The science behind losing fat, gaining muscle, and how to safely become your healthiest self yet!

The skinny on weight loss
When you get down to the nitty-gritty, weight loss is all about calories in vs. calories out. If you eat more calories than you expend, or burn, in one day then you will store more fat and gain unwanted weight. If you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. It’s that simple.

First of all… you can focus on losing weight, or you can focus on losing fat. You’re probably thinking “Uhm…. whaaaaaat? Those are the same thing. I’m trying to lose weight- JUST TELL ME HOW TO LOSE WEIGHT!”
They are NOT the same thing. Remember, “weight” refers to your entire body- bones, tendons, muscles, organs, fat, toenails, the food you’re digesting, your level of hydration- literally everything you are made of. Fat is, well, fat. Fat is usually what people are referring to when trying to “lose weight”, but I think it’s important to remind ourselves what we really mean when we say “lose weight”. It’s easy to get caught up with the numbers on the scale and become a little obsessed with hitting a target weight. While having goals for yourself is important for motivation and measuring progress, you should be making healthy, realistic goals that have less to do with a scale and more to do with your personal health, happiness, and how you feel vs. how you weigh in. Especially when you take into consideration how muscle tissue is more compact and dense compared to fat tissue. 5lbs of fat is about the same size as a bag of flour, where 5lbs of muscle is more the size of a yam… Just goes to show that a fit person can weight the same as an unfit person but look much smaller… it all just depends what their body is made of!

I can tell you from experience… I’ve weighed 120lbs and I wasn’t happy. Even though I liked that number showing up on the scale I didn’t look the way I wanted. I thought I should be perfect at that weight… but I was nowhere near the body I wanted and worked for. I knew I needed to add on weight in muscle, but the scale made me afraid to do it! I’m an educated certified personal trainer, and I know that gaining muscle would give me the physique and strength I wanted even though I would be gaining weight… but seeing the scale move up terrified me and I instantly associated weight gain with fat gain. The problem is with the scale. With measuring everything and feeling inadequate because of what the scale said, I held myself back! I knew 120lbs was not a healthy weight for my height and activity level (5’8″ and extremely active- gym about 6 days a week and my off days consist of long hikes and stretching). Now I weigh around 130lbs, have defined abs, strong arms and legs, and energy to push through even the longest days and I’m looking to build even more muscle- which means gaining more weight! Seriously… forget about the scale and stop giving those numbers emotional value, you are worth so much more than that.

I digress…

We already covered the basics, you need to burn more than you eat. But…

Did you know?

Calories are actually measurements of energy! That’s how you should think of them. However many calories a food contains, that’s it’s potential energy output…   It’s up to you to eat foods that support your energy needs. Think of your body as a car. You wouldn’t put diesel in a car that requires regular fuel, it would totally destroy the entire car and the way it runs. If your car is running low on fuel you know it won’t be able to last long before dying… so you fuel it up to keep it running!
Fuel yourself right and your body will work the way it’s supposed to.

The saying is true, “food is fuel”!

Figuring out how much energy(calories) you need every day is where counting calories can come in to favor you. Forget about all the 1200 calories a day diets…. those are bizarre and NOT healthy. In fact, eating so little can destroy your metabolism and push your body into starvation mode. Once in that mode, the more you eat the more your body will store as fat because it’s afraid you won’t get enough food for a while! So- eat up! Don’t starve yourself, you’re only going to regret it later.

The opposite is also true, if you eat too many calories and don’t use that energy to refuel or build new muscles, your body will store it as fat. Plain and simple.

Why do we store fat?
It’s a survival mechanism- we store extra calories on the body so if we’re ever in survival mode and haven’t been able to refuel, we can use our fat/energy stores! The human body is incredible, isn’t it?

Simply existing every day requires us to burn calories. Your resting metabolic rate, or RMR, represents how many calories you need each day just for your body to function at the absolute least demanding level- as if you were sleeping all day.  To figure out what your RMR is, use the following equation:

WOMEN: (Your weight in kilograms x 9.99) + (Your height in centimeters x 6.25) – (4.92 x Your age in years) – 161 = RMR

MEN: (Your weight in kilograms x 9.99) + (Your height in centimeters x 6.25) – (5 x Your age in years) + 5 = RMR

Or, if you’re not into Math, use this calculator!

Once you’ve figured out your RMR, you should never eat less than this amount- this is the baseline of what you need to survive healthily on a daily basis.

To determine how many calories you need to consume to healthily lose weight, you’ve got to figure out what your total daily energy expenditure is, or your TEE. To do this, you’re going to multiply your RMR by an appropriate activity factor.

Use the following information to chose your appropriate activity level and calculate your TEE:

VERY LIGHT | RMR x 1.2-1.3
Seated and standing activities, office work, driving, cooking; no vigorous activity.

LOW ACTIVE | RMR x 1.5-1.6
In addition to the activities of a sedentary lifestyle, 30 minutes of moderate activity equivalent of walking 2 miles in 30 minutes; most office workers with additionally planned exercise routines.

ACTIVE | RMR x 1.6-1.7
In addition to the activities of a low active lifestyle, an additional 3 hours of activity such as bicycle 10-12 miles an hour, or walk 4.5 miles an hour.

HEAVY | RMR x 1.9-2.1
Planned vigorous activities, physical labor, full-time athletes, hard-labor professionals such as steel or road workers.

Now, take your calculation with a grain of salt, because the accuracy can fluctuate up to 20% and change weekly and monthly depending on any progress made and activity level changes. This is just to get an idea of how many calories you should consume each day for maintenance based on your activity level.

Like I just said- the equation you’ve just solved is for maintenance or staying the same weight. To lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit.
One pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories. To lose weight in a maintainable and healthy way, you should aim to lose anywhere from .5-2lbs/week.

To lose one pound per week you need to be in a 3,500 calorie deficit each week from what your total weekly calorie input is: (TEF x 7) – 3,500.
The easiest way to make this happen is to divvy up the calories you need to burn/restrict throughout the week. This would be a 500 calorie deficit every day- very maintainable with a little willpower and dedication.
You can achieve this with a combination of exercise and limiting the number of calories consumed, exercise alone, or calorie restriction alone. The easiest would be the combination. You can work out for an hour and burn around 300 calories if you’re doing a great routine of both cardio and lifting weights. Then you would only have to make sure you’re eating 200 fewer calories per day than your daily recommendation (TEF).

Something to remember:

If the food you consume is bad, your body will never respond in the way you want it to. That’s a fact, it’s been proven over and over again. Yes, you can give yourself a meal or two a week where you’re able to indulge in not-so-healthy foods like pizza, fries, or dessert- that’s totally fine, healthy, and necessary to not go crazy for a lot of people! But- if you’re eating junk food every day or every other day, or drinking beers every night, well… you aren’t going to see the results you think you’re working towards. You can kill it in the gym but if your diet isn’t on point, you won’t see the result you want.

Eating a healthy and balanced diet is HARD work if you’re not used to it… and it can feel really difficult at times. Especially if you don’t have a good support system or you’re surrounded by people who constantly tease you or don’t respect your goals. Make sure to find a good support system. This could be a personal trainer you can talk to when you’re not sure what to do or feel like giving in to temptation (Caution: doughnuts seem to pop up everywhere when you begin eating mindfully). Or even a social media group! There are tons of like-minded people in groups on Facebook and Instagram- find one and join! The support you get from other people when you share your feelings and what you’re dealing with can be overwhelming- in a good way! You’ll see you’re not alone and get tons of tips and tricks and motivation from those who have also been going through a trying time.

One more tip for losing weight:
Gain weight in muscle!

I’m so serious. Muscles demand more calories to burn simply to exist. This boosts your metabolism and means you can eat more! Seriously- building muscle will tone your body and give you those long, lean, strong lines everyone is after AND make it possible to eat more! A killer strong body and room to eat seconds? What more could a girl (or guy) ask for?!