Quick question. How many pounds do you think the average American gains over the holidays, that magical time of eating between Thanksgiving and New Years?
If you said 4 or 5 pounds like I did (and how most other people respond), you’re wrong.
The answer is just 1 or 2 pounds.
Given the truckloads of sugar cookies and fudge and Christmas beers and ham we’re all consuming this month, that’s pretty good right? Could be wayyyy worse!
Well, yes and no.
The problem isn’t really with the pound or two that most people gain over the holidays. Part of life is about enjoying some things that aren’t good for you and we should indulge every now and then.
No, the problem starts each January as most people don’t bother to lose the extra weight they picked up. And 1 or 2 pounds multiplied by 10 or 20 or 30 Christmases in adulthood and well...you can do the math. It adds up.
Maybe the holidays are (slowly) making us a lot heavier.
Over the next few weeks, you’re gonna see a LOT of articles on how to lose weight headed into the new year and as someone who’s done a lot of weight loss and weight gain tactics over the past decade or so (#prayforbrooke), I couldn’t help but throw my two cents in as well.
So, let’s cut to the chase. What are some ways to lose 2, 5, 10 or 20+ lbs as we head into January?
I’ve got 5 very different “Ben Bacon tested" ways to do it (ranked below from hardest to easiest).
None of these are silver bullets and each will take effort, but these are some of the easier ways I’ve found to drop or keep the pounds off, starting with number 5:
5) Flexible dieting or “If it fits your macros” (IIFYM)
Losing weight is in many ways just math and willpower. The flexible dieting (or IIFYM) approach takes into account your current weight and activity level, and then spits out how many calories you need to consume each day broken down by macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat a.k.a. the 3 “macros") in order to hit your goal weight.
For instance, let’s say you weigh 200 lbs and you want to weigh 180 lbs and you work out 2x week at a moderate pace. Your IIFYM “plan” might look like this:
2,000 calories per day, made up of
- 160g protein per day
- 160g carb per day
- 80g fat per day
Easy enough, but then comes the hard part: actually eating and tracking the right amounts and types of food each day. This used to be a total pain in the ass to calculate but then some cool apps like MyFitnessPal came along. Now, all you have to do is punch into these apps what you’re eating (ex. Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl with Guac and Sour Cream) and it will tell you the number of calories along with a breakdown of the macros. The app tracks your daily calorie and macronutrient intake for you, eliminating most of the hard work associated with this diet.
Why is it also called flexible dieting? Because if you’re smart and plan your calories for the day you can still eat the things you love like ice cream, beer and pizza so long as you don’t exceed your daily calorie limit or macro breakdown.
This all might sound way too difficult to manage, but after a few days you get the hang of it. And more importantly you begin to realize the nutritional value of just about every piece of food you come across. Knowledge is power!
Who should consider flexible dieting/IIFYM?
Good for: meticulous people, those who have time to prepare their meals for the week
Bad for: people who hate math, people who travel or eat out a lot
4) Get a standing desk
I rank this one as the second hardest on my list because a lot of people just don’t realize how hard it is to stand for several hours at work. But holy cow, does this work...Calories. Burned. Galore.
In fact, standing instead of sitting at work is the equivalent of running a half marathon EVERY WEEK.
But again, it’s a lot harder to do than it sounds. So here’s a few tips to get you going:
- Start slowly the first week (~1hr/day) and work up by half-hour increments each week. Even if you never get beyond 3hrs/day, you’ll still see the scale go down.
- A cushioned standing mat and foot stool are musts.
- Don’t stand upright all day. Flex the knees frequently and feel free to lean!
- It can be hard to do creative work while standing, so use your standing desk for more tactical work like conference calls and responding to emails.
Who should consider standing desks?
Good for: office workers with bad posture or bad backs
Potentially bad for: people with bad knees, smug people who will just make their coworkers feel bad for sitting
3) Find a new circle of friends
For the past couple of years, I’ve been noodling on this quote I heard on a few podcasts:
“You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” - Jim Rohn, motivational speaker
It’s an interesting theory and one that I’ve slowly bought into over time.
If you hang out with people more successful than you, you will become more successful.
If you spend time with people funnier than you, you will become funnier.
If your closest friends are super liberal or conservative, you will become more liberal or conservative.
Your personality morphs into the average of the people you spend the most time with. I believe this also extends to the physical. Not always, but often. Take me for example.
Two years ago, I started hanging out with this new group of guys. We’ll call them “D’Pattroyickelloofby”. When I met them I weighed about 150lbs. They all weigh between 190-210lbs. Which is a huge difference in size. Over that time where we’ve spent hundreds of hours together, I’ve gained over 35 lbs and I’m now pretty close to 190 myself. These guys are literally making me stronger. Or maybe just fatter :)
The point remains, if you’re looking to lose weight and get healthier, find a new crowd to run with that’s healthier than you. Your body will change sooner than you think.
Who should consider the “new friends” approach to losing weight?
Good for: people who need to lose a lot of weight (10-20+ lbs)
Bad for: people who have trouble making friends :)
2) Try intermittent fasting
Whereas the IIFYM approach above focuses on what you eat, intermittent fasting focuses on when you eat. And all you need to succeed with this approach is willpower and a clock. Here how it works.
Intermittent fasting is when you have a defined period of fasting on a daily or weekly basis. The two most popular methods are 16:8 and 5:2.
16:8 - Each day, you only consume calories in an 8 hour window and you can literally eat anything you want. The remaining 16 hours you fast. Which means zero calories (black coffee and water only). The eating window is typically noon-8pm or 11am to 7pm. So basically you shut it down a few hours before bed, skip breakfast in the morning and then go to town around lunch. (Note: for women it’s often recommended to follow a 14/10 schedule; 10 hrs of eating, 14 hrs of fasting each day)
5:2 - 5 days a week you eat whatever, whenever you want. Go hog wild. The remaining two days you reduce your calorie intake down to 500 calories (for women) or 600 calories (for men) per day.
The past spring I followed the 16:8 method everyday for 7 weeks and lost around 18 lbs over that time. Intermittent fasting is also how Jimmy Kimmel lost a bunch of weight (he follows the 5:2 and explains it brilliantly here). It works and it’s very simple to follow. But side note: fasting can be dangerous and it's always best to check with a doc before starting this stuff.
Who should consider intermittent fasting?
Good for: people with willpower, people that aren’t big breakfast fans
Bad for: people who get hangry and might murder someone
For more info on intermittent fasting, check out these resources:
Intermittent Fasting 101: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide
Fasting Diets Are Gaining Acceptance (NYT article)
Tomorrow, part 2 of this mini blog series where I unveil the #1 easiest way to lose and control your weight and issue a challenge for a few readers who want to try it themselves…