Begin Your Journey Here
The most important thing I can tell anyone wanting to get serious about losing weight and getting in good shape is that you have to be disciplined, determined, focused, willing to prioritize your health – AND THAT YOU MUST HAVE A PLAN.
Once you have a well thought out strategy, you simply must find the time and dedication to stick with your plan long enough to see results. Be prepared to adjust when you get bored and hit plateaus. This is discussed more on the Nutrition and Exercise pages. It is also critical to set a reasonable time frame for your specific goals.
The details of my own strategy are provided on this blog. My plan is outlined below in general terms and the specifics are on the Nutrition and Exercise pages. However, my plan is probably not exactly right for you – and perhaps not for anyone but me. It is far more important that you learn and understand the basic principles discussed below and take what lessons you can from my own proven successful strategy and then you MUST make YOUR own plan and stick to it.
I set out to lose weight and reach a body fat percentage of 12-14% and to be fit, trim and active. I started my plan on January 1, 2017 and I gave myself one year to reach my goals. Before laying out the details of my plan (and writing them down and creating various tracking tools) I did a lot of reading and preparing. I had failed at attempts to lose weight and get healthier (pretty much every year for the past 7 years). I wanted to understand why and devise a strategy / plan that:
- I could stick to for a year with a goal of losing an average of 1 pound per week
- Had a high probability of succeeding based on my reading and research
- Was flexible enough to work with my rather bizarre work schedule and with other interests and commitments (family, friends, etc.)
- Took into account the fact that as I made progress I would need to adjust and ratchet up both diet and exercise strategies to avoid stagnation and adaptation
- That would lead to lasting changes in general health, fitness and eating habits
- Would account for periods of frustration and inevitable plateaus with various strategies to “power through” these tough times
- Also, I knew I would need the support of my family – particularly my wife – to get the time needed for exercise and to eat properly for healthy weight loss
If you look at my tracking spreadsheet – you will see how things unfolded. Initially, my plan was simple. Stop eating junk food and “bad carbs.” Control portion size. Work out as hard as possible – every day. At that point I was in terrible shape so my initial work outs were more about duration than intensity. I outline workouts for people very overweight and out of shape (as I was) on the Exercise pages in detail. I focused on getting at least 30 “active minutes” of cardio exercise a day. I also did limited strength training 3x a week. And I tracked my steps per day (using iPhone) and shot for 12,000 a day initially.
My focus with my cardio workouts was on achieving a target heart rate, not on what I did (treadmill, stair master, brisk walking outdoors, brisk walking of stairs indoors, etc.). Target heart rates are IMPORTANT and much more valuable as a guide that you are “really working out” than simply guessing or seeing how you feel. Shoot for 80% of your max heart rate for your age (unless you have limiting health conditions, in which case you should talk to your physician about this).
With this basic “nutrition plan” + “exercise plan” – including cardio + strength training + steps / day in place – I set my goals. I shot for 1 to 1.5 lbs a week weight loss and gave myself a year to lose 55 lbs and be “fit.” I built a tracking spreadsheet and set my start date of January 1, 2017. I even took a “before” photo that month!
As you can see on my tracking spreadsheet if you download it – I did make progress early with this plan. However, I felt I needed more. Soon I read an article in Scientific American that really changed my thinking and focus. My take away from the article was that it is impossible to lose weight by exercise alone, meaning good nutrition (a good, healthy diet with a daily calorie “deficit”) was the only way I was really going to lose weight without also losing muscle. Also, I had already read plenty (and already knew plenty) about the MANY benefits of exercise and that a good exercise plan was also key to general health and fitness. So, I decided to ramp it up. I upped my step goal to 15,000 a day (averaged over a week) and added exercises and reps to my strength routine. Perhaps more importantly, I signed up for Weight Watchers Online and started tracking points religiously. I did not abandon my own tracking spreadsheet, I just tweaked and customized it some into the form you see now. Within a few months I made REAL progress. See my Progress Photos. I kept ramping up the intensity on my cardio workouts (I had to in order to hit my target heart rate as I got more fit) – AND – I kept adding weight and reps to my strength training regimen. Everything is there in more detail on the Nutrition and Exercise pages when you are ready to formulate your own plan.
Over the following eight months I dropped 55 lbs of fat, gained 15 lbs of muscle and went from ~ 40% body fat to 17%. I am still working towards my goal of 12-14% body fat. I could care less about my “weight” at this point. Instead I am now focused now on maximum fitness and minimum body fat.
Lessons Learned and Suggestions
- Do “something” every day .. even if only “logging” why you didn’t do much
- Shoot for 1-2 lbs / week weight loss
- TAKE MONTHLY PHOTOS. I wish I would have taken more. Looking at your own “before, progress, after” photos etc. is a great motivator on down days once you have made some real progress. It also helps with powering through “plateaus.”
- Get a good caliper (see links) and learn to measure your body fat percentage and record this AND your weight at least weekly. Sometimes you might not lose weight for a few weeks even when strictly watching your calorie intake and working out hard. If you track body fat percentage during a long “plateau” you may find you have lost 2% “body fat” and gained the same amount of weight in muscle. This helps fight off natural frustration when the number on the scale stubbornly will not go down. I hit a bad plateau a few months in and my lovely wife Heather suggested that perhaps I wasn’t tracking the right “thing.” She pointed out that I looked better and different from a month earlier and that my clothing was loose and asked if I was tracking my actual “body fat percentage” instead of just my weight. I was not, and I felt like a fool. I started tracking body fat percentage just as fast as I could buy a caliper on Amazon (see links).
- Understand this … weight loss is simple. You have to eat fewer calories than you burn. What you burn each day in calories = you BMR (basal metabolic rate) + “Active Calories” (earned by exercise and activity). You must keep records (track everything you eat and your active calorie burn + BMR) to really know how you are doing towards your goal of a weekly calorie “deficit” which leads to weight loss.
- 3500 calories equals about 1 lb of fat. So, you need to average a 500 calorie a day “deficit” (BMR + Active Calories burned -minus- calories eaten / day) to lose a pound a week.
- YOU CANNOT EXERCISE YOURSELF INTO WEIGHT LOSS. New and very good science proves this. Our bodies are too adaptive. You MUST take in fewer and better quality calories. You also must vary your diet and exercise plan to avoid adaption and starvation mode. Both of these prevent healthy weight loss and can result in muscle loss. Exercise helps some and certainly helps with overall fitness, muscle mass, tone, energy, sleep, libido, etc. However, if you don’t eat a healthy diet and restrict calories to less than you burn, you won’t lose and keep off weight, period. See this article in Scientific American if you are (like me) the sort of person that likes to understand the details. The most important single point here is that your exercise MUST be 1) regular (daily) 2) something you can do and like enough to keep doing 3) varied enough to avoid adaptation plateaus and 4) has to fit realistically into your lifestyle and schedule.
- TRACK TRACK TRACK … I used my own spreadsheet (see Exercise pages on this blog) and also Weight Watchers for the first 8 months. I still use my own spreadsheet, but have stopped Weight Watchers for now because I am close to my goals and feeling pretty good. I am now using “MyFitnessPal” to track calories. MyFitnessPal also “links” to my Apple Health Kit app data on my iPhone and Apple Watch – saving a lot of time with data entry. My current goal is a 3500 – 5000 calorie a week “deficit” until I hit all my goals. You MUST be committed to some form of tracking for any “plan” to work. Now that I am much more fit, I do not track “steps” anymore. Instead, I have increased my cardio workouts in length and intensity and shoot for that magic 500 calorie a day average deficit. I look at a week at a time (not a day) and track calorie intake using MyFitnessPal and calorie burn via Apple Health Kit and using my tracking spreadsheet.
- You MUST drink enough water. This means “half your weight in ounces a day!” I.e. if you weigh 210 lbs you should be drinking at least 105 ounces of water a day. That’s a lot. I suggest getting a big, quality insulated cup. I use a 30 oz “Yeti Rambler” and fill it 3x a day with ice water (at least) at home. At work I drink SEVEN 16 oz bottles of water a day. It takes attention to manage this, but is well worth it.
- Consider supplements. I take a protein supplement (Invigor8) on heavy (weight training) workout days. I take multiple vitamins and supplements that effect metabolism, cartilage health, blood flow, micronutrient needs, etc. A list of the supplements I take (and why) can be found here.
- Consider getting a good FitBit or an Apple Watch or similar device to “auto-track” your activity, calories, heart rate, etc.
- Plan for down days. Do NOT let a bad day or a bad week completely derail your plan. Remember, DISCIPLINE, DETERMINATION, PERSISTENCE. Even so, sometimes you just are not going to feel motivated to work out as hard as you should, or eat what you should, or not eat what you should avoid. If you have a bad day, or week, or even need to take a break for a month – fine – don’t beat yourself up because this is pointless. Instead, set a date (soon) to get back in the saddle and dig in. See Taking on Plateaus for some good tips – and also consider your own version of my “green dot” 50FIT500 approach.
- Plan for rainy days. This does NOT mean to plan for failure. You MUST go into this planning, expecting and fully believing that you WILL succeed. That said, nobody is perfect. Everybody slips once in awhile. Everyone hits plateaus. You must expect this and start thinking of ways to attack and address “slips” “bad weeks” and “plateaus” BEFORE they completely knock you off the rails and you quit. Hopefully you will spend some time reading all this blog has to offer and find some good tips and ideas for how to approach these challenges to your success. There are also a lot of other resources out there on the web that can help. Read my story. Read about my mistakes. Read the Taking on Plateaus and For the Extremely Busy and Discussion pages. There is help and advice everywhere here. Use the resources on 50FIT500 and plan for those rainy days, down days, down weeks, little slips and plateaus and POWER THROUGH THEM TO SUCCESS.
Are You Ready To Get Started?
- First, outline your plan in general terms – in writing – include goals and timeline
- Plan to give yourself two more weeks than the weight you want to lose in pounds … if you want to lose 30 pounds … set a timeline of at least 32 weeks.
- Decide how you are going to TRACK DATA
- Take “before” photos and save them somewhere
- Measure your starting weight and body fat percentage – TRACK THEM
- Use the Nutrition pages to make a specific diet / nutrition plan
- Use the Exercise pages to build your custom workout strategy depending on what stage of the process you are in, age, current level of fitness, weight loss goals, etc.
- Remember water intake – half your body weight (lbs) in ounces a day
- Consider supplements
- Purchase any basic equipment you may need (see links) – i.e. dumbbells, yoga mat, resistance bands
- Make you own 50FIT500 “mantra” – or use mine
- Pick your start date … and dig in!
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