The holidays are coming, and many of you are asking me how to lose weight.
I’m going to try to answer that, with the disclaimer that I’m not a dietician or a nutritionist. I’m a yoga instructor. However, I do have ideas on weight loss, and I’ve laid out four steps that have worked for me and will probably work for you.
My experience is that:
75% of a toned body is what you eat
25% is how and how much you exercise.
I say this because I was at my heaviest ever when I was training for triathlons. I was exercising a lot and eating a lot too. And I was at my thinnest when I was doing about 20 minutes of yoga a day.
You can lose weight with a moderate amount of exercise if you are eating really well. And what you eat has a tremendous impact on your health, your mood and your energy.
With that backdrop, my top recommendations to lose weight are:
Stop eating refined sugar.
Stop eating gluten.
Measure what you eat for two weeks, four times per year.
Consider dropping your carbohydrate count to under 100 net grams of carbs per day.
For most of us, it is really that simple.
#1: Stop eating refined sugar.
Please, for the love of God, if you are eating refined (white) sugar, stop. It is poison. P.O.I.S.O.N. It is bad for your body, your mind, your energy and your health. And if you take this first step seriously, you will probably stop eating most processed food at the same time because sugar is everywhere!
Read your food labels. Anything on a label with ingredients called sugar, cane sugar, fructose, dextrose, dextrin, corn syrup, HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), sucrose are out. Those are all sugar. You can watch this video about why sugar is bad. But nothing beats experience so I’d really recommend dropping sugar for a month and decide for yourself.
On a personal note, I dropped sugar as part of Kundalini Yoga teacher training back in 2009. It was hard for me—like, really hard. I didn’t realize how much sugar I was eating at the time, and sugar is highly addictive. I went cold turkey (stopped 100% one day) and felt terrible from days 3-7. By day 8 I started to feel better and by day 10, I was feeling really good. I say this just to illustrate you might be surprised how difficult it is. If you find yourself struggling, there are programs that can help. If you are worried about what to eat for dessert, all of the recipes here are sugar-free (for your coffee, etc. stevia is a great substitute).
I notice my particular body is really sensitive to sugar, including natural fructose, so with that in mind, I stick to a very low fructose diet. This means for me, I don’t eat most fruits or drink most fruit juices. I’m a big fan of lemon and limes, which are both low in fructose. You can see this list for some fruits that are high and low in fructose. You can check out our friends at SweetDefeat to learn more about the connection between sugar and weight loss.
As a side note, I also noticed my thoughts change when I stay off sugar. I am happier, less irritable, and I think about my past much less. Who knew sugar would impact my thoughts?
To start, try dropping sugar for 30 days. If you can make it through 30 days, you will probably notice big differences in your mood and energy. You will probably also be eating a cleaner overall diet and you may have already started losing weight. After 30 days of no sugar, go to step #2.
#2: Stop eating gluten.
Now that you are sugar-free, the next step is to go gluten-free. For me, I found the key to losing the extra weight around my stomach was dropping both sugar and gluten. With both sugar and gluten eliminated from my diet, my stomach became more toned.
On the topic of wheat, there is a whole book and related blog called Wheat Belly that gives more background on why wheat is problematic. Technically wheat and gluten are different but I’m advocating going gluten-free (gluten is always in wheat, but gluten can be in other grains as well). Going gluten-free doesn’t mean you can’t have bread. You can make this “Life-Changing Loaf of Bread” or Google “gluten-free bread” for lots of other options. Also, just because something is gluten-free, doesn’t make it healthy. Read the labels. If your gluten-free bread has sugar or a bunch of chemicals, find another option.
For lots of you, following steps 1 and 2 will get you where you want to be from a weight perspective. You still need to apply common sense (i.e. eating steak and French fries endlessly every day will not get you the results you want). But if you eat a reasonably balanced whole food diet without sugar and gluten, you will probably lose the weight you want.
If you are not getting the results you want or want to really optimize your health and get your body in even better shape, go on to step 3.
#3: Measure what you are eating.
This is important to understand what your baseline diet is. There are lots of free programs to help you do this. I use www.myfitnesspal.com. I am not advocating measuring what you eat for the rest of your life, but probably 4 times a year to keep on track, I enter all my food into an online program to see what my diet looks like. These programs track macros (fat, protein, carbohydrates) as well as sugar, fiber, calories and so on.
You can eat your regular (now sugar-free, gluten-free) diet for two weeks and enter it all so you can see your overall picture. At the end of two weeks, look at your macro numbers (daily grams of protein, carbohydrates, fat) to understand your starting point.
Check the macros (this handy guide might help). When I’m at my leanest, I’m eating a high-fat, medium protein, low carb diet. That said, there are 7 billion people in the world so everyone’s situation is different, but this high fat, low carb ratio works well for most people. And when I say high fat, I am eating well over 100 grams of fat per day. Don’t be afraid of fat—just make sure you are eating healthy fats.
#4: Consider dropping your carbohydrate count to under 100 grams of net carbs per day.
This is a nuanced recommendation since your body is uniquely yours. But for most of us, dropping your net carbohydrate to under 100 grams of net carbs per day will result in more weight loss. This site describes why (focus on the content, not the super cut body). I took this a step further over the summer and went on the ketogenic diet (an extremely low carb diet). You can read about that here. For most of us, I think going under 100 grams of carbs is enough. However, you can follow the same basic advice I lay out in my keto article.
A few other helpful things:
Eat a high protein breakfast and eat protein at every meal to avoid feeling hungry. Protein makes you feel full more than fat or carbohydrates. When I feel extra hungry, I eat a few spoons of Greek yogurt.
Drink lots of water. 2-3 liters of water a day is great for you.
While these recommendations are for weight loss, you will probably also end up with a healthier lifestyle. If you can, keep a fairly clean diet even after you’ve achieved your ideal weight. Dropping sugar and gluten goes a long way in improving your overall long term health. And you will probably notice your mood is higher and your thoughts are more positive too.