Scattered Thoughts: Losing Weight
This blog post will be about my weight-loss journey which I started during COVID-19. In general, I lost about 22kg over five months while, hopefully, losing as little muscle as possible during the process. This journey is still in progress and I still have a lot to learn—in fact, this is probably something I will be continuing for the remaining of my life. Nevertheless, I feel this experience would motivate other folks for their goals and dreams.
This is my progress over the last few months—I am pretty proud of myself :)
As I mentioned in my previous blog post about developing habits, I was unhappy with my state, both physically and mentally. The former is clear, I was obess and being obess were not great—seats were tight, breaking things you stood on, clothes were not fitting—I can list more but hopefully the point is clear. The latter may be more subtle since it developed secretly. The physical factors really impaired my confidence, essentially causing me to feel uneasy under my own skin. To this day, I still feel quite uneasy when I look into the mirror, but on the other hand I know my effort has paid off so far. It is just a matter of time before I shake off that feeling completely. The physical and mental problems did not build up in a short period of time—I had been obess since third grade, who knows how much of these small things added up, eventually impacting my well-being negatively.
Throughout the obesity period, I did attempt to lose weight previously but failed miserably—at some point I stopped caring. Fortunately COVID happened and I took the opportunity to break out of this habit (shoutout to my previous blog post), eventually losing the weight that I long wanted to get rid of. What did I realize to stop making the same mistakes as before? What did I end up doing? What would I change if I go back to five months ago? Hopefully the following paragraphs can shed some lights.
I started off watching a lot of YouTube videos about weight loss (if you are curious, Greg Doucette, Will Tennyson, and Layne Norton were the main channels I watched). They talk about weight loss from different perspectives, some are simple so they are not overwhelming (recall that to build habit is to make it “easy”) and some are more scientific and in depth. I will, in high level, list out few rules from these channels. Note that my goal is to lose weight while minimizing muscle loss so the rules may not apply if you have other goals.
Rule 1: Calories In, Calories Out
In general, you gain or lose weight based on your net caloric intake on average. Each person has a daily maintenance caloric intake that depends on their weight, amount of muscles, harmones, and more. But the rule is still the same, if you have a caloric surplus on average, then you will gain weight. On the other hand, a caloric deficit yields weight loss. As your weight-loss goal, indeed you want to create a caloric deficit—it takes approximately 3,500 calories to burn one pound of fat. if you want to lose one pound per week, then generate 3,500 caloric deficit over seven days and you will hopefully see some results!
How can you change your daily caloric intake?
- Control how much you eat! Fat is 9 calories per gram, carbohydrates (carbs) is 4 calories per gram, and protein is also 4 calories per gram. Start with cutting down fat, then carbs, and finally protein. If you have a lot of body fat already, you do not really need to eat more fat. Protein is important to maintain your muscles and furthermore, it takes more energy to process protein than fat and carbs.
- Fidget, stand, walk around throughout your day! Motion means work, which in turns burn more calories! You will lose more calories if you choose to stand over sitting, swinging your hands when you talk over standing still, etc. These small motions will eventually add up.
- Exercise, as in spending an hour or so doing cardio or resistance training. Cardio in general burns more calories than resistance training, but of course resistance training allows you to maintain or build muscles.
Losing Weight Too Fast
At my current stage, I feel I am losing weight too quickly—it is often recommended that you lose 1% of your body weight per week. Losing weight too fast means you are likely to lose more muscle mass—furthermore, if you were really really obess, you may get loose skins!
Rule 2: There Is No Such Thing as Diet
A lot of people treat weight loss as a short-term thing—they opt in for doing some dramatic diets that “guarantee” success. Then once they go back to their normal meal plan, they gain the weight again (yikes!). This happens because the caloric deficit is created through the diet, but the people fail to address the other factors (i.e. their lifestyle). One can imagine that once the diet is over, the caloric intake is back to original, back to a surplus. Tada, your body fat is back to haunt you! When you are opting in for a “diet”, go for something that you will continue forever—this may be different per person! You might like keto diet over intermitted fasting, you might like plant-based diet over carnivore diet, etc. It is up to you to pick something you like—this, indeed, also means you have to try out different diets to figure out your favourite. Find out what you like and make that lifestyle change!
Personal Meal Plans
I personally think my eating habit is what affected my result the most. I used to eat a lot of carbs due to my background and unfortunately I was unable to control myself. Now that I live independently, I am able to create my own meal plan and stick with it since last year. In short, I have a lot of proteins such as protein wrap, protein bread, oatmeal, turkey, chicken, eggs, yogurts, vegetables, and berries. I occasionally have instant noodles, popcorn, and sweets but I often “limit” them to at most once a week.
Rule 3: One Does Not Simply Look at a Single Sample
To make progress, one must keep track of their performance! If you can, try weighing yourself in the morning everyday. This will give you the “signal” on whether you are on track (e.g. should you create more caloric deficit). However, while you weigh in everyday, the daily measurement is noisy—your weight can fluctuate a lot over a day! For example, you might weighed 80kg yesterday, but today you might weigh 81kg today instead. Psychologically, it will be tempting to question your decisions the day before or even worse, you do not even know what you did wrong because you were following your plan! Anecdotally, this happens to me very often—just ignore that one day and continue on with life. You may ask then, how do I keep track of my progress then? The answer is to use the mean or median over a period of time (e.g. weekly window is fairly good and can filter out the noise). Looking at the mean (or median) will give you a general sense of progression! Furthermore, this can help alleviate the negative psychological effect of that one single noisy sample.
Rule 4: Walking Is Good Cardio
A lot of weight-loss program incorporates cardio—in particular, medium-to-high-intensity cardio such as jogging and sprinting. I am not in the position of determining whether they are good exercises, but I did not do any of those. Instead, I walked a lot—whether it was walking on the elliptical machine, walking on a treadmill in an incline, walking to a park or a lake, etc. I appreciate the low-intensity cardio as I do not really suffer from pain—in fact, I get to clear my mind and enjoy the view simultanously. According to the YouTube channels, walking is also one of the best way to keep your muscle while generating a caloric deficit.
Rule 5: Do Resistance Training
One does not simply build muscle with no resistance training. Muscle is built by first breaking the tissue down, then the protein is used to build “stronger” muscle to accomodate for your weight training. You should maximize muscle growth by working out the body parts at least twice a week. Make sure to challenge yourself everytime you hit the gym—longer eccentric, heavier weight, more repetitions, more sets, etc. The point here is to have progressive overload so your muscle can become stronger overtime. I would also suggest here that you should focus on few exercises, mastering them first. The form is important—it helps you lift heavier weights in the future and reduce the risk of injury. As Bruce Lee once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
Personal Workout Plans
I workout at least five times a week even when gym closed down. When I can only workout at home, I put textbooks into a tote bag as weights. In general, I alternate between chest/back and shoulder/legs, hence at least twice per body part per week! I do very basic exercises (I believe):
- Chest: bench press, incline press, and cable flys
- Back: deadlift, lat pulldown, and cable row
- Shoulder: shoulder press, laterial raises, shrugs, and reverse flys
- Legs: lunges, calf raises, leg curl, and leg extension
Rule 6: Consistency Is All You Need
Finally, this ties back to my previous blog on developing habits—consistency is all you need. You may have days (e.g. travelling, hanging out with friends) where you are unable to follow the plan. That is fine, just make sure to resume the plan once you are done with those matters! Remember, this is not a short-term thing but a lifestyle. Best thing about weight loss is that the result will be reflected based on how consistent you are over time.
To end this blog post off, losing weight is great and has helped my mental health drastically. However, I think feeling good under your own skin is not really about how “healthy” you look, but rather something deeper. The something, I believe, is different for everyone and honestly, I am still figuring that part of myself. Hopefully you can use this blog post as a motivation to start pursuing your goals!