May 8, 2014 posted by

The Basics Of Weight Loss

The Basics Of Weight Loss

If I said I’d experienced a million successful weight loss stories I wouldn’t, technically, be lying.  As Beachbody’s “Director of Results,” I’ve seen a lot more than that. The actual numbers don’t matter. I’m only using them so you’ll pay attention, because I know how this drill works. Today’s topic is another for reference. It’s basic, but important, because if you don’t understand the fundamentals of weight loss, you’ll probably go astray when things get tough.

Let’s begin by looking at how things work when you’re both out of shape and have a lot of weight to lose. When this is the case, getting starting is the crux. Just Press Play was Beachody’s original slogan, because the key to success was to simply to open the box you bought, put in a video, and press play. If you just did that one thing, we knew it was all downhill from there.

Let’s evaluate why.  When you’re very overweight, almost anything you do will lead to improvement. Any exercise, any diet that isn’t all fast and convenient foods, will kick start the process. The hardest part is changing your habits so that exercise and thinking about making better food choices is a way of life. Of course, if you add a structured exercise program and a sensible eating plan, it will work better, and much, much, faster. Throw in a few tips on how to do this, and a super motivating fitness trainer, and it starts to get addicting.

Beyond the mental crux, things are pretty simple. At the beginning of a program, your body isn’t too picky. More exercise and less food is the key. Splitting hairs is merely a bonus. In fact, when you’re very overweight, you can eat way less than you technically need to survive and not only see great results, but feel better. Since this tactic does not work forever, it requires an explanation.

You’re bringing your body into homeostasis; a point where it’s functioning as humans were meant to, which includes exercise and eating foods that come the earth. We are built to move, and when we do our bodies release performance-enhancing hormones to regulate processes, including how to think and expend energy. All of which lead to not only weight loss, but  more energy, mental alertness, and feeling better.

You’re body also doesn’t like to be overweight. Because we’re built for survival, and excessive body fat slows us down, your body can quickly turn this fat into an energy source. What basically happens is that you starve yourself and your body uses its (ample) reserves of adipose tissue (aka fat) to survive. As those reserves get used up, you shrink and lose weight, all of which leads to everyone telling you how great you look and inspiring you, perhaps, to workout even harder and eat even less. But then, at some inevitable point, things get tricky.

When you need to eat more to lose keep losing weight.

In the simplest sense, body composition is your fat to muscle ratio. Everyday during the above process you are changing yours. The fat you’re burning up is energy, allowing you to exercise and, thus, build muscle. As you body composition changes to more muscle, and less fat, its metabolism increases. This process requires you to eat more food. Not just in order to support the new muscle, but to continue losing fat.

“Increase your calories” is the single most popular piece of advice we give to people in the latter part of their exercise programs. Starving only works for a short time. Once you are fairly fit, you need to eat in order to recover from the breakdown of your (now more intense, even if they don’t feel harder) workouts. And this is true whether you still have weight to lose or not.

We’ll get more into specifics in later articles in this series. For now, here’s a simple breakdown of how it works. I’ll use a real world example.

 A six foot man, who hasn’t exercised in years, weighs 250 pounds. His body fat is very high. We won’t worry about exact numbers here because, as much as people love to use them, they aren’t very important.

 If you run one of the many calorie calculators out there, you’ll find this guy should eat close to 4,000 calories a day to maintain this weight. But he wants to lose weight, and is starting an exercise program; so the rationale is that he should eat less than 4,000, or keep eating 4,000 and let the extra calories he’s burning off take some weight off. While this would work, albeit slowly, there’s a much better way to do it.

 Because he’s super out of shape, he most likely isn’t burning a ton of calories during his workouts. Also, because he has so much body fat, he can vastly under eat and his body will convert his fat to energy to run things while he’s “starving”. In fact, mobilizing fat for fuel is a process you can train, so under eating and exercising while make his body more efficient.

 If he eats, say, 1200 calories a day, which is unhealthy under most circumstances, he’s actually going to excel for a short period of time, from a few weeks up to a few months. I would not personally recommend he go that low, but he did, so that’s what I’ll use. Again, exact numbers don’t matter much. He ate less, and made it healthy food. And he felt better, and lost weight, so all is good in the world. Until…

 At some point he’d gotten pretty fit. His newer, stronger body, went into rebellion and his results stopped for one of the reason in this article on hitting plateaus, not eating enough.  He was advised to eat more by his “fitness advisor” (me), and resisted, worrying that he’d gain weight back, until he became truly frustrated that his workouts were getting worse, he was feeling bad, and he’d stopped losing weight; stuck in what’s often called “starvation mode”.

 When he reluctantly began to add calories, and few hundred at a time, his workouts got better and he began to lose weight again. At around 2,000 calories/day, his weight loss was so quick he dropped below his goal weight and kept going, which didn’t stop until he was at nearly 3,000 cals/day. He kept adding cals until he got himself to a fit, healthy 175, where he was eating a bit over 3,000 calories a day for maintenance.

That’s the gist of how weight loss works. You can vastly under eat, but only for a short time. When you get close to your goal you’ll need to strategize, eating plenty to fuel your workouts and support your metabolism, using tricks and small calorie deficiencies in order to continue your weight loss. Now that we’ve covered the basics, and plateauing, this series will move into strategies for keeping weight loss going once you’re past your initial stages.



  • Starvation mode is essentially an often propagated myth is it not. Seems like it stems from the drop in metabolism seen in participants of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, but they continued to lose weight even at the end of the study. Plus anorexics keep losing. Not arguing that it’s healthy to eat at those deficits, but the immediate rallying cry of “starvation mode” in the fitness industry didn’t seem to have much factual basis in relation to weight loss goals.

    • Well there is a tendency with high cortisol and poor leptin levels to retain water, meaning that it can in a way impact your scale weight even if your bodyfat is going down. It also reduces your work capacity, thus limiting the amount of productive activity which in turn is muscle-sparing. This means that your lean mass is going to be dropping just as fast as your bodyfat (faster once you get down into very low BF%’s). All of this translates into a few things–> 1.Your propensity to put weight back on rapidly when you go from extreme low calories back to a normal amount. 2.Perhaps a good scale weight, but you’ll just look skinny not healthy because your lean mass is so low as well. 3.Poor insulin sensitivity 4.A very low basal metabolic rate due to the reduction in lean mass that means you’ll need to continue to eat much smaller portions than the average person to maintain.

    • All of which are compelling reasons not to hitch your wagon to very low calorie diets, but none of which really addresses my base concern which is the apparent falsehood that your weight loss will plateau as a result of eating too little. Seems everyone likes to say it, but factual attribution is weak at best from what I can find.

  • Sure, if you actually starve you will lose weight. The “mode” part is a survival mechanism of slowing your metabolism when it would be healthier, and better from your performance, to elevated it.

  • Two more topics coming up in this series address this–well, not the starvation meaning that you will eventually lose weight, as I don’t think that’s what anyone is referring to in starvation mode discussions–gauging your diet by performance, and zig-zag eating (or refeeding).

    On the metabolism thing, a lot of anorexics do long term endocrine damage and end up having a very tough time not gaining weight, even one very sensible low-cal diets. Basically, if you are sensitive to performance and recovery, and keep that in mind with your diet, you can eat fairly lean and keep this from happening.

  • Once you increase the calories in order to ramp up a new bout of weight loss, how long does it usually take to see new results? A matter of days, a few weeks, a month?

    • A side note – I was psyched because your last chat clocked in at just under 2 hours on youtube…turns out there’s 60 minutes of dead air..ha.

    • Awesome. I’ll pass that on.

    • of course this varies, but it’s often right away. The guy in the example was stuck for months at 1200 cals (after a period of rapid weight loss). He didn’t start losing at 1500. I think his second bump (so maybe a couple of weeks, but he’d been stuck for a while) got him moving. At somewhere around 2100 or so he began losing weight ridiculously fast, and the more he ate the faster he lost until he hit somewhere in the 3,000 cal range. His whole process, from stuck to 20lbs underweight to back where he wanted seemed to take a couple of months. Pretty fast, but he’s an extreme example.

    • Thanks. I played around with the calorie increase at the end of a round of asylum vol 1 & 2 hybrid to see if I would drop some body fat. My weight had been increasing (likely muscle mass). I couldn’t tell if the calorie increase worked. I don’t think I gave it enough time, plus I’m dealing with a relatively small window of weight fluctuation so it might not impact me. I expected a bigger change in body composition due to Asylum but didn’t get it. It’s possible I didn’t work hard enough. I’ve seen bigger changes using X2.

    • Though Asylum is super hard, the adaptation curve maxes out quicker because you’re not doing all of the instability, which takes a LONG time to fully adapt to. I tell people that when they can lift the same weight from an unstable platform that they lift on a stable one, they’ve maxed out on X2.

    • Also, Matt, at your level weight loss is trickier. Hopefully some of the stuff I get to in this series will be helpful. So far, it’s basic. That’ll change big time on Thurs, as long as I have time to finish the post.

  • This is one of the biggest problems I have encountered with my clients. I will begin their calories low to begin with, and are completely fine with it. As soon as you tell them to begin adding calories, resistance occurs and I swear the maintain OR gain until they finally listen to reason and begin to properly consume the right amount of calories. Good post!

    • Yes, it’s one of the most frustrating times as a trainer, since almost everyone resists!

  • great article, here is my question? how do you no when to add more calories? I started jan 11, on my own diet.. I eat breakfast, 4 egg whites, some shredded cheese, on a wheat wrap, for all my other meals I eat about 4 oz of chicken and a half a cup vegetables. I start eating at 6am, then a meal every three hours until 9pm. I have losted thirty pounds in the process, and feel great. I’m looking to lose another 20 pounds, and right now I keep jumping up in weight some days and then other days I lose weight. I’am 5’8″ I weighted 224 jan 11/14 now I’m 194 and trying to go to 174 or lower, I was lifting for a months, but had to stop for some reason, but I plan to return to the gym on May 30. I use the elliptical machine five days a week sometimes six for 30 to 40 minutes a day.. For the past week I have been eating boneless herring fillets with 16g of protein 11g of fat. What should I do to reach my goal weight?

    • Robert, you’ll want to zig-zag to find out exactly what’s going to work. You can search that term on this site or wait until Thursday, when I’m doing another post on it.

  • How can I fidn the rest of yoru articles and discussions. I started at 76 pounds overweight I ahve lost 24 pouns the last 4 so slow it was shocking lol. I am 5’0 and currently 172. I wouldnt think low calories would be a problem yet but maybe?? I eat 1200 but eat back all my exersize calories as well so that usually puts me at around 1300 or 1350 a day. If I am not losing a steady 2-3 pounds a week should I add moree calories already even though I am not even 50% to my goal?

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