Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Weight Loss

I’m actually writing this in response to being asked some questions about this by friends.
I’m not an expert on this, I’m not a professional.
However, as a sciencey type, I’m quite good at research. Im also good at pattern recognition and logical thinking (at times). As a result I tend to be vaguely useful at pulling together lots of data and information from a variety of sources and trying to derive core principles.
I’ve also got a bit of common sense (unusual for a scientist) so I can tend to pull useful information out of the sea of crap.
All the information I’m relaying here can be found in books, the internet, and your own common sense… so apologies if it seems I am stating the obvious. If this helps you, I’m happy.

Right.. First and most important point. Weight loss is EASY
In theory.
All you have to do is burn more calories than you consume.
Seriously it’s that easy.
All diets and exercise plans are based around this simple premise.
Your body needs a certain number of calories per day to keep it alive and to make it do whatever you have to do.
Your caloric requirement very much depends on your lifestyle.
If you are a professional athlete, you need a tremendously large amount of calories,
If you work in an office, get out of breath climbing the stairs and spend every evening watching 7 hours of TV.. Your calorie requirements are not so much.

With diets alone you restrict what you eat. You also eat different types of food.
This is important. You can just go on an insane diet of eating nothing. You can starve yourself, but this will mess you up. Your body learns to adapt and you will start shutting down every function you can. Your body is amazing at survival so if you don’t feed it will start to shut itself down piece by piece till you die.
Thus I strongly don’t recommend anorexia, bulimia or starvation diets as a good weight loss method.

With exercise alone you try to burn more calories than you consume. Again though, the body is pretty good at survival so if you don’t eat enough and try to make your body burn insane amounts of calories you’re going to get sick or injured.

So the simplest and most successful approach is a good diet with the right amount of calories and a decent exercise program. Restrict your caloric intake. Try and ensure that you’re eating a balanced diet that has all the main food groups represented and has a sensible GI load. Then, do some exercise.

All statements of the obvious

So why isn’t it REALLY easy?
Why does anyone have weight issues?

Well I think there are a variety of reasons first up… diet.

Eating the right diet actually isn’t easy. The biggest problem is that most people don’t KNOW what a good balanced diet is. All diet fads used to be about cutting out fat. It was fat that made us fat. This is obvious right?
Actually… no. We need fats. Just like we need protein and carbs.
Then Dr. Robert Atkins came along and said “screw fat… stop eating carbs”
I should probably state for legal reasons that Atkins very probably never said these words.
Still you all know how it is… he realised that by eating less carbs we can lose weight. So he came up with an insane diet plan that cuts out carbs.
It works, but it messes you up, is hard and I’d avoid it like the plague.
So, one needs to work out a balanced diet that has the right amounts of carbs, fats, proteins etc.

Its not easy.. and it takes a bit of work. But the internet is full of great resources for this.. for example, check out the daily plate on the Livestrong website. Its pretty cool.
If you don’t wanna do it yourself, you can get help on this from someone. Yup… just like with exercise you can get a coach. My buddy Christine in NYC is great at this.. give her a shout
You can of course also follow set diet plans which do work. You might want to check out the South Beach Diet. Im going to link you to the wikki entry rather than the company’s website. I’m in no way affiliated with these folks, but I have bought their book, know a few people whove followed it and both myself and my wife dropped a few pounds following it and learned a lot from it. The guy who came up with this diet is a cardiologist and it’s a sensible, scientifically sound and healthy diet.

What I will stress though that while working out what you should and shouldn’t eat is not easy.. its also not that hard. Seriously, its not rocket science. Do a bit of reading, learn a bit about what a balanced diet is, use something like the daily plate for a while and try and understand your own nutrition. Its very important.

Enough on diet… what about exercise?
So with exercise, again, its not easy… but its really not that hard. To be honest, it’s a lot easier for me than the diet bit.
With exercise, what we are doing is burning calories. But before I get into any detail.. Lets do some maths.

The standard recommended calorie intake for an “average” male is about 2500. for a female its about 2000.

So, let say that I, as the average male consume 2500 calories a day, but I have a desk job, I drive to and from work and I do no exercise at all. This estimate may be way too high. My actual daily requirement could be as low as 2100 to stay the same weight.
This means I am taking in 400 calories too much every day. That’s 2800 calories per week. That’s 11,200 per month. If we vector in the fact that there are 3,500 calories in a pond of fat, then guess what? At this rate I’m gaining over 3lb per month.

So, not I can talk about exercise.
Exercise is the key. You don’t need to run a marathon or an Ironman triathlon to burn calories. Take the above example. Me with no exercise taking in 400 calories too much per day. What do I do? Well, I could eat less.. and I could exercise. A 30 minute run at a pretty easy pace for me would probably burn those 400 calories. I could throw in a few sprint intervals and knock that up to 600 calories and be gradually losing weight. I could go for a walk at a brisk pace for an hour a day.. that would probably burn about 300 calories. Maybe one less sandwich at lunch and drop the sugar from my coffee and Id be fine, no weight gain.

This is where it becomes individualised.
For me, doing for a 30 minute run a day, now, would be downright easy. In fact I would probably go nuts from lack of activity. I enjoy running. When I started… I hated it. Honestly. Running for one minute was horrible. I started out doing a 1 minute run 2 minute walk routine for 30 mins and it was just unbelievably hard. Now I happily run for literally hours and can enjoy it.
The most important thing with exercise is to find something you enjoy, but also to recognise that it may take time to enjoy it.
Every year, around the world in January I would imagine that sales of diet books and treadmills go through the roof.
The same diet books and treadmills will probably be gathering dust in the garages of the owners within a few months.

So ask yourself some simple questions... firstly.. is there any exercise you actually already enjoy? You might like walking. That’s totally fine, do some calculations, work out the number of calories youre going to burn by walking and just do it. Then modify your diet accordingly to ensure that youre going to lose a bit of weight.
Do you enjoy cycling? Cool, its an awesome way to burn calories. Just get on your bike and cycle. Again though, look into the number of calories youre burning and make sure that youre in balance.

If you genuinely don’t like any form of exercise that you’ve tried.. is there something you’ve never tried and would like to? Maybe rock climbing? Ever tried that? It’s a great workout. Go to a climbing wall and try it out. Failing that, just start running, cycling or swimming and have the willpower to stick with it until you’ve got over the initial “this is too hard” stage. It really doesn’t take that long. You don’t need to join an expensive gym or buy a top of the range bike either. Just go run on the streets, ride your friends or kids unused mountain bike or go to the local pool.

Final note… Its very easy to start exercising and actually eat more as a result of it. You need to be aware of both your diet and your exercise. You need to be aware of the caloric intake and the calorie output. And really.. its very simple maths. If you need some help with it, give me a shout. The most important thing is that you CAN do it. As I’ve mentioned before, Over the last year and half Ive lost over 40lb. That’s about 140,000 calories worth of fat. Unnerving huh?


You can mess around with figuring out your calorie requirements using loads of calorie calculators on the internet. I cant recommend any specifically but by googling here are two I found one and two. If anyone reading knows of better ones or knows these to be bad, please let me know.

You can calculate the calories burned doing different forms of exercise again using various web pages. Again, just from googling here are 2 that look good. One and two.


  1. Nice post Austin. Weightloss is easy, you just have to want to do it. Not just want to shift the weight (dreaming takes no effort at all), but really want to do the things necessary to lose it. Noone ever wished away a muffin top.

    At the minute I'd like to lose a few pounds, but I won't because I'm not making any kind of conscious effort. At some stage I will.

    As with most things in life, all it needs is a bit of discipline :)

  2. I found this post from Professor David Colquhoun on diet very interesting indeed: