Everything You Need To Know About How to Lose Weight (And Keep It Off)

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Losing weight can be a frustrating experience. There are so many diet options that all seem to contradict one another:

”Bananas will ruin your testosterone and break ketosis”

”Animal fat will give you cancer”

”Bacon is the new Holy Water”

”You should eat lots of whole grains”

”Gluten will sneak under your bed and wait until you are at your most vulnerable”

Here’s a handy rule when considering a diet’s validity – “Does this diet require I completely eliminate any type of food?” If so, it’s bullshit.

You don’t have to stop eating your favorite foods to lose weight, and you don’t have to eat a bunch of crap that you hate. However, you do have to take ownership for your eating habits to create the change you want to see.

This article is a step-by-step guide to losing weight effectively and keeping it off. This article is rooted in the science of weight loss and doesn’t promise any magical transformations, but apply your willpower to the methods here and you won’t be searching for an article like this next year.


  1. Weight Loss is primarily affected by energy balance
  2. You consciously eat at your TDEE for at least 3 weeks before starting a calorie deficit.
  3. Heavy Weight Training > Cardio for weight loss
  4. Cardio is best used minimally at first and gradually increased
  5. You can either restrict calories gradually in steps (easier/slower results) or do an aggressive caloric restriction (harder/faster results)
  6. Cheat meals reflect an unhealthy relationship with food
  7. Refeeds, Diet Breaks, and “If it fits your calorie days” are healthier alternatives to cheat meals
  8. Losing the weight is half the battle, keep it off with Reverse Dieting


Dieting based on principles means that you can choose ANY method and it will still work. However, this does not work in the reverse order. Be sure your dieting efforts are based in sound principles not just another dieting fad.

It’s all about Energy Balance

The Primary determining factor of Weight Loss is your calorie intake. Specifically, the level of your caloric deficit.

Weight loss is simple in theory. You need to use more energy than you put in your body to lose weight. This is because our bodies can harvest energy from our tissues – such as fat or muscle.

Calories are the unit of energy we use to measure the energy content of food and how much energy we use during exercise.

So if we are eating 1500 calories per day and using 1800 calories per day then we create a 300 calorie deficit every single day. Our bodies make up for that by taking those 300 calories from itself.

Body fat is an efficient way for your body to store extra energy. If you’re overweight you have a very large excess of stored energy, therefore your deficit calories are likely to come from fat. Calorie deficits rarely affect muscle tissue significantly if you have a high body fat %.


Do food choices matter?

You can interpret this information to say “I can eat 1500 calories of fruits, veggies, and quality meats. Or I can eat 1500 calories of candy. As long as I’m under 1800 I’m good.” Technically this is accurate but in reality it’s not, mostly because things like candy are not going to fill you up. For this reason it is wise to adopt the approach of 80-90% of your food comes from filling foods and the remainder can be some sort of junk food.

Filling foods are foods that leave you feeling very full without completely eating up your calorie budget. Fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber, and lean protein rich foods are a solid foundation to build a weight loss meal plan on.

Eating vitamin rich vegetables and leafy greens may have an additional benefit on weight loss. In 2010 researchers published an article suggesting that the perception of hunger is altered in nutrient rich diets. That is to say that you can lessen the intensity of your hunger cravings by making sure the foods you do eat are rich in vitamins and minerals.

To answer the question – yes, food choices matter but not for the reason you think! The first, and foremost, factor determining your weight loss is your overall caloric intake. Food choices play a bigger role in making it harder or easier to stick to your diet in the long term.


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Know your TDEE – For Real

Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) refers to the amount of energy we use in a given day, typically measured in calories. It is composed of three parts – Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), Activity Thermogenesis (AT), and the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).

BMR is the amount of calories we use just to stay operational. This is the amount of calories you would use if you were in a coma.

AT refers to calories burned through activity, this can be further broken down into Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT) and Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT).

TEF refers to the amount of calories burned digesting the food we eat.

There are a lot of TDEE calculators on the internet, all claiming to be more accurate than the rest. In reality, they’re all pretty close.

As a bioengineer I can tell you that there is nothing more frustrating than trying to determine an absolute constant within a biological system. Let alone trying to determine the exact amount of energy a human is burning on a day-to-day basis. It’s going to change every day based on what activities they’re doing, how well they slept, what they eat normally, what they ate that wasn’t normal, etc…

This is why I say you need to know your TDEE FOR REAL. Start by using a calculator (Our Calculator) to get an estimate and adjust from there. Most TDEE calculations are accurate for ~90% of the population within an error of +/- 200 calories.

A common point of failure for people is that they use these calculators, cut the calories to 80% and then they start tracking their calories. This is setting yourself up for failure.

Instead, start tracking your calories at the TDEE suggested by the calculator and watch your weight. Is your weight going up? Then you need to decrease. Is it going down already? Then your TDEE is higher than the calculator predicted. Spend 2-3 weeks figuring out where your actual TDEE is.


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Learn what to eat at maintenance

When you’re figuring out your TDEE your also going to have to figure out what to eat on a regular basis. Leaning how to establish your eating patterns while at maintenance is important because you’re going to have a lot of questions that will make you feel stressed out if you’re also trying to restrict calories while answering them.

Should you eat 3 meals a day? 5? 7?! What about protein, carbs, and fats? How much of each should you eat? There are a lot of people on the internet that will tell you “You need to ‘x’ to lose weight.” But that recommendation is still just a guess. You’re going to have to experiment to find what’s best for you.

Contrary to the popular recommendation of the fitness industry to eat 1g per pound of bodyweight of protein, I find that I’m happier with significantly less (close to 0.6 g/lb). It may not be the perfect approach, but the okay plan you’ll stick to is a million times better than the perfect plan you’ll quit.

I recommend starting out as close to your current eating habits as possible and making small changes. For most people this means eating 3-4 meals per day and some snacking in between. So start with dividing your calories between those meals and focusing on eliminating snacking. You might find that works for you and you don’t need to experiment any further, OR you may find you still have the urge to snack and need to plan in an additional meal.

When you’re brand spanking new to weight loss you don’t have to worry about your macronutrient division as much as someone that’s relatively lean trying to get leaner. In reality, people with a lot of weight to lose need to focus on limiting their calorie intake and deciding on a minimum protein intake.

  • Your TDEE is your calorie limit.
  • To find your protein minimum start with 0.6 – 1.0 grams per pound of bodyweight per day (tend towards the lower end if you are heavier) and try keeping your minimum at that number for at least a week.

Remember – there is no perfect amount of protein to eat everyday for fat loss, it’s about finding an amount you can be consistent with.

Have a regular training regimen

This is another factor of weight loss that is best figured out BEFORE you go into a calorie deficit. If you’re completely untrained then you’ll actually see good results from staying at maintenance calories and starting a training program. People often set themselves up for failure by starting a very intense training program and a severe calorie deficit simultaneously. It’s simply too much new stress to keep up with.

If you’re starting a training program after being inactive for a long time then you need to resist the urge to do too much. Don’t start going to the gym for 2 hour long workouts 5 days per week, again it’s too much new stress. Start slow.

I’ve seen two different approaches to starting an exercise routine be consistently successful:

  1. Start with training 2x a week for one hour each.
  2. Start with training 5-7x a week for 15 minutes each.

The determining factor in figuring out which of these approaches works best for you largely depends on your personality and time constraints. Can you easily carve out a little time each day? Or does reserving two one-hour slots during the week for training match your schedule better? Whichever you pick, the determining factor in it’s effectiveness is your consistency.


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Picking a Training Program

You want to lose weight, so you go spend an hour on the elliptical – right? Wrong.

Don’t buy in to the BS that you have to do a ton of cardio to lose weight. Cardio can have a lot of benefits but if you don’t enjoy it, then there are much better options to consider.

Strength training has a profound impact on fat loss, especially if you are new to it. However, it’s important that you have ample guidance when you’re getting started. Ideally, a qualified trainer would design an effective training program for you to follow. Unfortunately, not all trainers are good at program design and they simply tell you to do what worked for them. Do your research when hiring a trainer – ask them tough questions, talk to their current clients, and try to find any reviews online for them.

Not everyone can afford a trainer, but that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to ineffective workouts. There are plenty of materials available that outline great strength training for beginners to learn from. The hard part about about this approach is finding a program geared towards true beginners and not intermediate exercisers.

This is why I wrote From the Ground Up, as a guide for people with absolutely no experience to build up their strength, lose weight, and start living a healthy lifestyle. If you’re looking for a book that really starts from absolute zero and takes you through all the steps of building a healthy lifestyle, this is the book you want to read.

Whatever kind of training program you choose make sure that it’s intelligently designed and allows for sufficient recovery. When I’m in a calorie deficit I need to take a ‘deload’ week every 4th week, while normally I can go 8-12 weeks between deloads. Taking the time to ensure your recovery is often overlooked despite it being so critical for long term adherence.

Should your program include cardio?

Firstly, if you genuinely enjoy doing cardio (running, biking, hiking, etc.) then continue to do it in an enjoyable fashion. However, if you’re like most of us then cardio is not the most fun thing you can imagine doing.

Cardio has a reputation of being the type of exercise that’s going to enable you to burn the most calories. This reputation is due to the fact that cardio can greatly increase your calorie expenditure while you do cardio. Lifting weights on the other hand won’t burn as many calories while you are lifting. However, the resulting muscle damage and subsequent healing of those muscles will use more energy over the course of 1-3 days! Essentially, cardio burns more now but lifting burns more over time.

That all being said cardio can have it’s place in your training routine to help with weight loss. The trick is to try and use the minimal effective dose of cardio. That is, you want to find the absolute smallest amount of cardio you can do while still getting benefits. The reason you want to do this is that our bodies can adapt to the demands of cardio quickly and we constantly have to increase to continue getting results. When a fun one-mile run turns into a mandatory 6-mile run, life just isn’t as fun.

I recommend doing 2-3 sets of some sort of High Intensity Interval Training, specifically on a bike or sprints. This way it’s very easy to start out low (2-3) sets and gradually add a set every 5-10 training sessions. It keeps the intensity at the edge of your abilities without increasing the volume to an unmanageable level.


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Restricting Calories

So now we’re finally at the sweet candy filled center of this article – Calorie Restriction.

As we discussed in the beginning of this article, food choice does matter in the sense that certain foods can make it easier to stay in a calorie restriction but there are no magic foods that you can start to eat or eliminate that will cause all the fat to melt away (Yes, that means you can even eat ice cream and pizza – within reason). Calorie Restriction is going to be the primary factor responsible for weight loss.

By now you should have an idea of what your TDEE is and what kinds of foods you can eat regularly while staying within your TDEE. Now it’s time to put those habits to use, restrict the calories, and watch the scale drop.

Have a plan when cutting calories

When you’re starting a calorie deficit it’s important to have a few things written down:

  • Current weight
  • Current TDEE
  • Goal Weight
  • Amount of time you’re willing to diet for (I limit myself to 12-16 weeks before I require a mandatory reverse dieting period).

From here you have two options – gradual dieting or aggressive dieting. In my personal experience one of these is usually better than the other but that changes for everyone. Personally, I like gradual dieting and tend to crash on aggressive deficits.

With a gradual dieting deficit you’ll want to have a series of steps planned for when your diet stalls. For example let’s say I have a TDEE of 2000 calories – I’ll make my planned steps 1800, 1600, 1500, and 1400 calories (90%, 80%, 75%, and 70%, respectively).

I’ll start at 1800 calories and keep track of my weight diligently. When I’m at a point that the scale hasn’t moved in 7-10 days I’ll go down to the next step. I’ll continue this plan until I’m at the bottom of my planned steps and I’ll need to either increase my training volume to continue losing weight or reverse diet back to a point that I can cut from again.

An aggressive calorie deficit will simply have one large cut from my TDEE (~70%). Aggressive calorie deficits have the benefit of facilitating faster weight loss however they can be harder to stick to as it is a more drastic change from your norm.


forget Cheat meals – try this instead

It’s inevitable, and we’ve all done it. You get through 5-10 days on your new diet and suddenly you look down and you’ve eaten a Big Mac, half a pizza, a bowl of ice cream, gummy bears, the other half of the pizza, and a snickers. After that meal you proclaim that that was your cheat meal which likely turns into an entire cheat day. It’s called the ”Screw it” effect.

When we restrict food, we want food more. Psychologically we don’t like being told we can’t have something. This is especially true for diets that eliminate food entire types of food like processed sugar, grains, meat, etc.

This is exactly why I am a supporter of the flexible dieting approach. No foods are “off limits,” but you are responsible for whatever you eat and you have to track it. If you want a burger, then have a burger but plan accordingly and be aware that it may make it more difficult to fit your overall calories later.

Let’s break down why people the reasoning behind a cheat meal and develop better strategies to meet the needs we feel are addressed during a cheat meal.

First and foremost, it’s normal to get to a point of calorie restriction where you’re exhausted and need to eat a little more than your restriction will allow. A good approach to this is to implement a refeed day. A refeed refers to increasing your calories back to your TDEE for a single day, usually by increasing carbohydrate intake. I find refeeds work best for me when the the increased carbs come from a 50/50 mix of whole plant sources (fruits, veggies, grains) and sugary sources (cookies, and snickers bars). Traditionally refeeds are limited to one day per week.

Secondly, some days we are sick of tracking the macronutrients to the degree we are and we just want to step back from the need to consistently track. For this it’s good to have a “if it fits your calories” day. On these days you’re not worried about carbs, proteins, or fats. You’re simply making whatever you eat fit within your calorie allotment. Again, it is wise to limit these to once per week.

Lastly, your willpower and determination have been worn thin over the course of dieting. When this happens you’re likely to slip up A LOT. It’s okay, it happens to all of us. When you find yourself regularly slipping every other day or so then it may be time to implement a Diet Break. A diet break is a week where you’re eating at your TDEE again. Diet breaks are amazing when you’ve been dieting for a very long time but aren’t ready to start reverse dieting yet.

Ordinarily we wouldn’t want to go from a large calorie restriction back to TDEE immediately because it’s possible to put on a lot of rebound weight quickly, however in the context of a single week it’s okay. However, if you find diet break week has turned into a month and you’ve effectively stopped dieting it is time to reverse diet back to your TDEE.

Weight Loss Supplements

As a rule – this entire category of supplements is a snake oil scam. 99.999% of the time someone is selling a pill for weight loss

Remember that the primary determinant of weight loss is going to be the caloric deficit you create through diet. There are no magic supplements that are going to miraculously make the fat disappear. However, there are supplements that can help make certain parts of the dieting process easier.


Caffeine can help weight loss through two indirect means – It can suppress appetite, thereby making it easier to eat less calories in a day. It also can increase the amount of energy we use in day during exercise (EAT) and outside of exercise (NEAT).

NEAT is often overlooked when people are trying to lose weight. NEAT is related to things like fidgeting or the amount of steps you take in a day. When you go into a calorie deficit NEAT starts to decrease, you can mitigate this by tracking your steps with a smartwatch or smartphone app that counts your steps.

Fat Burners

This is the motherload of modern day snake oil! Fat burners are often marketed as “thermogenic fat burners” and usually are just loaded with caffeine and other cheap ingredients that will make you feel like you have a fever. You’re better off just having the caffeine as a cup of coffee or in a pre-workout shake and saving your money.

Fat burners are going to rely on sleazy marketing methods to get you to buy their products. Rarely is the model that’s selling these products ever have to use them to lose the weight. Chances are they took it a handful of times after they lost the weight through diet and exercise.

If you come across a fat burner product and are considering buying it, remember that 99% of these products fall under one of two categories:

  1. It doesn’t work at all and is a waste of money
  2. It does work, but is detrimental to your health (2004 Ban of Ephedrine)

There is one case in which it’s okay to consider a fat burner supplement. This is when it’s very straightforward about the fact that you still have to exercise and be in a calorie deficit to lose weight AND 100% of the ingredients are listed as well as their amounts! If you see the terms ‘Proprietary blend’, ‘special blend’, ‘performance matrix’, or ‘thermogenic blend’ anywhere on the label DO NOT USE THAT PRODUCT!

Personally I have only found one brand that makes a fat burner falling under this category – Phoenix and Forge by Legion Athletics. If you’ve read some of my past articles then you know that one of the few supplement companies I will actually praise is Legion Athletics. This is solely because they are the only company I have seen that lists their ingredients, the amounts, and the studies they are referencing to justify their formulation.

Forge by Legion Athletics

Phoenix by Legion Athletics









Note: I am affiliated with Legion Athletics. I do receive a small payment when you purchase any Legion products through my links.

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The Aftermath – Keeping the weight off

I’ve mentioned Reverse Dieting a lot over the course of this article. That’s because it’s often overlooked at the end of dieting and it is absolutely crucial for keeping the weight from coming back.

In short, when we diet we have certain metabolic adaptations that occur that prime us for putting fat back on rapidly. Reverse dieting is a method of gradually increasing calories back to TDEE to mitigate this effect. You can read more in my article on Reverse Dieting.

In addition to reverse dieting it’s important to taper off the amount of work you put into your gym time to a more manageable level. This is only necessary if you feel like you cannot keep up the effort you’re putting in. Primarily, this means slowly reducing your cardio efforts.

With reverse dieting and slowly bringing down the amount of effort you are putting in at the gym you should start feeling like your activity level becomes more manageable without the dreaded ‘rebound’ weight gain.

The ideal is to become healthier in the long run and that takes a long term view on things. You have to look at your dieting efforts as a small piece of your whole life. Make sure whatever approach you take is one you can picture yourself doing consistently in 3 months, 6 months, a year, or 10 years. Because at the end of the day what you did won’t matter as much as how consistent you did it.


  1. Weight Loss is primarily affected by energy balance
  2. You consciously eat at your TDEE for at least 3 weeks before starting a calorie deficit.
  3. Heavy Weight Training > Cardio for weight loss
  4. Cardio is best used minimally at first and gradually increased
  5. You can either restrict calories gradually in steps (easier/slower results) or do an aggressive caloric restriction (harder/faster results)
  6. Cheat meals reflect an unhealthy relationship with food
  7. Refeeds, Diet Breaks, and “If it fits your calorie days” are healthier alternatives to cheat meals
  8. Losing the weight is half the battle, keep it off with Reverse Dieting