Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey Protein line. They got some fantastic flavors and almost every weight lifter has used this brand at least once in their life. If you want something a little more high quality, then I’d 100% recommend going with the Impact Whey line by MyProtein. These are some of the most delicious, easy to mix, and low calorie whey protein products I’ve tried. My two favorite flavors so far are Cookies & Cream and Chocolate Brownie. Check them out!
2. Taking BCAA’s
Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) are critical amino acids that help fight against muscle loss while dieting. If you decide to go on a calorie deficit while lifting, one thing your body will resort to doing is eating up the protein from your muscles as a potential energy source. Using BCAA supplements will help tremendously in slowing down this effect. Also, BCAAs (pill or powder form) can be taken before, during, and even after workouts. To put it simply, they really give you a strong boost of energy and help you push through the tail end of your workouts (when it’s hardest).
I personally buy the pill form of BCAAs from Optimum Nutrition. If you don’t like taking any sort of pills or tablets, then I would go with the powder form. Powder form BCAAs are also convenient in case you want to get a little extra boost mid workout. All you need to do is pack a shaker bottle and you’re good to go. Adding BCAAs to my supplement mix has been a complete game changer! It really cuts down on my soreness the next day, which helps me train a bit harder on those days that I really need it. Would recommend 10/10 times.
3. Drink Loads of Water
I can’t emphasize this enough. Hydration is the most crucial element of all workouts or dieting. Keeping your body properly hydrated will ensure that you flush out all toxins, boosts immune response, lessens fatigue, etc. Here’s a more comprehensive list of the benefits of drinking more water everyday. Try to also stay hydrated even when you’re not working out. You will certainly feel the benefits of it when you do hit the gym. I promise!
4. Get More Sleep
Sleep is vital for dieting, daily functioning of our bodies, and for proper recovery of workouts. Eating right and working out will all be for naught, unless you get quality sleep on a daily basis. Try to make it a habit to get to the gym, eat a strong post workout meal, and immediately get ready for bed. If you are one of the few people that just have a hard time sleeping every night, then I recommend possibly taking a sleeping aid to get you in the groove.
I wouldn’t recommend taking heavy sleep medication, but some over-the-counter melatonin from your local pharmacy can do the trick. Here is an article that outlines some of the benefits of taking melatonin (which is a natural hormone produced in your body) and how it can help boost your sleep.
If you’re looking for a simple melatonin supplement that also tastes good, I’d go with with these fast dissolving tablets from Natrol. They are constantly one of the best selling sleep supplements listed on Amazon and have a great price (less than $20). My only advice would be to only use it for a short period of time, so that you don’t become reliant.
5. Reduce Stress
According to WebMD, increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) during tension filled times can make you overeat and crave sugary foods. There is a direct correlation between stress and weight gain, which is why it is important to try to manage your stress levels. One of the best ways to reduce stress is to practice yoga. We already went over some of the best beginner yoga poses to try for a happier and healthier life in a previous post, but it is important to focus on incorporating this into your everyday life. Try to make it one of your off day exercises or even something you do before you head to sleep.
Changing your body and losing weight isn’t about gimmicky diets or starving yourself from the things you love. But if you use the tips and strategies that we outlined above, then you WILL see results in as little as 6-8 weeks. Guaranteed. Just keep sticking with your game plan and remember that losing weight is a lifestyle change (NOT a short term answer). If you can stay 100% committed to that mantra, then you’ll see your body and mind change right before your eyes.
If you have any further questions or concerns, feel free to leave a comment below. Good luck Asian Dieters!