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How do I start losing weight?

I’ve read a hundred books, seen tens of documentaries, read about several fat-to-fit cases, and yet, I don’t know! Is it all about the diet? Should I just hire a dietitian and that’ll be enough? But what about strength and stamina?  Should I hit the gym? But what do I do in the gym? Just cardio? Or weights too? Or should I just start running/ cycling/ swimming? Maybe this time I should get a personal trainer! Yes. That’s it. He will push me and hold me accountable. What! A personal trainer costs that much! Ok, scratch that. 

But then what’s the answer? How do I kick this off? Urrghhh. I need a coffee. Maybe a cookie to go with it. I’ll go for a run tomorrow morning and burn it off. Maybe. We’ll see.

First of all, don’t be too harsh on yourself. I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t gone through this phase of confusion about the ‘perfect’ way to start. If there ever was a complex, multi-faceted problem masquerading as a simple one, then this is it. So relax, you’re not alone.

Second, recognise that there isn’t one right answer. Infact, there are infinite answers. Because there are infinite variables. Your genetics, your body type, the country you live in, it’s climate, it’s food, your work type,  access to fitness facilities, how supportive your partner is, your budget, how much time you have to spare, how much mindspace you have to spare, your sweet tooth, your savoury tooth, your carb cravings – the list of factors that determines the ‘right’ answer for you, is endless. That’s the reason why there are a hundred ’10 ways to start losing weight’ articles out there and they all sound right. They might all be right, but maybe not for you.

So how do I solve this problem?

So many variables – It seems insurmountable!

It is, if you start looking for solutions directly. Instead, start by breaking it down into smaller, more handleable problems, attach a framework to it, and answers begin to emerge.

Broadly speaking, there are just three things that affect your weight-loss outcomes.

Exercise. Nutrition. Motivation.

The answer to the complex question ‘How do I start my weight loss journey?’ is actually a combination of only these 3 constituent questions:

  1. What should my exercise regime be?
  2. What nutrition plan should I follow?
  3. How do I keep myself motivated to keep progressing on 1 & 2?

Sounds too simple?

Most people figure this bit out. But then starts the problem. What exercise? Running, cycling, swimming, gymming, cardio, pilates, or yoga? What nutrition? Low carb, low fat, low calorie, low sugar, keto, paleo, Atkins, GM? And even if you somehow  manage to get started on some exercise and some diet, how do you keep going? Running bores you, the swimming pool is an hour away, there is a vacation coming up, you can’t not drink at the office party – the list of things that can break your nebulous new routine are endless. And once broken, it never really comes back now does it!

That’s where the second part of the solution comes in:

My Framework

Here’s the framework I’ve discovered over 15 years of battling with weight-loss:

  1. Do what you can do
  2. Do one thing at a time
  3. Don’t do less that what you did yesterday

Again, sounds too simple? Well, let’s start applying it to each of the three questions and see where it gets us.

What should be my exercise regime?

First up, here is a list of every physical activity you can think of and the calories it burns, sorted in ascending order.

So theoretically, all you need to lose weight most efficiently,  is run @ 10mph and you’re done.

But chances are you’re not (yet) in shape to run at that speed. Let alone do it for 30 mins. Maybe you should start swimming! Infact even bicycling doesn’t look too bad. Or maybe you could join a gym that has both a treadmill and a pool. Voila! That’d be awesome.

But since you believe in staying alive, cycling in Mumbai (or most Indian cities) isn’t feasible. There isn’t a decent swimming pool nearby either.  The only gym that has one is super-expensive. You could run, but you hate running! Stationary cycling in a normal gym seems like the only thing you can do. But that’d be such a slow, inefficient way to start. What should you do?

Do what you can do.

If the answer is cycling in the gym, then start with that. Remember that your baseline, when it comes to exercise, is Zero. Anything you do, absolutely anything, is better than what you are doing right now. So don’t sit around and mull over the perfect solution.

Finding the perfect way to start is the perfect way to never start.

Start with whatever you can do. ‘Can do’ – not just in terms of ability, but in terms of feasibility, availability, accessiblity and liking. If a 20-min walk everyday is all you can see yourself managing, for whatever reason, then that is what you must do.

And if you’re just starting off, don’t do too much. Do one thing at a time. Many a well-meaning, motivated folks I know have started with gymming + running + swimming, only to get fatigued in a week and give up. It’s great if you have more enthusiasm than just a 20-min walk. Unfortunately, right now your body is way behind your mind. So hold them horses. Believe me, you’ll need all that enthusiasm to stay on course.

What nutrition plan should I follow?

 Do one thing at a time.

Don’t try and give up deserts and fried snacks and rice and butter all at once. It’ll overwhlem you and you’ll falter and feel like giving up. Pick one thing you can eliminate from your diet and start with it.

Can’t decide what to start with? Let me give you the BEST answer.

If there is ONE thing that has NO place in your diet, it’s REFINED SUGAR.

You see so many words in CAPS because I am literally shouting from the top of a roof when I’m typing this. If there is one thing you should ELIMINATE from your diet, it’s processed, refined sugar. So naturally occurring sugars like those found in fruits and dairy etc are fine. But the white-colored, man-made stuff in colas and cakes and cookies needs to GO.

I know, it’s a big ask and can’t be done at once. No problem. Refer rule no.1. Start with whatever you can live without and we’ll take it from there.

How do I keep myself motivated to keep progressing on 1 & 2?

Fitness, just like life, is about finding the best ‘You’. It’s about being better today than you were yesterday. It doesn’t matter where you started. As long as you do more today, you’ll be good.

I remember the first time I went for a run. I weighed over 100kgs. The park behind my house had a 500m periphery. I ran half of it and stopped, huffing and puffing, as if I was about to die. Three 70+ year-old gentlemen, out for a walk, saw me and stopped by to ask if I needed help. I wanted to kill them. I would’ve. But they left before I could catch my breath.

That day when I got back home, I took a piece of paper and wrote this on it, before sticking it to the inside of my cupboard.

Never run less than today

This one running rule took me from 250m that day to a half-marathon in five years. And along the way, it expanded to encompass all things fitness related for me.

Don’t do less that what you did yesterday.

If you ran 250m yesterday, do 300m today. If you swam 50m yesterday, do 60m today. If you ate only two rotis yesterday, don’t eat any more than that today. Just this one rule will help you do both – keep motivated and keep progressing.

Remember, fitness is a staircase, not a slope. So you take a step up, stay there for a while, let your mind and body both get used to this ’new normal’, and they’ll themselves signal you to take the next step.

Just make sure you never take a step down.

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The intent of this first post was to lay down the framework that we’d follow here at FITSHIT. All subsequent posts will be about picking one topic from Exercise/Nutrition/Motivation, and diving deep.  All in an attempt to help you discover your own, unique path to fitness.

But don’t wait for that.

Go on. Start. Do what you can. I’ll check in on you next week.

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2 thoughts on “How do I start losing weight?

  1. Sir
    I just started thinking of Waight Loss. Over a period of 3 years after retirement I gained Waight about 10 kgs . I was thinking about how to go about it & stated reading ur articles u written previously . It really helped me to start my activities to reduce my Waight. I have the issues such as my age, my Arthrisis problem ,my Diabetis , but am sure with the help Of Ur Articles I will overcome it. Thanks a lot !!!!

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