The state of the game
So you’re in your ‘over-twenties’ and things are starting to go a bit pear shaped – literally! That lithe and spritely body you used to possess when you were twenty is suffering from ten years or more sitting behind a desk being filled with processed carbohydrates. Your knees creak, your back hurts, things are sagging and you have started to make grunting noises when you stand up.
Once you hit thirty, if you do nothing about it, you will start to lose muscle at the rate of about 0.25KG (½lb) per year. This has the effect of putting your joints under more strain and lowers you metabolic rate, which slows down your ability to burn fat. Simply put, if you don’t keep your muscles in shape, the speed at which you put on fat will just keep on increasing.
A typical day
Your alarm goes off at 7am. You hit snooze a couple of times and end up getting up at 7:45. You madly get dressed and rush a bowl of Cornflakes down while you make your coffee flask for the car. You fight the morning traffic getting more and more stressed because your boss has already warned you about getting in late. You just make it. Around 10am you’re starving. You head to the vending machine and grab a ‘healthy choice’ Kellogg’s Nutrigrain cereal bar and another coffee. Lunch time: not much time as you have a deadline to meet so hurry down to Subway and grab a ‘lean’ sandwich with turkey salad (no dressing), because you want to be healthy. You get home from work, defrost your evening meal and flop down on the couch in front of the TV. There’s a good sitcom on so you don’t go to bed until 12.
OK, it may be a bit exaggerated, but I am sure that some of this will ring true with you. Let’s analyse your day a bit. Cornflakes are made of simple carbohydrates and a high glycaemic index (GI), which means that they are absorbed into your blood quickly pushing up your blood glucose level. In order to push this back down again, the body produces insulin. This does two things. Firstly it pushes your blood sugar levels down as it is meant to do, but it happens relatively quickly and gives you low blood sugar leading to you becoming hungry (hence your need for a mid-morning snack). Secondly it encourages the body to store the excess sugar as fat. The milk you had with the cereal provides you with mostly protein and fat. If you chose the lighter version, it’s not a bad start.
Whilst the cereal bar is a better choice than a bar of chocolate, it will still send your blood sugar shooting up. The Subway sandwich is most likely 80% white bread even though it may say whole grain. Again, high GI pushes up the blood glucose. The turkey filling… is that really organic? Or is it pressed together pieces of what’s left over at the meat factory? So then you drive back home and pick up a frozen ‘healthy option’ microwave meal. Do you really know what’s in it? Then it’s TV dinner time. You become completely sedentary for several hours after eating until you go to bed. And you wonder why you’re overweight!
It’s time to change!
No one says that losing weight and staying fit is easy – It requires discipline and hard work. However, if you go about it in the right way, it is fun to get fit and the rewards are enormous:
- Your health will improve
- You will have more energy
- You will be sharper and better at your job
- You can wear the clothes you want and not just the clothes that cover you up
- You can look good in a bathing suit again
- You won’t enter a room and check to see if you’re fattest person there any more (and be secretly pleased to discover you’re not)
- You will enjoy the compliments people are giving you
- You will take the stairs because you can
- You will be able to play on the floor with your kids again because getting up is not such a struggle
- Etc, etc, etc….
Diets – aaarrrrggghhhh!!!
South Beach, Atkins, Weight Watchers… you’ve tried them all. And yes, you did lose weight. But then you put it all back on again. Have you ever thought about how much money you spent on diets? Most people have no idea how to lose weight and get sucked in by slick advertising from huge marketing budgets. Have you ever wondered why the advertising is so slick? The industry is gigantic – it’s worth over $60 billion in the US alone! So, one is saying low carbs, the next low protein – which one do you choose?
Losing weight and getting fit is not complicated
So here’s what the billion dollar weight loss industry does not want you to hear. To lose weight, all you have to do is consume fewer calories than you eat. That’s it! Well almost…. Exactly where you get your calories from is pretty important as is how and to a certain extent when you exercise.
How do you do that right? Well that’s what this guide is all about. If you want have the body of a twenty year old again, be prepared for some hard work but always keep in sight what the benefits will be.
Step by step
Follow this guide step by step for however long it takes to get to your goal weight / level of fitness. A healthy speed to lose weight is 0.5KG (1lb) per week. So if you need to drop 25 kilos (50lbs) you are realistically looking at a year. Stay on track and you will achieve!
Job number one
Before you read any further, write down in no more than five sentences why you want to lose weight, get fit and have more energy. Really think about this as it will be your mantra for the coming months. Do you want to buy that size 10 dress you saw in the shop window? Do you want to run around playing ball with you kids for more than five minutes before you’re exhausted? Is it the bikini or the six pack? Whatever they are, they should be very important to you. Write them on a smallish piece of paper and stick them up in the corner of the bathroom mirror. Every morning and evening, read them out loud.
The biggest reason people fail in their efforts to lose weight is they lack the motivation and self-discipline to keep going. There are always going to be days when you can’t make it to the gym but there is never a day where you can’t get up half an hour earlier and do some exercises (more about that later). It’s all about wanting it enough!
The first thing you need to establish if you want to lose weight is how many Calories your body needs in a day just to stay alive. When you sleep, your organs are still churning away; pumping blood, breathing, digesting and even dreaming requires energy. This is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR for short. However, the number we tend to use for calculating the number of Calories you need in a day is your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), which as the name suggest is a measure of your calorific requirement in a state of rest.
There are a number of calculations available to work this out but we are going to stick to the Mifflin-St.Jeor as this has been established as the most accurate for non-athletes. Here’s the calculation:
Men – 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5
Women – 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161
This is your Resting Metabolic Rate. You need to adjust this to suit you need when you are not at rest, which of course is most of the day. To do this, multiply your RMR by the appropriate number in the list below:
- Mostly sedentary (Most of the day spent seated or standing – e.g. desk job, teacher) RMR x 1.4
- Moderately active (regular brisk walking or equivalent – e.g. hospital nurse) RMR x 1.7
- Very active (Hard physical job – e.g. window cleaner that climbs a lot of ladders ) RMR x 2.0
To make life easier, there’s a hand little calculator online at
You need to be careful about how much you put in the field exercise level as this will make quite a difference to your daily calorie intake. As we are starting training, you can assume that you will be working out at least three times a week, so you can safely put 3 times/week in the exercise level box.
So now that you have established your Calorie requirements in a day, you can reduce this by 10% – 20% to find that safe level at which you can lose weight. The field weight loss in the calorie calculator reduces the intake by 20%. The problem with many diets is that they reduce your calorie intake quite drastically, which causes the body to react by lowering its metabolic rate in an attempt to conserve energy stores. It will also increase protein oxidation and glycogen depletion resulting in a reduction in lean muscle tissue, low energy levels and extreme hunger. Of course, if you reduce the amount of muscle you have, you also decrease further decrease your metabolic rate, making weight loss even harder.
Imagine you are lost in the desert. You have run out of food but have at least found a supply of water. Your body will try to keep you alive for as long as possible until help arrives. Fat contains 9kcal of energy per gram; protein and carbohydrate only 4g. It stands to reason then that the body will try to conserve the fat stores for as long as possible as this is where the most energy is. It will, therefore, use up all your carbohydrate store and then start eating your own muscles. Crash dieting has the same effect.
So rule number one: Reduce your calorie intake by 10-20%.
Pretty much everyone knows that exercise is good for your health. Most people are also extremely good at finding excuses not to do any! The excuse I most frequently hear is ‘I have no time to exercise’. My general answer to that is ‘do you have time for hospital?’ The fact is that many illnesses (high blood pressure, hypertension, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes to name but a few) are caused obesity, which in turn is mostly caused by bad diet and lack of exercise is not open to question. A study showed that the average hospital stay in 2004 for obesity related problems in adults was 6.74 days. (Vellinga, Akke; O’Donovan, Diarmuid; De La Harpe, Davida, January 2008). That’s 161 hours of lost exercise time!! At three one hour sessions per week, that’s one year’s worth of training.
How to exercise
One of the biggest misnomers is the idea that in order to burn more fat you have to exercise for hours at a low intensity. The fact is that if you exercise at a high intensity, you will burn more fat in the same amount of time. You will also have the added benefit of the ‘after-burn’ effect, which is where your metabolism continues to rev at a higher rate for two or three hours after the workout in order to help recovery.
For example, walking, which is a low intensity aerobic activity, for 1 hour burn approximately 270kcal, of which 160kcal (60% of the calories) comes from fat. Running, which is a high intensity aerobic activity, for the same time burns 680 kcal of which 270 kcal (40% of the calories) comes from fat. Get on an indoor rowing machine and you will burn another 20% on top of that without the impact on your joints.
It is important to bear in mind that what is considered high intensity for one person could be low intensity for another. If running is too hard for you to keep up for any length of time, it means that you need to start with something like fast Nordic Walking. (There are plenty of instructional videos on Youtube for this).
Another almost completely neglected part of a weight loss exercise program is resistance training. This could mean lifting weights in the gym or following a program of own body weight exercises such as press-ups and sit-ups.
Building muscle has a multitude of benefits for those of us trying to stay young.
- enables you to lift and move things more easily
- stabilizes and protects your joints
- increases your metabolic rate
Your training plan for effective weight loss should, therefore, include both high intensity aerobic exercise and resistance training.
Try to alternate days – For example, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday do resistance training; Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday high intensity aerobic. You’re probably thinking that you don’t have time for all that, but you can do it all at home.
Get up 45 minutes earlier. Before you eat, do either your resistance training or go out for a run/Nordic walk. Some own body weight exercises you can do in your living room.
- Press-ups – if you can’t manage full press-ups, you can start by supporting yourself on your knees rather than your toes.
- Crunches – lie on your back with your thighs perpendicular to the floor and your knees bent. Fingers lightly touching the side of your head. Bring your elbows to your knees.
- Lunges – this is a big step forward and a then a push back to standing. Swap legs and repeat.
- Cranes – standing on one leg, lean forward and stretch the same side arm out in front of you and the other leg out behind. Curl up by bringing the two stretched out limbs (elbow to knee) together. Stretch out again. Do three sets repeating each side 5-8 times.
There are literally hundreds of such exercises. Just search Google or YouTube for ‘own body weight workouts’.
Putting it all into practice
- If you haven’t already done so, write your five reasons for wanting to get fit and healthy
- Work out how many calories you need per day
- Check out the dietary information on the food you buy to see how many calories you are eating
- Write down a realistic training schedule