Every year between the fall and spring, I focus on eating at maintenance and putting on muscle mass on my frame. This allows my body to recover from focusing on fat loss (all the more important if you want to actually respond to fat loss down the line) and also gives me more flexibility to enjoy more food, not focus too heavily on my nutrition, and perform better in my workouts.
This year has been different, though.
This year, I had a hard time focusing on anything nutrition or exercise related. Given all that has happened the past year, I think many people can relate to this (hence the term: COVID-15). So I just ate whatever and exercised sporadically. After a full year of this, I feel uncomfortable in my skin, can’t comfortably fit in my clothes, and just don’t feel great overall.
So I mentally prepared and decided to start a fat loss cycle on March 1st to get ready for the summer. Here is how I set goals and how I decided what strategy I was going to use to get me feeling like myself again:
STEP 1: SET GOALS
Most people approach a fat loss cycle with a goal like: I want to lose X pounds by X date. That’s fine as a “secondary” goal but it’s not going to work as your primary one. In reality, you have no control over how many pounds you lose by a certain date. You can eat well and exercise and just not respond, so setting a goal like that really separates yourself from the goal you’re trying to accomplish.
Instead, set a goal like “I’m going to exercise five days every week” or “I’m going to hit 10k steps every day” or “I’m going to hit my macros six days a week.” Those are behavior-based goals — goals that you are in complete and total control of. Focusing on behavior-based goals is what leads to good outcomes.
Hit my macros six days a week
Workout five days a week
I could set a million other goals related to steps, hydration, sleep, food quality, fiber, etc. but when you take on too much at once, you’re bound to burn out. So focus on 1-2 essential goals, and then as they become habits you can build upon them.
STEP 2: GET STARTING DATA
What gets measured gets improved. So it’s incredibly important to get a baseline of where you’re at in order to know if you’re progressing towards your goal or not. If you leave it up to how you feel, you run the risk of letting a bad day or poor mindset ruin your progress.
I’m incredibly data-driven so I got a DEXA scan before my fat loss cycle. A DEXA is the gold standard of measuring body composition. (Shameless plug: you can book one here for $99). It tells me how much I weigh, how much body fat I have, and even how much muscle mass I have.
You do not need to get this in-depth. You can use an at-home body fat scale and while it may not be accurate, all you are looking for is relative change (i.e. if your body fat reads at 32% on your home scale, as long as it’s <32% in a few weeks, you know what you are doing is working).
If the scale messes with your head, you can take measurements or take progress photos. If your goal is related to performance, you can test your lifts or test your mile time, etc.
22.7% body fat
“Before” progress photo (favorited in my phone and posted here 😱 )
STEP 3: SET STRATEGY
There are plenty of ways to achieve fat loss. As long as you create a caloric deficit (consume less calories than you burn every day, you’ll drop body fat). The key is to find the methodology that makes the most sense for YOUR body and is sustainable for YOU.
Need ideas? Here are seven different ways to drop body fat.
For me, I track my food intake focusing on two goals: my calorie intake and my protein intake. I like this methodology the best because it’s the most data-driven. I don’t like to leave room for mistakes. I also feel like it allows me to eat all the foods I like without feeling like it’s “off track”. As long as my nightly ice cream is accounted for in MyFitnessPal, it will work towards my goals. I love having that freedom around food.
STEP 4: SET EXPECTATIONS
Guess what? You can do every thing right but that does not mean the scale will always accurately reflect your progress. Sometimes we focus on fat loss, see the scale go down a bit, get excited, just to find a few days later it goes back up. Then, we get discouraged and give up.
The scale stalling is actually PART of the fat loss process. The scale will jump up or not move for a million reasons that has nothing to do with your body fat. You could be experiencing hormonal changes, had a high sodium dinner, metabolizing alcohol, be sore from a workout, had a bad night’s sleep, etc. and all of those things will lead to a higher scale reading.
Here’s a great infographic by Precision Nutrition that goes over what to expect in fat loss. It is absolutely normal for weight to fluctuate daily but as long as the overall trend is moving towards your goal, you are exactly where you need to be. If the scale messes with you, stay off of it and just use measurements and progress photos to assess your progress. Otherwise, EXPECT that your weight will go up and down, even when you do all the right things.