I may not be that knowledgeable in most things but when it comes to losing weight, I have a story to tell.
Being obese since most of my childhood, I was no stranger to the relentless teasing at school.
“Eh Kaiwen, how come you eating double of mine sia?”
To a large extent, I hear them. Deep down, I truly wanted to change. The hardest step is always the first.
What is sustainable weight loss?
It doesn’t matter if you think you are lazy or you have no idea what is the first thing you should do for yourself.
Unlike what some may want you to think, these are not excuses. They are completely valid reasons.
I totally understand how you are feeling and here is my secret: the first and best thing you can do as a start is to stop focusing on short-term results.
There are far too many fad-diets that promise — sometimes falsely promise — fast results. The fitness industry alone is not to be blamed. Since ‘fast’ became an integral part of our lives, people are unwilling to wait. They want results now.
I have no gripes with getting fast results. However, it does come at a price — sustainability. Getting into a 3-month keto diet will help you shed the pounds fast, yet most. if not all, of the progress is thrown straight out of the window the moment a diet ends. As for those hard-die dieters who pledge to #keto4life, do we really need to part ways with some of the best tasting foods on earth just to have a more desirable body type?
Are there no other options?
Regardless of how it is you decide to approach your weight loss, always consider sustainability.
To keep your weight loss sustainable? Stop chasing short-term results.
How to Count Calories Correctly?
This brings me to my second tip: calorie counting.
Back in school, I did a whole 15 minutes presentation on this topic trying to convince the Prof and my classmates why calories counting is the key to weigh loss (and for some, healthier living). Today, it is my job to convince you the same.
Calorie counting, all science jargon aside, can be summed up to 4 words: calories in, calories out.
Simply put, if you eat less than your body uses daily, you WILL lose weight. No matter what you eat! Heck, you could eat nothing but junk food all day. If it falls under your caloric expenditure (i.e., calories out), the scale will tip in your favour.
P.S. I highly advise against junk foods because they have zero nutrition value and will not sate you (i.e., make you feel full).
To start this practice, download the MyFitnessPal app. It has a massive food data base and allows you to record the calorie content of your own meals.
You begin by tracking one week of your daily food take and comparing to your body weight after 1 week. After some trial and error of how much to eat, you will get the sweet spot where your weight would stay fairly constant for this. You can refer to this as your current calorie maintenance level.
This will take time. I took a whole month when I first embarked on this practice because it was impossible to accurately determine the calories served in junior college canteen foods.
There is no need to rush through this. This practice will serve to be useful for the rest of your lives.
Can counting calories allow you to eat more?
“Walao eh, I don’t want to make my life difficult leh. Like that I won’t enjoy the food liao cause I’m going to be obsessed with the calories.”
Many people are put off by the idea of calorie counting. As a society, we love to eat. I hear you.
Here’s the thing, the mindset behind counting calories should be to restrict what you enjoy. Instead, it facilitates mindful eating and liberates your food choices. It teaches us to prioritise what brings us joy.
It boils down to the fundamental concept of don’t eat too much too soon. A lesson my very own parents tried to instill in me since I was the chubby kid. However, what I struggled with was what exactly is “too much”?
I always ate till satiety with whatever food I can find. Junk food or clean meals, I’ll eat them all!
When I was in secondary two, my parents went away for the June holidays gave my pocket money to eat whatever I would like for the month. My daily meals were from the neighbourhood caipng stall until one day a flyer came through my door: “Domino’s Pizza couple deal! 2 medium pizzas of your choice with dessert and sides.” I haven’t had much experiences with pizzas before and decided to give them a try. I picked up the phone and made my first order.
Before I realised it, I had pizzas every day for an entire fortnight! If I were to guesstimate, a medium pizza is anything between 1000-1500kcal depending on the choice of toppings. I ate close to 3500-4000 calories a day! This would include the delectable sides of chicken wings, breadsticks, and the always-gorgeous molten lava cake.
As a 14-year-old boy back in those times, never did I imagine that such eating behaviour would make me fat. Since I didn’t feel overly full by the end of each day, I figured I wasn’t overeating. When school started, all of my friends would have noticed my weight gain — something that was completely unaware of.
If I had known calorie counting or portion control back then, it could have transformed my life. It would have not taken me so long to reach where I am today.
Adopting a calorie counting lifestyle may come with its challenges initially. However, it does eventually become a habit just like brushing your teeth or scrolling through social media.
Once you establish the maintenance calories you need to stay at any given weight, subtract 500 calories from it and maintain your eating eating within that range. It may not be perfect given our tendencies to under or over record calories. It will, however, improve over time. Continue to closely monitor your body weight with your scale and adjust your eating accordingly to achieve the optimal results.
Don’t forget calorie density
these 500 calories may look vastly different between food groups. We now come to the concept of caloric density, and how differing food groups will offer different satiety levels for the same number of calories. Compare one Double McSpicy meal with a bowl of Wanton Mee. Even without the meal, a single burger clocks in at a whopping 924 kcal, whereas our local hawker food is only at 411 kcal, literally half of the burger. Two individuals who went for lunch ate this 2 different food, one of them would have ingested double the calories of the other, even though they may both feel the same level of satiety.
As a rule of thumb, foods that have more fat will always be denser than foods without, since fat has 9kcal/g compared to the 4kcal/g for carbs and protein. Doing some simple math, you can easily tell that 20g of fat will have more than double the calories of 20g of carbs or sugar, hence the caloric density. Food that are high in fat can often be found in fast food chains, fried foods, desserts made with high cream or butter etc. My mom gave me a good advice that still serves me well to this day and perhaps will aid you in your journey too: if your hand gets greasy when you touch the food and cannot wipe away without soap, it is too fat.
Understanding the density of food groups will greatly aid your decisions as to which food should you eat for the day. You can eat that Starbucks Cheesecake, but just remember how much calories you have left to play around with so you wont overshoot your limit for the day. Similarly, if you ate low density foods like plain popcorn, watermelon or my favorite dessert Agar Agar (it is surprisingly low in calories), you could treat yourself a cup of bubble tea since it will not impede your progress. Like I said, calorie counting is about liberating your food choices, such that you can stick with the process for the rest of your life and not having to resort to crash diets.
How much cardio will help me lose weight?
This is my final advice: cardio.
Yes, yes, we all hate hard work, but sometimes it can help lead you to your goals faster. Everything I mentioned beforehand was regarding calorie intake, and cardio can be viewed as your calorie output.
If you do a 2.4km run, you would roughly burn off 200 kcal depending on your body and gender. That is 200kcal more food you can eat or 200kcal of energy deficit that will contribute to your weight loss. The reason why I didn’t mention cardio earlier is simply because exercise plays a much less significant role in weight loss. The age old saying of never being able to outrun a bad diet surprisingly holds true.
When it comes to cardio, it can be much more than the standard jogging or running. As a rule of thumb, if you’re doing something that makes it hard to breathe for a long period of time, it’s cardio. This includes anything from the land, air and sea such as boxing, cycling, swimming, surfing, playing a sport, or even walking. Yes, walking is considered cardio if you do it enough.
For starters, go for a 15-20minute jog at a comfortable pace, where you can still talk but would rather not. Doing this thrice a week would be an additional 600 kcal deficit give or take, which is almost 1/5th of the deficit needed to lose 1 pound of fat! All of this with minimal effort.
As you get accustomed, increase either your pace, duration or frequency to your liking. I have personally tried a twice a day cardio session, one HIIT and one slow jog, on top of gym training, and I can attest it is not impossible given you have ample time between them and a solid amount of sleep. Combining this with your improved food choices, you would literally be a fat burning machine that won’t feel like shit by the end of the week.
As a parting note, the only way to lose weight is to strive for a sustainable caloric deficit, which is easily done with a good diet and cardio plan. Speaking of diet, calorie counting is a way to liberate your food choices so that you can eat your laksa and drink your soju without feeling guilty. It is not meant to be a diet, but rather a lifestyle because let’s face it, a life without indulgence isn’t a life worth living.