How to Be Less Fat
Several years ago I decided to be “less fat” and lost 20KG (44lbs). During that time I have read a lot of books. A lot. Watched even more videos, ate a lot of chicken and in the process accidentally became an “enthusiastic amateur” into the how and why.
I meet a lot of people who knew me before I lost the weight and many ask me “how” so I decided to try and distill all I have read and watched into a list of simple tips, guidance and advice that all worked for me.
There are three main areas to think about and that I have elaborated below in sections. You can get by on two of them but if you master all three, then you have the holy grail.
Food — Not how much you eat but WHAT you eat. Changing what you eat and the quality of the food is the first step. Don’t eat less, eat right.
Exercise — Moving, more, is the goal. Running yourself ragged in a gym is not.
Mindset — Arguably the most important. If you read all these tips and they don’t move how you feel about being healthier and fitter than you are likely not ready to make a permanent change. Flicking the switch in your head is the first step. Going on a diet is not.
These are also two concepts to keep in mind at all times that I talk about a lot.
80/20 rule — this is about keeping fit, healthy and eating right 80% of the time. Its also about balance. Sly Stallone used to call it Faturday. The Rock has a blow out on a regular basis. For me it’s a massive Pizza once a fortnight and a large helping of Ben and Jerrys. Choose your poison and look forward to it.
Calorie Deficit — I don’t count calories — just to get that out up front. But I do keep in mind calorie deficit. Technically and scientifically it is the only way to lose weight. You have to burn more than you eat. That is not the same as eat less and move more. Read on…
First — there is no diet to help you lose weight. There are though plenty of diets to help you go hungry. STOP DIETING. Any diet that is a “no doughnut’ diet will of course help you lose weight in the short term. But do you want to be less fat for only 3 months or not fat for life?
Change your eating habits. Cut out ALL processed food, especially processed carbs and sugar. These two alone will help you lose most of the weight you need. Rule of thumb — is it white? It’s generally processed. That includes bread, rice & pasta.
Avoid anything you don’t visually recognise. What’s in a pie crust? I have no idea either. So don’t eat it. What’s in a doughnut? Don’t know. Chemicals. Processed carbs. Sugar. Not a lot else. Only eat food you can look at, name and recognise as “food”.
Reduce bread, pasta and potatoes. Sorry. These are killer carbs. I’m not advocating Atkins style abstinence but these three carb sources are the worst for you. Eat sparingly, if at all. Especially potatoes. Sorry. Thats chips too. Move to sweet potato fries. If you’re going to eat carbs, eat few and within 2 hours of working out. Technically the body does not care when you eat them but after working out you will be hungry and these help. Brown rice great. Brown anything. Unprocessed you see. If you haven’t worked out? Avoid carbs. Especially when moving towards your target weight (see 80/20 rule).
You don’t get fat eating fat. You get fat eating too many carbs and lots of sugar which are converted to fat. Trim fat by all means, I do, but dont confuse the two. It’s science fiction and fake news sponsored by the sugar industry. Fat is high in calories though so be careful. Most of us are fat because we have trained our bodies to take all the carbs and sugar we shove into them and efficiently turn the excess into fat that’s stored on us. You need to untrain that process and the easiest way until at your target weight is to cut both these to a bare minimum. Note processed carbs. Not carbs overall. Plenty of carbs in vegetables.
Buy some low carb recipe books. The Joe Wicks ones are great and always on sale. There are loads of others. They will help you eat the right food and give you some simple recipes.
Shop more often. Best way to get fresher food for eating. Don’t buy processed foods. Just whole foods that you will cook with. Veg. Fruit. White meat, fish. Eggs. I eat LOTS of eggs.
Eat fruit. Whole fruit. Don’t blend the fibre. Eat it. You can’t eat 20 oranges but you can drink them if you’re not careful. Then it’s just sugar and water though. You have lost the fibre. Scientifically there is no maximum amount. I eat a piece a day, sometimes two!
Buy dark chocolate. +80%. Calorie wise it’s the same as milk but you cant eat as much — it’s too rich. It’s great to have a square with a cup of tea on an evening. Treat time.
Drink more water. This less about “flushing toxins”. Again — the science is out on that one. But most of us don’t hydrate enough anyway and it stops you feeling hungry. Be prepared to wee. A lot. Look at the colour of it to see if you’re drinking enough. Dark. Not enough. Straw. You’re fine.
Protein powder, unless you’re a bodybuilder, is a placebo. Use it, thats fine (I do)— it can help you mentally — but remember it’s still calories. A protein shake between meals with berries and fruit. It’s 300–500 calories. Keep in mind that deficit.
Keep some snacks handy. Bear in mind calories per day though. Handful of nuts great. A rice cracker and some peanut butter is good. A small pot of greek 0%, some crushed nuts, a banana and some grated dark choc works. Remember — calorie deficit. If you go over, you go over and won’t lose weight, regardless of how healthy it is.
The first 4 weeks when reducing carbs and sugar is a killer. I wont pretend it’s not. I have a sweet tooth. So I run. Push through it — once you have weaned your body off these and it’s burning fat as it should it gets a lot easier. 4 weeks. Max. Promise.
Alcohol. It’s not great news. Reduce or remove. Sorry. Deal with it. Remember that sugar = bad and alcohol = sugar. Back to 80/20% — it’s possible every so often but in the main, keep away from alcohol or drink very sparingly. If you have to drink wine, drink red, the tannins are better for your gut. If you have to drink at all, keep to white spirits and diet mixers. Mine’s a gin and slimline tonic. Cheers.
There are new sciences popping up around gut microbes. I read a book on them. Its baffling. In the main I took this away. When you eat healthier and more recognisable food, your gut performs better. When you don’t, and fill it full of processed carbs, chemicals and sugar, it doesn’t. Actually, sounds obvious now doesn’t it…
While we are talking about microbes lets talk about pills and potions. Don’t bother. Vitamins, healthy bacteria drinks, etc. If you eat right there are plenty in your food. You will just pee excess vitamins out anyway. Why pee out all that money you spend? In the main all these things are just expensive placebos. Eat better and you will get all the good stuff that nature already has for you. As mentioned I read a whole book on gut microbes. Summary. They are good but the expensive drinks only work, at best, on 25% of those that take then due to DNA and microbe specificities. Save your money.
I read up on IF (intermittent fasting) and things like the 5/2 principles. I’m not sold. The science, as always, is very superficial and anecdotal. I certainly don’t buy the “caveman science” behind it. My view is that they just create windows to ingest your food and therefore create a focus and artificially allow you to eat “less”. If they work for you, that’s fine, and it helps you focus, that’s also fine, but be careful and be honest. Not for me.
Meals — Keep it simple. Its very easy to buy a load of recipe books (I have a pile, including all three Lean in 15 ones) and throw yourself into a different meal every night. I think there are 150 in just those books. Fact — its going to get time consuming AND expensive very quickly. I found it better to find 4 or 5 recipes I like for main meals and stick to two breakfasts. Yes, its very same, but honestly, its easier. You can make a few meals in a row, buy the ingredients in bulk and be done a lot faster. I would have two main meals one week, two the other and so on. Lunch I generally just grab salad and some meat, or soup, breakfast mostly protein pancakes or scrambled egg on sourdough with avocado. Simple.
Cheat. Once a fortnight. I aim for one cheat meal once every 2 weeks — usually a whole large Dominos pizza (pepperoni since you ask) and half a tub of Ben & Jerrys. Why? It basically gives you a goal, light at the end of the tunnel. Its not easy staying on plan with so many temptations around you, but it is a lot easier if you know that your favourite cheat meal is just around the corner and not that far away. Back to 80/20. It’s not going to kill your “fit for life” plan, and will help your motivation no end.
Exercise. Move. More. Enough to create a calorie deficit daily or weekly. What does this mean? Apologies but some numbers. The average adult male needs 2500 calories a day. A woman 2000. Eat 2500 a day and don’t move, you will stay the same weight, whatever that is. Eat less and you will lose weight. Eat more and you will get fat, however healthy the food is. So — create a deficit with more exercise or less food. Eat 2500 a day and exercise for 500 — you will loose approx 1lb a week. Eat 2000 a day and no exercise (if male) — same result. It’s that simple.
Workout 4–5 times a week. Take 2 days off. Consecutive or separately. It doesn’t matter.
HIIT is great and time efficient. Most of the science though is twaddle and handed down claims from exercises gurus. I’m talking EPOC and all that stuff. I read the white papers so you don’t have to, but the EPOC effect is negligible. Recent evidence is more based on this type of exercise tearing the muscles at a microscopic level and what that does to the body. In any case do for a minimum of 20 minutes. MINIMUM. None of this 7 minute rubbish. The 7 minute myth has come from how long your heart rate needs to be at max during a HIIT but it will take at least 20 minutes overall to get it there, not 7. Any HIIT will do. There are dozens on YouTube. Jumping up and down ones. Kettlebell ones. Exercise on a bike ones. Doesn’t matter. 20 minutes is the rule. 40 seconds flat out, 20 seconds rest for 20 minutes. Simple.
Running is time worn and a great burner. I do both. Why? That calorie deficit again. A 4 mile run at a 9 minute mile pace is approx 500–600 calories. It helps your cardio, gets you all round fitter and out in the fresh air. A run and a HIIT 5 times a week for me is a 700–800 calorie deficit each time. Should you do cardio before or after HIIT? To be honest, if you are worried about that you likely need to be in an Olympic training camp.
Don’t run in headphones. Personal preference but I prefer to think. I think you will too. Don’t take a phone with you. Do your selfies when you get back. Get away from it all. You will be surprised how many things you work through in your head. If you have not run much that is fine — do a mile for a few weeks, then 1.5, build up slowly. Run 500m and walk 500m. Just move. You will get there.
If you body tells you to rest then rest. Take a day off. You will know when it says this. Don’t mistake this for that feeling of laziness or aching muscles — it’s not the same.
Train when works best for you. For me that is morning and fasted for HIIT and later in the day for a run. You body will tell you what works. I feel sick doing HIIT after eating and I can’t run first thing in the morning. I run out of energy. We are all different. Experiment. You have all your life to get it right.
When you’re ready invest in some weights. It’s about lean muscle not becoming Arnie. It’s also helping your calorie deficit. Mix some simple weights routines into your routine. Kettlebells are great and Kettlebell HIIT kills two birds with one stone. I use a 8kg Kettlebell and the same in dumbells. Not heavy but enough to keep lean.
I have developed a very rough rule of thumb for calories and exercise. Evidence shows two things — first people over estimate how many calories they burn and second they wolf down in shakes and protein bars more than they lost. See point on creating deficits. A HIIT is about 75 calories per 10 minutes. It’s not as many as you think. A bike ride is around 100 calories per 10 minutes and a run is around 150 calories per 10 minutes. I combine a kettlebell HIIT for 20 minutes with a run 4–5 times a week. That burns for me, weekly, about 4,000 calories. Creates the room for my fortnightly Pizza treat.
There is no shortcut. No magic recipe book. No one month box you can buy. No three month plan. No cabbage diet. It’s hard work, sweat and dedication. Dedication to working out five times a week. Dedication to choosing the right food, day in and out. There is always a healthy option on the menu. Choose it. Only you can make that decision every day to stay not fat. Not me. It took me nine months to lose the bulk and eighteen months to get to target — one pound at a time. It will take a lifetime of choices to maintain. Accept that and throw away anything that says otherwise.
Only you can choose to be fat or thin. No-one else. It’s a personal choice. You choose to be the shape you want to be. You can’t be told to lose weight — never works. You have to choose.
Everyones shape is different. Don’t mistake fat/thin for shape and build. You can be super thin or super broad. Hippy or not hippy. Small bum, big bum. It’s not the same as fat and thin. Fat is when you’re overweight. Look in a mirror. Easiest way to tell.
Work on the 80/20 rule only when at your target weight. Don’t know what your target is? My non scientific suggestion — look at someone your age, build and height. Build is important because we are all different shapes. Right — do they look good? Go up and ask how much they weigh. Make that your target, or thereabouts. Until target apply 100% compliance to eating and exercise. When at target go for 80% good healthy non processed fresh food. 20% not so good. Stick to this for life. Yup. For life. Mindset, not a diet.
An alternative way to find your ideal weight that I prefer is the French way. Take your height in cm (I am 183) and subtract 100. That number, in my case 83, is your ideal weight in KG. I’m currently 84. I can live with that. There is a margin on this which is 15% up or down for women and 10% for men.
It’s not eat less move more — it’s eat better, move properly. Less will have you hungry. Less does not take into account 300 calories of chicken vs a 300 calories Mars Bar. Move properly means not walking the dog or walking to the shops. How many thin healthy people do you see walking dogs? Remember — move enough in a day to create a 500 calorie deficit.
Measure more than weigh. That’s yourself. Waist. Hips. Chest. Thighs. Neck. Biceps. Track them. Monthly. Weight will follow. At some point your measurements will continue to go down, especially waist, and your weight flat of slightly up. Thats when you’re more muscle than fat. Savour that moment.
BMI is too sketchy to be of use in my case. Follow the simpler half your height rule instead. Your waist should be less than half your height. Male or female. It’s simpler and works better. Is your waist more than half your height? Then you’re overweight (and in the worst place for your health).
You are the shape you eat and posture of how you exercise. There are big (active) people with great posture and thin people all hunched up. Thats why I prefer food management AND exercise. You get to a healthy size and move great. Win win.
I talk a lot about calories but I do not and have never counted calories. I just bear them in mind and am VERY honest with myself about what I eat — even on my 20% days.
Tomorrow never comes. Live your health for today. Everyone seems to be starting a diet tomorrow/next week/after this holiday/after this weekend. They never seem to. They never will. See the point about changing lifestyle. Don’t start a diet. Change the way you eat and think. No amount of slogans will do that for you. You have to do it for yourself. There are always a million excuses to not start. There is generally only one real reason. You.
You are not a bodybuilder or athlete. A lot of what you read will be tips and techniques that these people use. Some are great. Exercise, duration and main food stuffs. The rest will be pills, potions, whether you do cardio before or after a workout and much more assorted mumbo jumbo. While I think all of this is well meaning, and again, can be a great placebo (or justify a profession?), you are not playing that game. Your playing the lose 1/2/3 or more stone game. Follow the general advice and you’re fine. Be prepared for it to take a year to lose proper weight.
If you have to choose between eating healthy and exercise on any given day then choose eating healthy. Its said, and I would agree, that 75% of weight loss is food. Back to all the points made about getting your body burning proper fuel in the right way. Not storing processed carbs or sugar as fat. The other 25% is exercise but the incremental benefits of exercise are greater than just “fat” loss and help you live longer, be healthier and do more. Ideally, do both, most days, all your life.
Losing weight will not change who you are. It may change how you feel about yourself and will certainly change the way some think about you, which I find very sad. You are who you are though and you will find the eyes looking back at you on the mirror are exactly the same. Do it to be healthy. To feel better. To live longer. To set an example to your family. Do not diet to change who you are. It wont.
Learn how to say no. Losing weight and getting fit is about learning to say no to others and sometimes yourself. No does not mean missing out, it just means saying no to desert, to a bottle of wine, to a biscuit, to bread, to a chocolate bar. Many will try and get you to say yes — but it will be for them, not for you. Look after yourself. Still have fun, but keep to that 80/20 rule.
Fit is exercise, food is weight. You can lose weight with just food choices (see calorie deficit point). You can be fit and still “overweight”. As mentioned the common wisdom is that 75% of any “regime” is your food and 25% is exercise. Thats probably right but ignores many benefits of exdercise that are not weight related. The combined effects on making you feel good, the way it changes how you hold yourself (you are the shape you move) and how it allows you to eat better without starving yourself.
Phew. Thats it — it’s actually pretty simple. It’s everyone and everything else that makes it hard!
I get asked a lot as well about the “protein” pancakes I make and put on instagram. Recipe, per person:
One scoop protein powder (I use vanilla PHD Diet Whey. Just because I like the taste, no science reasons)
One teaspoon baking powder
One Medium banana
Dash of Oats (probably about 15–20g)
Whizz it all together. If you can, leave to sit for 10 or 20 mins, I make before a workout, then use after. Helps the baking powder get to work.
Fry on a VERY low heat in coconut oil. Flip . You can also sprinkle some chopped Pecans in before you flip. Or a couple of blueberries.
Serve and eat. I put a dollop of 0% greek on, about 75g, and a drizzle of honey. No more than a teaspoon.