We’ve all been there. A new year rolls around—you stare at yourself in the mirror and say “this year I’m going to lose weight, and get fit.” As a Personal Trainer, people often ask me how to lose weight and gain some toned muscle, so I’m going to share with you my top tips for getting started on your fitness this year. But first, let me rewind to a year ago.
Weight Loss—How I Got to 10% Body Fat
A year ago, in January 2015, I weighed in at 141 pounds at 15% body fat. That’s already fairly lean—it’s the kind of build that most guys feel could be attainable. I looked as though I lifted weights, and I could see 2 rows of abs…but only if I flexed them.
I wasn’t always this lean, and had been overweight in the past…but more on that in a future post. For now, I was content with my physique.
Every time I went above 14% body fat, I launched myself into a weight-loss phase, to bring myself back to my target. This helped me look the same all year round, even though I was doing small cutting and bulking phases throughout the year.
There’s a growing pressure for not only women to look good, but also men. Every day we’re bombarded with images of scantily clad men and women, toned all over. We stare at the pictures, and then later (whilst looking in the mirror and sucking in our gut) we feel inadequate.
As a Personal Trainer the pressure can be even greater—I have to look much better that the average man; as I like to say “you wouldn’t go to a dentist with bad teeth, so why would you go to an overweight Personal Trainer?”
Back in January I was flicking through Men’s Health, and wondering, “why don’t I look like that?” My wife pointed out, “It’s their full time job to look good…and they probably don’t have kids to look after.” Deflated, I agreed and worked on getting myself back to my maintenance weight.
How to Lose Weight: Step 1
Believe You Can and Visualise a Goal
Fast-forward to August, and I’d let myself increase to 15.8% body fat—probably still not noticeable to most people, but it was on the high end of where I like to maintain myself. It was time to trim again. In the back of my mind, I wasn’t sure that I could much lower than 14%, and did I really need to lose weight anyway? I’d found that as my body fat got lower, the next 1% reduction got even harder.
Many people I’ve met, would like to lose a couple of stone. They go through similar self-doubt—“I’ve always been overweight”, “I can’t seem to lose weight, no matter what I do”, “I think there’s something wrong with me.” After starting a ‘new diet’ and then giving in to a chocolate bar in a moment of weakness, they say to themselves “I’ve blown my diet—I don’t know how to lose weight!!”, and then they gorge themselves on ‘forbidden food’, making it a reality.
Make a real change for yourself—believe that with the right choices, YOU CAN DO IT! “OK…I’m gonna do it,” I thought to myself. I set myself a new goal: “I want to reach 10% body fat and have clearer separation in my abs. I also want bigger shoulders.” I visualised what I wanted my abs and shoulders to look like, and kept thinking about that mental picture every day. That helped me to make better choices during the day and solidify my goal.
Many clients of mine really struggle with imagining themselves—“but I’ve always been fat!” they tell me. They find it hard to visualise themselves any different. So try to pick some body parts, and imagine how you want those body parts to look. Perhaps cut them out of a magazine and stick them on the fridge, to remind yourself every day.
How to Lose Weight: Step 2
Create New Habits
Having routines and automatic responses to situations (habits), frees up our brain to think about other things and day-to-day unexpected challenges. Like that one night when I was at home on my own, looking after my children. I was trying to cook us a healthy dinner; I had one child crying that they wanted to watch “Frozen Fever” for the 7th time that evening, and the other standing legs apart by the toilet with a little ‘accident’ on the floor, having not quite made it in time…then the doorbell went!
Changing habits takes time, and lots of repetition. In a study of 96 volunteers by University College London, they found that the average time it took to create a habit was 66 days, so prepare for the long haul.
In a later study on the Experiences of Habit Formation, by University College London, they analysed habit development for participants in a weight loss programme. Subjects were asked to perform habits in response to a situation trigger, such as ‘‘walking for ten minutes after breakfast.” They discovered three key themes to successful habit formation, which I’ve paraphrased below:
1. Make preparations before you get started: For example, clearing out all the junk food from your cupboards, and ensuring that there’s lots of healthy food at home. I usually ask my clients to keep two sandwich bags with 28 grams (1 ounce) of nuts in their bag, so whenever they are held up and can’t get to food, they always have something at hand, to avoid reaching for a chocolate bar. Buy healthy groceries for the whole week, and prepare packed lunches and snacks each day.
2. Continual repetition makes a new habit: Each time requires less effort and makes it feel more automatic, the more often you do it. Think about having a checklist that you tick off every day, so that you feel the satisfaction of ticking off your new habit.
3. Plan your new habit to occur every time there is a specific event: For example, it could be going for a walk before eating at lunchtime, walking instead of driving for your groceries, eating a salad at lunchtime instead of a sandwich, bringing a packed lunch when you go somewhere with poor food choices. Some people in the study who had cues related to work, found it a little more difficult at the weekend, so try to choose situations that happen daily where possible.
In my “fatter” days I used to drink 3 or 4 extra large coffee shop a lattés a day. At nearly 300 calories per drink, I was consuming 50% of the recommended daily calories for a man, just in coffee! Once I became aware of this, I made a simple switch to drinking an Americano with a splash of milk.
Another “fat” habit I had was to buy a burger meal every night after work to eat on the way home on the train—I changed the habit to salads or sandwiches.
The main new habits I created for myself in the latter half of last year, were training my shoulders first in the workout (and increasing the resistance), a greater focus on ab exercises, shorter rest periods and high-intensity intervals for fat loss, salads for lunch, and less calorific snacks.
My New Year’s Resolution for 2016
I’ve achieved my goal, so what’s my New Year’s resolution for this year? Well they say that if you publicly commit to it, you are more likely to achieve it. This year I’m planning to add 6 pounds of muscle, and maintain the same level of body fat. I don’t want to add any more fat to my frame, so I plan to prioritise body fat over muscle. Check back with me in a year to see whether I achieved it.
Wishing you all the best for your New Year’s resolutions,
George D. Choy
Personal Trainer & Calisthenics Instructor
Gymnacity in Oxted, Surrey, United Kingdom
- What’s your New Year’s Resolution?
- How are you doing so far?
 Phillippa Lally; Cornelia H.M Van Jaarsveld; Henry W.W. Potts; Jane Wardle; (2010) How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40 (6) 998 – 1009.
 Phillippa Lally, Jane Wardle & Benjamin Gardner (2011): Experiences of habit formation: A qualitative study, Psychology, Health & Medicine, 16:4, 484-489