Q: Hello Erika!
My name is K I live in [redacted], and I’m really been trying to change my lifestyle so that I can lose at least 25 pounds by the end of the year. I’m 5’6, 26 years old and about 198 pounds. I’m currently a size 12 US, but my ultimate goal is to lose weight and be a size 6 US. I’m African American so I carry my weight mainly in the thighs and butt! My love handles are also an issue also. I have MyFitnessPal and based on my profile, I need to consume about 1550 calories a day to lose weight weekly. After the last two weeks have proved to be unsuccessful, this week I’m changing my focus to much better eating. Eating clean and lean and cutting out processed foods and refined sugar. I’ve been working out at the gym at least 3-4 times a week. My routine is about 25-30 cardio on treadmill (burning 200-250 cals), then I’ll hop on elliptical for another 20 (burning 100-175 cals) then I’ll do some light weight lifting, crunches and stair steps. I know I should increase my weight lifting but I’ll be honest, it is intimidating to jump in to weight lifting since I really don’t know what I’m doing in terms of weights!
I guess I’m emailing you out of frustration! I keep hearing differing thoughts on how much weights I should do, whether I should consume back the calories I burned when working out (If I need to consume about 1500 daily and I burn 400-500 at the gym I don’t want to eat a huge dinner and undo what I’ve burned off)…it’s all very confusing and I don’t want to be counterproductive. I’m really very tired of the way I look and want so much to look and feel better. I recently started reading your amazing website and really taking to heart all that truth you speak. It took me some time to put on 20+ pounds so I guess I need to be patient in losing it.
Thanks for reading this 🙂
From the top (gotta move fast before The Sproutly One wakes up):
1) Changing your eating habits needs to be the first thing you do. Nothing contributes more to your current weight than what you eat; in fact, it is the absolute most important thing you can address in this entire journey. Why? Because you, at your smaller size, will have to eat less than what you eat at your current size. You have to figure out what it means to eat less for you and with your likes and dislikes. It is integral to your ability to maintain your success; losing the weight without figuring out what this looks like for you is basically asking to become a yo-yo dieter.
2) Without remarkably professional precision, you cannot lose fat and build muscle at the same time, primarily because losing fat requires you to eat fewer calories than you burn, and muscle building requires that you eat more calories than you burn. Your goal seems to require fat loss, so let’s focus there. Instead of separating your cardio from your weight lifting, combine the two by doing high intensity interval training(HIIT), and do that 3-4 times a week.
3) The question is “do I eat back the calories I’ve burned,” the answer is absolutely. You do not want to cut too many calories, because the impact on your metabolism will be too drastic to help you with maintaining your weight loss. I know that lots of people think “oh, a 1500 calorie a day deficit is dope!” but the reality is, when you cut that many calories, you’re also eating away at your lean body mass (read: muscle), which means you’re also decreasing your metabolism at a drastic speed. This only compounds the importance of getting a hold on what you’re eating and how much first, because you have to keep cutting the calories you eat in order to keep up with that loss to your metabolism.
This is a part of what makes HIIT so important – HIIT can help you preserve the lean body mass you currently have, and can protect you from the penalty of loss to your metabolism. This is an extremely important point.
If I had a pair of sneakers for every woman I’ve told “make sure you eat back those calories,” and instead thought she was going to get over by not following my advice, only to find herself suffering from a weight loss plateau it’d take her months to climb out of…I’d have double the shoes I’ve got now.
And I’ve got a lot of shoes. A lot.
Not only that, but you run the risk of not fueling other meaningful processes in your body – you’ll experience mood swings (which, depending upon what you do for a living, could be a problem), irritability, amenorrhea, and any other number of issues that come with a reduced amount of energy circulating in the body. Remember – the better you fuel yourself, the better you perform; the better you perform, the more you can burn. You do yourself no favors in this regard by eating too little.
If you want my advice, here’s what you do: find a good HIIT program that you can enjoy. Do it 4 times a week. Find an activity that you enjoy, and do that on the other three days. Get a heart rate monitor – don’t just use the calorie numbers the gym equipment gives you – and keep tabs on how many calories you’re burning, and input that in your MFP, using that as a guide to understanding how much you should be eating. Take a long, hard look at how you’re eating. Make meaningful change there. If MFP gave you the amount you need to eat with the deficit included, make sure you eat back those calories that you burned in your workout. Trust me – your body will thank you for it!