Would you like to know how to lose two stones properly? In the first part of this article, titled ‘How long does it take to lose two stones?‘, we broke down weight loss as a goal. We looked at the reality of weight loss in terms of actual goals and realistic time frames.
In this second half of the title, we discuss some of the most popular weight-loss diets. We break them down so you can understand their rationales and their flaws. We also present a healthier, more manageable way to approach your weight loss goals. In short, we show you how to lose two stones properly.
Low carb diets
There are two main low carb diets, namely the carnivore and keto diets. The carnivore diet is high protein, medium fat and low carb. Your food consists of animal meat and organs, eggs, bone broth and water. The theory behind the diet is that a high protein animal-only diet will contain all the protein, vitamins and minerals we need to promote optimal body composition. By eating only protein and fat sources, we eliminate all the inflammation, water retention and health risks that have been claimed with high carb consumption.
The keto diet is high fat, medium protein and low carb. We have discussed the keto diet previously. The philosophy behind the keto diet is that by cutting carbs, you eliminate insulin. Insulin is a potent storage hormone and will inhibit fat breakdown. So, if you eliminate insulin, you don’t hinder fat breakdown and burning. Instead, you rely on fat stores for energy and, to some extent, ketones, which are a by-product of fat breakdown. Ketones take the place of carbohydrates for some organs, especially the brain.
The main difference is that carnivore is high protein and keto is high fat. Both diets work the angle that carbs are bad for the reasons outlined above. Both hold claims of being superior for not only weight loss but also health benefits. One thing they do agree on is that carbs are the enemy. But is that true?
Low carb: debunked
Choosing a low carb diet will see a significant initial reduction in weight. The reason for this is not fat loss, but water loss. One gram of carbs will store three grams of water. When you remove the carbs, you remove the water stored with it, so weight loss at first is rapid. Once you are carb depleted, you will see a slowing of weight loss as the extra water has been removed.
Another issue is in the idea that insulin prevents fat loss. If insulin levels are high enough, it will inhibit fat loss. But if you eat the right carbs, and you are in calorie deficit, there will be plenty of times during the day when your insulin is low or not present at all.
The crucial part of any diet is calorie consumption. If you are eating in a calorie deficit, you will drop weight. Calories in – calories out, although very basic, is still the first rule of weight management. If your total daily calories are 500 less than required, high carb or low carb, you will lose weight. As this paper explains, in studies conducted on weight loss, the exclusion of a macronutrient wasn’t the determining factor to fat loss, it was the calorie deficit.
Issues with low carb diets
- Your brain prefers carbs for fuel. When you first go low carb, you will experience ‘brain fog’, and you are likely to suffer from headaches, fatigue and a lack of concentration or clarity.
- Your energy levels will drop. Although your body can use fats or proteins instead of carbs, carbs are a preferred fuel source. When you go low carb, be prepared for a lack of energy which will interfere with your training. There is the possibility that your activity will decrease with your energy levels, affecting your daily deficit
- Low carb does not give you free rein to eat at will. You still need to be in a calorie deficit. The keto diet relies on fats. One gram of fat contains nine calories, making it the most expensive macronutrient. You must consume even less food to keep you in your deficit.
- Removing a macro is not always maintainable or even healthy. Some people use low carb long term. However, you may experience a deficiency in some nutrients. A lot of healthy foods are carbs based, such as vegetables, wholegrains, pulses and fruit. So removing carbs will remove a lot of your healthy nutrients and most of your fibre. Fibre is crucial for good health.
- Carbs are anabolic. We know protein helps you build muscle tissue. The presence of carbs is needed to provide the cells with the fuel to grow. We have pointed out that carbs affect insulin. Insulin helps to prevent muscle protein breakdown. By stopping the breakdown and increasing protein synthesis through diet and exercise, you can maintain lean mass whilst in a deficit. By removing carbs, you will find it harder to maintain Lean Body Mass (LBM). Muscle retention is crucial for not only fat burning but also long term health.
Summary of low carb
You will experience rapid weight loss at first as your body depletes of carbs and stored water. When you go low carb, you are likely to experience adverse side effects first that increase your likelihood to stray off the diet and regain any weight lost. Going low carb is expected to affect your energy levels which will impact the effectiveness of your training sessions. Although some people can make a long-term switch to low carb, for the sake of lean body mass, health and longevity, you are better focusing on a balanced macro split.
Extreme low calorie
With the recent lockdown pandemic, the nation has seen a reduction in activity and an increase in weight-related illnesses. The UK government has introduced a ‘Better Health’ campaign to help tackle the country’s obesity issues. With an increased spotlight in the media on weight management, there has been more exposure to health professionals giving weight management advice.
One such professional was Dr Mike Mosley. Dr Mosley went on national television and suggested a three-week diet of not only low carb, but also a maximum consumption of 800 calories per day. By having such an extreme calorie deficit, you force the body to tap into body fat stores for energy. The small number of calories is enough to prevent shut down in the body. We were surprised to see a professional giving this advice. Let’s look at why this diet is unhealthy.
We all have a BMR, which stands for Basal Metabolic Rate. If you wake up, don’t move and go back to sleep, your body will require ‘X’ number of calories to sustain healthy functions of the body.
For a 30-year-old adult weighing 70kg, the BMR for a male is 1555 calories, and for a female, it’s 1389 calories. Now, those numbers do not include any daily activity. The more activity you do, the higher your calorie expenditure. As you can see, even for just BMR, the suggested 800 calories are almost half what is required.
If you were to follow 800 calories a day, you would certainly lose lean tissue. You cannot target body fat exclusively when your calorie intake is so low. Your carb stores will deplete and insulin will be low, leading to a net dominance of muscle protein breakdown over synthesis. You will also experience an increase in stress hormones, a lowering of mood and a decrease in testosterone. None of that is good for sustainable weight loss.
The 800-calorie diet lasts for three weeks. You will experience a rapid weight loss during that time. What you will have accomplished is a loss of water, fat and LBM. Once you finish your three-week diet, you will likely return to regular eating. You are going to regain all the weight, but more fat than LBM. Studies tell us that the more LBM you lose from a diet, the more likely you are to regain more body fat afterwards. You may well improve some health markers with this diet, but it’s fundamentally unhealthy and you will be storing up other issues that will likely mean you’ll yo-yo. It’s not great advice!
Supplement based detox diets
With the growth of social media and celebrity influencers, we have seen an increase in the advertising of supplement-based diets. Stars are making claims of their incredible weight loss by drinking a special tea daily or taking certain tablets. Companies sell ‘detox diet boxes’ that rely on you following a regiment of shakes, supplements and restricted eating. These products claim to help you lose a large amount of weight whilst improving your health.
The weight loss is not a result of these fantastic supplements which have little scientific research to back their claims. In the cases where they do have ‘research’, it is often funded and produced by the companies themselves to give favourable results. The results come from the change in lifestyle you make when starting the programme. You are likely to eat fewer calories and start to move more when you begin using these products.
The truth behind these products is that they are a pyramid scheme. Once you become a customer, you will usually be offered the chance to become an ambassador or a sales rep. You will be given the option to increase your income by making commissions by selling the products. Avoid these types of products and focus on a balanced, healthy approach to weight loss instead.
Weight-loss support groups: a balanced view
For decades, Weight Watchers has been a popular option for individuals looking to lose weight. There are several groups, such as weight watchers and slimming world, that follow a similar setup. How do these weight loss support groups work?
Your daily calorie intake will be calculated and converted into a daily points allowance. All foods also receive a points value. Foods are assigned different point values based on calorie content and effect on health. Simply put, healthy foods have a low cost but junk foods, processed foods etc. have a high cost. You can eat the foods you like, as long as you don’t go over your daily points allowance. Once a week, you attend a support group where everybody gets weighed. The host will give some basic advice and share the successes of the group. It is also an opportunity to sell branded, low point treats to the members.
Upon joining, you will set a weight goal you wish to achieve. Once you complete your goal, you are officially off the programme. Although you have finished the programme, you will be invited to continue attending for regular weigh-ins and meetings. Unlike the methods mentioned above, these groups present a good and bad side to them.
The good stuff
- Studies show that you are more likely to keep to a weight loss programme and maintain weight loss if you are given guidance and support.
- Knowing that you are attending a group where your weight will be measured will help you keep accountable. The potential of public recognition for a job well done can be a motivation to stay on track.
- Basic calorie restriction. These groups work on the ‘calories in-calories out’ principle at its most basic level. It sets you a limit that you must stay within. If you do this, you will lose weight. It is very beneficial if you are entirely new to restricting calorie intake or you have a significant amount of excess body weight to lose.
The bad stuff
- There is no input regarding macronutrient structure. It is excellent that these groups introduce calorie control, but they neglect macronutrient values. Having the right macro split between carbs, fats, and proteins is vital for positive body composition changes.
- Users become leaders. Usually, the ‘staff’ running the meetings are previous members of the group. When it comes to education and support, they will have a pre-determined script they will read out. They do not have any education or training around nutrition, which means they should not be giving any nutritional advice. You will learn calorie control to a degree, within the restrictions and prescriptions of the scheme. But it doesn’t educate you for successful weight management once you finish the programme – it doesn’t prepare you to ‘go it alone’.
- They are not inclusive of exercise. These programmes may advocate doing day to day activity but, generally, they do not promote the inclusion of structured exercise. Mostly, weight support groups only focus on food intake and do not actively promote the integration of training. Exercise not only helps you burn more calories, but it also enables you to retain LBM, which allows you to burn more calories.
- It’s easy to ‘cheat the system’. As your daily intake is points-based, it can be easy to manipulate your diet. You can eat little to no food throughout the day to give you a large surplus for an indulgence meal later. On the other hand, if you over-consume points during the day it could leave you with little to none available for your evening meal. By doing this, you are less likely to learn good eating habits.
- It’s still a platform to sell products. Most of these groups also sell branded crisps, chocolate bars, sweets and drinks. These products are labelled as healthier options and, as such, have lower point costs. They are not teaching you to avoid these products, which you should do on a weight loss programme.
Weight-loss support groups summary
If you are entirely new to weight management or you carry significant body fat, attending a support group is a great first step to controlling your weight. It will give you the basic steps to controlling calorie intake. However, it would be best if you only used them as an introduction to calorie control. You will get better results by following a macro balanced, calorie-controlled diet in conjunction with regular exercise. If you are seeking professional instruction for weight management, an educated, experienced personal trainer would be a better investment.
How to lose two stones properly
We have highlighted a rough time scale for weight loss, and we have pointed out the flaws in some of the popular methods. Now, we will discuss the best approach to achieving your weight loss goals. It is important to note that not all results will be the same. You may have better genetics or have a preferable start point compared to others aiming to achieve the same weight loss. A good starting point is to aim for a weight loss of one pound per week to maximise fat loss while retaining LBM.
It may be that in the early stages of your weight loss journey, you will lose more than one pound per week. It is not uncommon to lose several pounds in the first week or two due to starting a new diet. After a short time, this weight loss will start to slow down to the one pound per week mark. When this happens, do not attempt to increase your efforts by either decreasing intake or increasing output. Stay on course until you start to level off. Only at this point do you need to re-evaluate your efforts and make adjustments.
Your calorie requirement will involve two factors: your BMR and your activity level. Both these calculations are personal to the individual. You can find a rough estimate by using a calorie calculator. There are several free online calorie calculators you can use to help you find your calorie total. Once you have this number, subtract 500 calories to give you your weight loss daily calorie target.
If you are using an online calculator, it’s best to look at three different calculators, add the total of all three together then divide by three to give you the average overall. Some calculators may calculate activity levels differently, which can lead to slightly different total calorie numbers. We use a more accurate method to calculate your calorie requirements. We look at your daily activity to find out your calorie expenditure and requirements, rather than a weekly summary like most online calculators .
Getting your macros right is essential for achieving a desired body composition. You’ll need the right balance between proteins, fats and carbs to get the most out of your fat loss programme. I am going to steal the example we used in a previous blog on how we work out your macro requirements.
‘Dave’ is 34; he weighs 85kg and has 30% body fat. Based on this, Dave has an LBM of 59.5kg. Dave is new to exercise and plans to train three days per week. Based on his calorie requirements, to lose one pound of fat a week, he needs 2010 calories per day.
To work out protein, we take his LBM of 59.5kg and times it by 2.2 to give us the number in pounds. That gives a total of 130.9 (let’s round up to 131). Protein contains four calories per gram, so his protein total is 524 calories, which is 26% of his daily total.
We want to keep his fats moderate so we will go for 25% of calories from fat. Fat contains nine calories per gram, so we take the 25% of total calories which is 502 and divide it by 9. That gives us 55g of fats per day.
The carbs are what remains. We have 26% from protein and 25% from fats, leaving 49% for carbs. That gives us 985 calories. Carbs have four calories per gram, so we divide 985 by 4 gives us 246g of carbs.
In summary, Dave’s daily requirement is 131g protein, 55g fat and 246g of carbs. He would follow this until his weight loss stalls, at which point you recalculate the requirements again. Once you reach a bodyweight you are happy with, you’ll need to find the calorie intake and activity that enables you to maintain. Ideally you’ll plateau into your ideal weight, in which case you’ll just carry on doing what you’re doing!
We have already highlighted the importance of LBM when losing weight. Retain as much muscle as possible, not just to keep your metabolism up, but also your health. One way to preserve your LBM and improve body composition whilst dieting is by performing resistance training.
Lifting weights provides an anabolic stimulus. That means it will trigger the growth of muscle cells, making them stronger and bigger. Performing resistance training will also increase your calorie expenditure whilst ramping up your metabolism. The other factor we have mentioned is that a reduction is LBM during a diet will more likely lead to a regain of weight afterwards. TO avoid this, keep resistance training as a staple in your exercise programme. You do not need to become a bodybuilder, lifting weights every day. Simply performing a whole body session twice a week at the right intensity will do.
Performing cardiovascular training has two key benefits from a weight loss perspective. Doing your cardio will help you burn additional calories. We previously explained how the body burns fat, and it requires two processes: releasing the stored energy then using that energy. Cardio is where you can burn that released energy. What method of cardio you choose is up to you, but we prefer low impact variations such as walking, elliptical or stationary bike. If you’re training hard with the weights then using intervals several times a week can be too exhausting. Stick to steady cardio if you’re training hard with the weights. Build up to between 30-60 minutes at around 70% of your maximum heart rate. You can mix in some forms of interval training but don’t overdo it – aim for two sessions a week, separate from your resistance training.
Not only will cardio add to your calorie expenditure, but it will also improve your health. Regular cardio is like performing resistance training for your heart and lungs. You will also improve your training recovery times.
Regular measurements and evaluation
Monitoring your progression is vital to evaluate success and assess performance. If you are not regularly tracking your markers, how do you know if you are achieving your goal? As part of our client check-in process, once a month, we monitor the following:
- Body composition. We get a full picture of the client’s body from LBM, fat mass, water, and muscle mass
- We take pictures from the front and side on to compare visual differences from previous check-ins.
- Physical measurement. Using a tape measure, we have vital landmarks we check for changes such as hips, waist, chest and limbs.
- Blood pressure and glucose. We don’t want only to improve weight; we want to improve health. Monitoring blood pressure and glucose can give us clues to any internal health issues the client may have.
- Client feedback. The programme you follow must be manageable and enjoyable. If you do not enjoy the process or you feel you can’t keep it up, it’s essential to address this before it causes a setback.
There are too many factors which can affect the number on the scales as we discussed in part one. By taking a series of measurements and photos, you can get a more complete overview of your current situation. In doing this, you will have a more accurate account of where you are and make better choices moving forwards.
If you have a weight loss goal in mind, it’s essential to understand why you have chosen that number. Often, it is not the weight outcome you desire, but the physical appearance. Be honest with yourself and delve into your reasons why. Once you know this, achieving your goal becomes more attainable.
Healthy weight loss is never as rapid as you think. Any weight loss plan should have you losing one pound a week for maximal fat loss whilst retaining LBM. Be wary of any diet plan, training programme or supplement that promises you a quick fix: these usually are not healthy and result in more weight being regained that you originally had to lose.
Figure out your calorie requirements, work out your macronutrient split and perform a combination of resistant training and cardio. Measure: the more variety of measurements you take, the more complete a picture you will have. Regularly monitor your progress and stay focused on the goal.
Eat healthy, nutritious, filling calorie-managed food and lose weight gradually to preserve muscle. Slow and steady does win the race. That’s how to lose two stones properly.