The misunderstood psychology of weight loss — how to lose 30 pounds in 2016
An extremely effective fat loss and muscle-building blueprint anyone can use.
There’s a huge connection between physical wellness and mental clarity. When you’re in shape you have more energy. You can get more done. You think better, sleep better and just make better decisions, period.
As we close out 2015, losing weight will be the most popular resolution people around the world make on New Year’s Eve. But as the statistics show, most people will fail. And they’ll fail for two primary reasons:
- The system is designed around failure
- They’ll focus on the wrong things
The weight loss industry is worth an absolute boat load of money and it’s in their best interest to keep you overweight. Otherwise you’ll stop buying their gimmicks, pills and powders. They peddle overnight solutions to weight loss, when deep down we all know they don’t work. But we keep buying them because the promise of being in shape is a powerful motivator.
If you’re overweight now and are serious about losing weight in 2016, I wrote this post for you. More specifically, I’m writing this post for people who want to lose weight but then gain an actual physique that’s worthy of a compliment. Being “skinny fat” isn’t fun.
I normally write about productivity, success, startups and marketing, so why the hell am I writing about weight loss? Well, over the years I’ve learned that how you perceive yourself determines how far you go in anything — business, relationships, etc.
Success starts with your own self perception. And if you don’t like yourself, that will negatively affect everything you do, making even a moderate level of success much more illusive.
So why would you listen to an entrepreneur about losing weight? Well, weight loss isn’t about the mechanics as much as it is the mindset. And being an entrepreneur means you need to be pretty good at dealing with tough situations, building yourself up and believing when no one else does.
Plus, I was overweight until 2008. I was working long hours building my third company and I lived on Red Bull, pizza and McDonalds. But one day I snapped (figuratively, not literally) and decided to do something about my physical condition, by focusing on my mindset first and body second.
Over the following 18 months (September 2008 — March 2010) I completely transformed myself physically. I lost 31 pounds and then put on 37 pounds of muscle using lots of trial-and-error, Youtube videos and advice from sites like BodyBuilding.com.
The transformation improved my effectiveness as an entrepreneur by at least 10x. I was sharper on my feet, made better decisions, could do more in less time and started to bounce off the walls with unlimited energy.
Not only did I experience a transformation, so did my business. Sure it was still a lot of work to grow the business, but it didn’t feel as hard as it did when I was carrying the weight. I had better clarity of thought and my stress levels were kept down by the hormone regulation that resulted from regular exercise.
Truth be told, it wasn’t all that difficult to lose weight once I figured out what it was really about, which is 80% mental, 20% physical. I break it down into 5 key areas of focus. They are:
- Mental Toughness
Let’s look at each key area of focus in more detail.
Before you do anything, you need to figure out why you want to lose weight (or put on muscle). You need a compelling “why”. This is the psychological part of weight loss you’ll never hear about in an infomercial, but it’s the driving force behind the stunning physical transformations you see on shows like The Biggest Loser. Without your “why”, you’ll yo-yo diet and put all of the weight back on within a few months. Guaranteed.
Your “why” is something that should make you cry if you can’t have it some time in the future. It should be EMOTIONAL. It should be something you feel. It needs to be bigger than “Look good at the beach”. The thought of not having it should steer you away from temptation (because you will slip up, many, many times) and shock you into action when you feel lazy.
It should also be measurable and time bound. So what’s a good “why”? Here are a few you might want to use:
- Get back to my college weight of [weight] so I can FEEL strong, confident and fit again by December 31st 2016
- Be a ROLE MODEL for my kids and make them PROUD of me by losing 45 pounds in 2016 and keeping it off for life
- Lose 45 pounds by December 31st 2016, so I can TEACH others how to do what I’ve done
- ENJOY watching my kids grow up and have enough ENERGY to chase them around the house by losing 45 pounds in 2016
- Get in shape by losing 45 pounds to FINISH the 2016 New York marathon
- COMPETE in an all-natural body building contest in 2017 with body fat of < 7%
Before I got started losing weight back in 2008, I found a photo of me from 4 years earlier. I was about 30 pounds lighter and was in good shape. So my “why” revolved around that photo — “Lose 30 pounds and then gain 20 pounds of muscle by the end of 2010 so I look BETTER, have EVEN MORE ENERGY and FEEL AS GOOD as I did in that photo”. I kept that photo in my wallet and looked at it every day for motivation. And it worked. Really well.
It’s a lot easier to lose fat first and then gain muscle. Yes you can do both at the same time, but it’s hard. You want to give yourself the best chance of success, so focus first on losing the fat and then building the muscle.
I like to call it your foundation — if you build a great (low body fat) foundation, it’s easier to stack muscle (lean or bulk) on top of it down the track. If you’re overweight right now, you’ll have quite a bit of subcontinous fat covering your muscles anyway, so why not get rid of it first?
In my experience, the best way to lose fat is not to do cardio. Slow cardio (walks, treadmill, bike, etc) burns up fat but also muscle. Cardio is great for your heart, especially HIIT, but isn’t necessary to lose fat.
There’s a bunch of research online about cardio versus lifting weights for losing fat, but I prefer to use diet and weight training (moderate weight, high rep — if you’re female, you won’t put on bulk) to lose fat. Control your calories via food (a 500 calorie deficit per day based on your BMR) and keep your metabolism burning using weights.
When you think about where most people come undone, it’s normally not in the gym. It’s relatively easy to workout 3–4 times per week for most people. It’s the food temptation that’s the hardest. I’ll talk more about that below.
To build your foundation, you first want to get your BMI (Body Mass Index) into the normal range, at around 20. You can calculate yours here. Once you’ve done that, you’ve got a foundation on which you can start to build some good, lean muscle quite quickly.
Treat your workouts like business meetings or appointments. Schedule them in your calendar as recurring events every week. You’d never miss a meeting with your boss or a date night with your partner. Treat your workouts with the same level of urgency and respect.
Try to space your workouts over the week and keep at least 1 day between them. Try to combine one push and one pull muscle group in each workout session, such as:
- Chest and back
- Shoulders and arms
If you’ve never lifted weights before, please please please please please find someone who has, so they can build a good program for you and show you proper technique. Don’t just turn up at the gym and jump on the machines — you’ll make zero progress and give up.
Find a friend and ask them to come to the gym with you for a few weeks. Better yet (and if you can afford it) hire a personal trainer. They’ll not only show you what to do and how, but they’ll hold you accountable too.
As a final option, find a program on BodyBuilding.com and watch the instructional videos on your phone at the gym before you start an exercise. Always focus on form first and weight second. If you lift heavy because everyone else is, you’ll injure yourself and you’ll be out of the game.
To build your foundation, you want to focus on keeping your metabolism high when you’re NOT in the gym, which means moderate weight for 10–15 reps over 4 sets per exercise. Bonus points if you add super sets or pyramiding. I added super sets to my routine 2 years ago and I’d estimate it increased my progress by at least 30%.
Before you workout, have some sort of pre-workout snack. Coffee is a popular pre-workout, but I like a banana and a few scoops of Optimum Nutrition’s pre-workout powder. You need energy stores to lift weights and sugar (such as fructose from fruit) converts into useable energy fast. Don’t eat a huge meal before going to the gym.
When you’ve finished your workout, make sure you eat protein and fast-digesting carbs within an hour. I like to have a protein shake and some fruit, like 2 bananas or a tin of pineapple slices.
After a workout your body goes into a catabolic state where it starts to break down muscle for fuel, so having a high-carb meal prevents that and keeps you in an anabolic state (muscle building) as your body starts to repair the (good) damage you made to your muscles (micro tears) during your workout.
Once you’ve built your foundation (lost excess fat) and want to put on some muscle, you can lower your reps (from 10 to 6–8) and increase your weight.
When you want to continually gain muscle over time, I’ve found it helps to do 1 of the 3 things during every workout for at least one exercise:
- Lift heavier weight (without sacrificing form)
- Reduce rest time between reps
- Reduce rest time between sets
First, if you’re focused on losing fat, aim for a deficit of around 500 calories per day or 3,500 per week. There are 3,500 calories in one pound of fat, meaning you’ll lose (at least) 1 pound of weight per week — probably more initially as you lose water weight and flush out other waste.
You need to know your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) as a starting point, which is how many calories you need to consume each day based on your current activity levels. You can calculate that here. Once you know your BMR, subtract 500 calories. That’s your daily calorie target.
Download MyFitnessPal and track EVERYTHING YOU EAT OR DRINK. The psychological impact of tracking goes a long way to keep you on track. If you screw up at one meal, you can make it up at the next meal by eating fewer calories, etc.
Protein is extremely important because it’s the building block for creating new muscle. Generally you want to take in 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, per day. If you weigh 200 pounds, you consume 200 grams of protein per day — typically 2-3 protein shakes and 3 meals per day.
To keep sane and stop your metabolism from slowing down, you should also have one day per week where you eat whatever you want. This is called an “off day”. If you’ve been craving chocolate, fries, etc, you eat them on your off day. Keep in mind, however, that you shouldn’t eat 20,000 calories during your off day. Eat what you want, but don’t over do it.
If you feel like eating crap during the week and the craving is really, really bad, keep an “Off Day List” which contains all of the foods you’re craving. The simple act of writing down the food you crave and knowing you’re only 1/2/4 days from being able to eat it will help.
When you have a craving for a food you only eat on your off days, go back and read your “why” statement. Read it 20 times. Then go on Youtube and watch a few “before and after” weight loss (or muscle gain) transformation stories. That should be enough to curb your cravings 95% of the time.
You’ll also want to regularly check your pH levels using pee sticks. You can buy them from any drug store. New research is showing a strong relationship between the acidity in your body and the amount of fat you hold on to, regardless of how much exercise you do and what you eat.
If your pH level is low (5.5 or less on a scale of 0–10), your body is highly acidic and will hold on to fat to protect organs from damage. The lower your pH level, the higher your chance of cell damage and mutation which can lead to cancer if enough acid forms in your system over time.
If your pH level is neutral or slightly higher (6.5 to 8), your body is more alkaline, contains less acid and therefore your body won’t hold onto fat, as there’s no damage to protect your organs from.
What’s the easiest way to get your pH level up so you’re more alkaline than acidic? Drink at least one (ideally two) fresh green juices every day. Buy a Nutribullet and throw in a handful of spinach, a handful of kale, half a cucumber, an Apple, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a cup of water. Blend it up and drink it. Simple.
What causes 99% of people to stay overweight? It’s a lack of mental toughness. When it comes to losing weight, gaining muscle and generally staying healthy, it’s all about habit and routine. You need to get very, very good at doing the same thing over and over and over and over again. That’s the secret to success at anything.
Here are some tips that have helped me stay on track over the years.
If you don’t feel like working out:
- Build a gym at your house or put a gym in your office (my gym is 5 feet behind me as I type this from my office. When I need a break from working, I spin my chair around and hit the weights).
- Don’t think about the actual workout — just get in your car and start driving to the gym. When you get there, read your “why” statement on your phone and put on some music to get you in the mood.
- Take your shirt off and look at yourself in the mirror. Visualize the body you want and then get in the car and go straight to the gym.
- Change your workout. You should change it every 6–8 weeks anyway. Mix it up if you get bored. Swap exercises, switch between free weights and barbells, machines and body weight exercises, etc.
- Ask your partner for a reward that will be waiting for you as soon as you get back from the gym. You know what I mean.
If you don’t feel like eating well:
- Eat what you crave, but log the calories in MyFitnessPal and make sure you keep under your calorie count for the day. If it’s chocolate, eat a few squares, not an entire bar. Get just enough to satisfy you then stop.
- Go out and eat at a restaurant. Mexican food in particular (beans, rice, chicken and vegetables) has a great macro-nutrient profile (high protein, moderate carbs) if you avoid the cheese and fried items.
- Eat something high in protein first, like a protein shake or tuna. Protein fills you up and will curb your appetite. You might still eat the bad stuff but you’ll eat less of it.
- If all else fails, just give in. Have an “off meal” and on your “off day”, just have 2 bad meals instead of 3. As long as you’re making progress every day, don’t beat yourself up for falling off the wagon every now and then. It happens to everyone.
- Finally, realize that if you eat poorly now, the “good food” like chicken, tuna, rice, sweet potato, spinach, kale, quinoa, chia, etc will taste horrible because your body is used to (and craves) the taste of salt, fat and all the other processed crap. Over a few weeks your taste buds will adapt and you will start to crave the good food. Sounds crazy but it’s completely true.
Transforming your body will transform every other area of your life too. Your mood will improve, you’ll have more energy and as a result you’ll demand more from life. You’ll stop settling and will have a new self-confidence which will make you a better partner, friend, parent, boss, etc.
Don’t set a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. They never work. Instead, do the work and be a role model for everyone around you. Find your “why”, create a workout program and make it part of your routine. Eat well 80% of the time and don’t be too hard on yourself when you mess up.
After a few weeks you’ll see progress. After a few months you’ll wonder how you lived without the gym and without your new-found energy. You’ll need new clothes and you’ll start to receive compliments from people you haven’t seen in a while. Those positive feelings will push you to work even harder, leading to more positive feelings and more progress.
I know these statements seem a bit pie-in-the-sky now, but give it a few months. Stick with it. You’ll see what I mean.
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