The question “How do I lose weight?” gets typed into Google approximately 150,000 times per month. The question “How do I lose weight fast?” gets asked even more. Unfortunately, the so-called answers that pop up are usually ridiculous “weight loss tips” that don’t actually explain what a person needs to do in order to lose what they don’t want and keep it off. What’s worse, they often conflict with one another, creating more lasting confusion than lasting results.
The truth is far simpler. You’ll be able to lose weight any number of ways, you’ve probably even heard of some: IIFYM, paleo, low-carb, vegetarian, ketogenic, or intermittent fasting. It is also possible to lose by doing not much more than eating good food in moderate amounts.
Sustainable physique transformation happens by making healthy alterations to your diet, controlling your overall calories (or portions, if you want to think of it another way), and exercising regularly. Other approaches may work in the interim, but will the results last? I wouldn’t count on it.
Here are some expert-backed recommendations and how to put them into action!
How To Lose Weight
- Focus on holding onto or adding muscle, not just burning fat.
- Follow a balanced nutrition plan with consistent eating habits, and track your calorie and protein intake, at least initially.
- Aim for a 1-2 pound loss each week, but try not to go for much more.
- Exercise for at least 1hr per day, 3-4 days per week, with some strength training.
- Perform cardio workouts or high-intensity interval (HIIT) training 2-3 days per week.
Now, let’s discuss each point in more detail.
Weight Loss Basics
How Do I Lose Weight Without Losing Muscle?
One of the reasons why the question to “How to lose weight?” is so messy, is that it’s actually the wrong question to ask!
Why? Because the numbers on the scale aren’t just describing one thing, they’re describing two: fat mass and fat-free mass. One of them is fair game for burning, the other is something you really want to hold on to! So the question we should be asking is: “How do I lose fat while keeping, or increasing, fat-free mass?”
Your fat-free mass includes your muscles, organs, bones, and connective tissue. It also includes water weight. In other words, this is what would be left if you removed every single fat cell from your body.
Muscle mass is a major component of your fat-free mass, and it should weigh more than your fat mass. Furthermore, muscle mass has a huge positive impact on your metabolism or “metabolic rate” which is how many calories your body burns for energy. The more muscle mass you’ve got, the more calories you burn, even when you are not exercising.
However, muscle is also the driving force that powers you through your daily activities, including the gym and life. It also helps to support and strengthen your joints, helping to improve balance and reduce the risk of injury. Holding onto it should be a high priority, especially when dieting. And no, not only for bodybuilders!
But let’s discuss fat. It has a nasty reputation, but your body needs it, too! There is an essential amount that every person needs in order to be healthy. That amount will vary between body type, age, sex, physical activity level, and fitness goal.
For the general population, the levels accepted as “healthy” are 21-32 percent for women and 8-19 percent for men. That’s a big range!
To be clear, you could be in the higher than the “healthy” range and still be healthy, or be lower than it and be unhealthy. But the range is a pretty good starting place to aim for. Spending most of your life at higher levels can put you at risk for weight-related health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Lower percentages can be fine for short amounts of time, but they can be extremely hard to maintain and are not ideal for person’s long-term health.
So, the big question is: How do you lose fat while holding on to muscle? Pauline Nordin, in her article “6 Ways to Reduce Body Fat While Increasing Muscle,” recommends two approaches:
- Train like you’re trying to gain muscle, even when the goal is to lean out. That means using resistance training with either weights or your body weight.
- Utilize high-intensity interval training (HIIT), rather than simply putting in hours on the treadmill.
How Do I Eat For Weight Loss?
It’s estimated that around 45 million Americans go on a diet each year. Given the current rates of obesity in the country, we can clearly see that the success rate is very low.
So, we want you to get rid of the word “diet” entirely. Not only does that word have negative connotations, but it also usually means you’re only doing it for a short period of time, often focusing primarily on cutting calories as low as possible.
“This makes nutritionists like us want to shout from the rooftops that severe caloric restriction—aka dieting—is not the answer,” explains registered dietician Susan Hewlings, Ph.D., in Bodybuilding.com’s Foundations of Fitness Nutrition course. “Yes, cutting calories leads to weight loss. Plenty of diets cut calories seriously low, at least at first, and they get results. But not forever.”
Once you stop getting those short-term results, continuing to undereat can leave you feeling terrible, dragging you through (or not even doing) workouts, and setting yourself up for failure and disappointment.
You need to take a more strategic approach than just “I’ll eat less.” And it starts with your mentality. Instead of thinking of food as something to limit, think of the food you put in your body as fuel for the healthy lifestyle that you want to build!
For a lot of people, the changes that are needed to get there aren’t as daunting as they may think, Hewlings says. You might get great results from simply:
- Replacing your usual high-calorie or sugary drink with zero-calorie liquids, or cutting back on the amount you drink.
- Creating a plan for the one “problem meal” each day where you are most likely to overeat or eat fast food rather than food packed with nutrients, like low-fat protein or whole grains.
“Maybe lunch is your weak spot because you leave the house in a rush and don’t pack one, or because your workmates like to eat out. Maybe it’s dinner, because you haven’t eaten anything all day and you come home exhausted. Maybe breakfast is a sugar-bomb, and has been since you were a kid,” Hewlings explains. “No matter which meal is the biggest problem, fixing it—and just it—can be a huge win. What’s better, it requires far less work on your part than trying to fix every meal all at once. In many cases, it’s as simple as prioritizing protein in a meal that was otherwise going to be empty calories.”
Speaking of calories: they certainly do matter when your goal is to lose weight! But before you start cutting them or reducing them drastically, start by establishing where you are right now, and track the way you eat and what you are eating now. Even if you just do it for a short period of time, it can make all the difference for the long term,
Tracking your nutrition can help in a number of ways, including:
- Helping you see portions as decisions, not just something that gets served to you
- Revealing the “hidden calories” in your diet that you may not have been able to see before
For some, simply being able to see that information is enough to make a very meaningful change. But for many others, it can be helpful to compare it to a science-backed calorie recommendation, as you’ll find in, for example, Bodybuilding.com’s free calorie intake calculator.
This calculator will help you estimate how many calories you’re burning throughout the day, both through normal body functions and other activities and exercise. Then, it gives you a target caloric intake to aim for.
Why bother with any of this at all? Because many of us overestimate, underestimate, or flat-out lie about how much we weigh or exercise—even if we don’t realize we are doing it. And even if you are honest with the calculator, it still doesn’t mean the number will be 100 percent accurate! In fact, we can pretty much guarantee that it won’t be. But it’s a great place to start.
Once you have figured out your daily caloric target, keep tracking it to determine if you need to adjust your calorie intake slightly
How Do I Lose Weight Fast?
When we bring in a timeline to our fat-loss journey, things can quickly get complicated. “How do I lose weight for health?” is a different question than “How do I lose belly fat in two weeks?” But TV and, especially nowadays, Social Media sometimes alter our perception of what is realistic and sustainable.
To add to that, our “more is better” mentality often tells us that if reducing just 300 calories from our daily nutrition leads to a small amount of change, then imagine what taking out 600 or 1000 calories can do!
In reality, this is simply not true at all and a dangerous way of thinking. Cutting your daily calorie intake too low (for example, under 1200 calories) brings lots of risks and very little reward. Yes, there are healthy ways to lose fat faster, but they are most effective once you have the basic’s down pat first.
Without these nailed down, if you’re hungry all the time, you’re ruled by cravings, and have very little energy, the chances of you sticking to your diet are minute. You may lose what you want, but as soon as you go back to eating your normal foods in the normal amounts, you’ll likely regain all you’ve lost, and in some cases add on an extra few pounds. This is known as the yo-yo effect
Making things even more complicated, research has found that repeated cycles of loss and gain end up making it harder to lose pounds and easier to put them back on, as Layne Norton, Ph.D., explains in the article “How Your Fat-Loss Diet Could Be Making You Fat.” This “yo-yo” style of dieting may damage your metabolism, leading to a slower resting metabolic rate—meaning the number of calories you burn during each day.
It is more likely you will find greater success if the weight and fat come off slowly—particularly when it comes to stubborn belly fat. And your metabolism will end up working with you, not against you.
This does not mean that there isn’t anything to be gained by doing a fat-loss focused workout program that only lasts a few weeks, though. On the contrary, as fitness coach Sohee Lee writes, many researchers believe just three weeks is enough time to create lasting healthy habits.
What’s the upside for you, you might be asking? If you just think in terms of the next four weeks, or even better, six, you could achieve a surprising amount—and set yourself up for even greater long-term success.
How Fast Should I Lose Weight?
To put it simply: As slowly as you can go! In this regard, the scale can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Although your goal may be to see that number go down, the scale often doesn’t accurately reflect what’s going on in your body. So try not to get too caught up in the numbers on the scales.
No matter what your level of fitness is, the numbers on the scale can fluctuate by five or more pounds in a day, depending on things such as how much water you drink and the food you eat. These changes don’t mean that you’ve suddenly put on five pounds of fat. For this reason, it’s important to weigh yourself at the same time each day and to take what’s on the scale with a grain of salt.
When you do weigh yourself, remember that sustainable progress is often quite slow. Depending on how many calories you cut out of your diet and how much exercise you are doing, 1-2 pounds per week is a pretty reasonable and normal goal.
But sometimes, particularly if you’re on a serious long-term physique transformation journey the scale might not budge for weeks or even months at a time, even if the mirror tells you that you’re losing belly fat and adding muscle. That’s fine. It’s perfectly normal, in fact! Just know that over time, your approach will pay off. Slow progress is always the best way forward.
If the number on the scale is sticking in your mind, though, it can be important to limit how often you step on it. It may also be beneficial if you take weekly progress photos. That way, you will be able to notice those smaller changes to your body keep you feeling motivated.
It’s important to constantly remind yourself that the scale doesn’t always paint the entire picture, so pay attention to the mirror, how you look, how you feel, and how you are performing in your workouts.
If you know you stress out about the number on the scale, then stop using it! Stress is not something you want in your life.
What Are The Best Macros For Weight Loss?
Theoretically, you could see some success only by counting how many fast-food burgers you eat every day and decreasing it by one. However, if you’d like to experience a longer-lasting change to your body, stay healthy, and increase your fitness, it is a lot more helpful to look deeper into how much of each macronutrient you are consuming each day.
There are three main macronutrients (macros): carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Each one of them is a necessity for your overall health and performance, but there are so many ways to combine them. For carbs alone, your options range from a very low-carb keto diet where you eat next to no carbs and a lot of fat to carb cycling, where you change your carb intake day to day based on your schedule.
These days it’s pretty easy to do a quick internet search and find thousands of different diet plans. But to keep it simple when starting off, it’s best to keep a good ratio of all three macros in your nutrition plan and simply focus on quality and being consistent.
Most American diets are too heavy in fat and carbs and don’t have enough protein. A tried-and-true ratio to start with to get these imbalances under control is:
- 20% of your calories from fat
- 40% from carbs
- 40% from protein
You can use any number of Macro calculators out there, but here is Bodybuilding.com’s free macronutrient calculator to help you find what works for you and your lifestyle. Over time, you can adjust the ratios depending on what foods you like, how your body responds, and your daily activity level.
Honestly, there’s a lot of room for maneuvering and adjusting when it comes to fats and carbs, as long as you keep these two factors more or less consistent: overall calories and daily protein intake. Those two factors are the numbers that studies have shown to be most connected to dieting success, explains registered dietician Susan Hewlings, Ph.D.
Having a well-balanced nutrition plan will not only help you lose weight, but it will also help you be able to maintain it for the long term. It is an essential part of losing fat and keeping it off.
What Is The Best Kind Of Exervise To Lose Weight?
Some people will make you believe that there are only a few ways to change your body and that is to leave yourself in a sweaty heap in the gym every single day or only use the treadmill or elliptical machine for hours on end. But this isn’t the case at all!
If you’re new to exercising, it’s more than alright to simply start off by filling your life with things that you enjoy doing. It could be running, swimming, boxing, hiking, or Sunday soccer with your friends. Whatever keeps you active and moving for an hour per day, 3-4 times per week, that will help you feel good and experience some success.
But along with that, it’s a great time to incorporate a more structured training regimen. The main focus here should be on strength training and cardio, especially in the form of high-intensity interval training or HIIT as it’s also known.
Strength training: What? Isn’t lifting weights better for bodybuilding or getting huge muscles, rather than losing fat? Believe it or not, it’s a crucial part of long-lasting weight control.
The benefits don’t end there. Resistance training also has extreme beneficial effects on your bones and joints and helps to prevent osteoporosis (loss in bone mineral density), sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass), and lower-back pain, assuming you use proper exercise form.
Of course, there are many different ways you can approach strength training: fast-paced or slow, high reps or low, a bodybuilding-style body-part split or full-body routine, just to name a few. There’s really no wrong answer, and a lifter will cycle through all of them over the course of years. But research suggests giving serious consideration to full-body training, particularly if fat loss is your goal and priority.
Cardio and HIIT: When you hear the word “cardio” you might think of a treadmill and immediately shudder, but that’s only one way to get it done.
High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, can also be a really effective weight-loss tool. It’s pretty easy to incorporate into any fitness plan because it can be applied to a variety of settings and you can use many different types of equipment.
Another positive: The best HIIT workout is often the simplest. For example, a popular introductory workout is to bike hard for 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds. Continue this for 10 minutes at first, build it up over time to 20 minutes, with a light warm-up and a light cool-down of about 5 minutes of easy peddling either side. With just two or three sessions of this a week, along with some lifting, you can achieve some pretty surprising results.
Our Power Mass Blueprint is a great guide for exercise if you’re still stuck or lost!
Mindset is everything here and is the key to your success. Remember that not every day is going to be great, you will encounter the occasional hiccup or low point when it comes to your nutrition and training plan. Know that now and just accept it rather than fight or deny it.
However, if you stay dedicated to controlling portions and being a little more active, you will slowly but surely see those pounds come off.
By far, the most important part of implementing healthier habits into your lifestyle is bettering your self-image and happiness. How you look is not nearly as important as how you feel. Maintain positivity and you’ll see the changes you want to see.
- American College of Sports Medicine. (2013). ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
- Nutrition & Weight Management. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bmc.org/nutritionweight/services/weightmanagement.htm
- Blackburn, G. L., Wilson, G. T., Kanders, B. S., Stein, L. J., Lavin, P. T., Adler, J., & Brownell, K. D. (1989). Weight cycling: the experience of human dieters. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 49(5), 1105-1109.
- Winett, R. A., & Carpinelli, R. N. (2001). Potential health-related benefits of resistance training. Preventive Medicine, 33(5), 503-513.