If you’ve been reading this site for a while, it’s probably not a surprise that weight loss, fitness, and exercise have always been personal interests of mine. Although gastroenterology and weight management are not really the same field, I get asked very often (about 10 times per day, usually as a side-note at the end of a visit) about how to lose weight, how to keep the weight off, and how to “lose the gut.”
Weight loss is a very hard topic to discuss in passing because it is so complex and there simply isn’t enough time during the last 2 minutes a regular office visit to even scratch the surface of the topic of weight loss. It would take an hour just to understand the individual patient’s level of general knowledge of the basic concepts of weight loss such as calories, metabolism, exercise, etc. Understanding the psychology of weight loss is even more important and would need additional time. Individuals are also very different in their specific goals and needs, and all these details need to be addressed when trying to guide someone on how to accomplish meaningful weight loss.
So obviously, weight loss is a complex topic. Instead of getting bogged down in the details however, let’s just start somewhere and build the knowledge as we go! Here are some of my thoughts in brief on how to lose weight, summarized as “brutal truths.”
Why brutal truths you might ask? Because discussing weight loss can be difficult, and most of the biggest hurdles around the topic are psychological. Many people immediately take offense to any discussion of body weight and view it as a personal slight, a judgement, or “fat shaming.” It’s also common for people to immediately shut down and stop listening when the topic comes up. However, to make meaningful changes, you do need to admit that the excess weight is your responsibility, and yours alone! I’m not using the word “fault” here or placing blame, but it is your responsibility…your burden. You can blame your parents, your genes, your metabolism, your culture, your love of eating, etc., but none of these scapegoats are going to lose the weight for you. It is actually impossible to deal with your excess weight unless you first admit that it’s your responsibility, and that you WANT to deal with it.
At this point, some readers are thinking “But my weight doesn’t bother me! I feel healthy at this weight. I don’t want to lose weight. I don’t need to lose weight!” And that’s totally fine! Remember, this advice is only for people that want to lose weight…I’m not saying that you need to do anything!
Here are some brutal truths about weight loss, or any behavior change for that matter:
Brutal truth #1: You gotta’ want it more than anything else…more than relaxing, eating, sleep, time with friends/family. It doesn’t need to be this extreme forever, but when you’re getting started and for the first year or two you need to approach weight loss with a religious-type fervor. Nothing can get in the way. Only by wanting it with 100% of your being can you raise up the strength to do the work to make it happen.
Brutal truth #2: YOU are solely responsible for making it happen. No one will do it for you. Even if they want to, they can’t! Your wife may want you to lose weight but she can’t lift the weights for you (technically she can lift the weights for you, but you won’t lose any weight that way). Sabotage is everywhere, and often comes from the people who are closest to you. But YOU are ultimately the one who decides what you are going to eat or not eat, what you are going to do or not do.
Brutal truth #3: There are no shortcuts. Consistent hard work for a sustained period of time is the only “magic” to weight loss. The ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting, the Atkins diet, and the like are all good for a short while but no one can live that way forever–and then what? No fad diet, drug, or supplement will beat hard work and discipline. It has always been this way. Making consistent healthy food choices is hard work because temptation is everywhere. Making exercise a priority day after day and month after month is hard work BUT YOU HAVE TO DO HARD WORK TO MAKE YOUR GOALS HAPPEN.
Brutal truth #4: Nothing good happens fast. You need patience and faith in the process. You didn’t gain the weight in a month, so don’t think you’re losing it in a month either! Forget those 30 day “cleanses” and “metabolic resets” which are total nonsense marketing traps. The more rapid the weight loss, the higher the risk of regaining it all (and more) later, so realize you’re in it for the long haul…usually the rest of your life if you want to keep the weight off!
Brutal truth #5: It’s going to suck, especially in the beginning. You’re going to feel uncomfortable both physically and mentally for a while. You may have to turn down social events to make time for yourself, or give a firm “no” when offered some unhealthy food from a friend or coworker. Some exercises will feel awkward and leave you sore for days. You’re going to be tired and have to get up and work out anyway. However, by keeping an open mind you can actually learn to “embrace the suck”…and maybe even start to enjoy it!
Not-so-brutal truth: You can do anything you set your mind to! People do amazing things every day. It’s just diet and exercise after all!
Enough abstract thought! Since you’ve read this far you probably want to ACTUALLY START DOING SOMETHING! So do this:
- Tomorrow morning wake up 30 minutes earlier than normal.
- Spend 10 minutes stretching your body. Do whatever stretches you remember from gym class. Lay on the floor and pull your knees to your chest, stand and move your arms around, raise them over your head, bend down to try to touch your toes. Need more guidance? Watch some YouTube videos on stretching here.
- Spend the next 20 minutes doing some light bodyweight exercises that you can handle. For example:
- Pushups: full version, or on knees, or standing up leaning against a kitchen counter.
- Bodyweight squats: all the way down to ground, or halfway down, or hold on to a chair and go as low as you can go…maybe it’s only a few inches but that is OK!
- Planks: Rest on your elbows and keep your body straight with your feet on the ground, or keep your knees on the ground instead to make it easier. Hold for 30-60 seconds and aim for 5 sets total of this exercise.
- Jumping jacks: (Seriously? You already know how to do these!)
Aim for about 25 total repetitions of each exercise, spaced out over as many sets as you need to complete the 25 reps. For example, if you can do 8 squats max, do a set of 8, then 8, then maybe you only get 5, then 4. That’s 25 total reps split over 4 sets. Rest 30 seconds between sets, and when you’re done with one exercise move right on to the next one. If you’ve done all the exercises you’ve picked, restart the entire circuit again. Set a timer for 20 minutes for the whole process, and when your timer beeps you’re done! Now go take a shower!
Oh, and one other small thing…start cutting out drinks with any calories in them (juice, soda, Starbucks frappawhatevers, and don’t forget alcohol) and processed “junk” food like cookies, doughnuts, anything in a little package that crinkles when you open it. It’s not a comprehensive nutrition plan, but it’s a good start!
If you follow the above plan for at least 5-6 days per week, and stick to it for at least three months you will definitely see some major changes in the way you look and feel. Following a routine like this will also prime your body and your mind for the more significant journey to come, the long haul of removing most of the excess weight and then keeping it off!
Here is the most important part: Don’t get lost in the thinking and planning stages…start doing something today that will get you where you want to be three months from now!
RIGHT NOW is a great time to focus on starting the journey of losing excess weight and forging healthier behaviors. So enough reading, thinking, and analyzing. There is no perfect program. The perfect program is the one you start today, so if you’re really serious it’s time to buckle-down and get to work! GO!