When I was a kid we used to go on holiday to Wales every summer. One time, I remember looking out of the rain-speckled window at the sodden field outside our caravan, wishing I was allowed to play outside and cursing the UK weather. Our holidays weren’t always damp, though, some of them were scorchers. It might not have been the most exotic of locations, but the goal was the same; beach time. It’s around this time of year that a lot of us are looking forward to a summer jaunt, and that usually means people want to look their best too.
Perhaps you’re already thinking about strutting your stuff by the pool or lounging on the beach, but it’s likely that the quest for the all-important summer bod starts now. The question is, where to start? From “no carbs ‘till Marbs” to going vegan to get you beach lean, the sheer number of different options all promising weight loss are so great, where to actually begin can feel confusing. However, rather than following the latest fad, there’s a better way. Here’s the four-step guide to losing weight if you don’t know where to start.
Before we begin, I need to make one thing crystal clear; all diets work.
It doesn’t matter if it’s low-carb, low-fat, paleo, keto, vegan, or whatever else is on trend right now. Weight loss isn’t about reducing insulin, detoxing your fat cells, or balancing your body’s PH level. Weight loss happens when you consume fewer calories than you burn, and if your diet helps you do that, then you’re going to get leaner.
The problem with that information is that it doesn’t sell diet books. It’s much easier to market something that claims all you have to do to get beach lean is give up carbs, shun animal products, or eat like a caveman; it’s just not true. To ignore any of that faddy nonsense, and smash your weight loss goals with a diet that is totally unique to you, follow the steps below.
Step 1 – Set Calories
Every weight loss journey begins with consuming fewer calories than you burn, the problem is, how do you know how many?
A quick look on the internet will throw up a dozen different equations, calculators, and spreadsheets all aimed at finding your exact calorie needs. While that’s all well and good, you need a simple way to set calories now, that doesn’t require a maths refresher course.
Here’s what we’ll do instead:
Take your body weight in kilograms and multiply it by 22 to 26
- If you are fairly sedentary outside of training 3 to 5 times a week, go with 22 x BW
- If you are very active and on your feet, a lot outside of training 3 to 5 times a week, go with 26 x BW
- If you’re somewhere in between, choose the middle ground with 24 x BW
The number you get from these simple calculations should just be seen as a starting point. You might need to adjust later, but if you want to start losing weight now, you don’t need to waste your time with complicated equations.
Step 2 – Setting Macros
Remember what I said about all diets working as long as you’re in a calorie deficit? Well, now we’re going to put that to work.
How you eat should be based on your personal preferences, not what anyone else tells you. Therefore, we’re going to design your diet with maximum flexibility in mind. However, to make this work, we need to have a few ground rules in place.
- A diet with insufficient protein could result in muscle loss
- A long-term diet with insufficient fat is not good for hormonal health
- A diet that’s too low in carbs can generally make you feel like warmed up shit
Therefore, we’re going to set minimums for each of these macronutrients.
- Your protein intake should not be lower than 1.6g per kg of bodyweight
- Your fat intake should not be less than 0.5g per kg of bodyweight
- Your fat intake should not be less than 1g per kg of bodyweight
Beyond those minimums, you can make up your calories with whatever you like. Want higher fat and low carbs? Go wild. Want higher carbs and low fat? Fill your boots. Your calorie intake should be made up of the foods that fit your preferences. You can certainly go lower than these numbers on some days, you just don’t want to do it all of the time.
It’s worth pointing out that any vaguely normal diet will result in you hitting these minimums anyway. I’m much more interested in you nailing your protein and overall calorie targets than anything else, and doing that will be fine 99 times out of 100.
However, there’s always someone who thinks that eating zero carbs or fat is a good idea, so I’m putting this as step two so that can’t happen. If you’re not into the latest dietary fad, you’re likely eating in a fairly balanced way anyway. Just make sure you eat plenty of veggies and don’t be silly, ok?
Step 3 – Decide how many meals you’ll eat
Ever heard that you need to eat 6 meals a day to stoke your metabolism? Well, it turns out that’s a load of rubbish. Just like food choices for weight loss are up to you as long as you’re in a calorie deficit, the amount of meals you eat is your choice too.
While I’m at it, it’s worth pointing out that skipping breakfast doesn’t put you in starvation mode. If you’re not hungry in the mornings, go right ahead and ignore breakfast and just have your first meal at lunch.
Anywhere from 3 to 5 meals is usually a good bet, with one quick caveat; stay consistent. If you eat the same number of times a day, your body gets used to when you eat and makes you hungry at that time. If you eat randomly, this throws your body off a bit and can mess with your usual hunger signals. Sometimes, being regular is a good thing.
Step 4 – Figure out when you should eat
In the not too distant past, it was fairly common knowledge that if you didn’t eat straight after training, you wouldn’t build any muscle. These days we know better, but it doesn’t stop myths like this spreading like wildfire on the internet each day.
Maybe you’re familiar with these corkers:
- If you eat carbs at night they will turn to fat
- You can only eat starchy carbs after training or they’ll get stored as fat
- Don’t eat past 6 pm because you won’t digest your food
- If you eat fat and carbs together they will make you fat
- etc etc etc
Well, guess what, none of those are true either.
Feel free to wolf starchy carbs first thing in the morning or right before bed if that’s what you like doing. As long as you stick to the calorie targets you set up earlier, you’re good. It doesn’t matter when you choose to eat your meals, as long as you’re in a calorie deficit, you’ll lose weight whatever time you eat.
To make sure you’re gaining, maintaining, or hanging onto your precious muscle, you should try to sandwich your training with meals containing at least 0.4g/kg of protein a maximum of 6 hours apart. So if you eat a meal at 1 pm and then train some time after, you’d have the second meal at a maximum of 7 pm.
Summary of the 4 steps
Set your calories by multiplying your weight in kilograms by 22 to 26 based on how active you are.
Consume a minimum of 1.6g/kg protein, 0.5g/kg fat, and 1g/kg carbs a day, and fill the rest of your calorie allotment with whatever you want.
Pick a meal frequency between 3 to 5 meals that works best for you and keep it fairly consistent to help keep your hunger in check.
Sandwich your training with meals containing a decent chunk of protein a maximum of around 6 hours apart, and don’t worry about what time you eat in the evening.
Questions you might have right now
Can I drink alcohol?
Yep, all you have to do is fit it into your calorie targets and you’re good. Just don’t drink so much that you can’t fit any actual food into your diet very often.
Do I have to eat the same number of calories a day?
No, you don’t. The number that the quick formula you used earlier just refers to a weekly average. Lots of my clients have higher and lower days across the week. All that matters is that you get the same amount of protein in per day and that all the days add up to the average by the end of the week.
A very common way that a lot of my clients do this is to eat fewer calories during the work week, so they can have more at the weekend. They find the schedule and focus at work on Monday to Friday means they’re less concerned with hunger, but at the weekend they want to be able to go out for brunch or have a few drinks.
With a calorie average of 1,500, they might have 1,150 during the work week, which would free up 2,375 on Saturday and Sunday meaning they could pretty much eat what they want on these days while still staying on track.
You didn’t say anything about food choices, what should I eat?
I didn’t mention food choices because they are really up to you. I only have two real points about what you should eat.
- Eat vegetables, lots of them. Getting in veggies is super important for making you feel full, making sure you get in enough fibre, and for making sure you stay stocked up on all important vitamins and minerals. Make them a priority, but you already knew that, didn’t you?
- Eat mostly unprocessed foods. Don’t just live off protein shakes, gummy bears, and peanut butter. Largely unprocessed food has more health benefits than the overly processed stuff and will make you feel fuller for longer on a diet.
Do I have to take any supplements?
Honestly, no, you don’t. There are some situations where supplements might be a good idea, but that’s a different article. If your diet is decent, you’re fine 99.9% of the time.
Want to lose weight but don’t know where to start? Ignore dodgy, restrictive, fad diets and follow my four-step guide to starting a summer diet that works for you now.
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