Losing weight is the number one goal we receive from clients. And I’m confident it’s the same for almost all personal trainers. It should be simple; eat less, do more. But so many people fail. Why is that? Because it isn’t simple after all. It’s easy on paper but, in practice, it’s tough! But don’t worry, we can help. In this post, we give you a personal trainer’s guide to losing weight.
Create a calorie deficit
First up in our personal trainer’s guide to losing weight is a calorie deficit. It’s crucial. It’s almost a law of weight loss. You’ll find confusing posts that say you can lose fat and build muscle without creating a calorie deficit. Maybe you can if you have good genetics, no niggles, and you’re able to work with sufficient intensity. But even then, the relative changes in fat and muscle are minimal. I’ve worked with enough clients to be sure this is not the way to go if you’re overweight and want to change your appearance.
Options to attain a calorie deficit
You have three choices
- Eat less
- Be more active
- Do a bit of both
I’m a firm believer that ‘eat more, do more’ is a lot better than ‘eat less, do less’. Attempting to lose weight without exercising will not give you the results you want. You’ll lose a lot of muscle, plateau early, and you may end up looking flabby, despite being lighter. So, number 1 is a no-no.
I like the second option because there’s no suggestion of restricting your eating. As long as you can exercise often enough and for sufficient duration and intensity, this is a good option. It will lead to optimal changes in body composition. You’ll still have to avoid compensating for increased activity, but you’ll always be eating reasonable amounts of food.
If you need to lose a lot and want to do it quickly, you’ll also need to eat a bit less. You definitely should not starve yourself, though. That will create a lot of undesirable changes in your physiology and mood. The focus should be on being more active and tightening up on your food.
How do you know you’re in a calorie deficit?
It’s a good question. Often, because they are not sure, dieters will err on the side of caution and drastically cut their food intake. They will eat salad and skip meals. Trust me; your body won’t like this. You’ll lose muscle, your metabolism will tank, your hormones will badly disturbed, and you’ll be very cranky, maybe even feeling depressed.
The best way to know about your calorie balance is to measure it.
Log your food
Research has shown that people who log their food intake are more successful at losing weight. This makes sense. Not only do you measure your calorie intake, but you’re getting to learn about your food and adjust your decision making over time. In short, you’ll develop better eating habits. There are plenty of food logging apps out there. We use the Fitbit food logger as the meal structure most closely resembles our preferred approach when coaching clients.
Get an activity tracker
Again, there are lots of trackers out there. The critical number to track is your total daily calorie expenditure. Some trackers emphasise activity calories, but that’s not as useful as total daily calories.
It doesn’t matter too much whether the tracker is a little inaccurate, as long as it’s inaccurate in the same way each time. That way, you can make adjustments to your activity levels by making day-on-day comparisons.
What is a sensible calorie deficit?
Suppose you want to retain as much muscle as possible, avoid excessive hunger, prevent an early plateau and maintain a buoyant mood. In that case, a deficit of around 500 calories is a good choice. If you can achieve all of that through exercise, even better. You’ll lose weight at about 1 lb per week.
If you have a lot to lose and you want to go a little quicker, you may be able to take it up to 1000 calories. If you’re carrying less weight, then a 750 calorie deficit is a better choice.
Eat the right food
Whether you cut food or not, you’re still more likely to get hungry when you’re in a calorie deficit. You’re less likely to experience ravenous hunger if you achieve the deficit through exercise. That’s because exercise has a positive effect on your appetite systems. But, even so, hunger is on the cards when you’re losing weight.
You’ll struggle if you eat the wrong type of food. If your food choices are not filling and they leave you feeling hungry an hour after eating, then you’re in for a tough time. You must make the right choices if you want success with minimal angst.
The weight loss food formula
So what is the right food? It’s food that keeps you full for longer. Here’s the formula:
- Lean protein
- Slow digesting unrefined carbs
If you buy processed food, a lot of the time it’s not lean, has had the fibre and liquid removed, and the carbs have been stripped back to make them fast digesting. Processed food ticks none of the boxes! So, a simple rule of thumb is to buy and cook from scratch unprocessed whole foods.
Let’s list some examples.
Good choices: fish, chicken, low-fat dairy, trimmed meat, legumes, Quorn, tofu, quinoa
Bad choices: bacon, sausages, salami, pies, anything battered or breadcrumbed, fatty cuts, full-fat dairy.
Good choices: unprocessed fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. In short, any unprocessed plant-based food.
Bad choices: juiced fruit or vegetables, processed grains such as breakfast cereals and breads.
Good choices: water!
Bad choices: fruit juice, sugary and ‘diet’ drinks, milk
Drinks like tea, coffee and light squash are ok, but you should be guzzling at least 2 litres of water a day, and you don’t want these things making up the bulk of your fluid intake. So, stick with water.
Slow digesting unrefined carbs
Good choices: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, skin-on potatoes, sweet potatoes.
Bad choices: Cereals, cereal bars, bread, white pasta, white rice, white potato flesh, pastries, biscuits, sweets, cakes, muffins, sugary drinks.
Remember calorie density
Some foods don’t fit neatly into the categories above. For example, raisins and olive oil are both considered health-giving, and you might feel that it’s ok to feature them abundantly in your diet. It’s not. That’s because they are calorie dense. They’re going to give you a lot of calories without really filling you up. Remember that ‘healthy’ is not the same as ‘moderate or low calorie’. Whenever you make food choices, consider whether something is calorie dense. If it is, keep your intake of those foods in check.
Water helps to keep you hydrated, which, in turn, helps your cells to swell. Research has shown that having hydrated cells encourages fat breakdown and muscle accumulation. The opposite is also true. If you are dehydrated, it will promote fat storage and muscle loss. Try to drink 1ml of water for every calorie you burn. If the weather is hot, drink a lot more.
Do the right exercise
Let’s be clear; any exercise is excellent. So if you’re exercising regularly, well done, that’s half the battle. But be aware that the quality of your results is heavily dependent on the type of exercise you perform. If you only perform cardio, you’re likely to lose quite a lot of muscle. The best approach is to do both cardio and something higher intensity.
Activities such as running, cycling, elliptical work and rowing are examples of cardio. Cardio is supreme for strengthening your heart and improving circulation and gas exchange. It’s also great for helping your body become better at burning fat, especially if you do it on an empty stomach for a longer duration.
There’s another cardio benefit: you can do it every day. Unlike higher intensity exercise, it does not elicit central nervous system fatigue anywhere near the same extent. That means, if you wanted to, you could do it every day. And because it’s more gentle, you can choose to read a book, watch a film or listen to a podcast at the same time. So, it feels like a good use of your time.
Higher intensity exercise
These are activities that require more strength and power. Weight training, High-Intensity Interval Training and sport are all excellent examples. Our preferred choice for clients is weight training.
Weight training is the best way to hold on to your muscle, and it will give you a good metabolic afterburn for a good 24 hours afterwards, helping you shed some more calories. Lifting weights is a great way to ensure your body composition is as optimal as possible. You’ll be a lot more pleased with your results if you include weight training in your weight loss programme. You’ll also be less likely to hit a plateau.
Your weekly schedule
Try to do something every day. A good schedule might look like this
Weights 2-3 times per week
Cardio 3-4 times per week
Long walk once a week
Walking doesn’t count
Looking at the last point, you might be thinking that a daily walk will do the trick for your cardio. No, walking is only effective if you do it very briskly and include some hills. Exercise needs to leave you out of breath to stimulate the best physiological changes.
Going for a stroll is just doing steps. It won’t get you fit and certainly won’t work in the way that proper cardio does.
Form good habits
Consistency is a critical success factor for losing weight. You have to do the right things and do them consistently over a prolonged period. Having good habits will help you to create positive change constantly. Let’s look at some examples of good habits
Log your food
As we saw earlier, food logging will help you understand your eating and measure your intake. Research shows that food loggers are more successful at losing weight.
Diarise your exercise
Make an appointment with yourself and get it in the diary. When the alarm goes off, down tools and take a break to exercise.
Keep some apples on your desk
You’re more likely to reach for the apples than to raid the vending machine or the biscuit cupboard
Remove bad food from the house
If it’s not in the house, it can’t tempt you.
Measure your progress
Weigh yourself regularly and chart your progress against a target line. It can be very motivating to see your weight loss in graphical form, especially if you’re hell-bent on beating the target line.
Take regular photos
This is the element of our programmes that clients find most motivating. They don’t like the first picture, but it inspires them to be a better version of themselves. Then, as the changes happen and we take more photos, they love what they see and are encouraged to try even harder.
Be consistent with bedtime and wake up
Getting your body clock into a regular pattern is good for your brain and good for weight loss. You’ll feel more alert and less likely to skip your exercise.
Practise being outside your comfort zone
It’s useful to get used to hunger when you’re losing weight. Being hungry is being outside your comfort zone. If you can get used to being outside your comfort zone, you’ll cope with hunger better. Practise doing uncomfortable things.
Last but not least in our personal trainer’s guide to losing weight, is accountability. It’s a lot easier to stay on track if you feel obligated to someone else. Or, let’s put it another way: it’s a lot easier to tell yourself it’s ok to slack off than it is to tell someone else.
Here are some ways to create accountability
Find an exercise buddy
Can you see your buddy standing in the rain waiting for you, unaware that you’re not going to turn up? How bad does that make you feel? You’re far less likely to skip the gym if you’re training with someone.
Hire a personal trainer
A good personal trainer won’t just train you; they’ll keep in touch and provide motivation away from the gym. They will hold you accountable to keep doing all the right things, all day, every day.
Tell people you are losing weight
Here, you want to avoid lots of congratulations as that will make you feel like you’ve already achieved something, and you may not attack it with such vigour. So, avoid a massive fanfare and drop it into conversation as and when appropriate. Post about your progress on your social media channel; again, avoiding congratulations.
Have a weekly weigh-in
Create a routine of weighing yourself every week at the same time. Plot your weight on a chart. Or better still, get someone else to plot it so that you have to provide that person with your weight every week.
In our personal trainer’s guide to losing weight, we’ve outlined the critical factors that will help you succeed. It’s not as simple as you might imagine. You need to create a calorie deficit, eat the right food, do the best exercise, form good habits and create accountability. There’s a lot going on when you attack it in the right way.
But be assured that if you do all these things, you will succeed. We have clients who absolutely smash it because they tick all the boxes. And we have clients who enjoy success, but not so spectacularly. That’s because there is more they could have done.
The more you apply the principles laid out in this post, the better your results will be and the more you’ll enjoy the sweet smell of success.