What's the secret?
This is, without a doubt, the top question I get asked about shaping up. And I get it. We all want the pill. We all want to look good NOW with little effort. This is a perfectly normal human response. Efficiency, or getting the most out of the least amount of effort, is what we do. It's probably some genetic derivative from when all life was a slime mold on the bottom of the seabed, trying to snatch a dim ray of sunlight so we could carry on for another day - or week - or month.
I'm no biologist, but I play one on the internet.
The point is, there is no secret. There is no magic program. There is no pill or quick fix without effort. The sooner we accept that, the better. The only thing that works is... well, work. Persistent steps in the right direction and making daily choices to feel and look better is the only answer. What those steps and choices may be will vary from person to person, but two key things will always be present: caloric balance and physical activity.
What do you mean by "caloric balance"?
Caloric balance is simply the state of eating as much as you are burning. Everyone burns calories at different rates: men, women, old, young, muscled, fat, skinny, active, inactive and everything in between. This is part of the reason why I am having you do the TWO WEEK EXPERIMENT. Everyone's metabolism is a bit different, but there are many good calculators to give you a general idea of your range. Like this:
1. Find your BMR, which means Basal Metabolic Rate, meaning how many calories you need to perform basic bodily functions. (I'm talking less than watching a Netflix marathon all day in bed and -maybe- getting up to pee.)
For Women, that's:
655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years) = BMR
For men, it's:
66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years) = BMR
2. Adjust for TDEE, which means Total Daily Energy Expenditure. (You're at least getting out of bed to pee, right?)
Take your BMR and multiply it by:
1.2 if you are sedentary. Meaning you sit at work, sit in your car, sit at home and lie down to sleep. (Taking the garbage out once a week doesn't count for shit.)
1.375 if you are lightly active. You're on your feet here and there at the office and maybe play basketball with your buddies once a week or you take a yoga class sometimes.
1.55 if you are moderately active. You have a job where you are on your feet often, but not sweating. or maybe you work out 3 times a week.
1.725 if you are very active. I'm talking hitting the gym or playing sports 6 days a week or working construction... Unless you just stand there holding the SLOW sign or are sitting on a bench the whole game - if that's the case, go with moderately active.
1.9 if you are hard fucking core. You are prepping for an Ironman and you work construction. You regularly heft 600 pound stones onto pillars, after you pull a car a few miles and chuck a log across a field. You're a world class Olympic athlete. You know - people who are not you.
3. Add for digestion! (you will be eating some takeout while lying in bed watching Netflix, I assume. Cereal? Crumbs from the side of the mattress?) Good news, everybody - eating burns calories, too.
Take your TDEE x 0.1 (or 10% of your TDEE)
4. Add your TDEE with the digestion factor and VIOLA! You have an exact, scientific, perfect and absolute number, tailor made for you that will never fail.
Just kidding, you have a generic, general estimate of the calories you need to maintain your lifestyle. (Remember, there is no secret.)
If you want to lose weight, the old standby is to consume 200-500 calories LESS every day and do the opposite if you want to gain weight. Pretty simple, huh?
How much activity do I need, and will it affect my TDEE?
How much activity you will need depends on your goals. An athlete has vastly different TDEE requirements than a recreational prancerciser. I don't suggest adding extra exercise calories into your TDEE, until exercise is a regular - and vigorous - part of your life. Otherwise, we tend to overestimate our daily allotment and weight loss will stall.
Just by adding 2 1/2 hours of moderate activity a week, like walking, or light exercise, you can lose weight and lower your risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. That's under 25 minutes a day of senior citizen grade activity.
A mere seven hours a week of physical activity reduces your chance of early death, versus being sedentary, by 40%.
But I'm hoping if you are here, you want more than that. You don't want to simply survive. You want to thrive, to grow, to take this one shot we get at life and make it worth living.
Like the primordial slime mold that eventually became us, we need to stretch a little further and work a little harder to catch that sun and strive for something better. Natural selection may be arbitrary, but evolution takes effort. Climbing off the sea floor, shaking off the slime and getting your shit together takes work, patience, consistency and persistence. Remember that when someone tries to convince you there is a pill or a program or way around that effort. They are only looking to make a quick buck off of you. As cheesy as it sounds, the work is what changes you, not the results.
The big secret is..... there is no secret. Eat wisely and get active. Don't let anyone tell you different.