I'm not a professional and talk only from my personal amateur experience, which I hope might help some people who like me struggled to be fit, lean and healthy at the same time.
If you think you can't loose weight think again: I have under-active thyroid, am genetically predisposed to obesity and have an office job, all of which make me a perfect use-case for a lot of people who want to get in shape. I have always struggled to reduce body fat percentage despite exercising regularly. From years of personal experience, ups and downs I wanted to share what made me drop 3 dress sizes in a year, because I understand how it is to be in a place where you suddenly notice it crept up on you and you are the size that makes you look older and destroys your self-confidence and no amount of dieting can help as it leaves you lifeless and limp with no energy and angry with the whole world. I though I would never wear a tight mini-dress, I have not even imagined in my wildest dreams that I could look good in hot pants, but now I fit into clothes I used to wear 10 years ago and not only that - they look better on me now than ever. The books and websites/links that helped me to achieve my goal are listed at the bottom. If we are all a bit fitter and healthier, our society will be happier and more productive. We can do this! Whatever size you are, if you just start and stick to it, you can change your life.
Before you even begin consider this: give it at least a month to see the results if you want a sustainable weight loss. Quick fix will only take you back to where you started from, leaving you disappointed about the wasted effort. Don't rely on your weighing scales, take a tape measure and write down the results every week on the same day - as you get fitter and body tightens up, you might loose inches, but you might not loose pounds or even gain a few, because fat tissue is bigger and lighter than underlying muscle. Don't worry, you won't become overly muscular - it requires a humongous amount of hard work to build muscle for women, because we have low testosterone levels unlike men, which stops us from gaining muscle easily. A bit of muscle is good: this is when body starts to feel less jelly-like and begins to take shape.
1. Eat healthier and more often. Starving slows down your metabolism and everything you lost will come back as soon as you get back to normal or even worse. If you feel hungry - eat. Split your meals into a few smaller portions and eat more often. Metabolism slows down when hungry, because it tries to preserve calories as natural defense mechanism to survive food shortage. It also adapts to the new lower calories diet, so keeping it guessing by having a higher calories days, when you don't restrict yourself that much helps to not get into stagnation where you keep eating less and less until you stop loosing weight no matter what. I always have high-carbs days every 3 days. I went as low on carbs as I could on all other days, but kept an eye not to over-do it by using test strips (Ketostix) - if you are getting a not healthy low amount of carbohydrates you get into ketosis state when level of ketone bodies in your blood is elevated and you almost stop loosing weight and start loosing valuable other nutrients at that stage. This is when you need to up the carbs immediately. I invested £30 into lunch boxes and never snack at work - carrying a prepared meal with you stops from buying that vending machine crisps pack. If you have a sweet tooth and can't help it - get diet protein muffins or cookies from sports nutrition websites. Eat healthy, lower your saturated fat intake: read labels - I tried to stick to any food that doesn't exceed 2.5g of fat per 100g (2.5%).
2. Stop drinking. Oh, yes, you can, I can guarantee you can unless you don't want to loose weight that much, in which case you wouldn't be reading this. The amount of calories alcohol has is a lot more than you think - it is pretty much as if it was pure liquid lard. Any time you exceed a recommended amount of alcohol units, your blood sugar levels go out of balance, which has residual effects on gaining weight as well as immediate calories that go in right in then and there; also you become dehydrated which makes you age faster as well as affects your physical performance.
3. Exercise. No matter what you body looks like - don't feel self conscious! Nobody looks at you in a gym, nobody stares at you in a park - people are busy doing their own things, it's all in your head! When I see large people in a gym these days all I have in my mind is respect for the effort to make themselves fitter, I think "you have willpower, well done, go for it!". Exercise at home or walk fast to work, jog, sprint, go to the gym - whatever your condition allows you to. You don't have to run yourself off your feet, don't start exercising too steep from the very start, trust me, you will get very tired and might loose your motivation, don't burn out straight away, remember, it is about a sustainable lifestyle change forever, not a quick fix that will not last. Sure, you won't be able to see the difference in a few days or weeks, be patient, give it a month, your body will begin to speed up your metabolism and that's when you begin to see the results. But don't just sign up with any gym. Consider a couple of important factors first. In my case, because I don't have to rush home straight after work, I signed up with the gym that is closest to the tube station on the way from work. It works, because the hardest bit of exercising is actually getting to the gym, not when you're already there. You think you will have enough will power to leave home for gym - I thought so, too, too many times I was wrong. I found no matter how strong the intention to get to the gym was it evaporated when I got home and it was the dead end despite the best intentions. If you have the opportunity, don't go home before exercising: more often than not you won't get to that treadmill. Too hungry to exercise? Have a banana or a protein shake, they have tasty chocolate flavors. If you can, hire a permanent locker, it's a great help, you won't need to carry your trainers and a lot of other stuff with you. I figured out it isn't about how much I paid monthly, it was about how much I paid for each gym visit - if I paid twice more, but went to the gym 3 times more often, it was cheaper per each visit. Would you rather spend little and not go than spend more and go regularly?
4. Hidden calories. I gave up full sugar fizzy drinks and started using honey instead of sugar in my hot beverages as I found I needed a lot less honey than sugar, so I consumed less calories with more taste. 1 spoon of sugar has 15 - 26 calories; honey has 6 calories more, but I found I needed 2 spoons of sugar yet just one spoon of honey to sweeten a drink as honey has more flavour. Having replaced full fat milk with skimmed took a bit of getting used to, but once you do, you can't imagine how you used to drink full fat, plus skimmed milk generally can have up to 10 times more calcium, which supports our bones. A lot of people I know use natural sugar replacements that have 0 calories, I don't as they don't work for me - they tend to leave after-taste, but not everyone dislikes them that much.
5. Learn cooking. Around 70% of weight loss depends on how you eat and 30% on how you exercise. I started with old Jamie Oliver's cooking DVDs that were engaging and very inexpensive. Having learned to cook saves a lot of extra fat they put into ready made meals to make them last longer on the shelves of shops, which you avoid when preparing your food at home. Not to mention it is a lot cheaper and more nutritious. Just to say I have not had a common cold or flu for a whole year now despite it making rounds at the office at work, that is how much difference it makes.
Books I found very useful:
"The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding", Schwarzenegger, Arnold, Dobbins, Bill
The book is primarily about weightlifting and building muscle. However, from personal experience, it helped to tone up, burn more calories from waist, back and underarms "kebabs". I think it's worth it. It has a lot of bodybuilding industry history, competition preparation details and nutrition tips there. One of the main bodybuilders' goals is becoming lean, loosing body fat and staying lean, which is described in the book a lot. Because muscle weighs more than fat, I'd not overly rely on weighing scales, but on tape measure. If you weigh yourself, it is good to do it once a week on the same day at the same time of the day, so you don't get the extra weight of what you drank or have eaten during they day that will sway the measurements.
"Tracy Anderson's 30-Day Method", Tracy Anderson
Very inspirational, although the whole method is based around training at home only. Some of us might find the space in city accommodation is not big enough to fully enjoy her training 🙂 but it gives a huge mental bust to keep going and get fitter, plus some detox recipes and yes, you can still do most of her resistance exercises in quite tight rooms!
"Jamie Oliver - Jamie At Home DVD", Jamie Oliver
Shows very simple down-to-earth cooking. Everything is available in the supermarkets and the tips are easy to follow. This is how I learnt the basics of cooking and can now cook absolutely everything from scratch.
"The Diet Delusion", Taubes, Gary
The book is very scientific. This is written based on medical scientific research and goes to analyze laboratory level blood content, diseases cause by incorrect nutrition statistics and myths. Not fun or easy to read, but pure facts. I found it very informative, yet difficult to read and take in - as if it is written for medical professionals.
"Kick the Drink - Easily", Jason Vale
Drinks have a lot of empty calories and also a lot of toxins are retain in our body tissues, which cause fat and water retention by itself. The book is in brainwashing style, but works.