Lose 40 Pounds Forever, For Real

Ana Sa, bikini athlete.

Ana Sa, bikini athlete.

This is Ana, a real person and my  Beachbody teammate. A native of Brazil, Ana has overcome health and confidence issues while working on getting the body she wanted. She just completed her first bikini competition, which has more in common with running my age than you might think. (Except that I'd look pretty horrible in a bikini.) She trained specifically (yeah, there are coaches for this sport; who knew?) and followed disciplined nutrition. 

No, she didn't lose 40 pounds. Nor did I. (I lost 24.) But if you do most of the things on the list below , you can have just about any body you want—athlete, movie star, whatever--in six months to two years. Six months for the weight loss.

To help me write my next book, I’ve been reading science journals and textbooks and interviewing real scientists and doctors. And I’ve used the best science to transform my own creaky, 57-year-old body. I’ve also experimented on numerous others, of various ages.

I won't kid you, it’s hard. If you don’t want the perfect body or need to lose that much weight, it’s less hard—but still hard. Some of this advice is going to seem crazy. But remember, it’s based on science. Besides, if you weigh more than you should, then “normal” isn’t working for you. Let’s try super for half a year. The fewer items you do, the less you’ll lose in six months. You can take longer or decide to lose less.

Be open to change.

The single biggest obstacle to people succeeding at anything: fear of new things. If you want a new body, you have to get used to new thoughts, new evidence, new scientifically confirmed methods. If you’re afraid of looking stupid or being criticized as a wing nut, then you probably won’t succeed. Don’t worry about who you are; think about who you want to be.

Reset your mind.

You’re probably not a morning person. You don’t like to sweat. Your gym teacher made fun of you in high school. You don’t have time. You can’t live without your morning donut.

Before you can lose 40 pounds, you’ll have to turn each negative into a positive. List the reasons why you “can’t” lose weight and why you’ve been “unable” to exercise.

Not a morning person? Move to a virtual time zone.

Don’t like to sweat? Think “sauna” and cleansing your pores. Think that you can get used to almost everything, and even learn to love it.

Don’t have time? That’s a matter of priorities, not time.

Morning donut? An easy target to start losing weight. I have a much harder time coaching people who already eat a perfect diet.

Form a support team.

After you read this list and commit to losing the weight, explain the goal and methods to your friends and loved ones. Ban them from using words like “extreme” and “can’t” and “crazy” and “health nut.”

Tell them you need their help in getting through the first two months, when you’re still getting used to new habits and haven’t changed your body enough and you’re having doubts about whether this thing is going to work at all.

Tell them that your losing weight has nothing to do with them. You’re changing your own body. Some people will feel threatened as you start to succeed. They’ll think you’re judging them every time you talk about your nutrition or the exercise you did that day. Clear this up before you start. It’s not about them. It’s about you. You love them the way they are. You’re the one who wants to change.

Of course, if friends and family get inspired themselves, then feel free to help. But don’t be too eager to help. Losing weight is like the oxygen mask on an airplane. Take care of yourself first.

Take a “before” picture.

You need a baseline to see your progress. Also, taking that picture is a real sign of commitment. Wear as little clothing as possible. Show the fat you’re going to lose.

Establish multiple metrics.

If you do everything I suggest, you’re going to gain some muscle mass. Growing muscle takes a huge amount of energy—meaning calories. You want muscle. On the other hand, a bit of muscle weighs more than a bit of fat. There are times when you’ll be gaining muscle rapidly while losing relatively few pounds on the scale. That’s when you need other forms of measurement, such as:

  • A pair of “goal pants” or a dress. What could you fit into if you lost 10 pounds? Twenty? Buy it.
  • Fat calipers. You can buy them online. They measure the percentage of body fat. Follow the instructions.
  • Tape measure. Have a partner measure your waist, thighs, and arms. Repeat once a month.
  • Camera. Take a selfie in the mirror with your camera or smartphone. Print out the photo and compare it with your “before” picture.

Reset your time.

Take two weeks to create your own time zone. (Here’s a method I used.) Start by watching an hour’s less TV or surfing the net or Facebooking. After a few days or a week, go to bed an hour earlier. After a few more days, get up an hour earlier. Why? Two reasons: People who watch less TV tend to get more sleep, which can help with weight loss. Also, morning workouts tend to succeed more than evening workouts. You have fewer interruptions, it’s easier to stick to routine in the morning, and the aftereffects of exercise can last longer.

Do the math.

One calorie (scientists call it a “kilocalorie”) is a unit of energy. It’s a fuel. If you don’t burn it or expel it, a calorie tends to get stored as fat. One pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. While different kinds of food get burned or stored differently, the math remains the same. To get rid of a pound of fat, you need to burn 3,500 more calories than you take in. Two pounds of fat equals 7,000 calories. No fad diet can change that math.

To lose 40 pounds in six months, you need to drop about two pounds a week. Actually, if you lose exactly two pounds every week, you’ll beat that deadline by six weeks. But it takes a while to ramp up, and you need to allow for pigging out now and then. We all do.

To lose two pounds a week, you need to create a “calorie deficit” of 1,000 calories per day—burning an average of 1,000 calories more than you take in, seven days a week.

Still with me? Now, if you’re a sedentary man you burn 1,800 to 2,300 calories a day just doing stuff like breathing, walking to your car, and reaching for the remote. If you’re gaining weight, that’s because you’re eating too much. Not eating the wrong things; too much. Too many calories going in, not enough getting burned. Eating a 200-calorie sugar-free cookie will gain you exactly as much weight as eating a sugary cookie. When it comes to your fat, a calorie is a calorie.

Make every calorie count.

That means figuring out how to get maximum nutrition out of every calorie. As you go into a calorie deficit, you put yourself in danger of eliminating the nutrition your body needs to function efficiently and add muscle. When this happens, you lose energy and feel ravenous all the time. The better your nutrition, the less you’ll feel the hunger pangs.

I recommend using a smartphone app called Tap & Track. It helps you figure out the nutrition you get while tracking your calories. Get obsessive for a couple of weeks to a month. After a while you’ll find you know enough to skip recording everything. Read books on nutrition—not diet books, nutrition books written by real nutritionists—to make sure you know what you need. And what do you need? A good mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, plus vitamins and minerals. And water.

Get rid of the diet and energy drinks.

They contain chemicals that could cause you real harm while you’re losing weight. Fat tissue tends to store toxins. When you burn off fat, the toxins get released in your system. The last thing your body needs at a time like this is a chemistry experiment like Diet Coke or Red Bull.

Also, no beer, except on feast days. (We’ll get to feast days!) Beer, with its combination of high carbs and alcohol, is a really efficient delivery system for adding fat tissue. Stick to wine—no more than 8 ounces a day. Or skip the booze altogether unless you’re feasting.

Balance input and output.

That means eating fewer calories while burning more. Ideally, you should burn 500 more calories while eating 500 fewer calories every day. (This assumes that you’re currently in a steady state, not gaining or losing any weight currently.) Burning 500 calories a day will seem a huge challenge at first. You may need to eat less than that until you’re ready to exercise.

But exercise is the key to six-month success. You probably won’t lose the weight and keep it off unless you exercise six times per week.

So what does it take to burn 500 calories? A 50-minute high-intensity workout, or an hour and a half of moderate exercise. Wait: Don’t say “extreme” or “crazy,” OK? You’ll probably have to build up to a routine.

But guess what: you already have an extra hour a day. You got that by creating your own time zone. I recommend DVD workouts over the gym, because working out at home eliminates reasons for skipping—car won’t start, friend won’t show up, whatever. Plus, DVD workouts are cheaper. I do Beachbody’s programs and pitch them to friends. You can start with a relatively easy system like Slim in Six or T25 and then work your way to harder programs.

Working out twice a day leads to more weight loss than a single workout. So you could do a DVD and walk in the morning. Then in the evening, go for another walk. Losing weight through exercise is harder than losing weight through dieting. But the exercise is more likely to keep the weight off. And the more you work out, the more you get to eat. Personally, I hate being hungry.

Prefer cold to hot.

Again, this is going to seem weird at first, but try to keep an open mind. To lose two pounds a week, start by eliminating most cooked foods. Humans developed cooking because they didn’t have refrigeration. The heat killed bacteria. At the same time, heat tends to eliminate nutrients. Limit yourself to a hot meal at midday, even if you have to cook for your family at night. Even better, skip that hot meal and make a big salad with raw vegetables. You’ll absorb fewer calories and more nutrition.

I eat five times a day, with smoothies for breakfast and dinner, a big salad for lunch, and healthy snacks in between (protein bar, fruit, nuts). Why smoothies? Liquid fills your stomach and switches off your appestat, the body’s sensors that tell you when you’ve eaten enough.

I actually proposed to my wife that we turn half our kitchen into a desperately needed bathroom by getting rid of the stove and half the counter space. “Great idea!” she said. “As long as you never plan to sell the house.” I dropped the idea.

Eat the same things.

The easiest way to stick to good nutrition is to develop habits. The same habits. You can change what’s in your smoothies for variety, and mix different good stuff into your salad. Plus, it’s important to get lots of different nutrients in those smoothies and that salad. But good habits get a huge boost from choicelessness.

Have feast days.

Don’t call it cheating. Call it feasting. Once every few weeks, have a feast day. There’s evidence that feast days can actually help you lose more weight over the long run—just as diets make you weigh more after you go off them.

Feast days also give you something to look forward to.

Get intense.

It’ll take you a few months to work up to this, probably, but high-intensity training contains many more benefits than moderate exercise like walking. That means sweating and breathing hard. A half-hour’s high-intensity workout can do as much as an hour’s moderate workout. I do Beachbody’s Insanity. If you’re 40 pounds overweight, it might take you a year to work up to a program this hard. But the good news is, in the meantime you can get the same intensity with easier programs. And intensity brings the best result.

Change your sports.

If your favorite outdoor activities involve an engine, think about ways to use your rapidly improving body. Ditch the four-wheeler or ATV and try day hiking. Walking on trails with a light pack can burn 400 to 500 calories an hour. Riding a snowmobile burns about 150 calories an hour. Cross-country skiing? Five hundred to 700.

Sit less.

The more scientists look at sitting, the less they like it. Sitting literally kills people. Don’t sit for more than an hour if you can avoid it. If you’re doing anything other than working at a computer or reading, try standing or doing stretches on the floor. I use a standing desk instead of a chair.

Be patient.

Practice the Tortoise Method. Don’t expect instant results. Unlearn everything the advertising world has taught you. You don’t deserve anything. You can’t lose weight instantly. No magic formula or diet will work in the long run. You won’t lose weight steadily; it’ll fall off suddenly and then you’ll plateau for a couple weeks, then lose again.

Withhold judgment.

At first, these methods will seem crazy. (Eating cold? Really?) But after six months, the world around you will look more and more insane. After a year, you’ll be the hot-looking Fool on the Hill. Be careful. Don’t tell people to lose weight. Let them come to you. Tell them what you did was really hard. Share information reluctantly. Let them beg you for it. That way they’ll feel they earned your advice, and they’ll take it more seriously.

Lord knows, you certainly earned it.