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This is a guide for losing weight for health reasons. This assumes a few things:
- You already know that you need to lose weight
- When you say “lose weight,” what you mean is “I have too much fat, and I want to lose that fat, even if I lose some muscle”
For most people in western countries, both of these will be true. There are four basic ways to approach losing weight. They can be approached simultaneously, but it’s important to distinguish starting points:
- Exercise of some form (cardio, resistance training)
- Change how much you eat (reduce calories)
- Change what you eat (e.g. keto diet, vegan diet)
- Change when you eat (e.g. intermittent fasting)
Overall, if your goal is to lose weight, exercise is not where you should start. I strongly recommend exercise, and it’s a good thing to do. In particular, resistance training can help you build muscle which can improve overall health and assist in long term weight loss. But assuming you have limited time, energy, and will power, this is not going to give the best result.
How much you eat
This is in line with standard diet advice: eat less, move more! This advice has failed for decades. 95% of people who “diet” end up gaining back all the weight within a year. It’s for a simple reason: eating the same foods in the same way, but just eating less of it, requires a huge amount of willpower. You spend every minute of every day fighting hunger and cravings. You sit down to a meal, try to eat a small amount, and eventually give in, consume everything in sight, and gain the weight back.
There are lots of hormonal issues at play that make this happen, but the most important thing most people need to hear is:
- Standard dieting advice is almost always doomed to fail
- It is rarely, if ever, the fault of the dieter
- Do not let medical professionals make you feel bad about this; they’re the ones providing bad advice!
What you eat
The first rule of thermodynamics says that energy can’t be created or destroyed. Some people take this law of physics to say that “it doesn’t matter what you eat, it’s all about calories.” This is wrong, shortsighted, and idiotic. The type of food you eat affects you hormonally, mentally, and even emotionally. What you choose to eat can increase or decrease your appetite, change how much you want to exercise, and alter your body’s metabolic rate.
There are a few simple rules for “what to eat” that are fairly universal:
- Avoid sugar and refined grains
- Try to eat “real foods”. If someone in the 1800s would recognize it, it’s real food. If it’s produced in a factory, it’s a food-like product. From there is gets much more nuanced, and this is where people lose hope. Should I be vegan? Should I eat keto? Is fat going to kill me? Are carbs?
My personal recommendation is low carb. It helps fight cravings the best in my opinion. That said, any diet that sticks to real foods, and doesn’t overwhelm you with too much of the combination of both carbs and fat will be successful. You can lose weight on both a carnivore and vegan diet. Just choose one and stick with it!
When you eat
Modern medical advice includes insanity like “eat 6 small meals a day.” This is dumb. “Eat more often so you eat less.” No, that’s dumb. I’ll prove it to you. I know a method that every person on the planet agrees will result in weight loss. You know what that is: stop eating for a few days. Therefore: you don’t need to eat 6 small meals a day to lose weight.
There are lots of points in favor of restricted eating windows, where you have certain times of the day or the week when you don’t eat at all. It affects you hormonally, letting insulin levels drop, for instance. Will you eat more at the next meal? Probably. But it’s OK, because overall you’re eating less and losing weight.
I find that a 12pm-8pm eating window is really easy to incorporate. Start the morning with a cup of coffee or tea if you like, with a small amount of cream if desired, and then don’t eat until noon. Then try to keep your eating to two meals (lunch and dinner), finishing before 8pm. Add in 1 snack if you need to, ideally something like nuts.
You want to get started, and just get told what to do? OK, follow these steps, which are optimized to avoid demanding a lot of willpower:
- Identify the junk food you binge on, and remove it from your house. Give it away, throw it away, burn it and dance around the bonfire. It requires 0 willpower to eat food that isn’t there.
- Introduce a 12pm-8pm eating window. Allow yourself 1 day a week to be flexible on it, but otherwise stick to it solidly. You’ll be hungry the first few days, and then you’ll get used to it. Very little willpower necessary.
- Reduce carb intake. Sugary beverages should be the first to go. Do not make any meals based around breads, pastas, etc. This one is more complex, but low carb food is really delicious. It takes effort to pull this off, but you’re not fighting hunger and cravings on a daily basis.
- If you’re adventurous, try out a multiday fast. It’s best to spend some time eating a low carb diet first, but you can jump right in. The first time you do this will be hard, don’t expect otherwise. But I believe the mental freedom you get from realizing that you are not dependent on a constant food drip is worth the effort.
There are lots of more advanced topics. I mean, a lot. “How do I improve my lipids?” “How do I gain muscle while losing fat?” And so on. Don’t think about those now! Prove to yourself you can lose some weight, keep the weight off, and not suffer in the process. Don’t worry about the long term effects of what you’re doing. If you’re overweight or obese, and you bring down your body fat levels, you’re almost certainly making yourself healthier in the long term.