- Alex Styl
For those of you that have yet to visit Greece, I have to warn you that it is a food paradise. The land is filled with juicy vegetables and fruit. Our cuisine is rich in dishes suitable for everyone's taste palette. The food is made to be shared. Most of our traditions are accompanied by feasts. Take the traditional Greek Easter for example; we gather our friends, family and neighbors, we spit roast the biggest lamb we can get, drink lots of wine and we dance.
I grew up, similar to most Greeks I know, to adore food. It is considered rude to leave the table unless your plate is empty. There was never absence of food at home and my mother's home cooking was (and still is) just perfect. It's hard to point out exactly what caused it but I always had issues with my weight. It started off being chubby and then grew up to become overweight. The largest I have ever been was 112kg (around 247 pounds). Despite being fairly tall and most people kept telling me how "it doesn't look bad because you are tall", it was something that was really bothering me.
While growing up I tried many different ways of losing weight which all ended up in yo-yo dieting. Yo-yo dieting is when an individual does some sort of crash diet, succeeds in losing weight for a few months and then re-gains the same amount (if not more) right after. I tried eliminating carbs from my diet, gave the Dukan Diet a go, intermittent fasting, OMAD (one meal a day) and any diet method I could find. The weight kept coming back.
Taking a different approach to weight loss
It was in 2018 that I started looking at things differently. I started thinking about how I wanted my life to look like after a few years time and the kind of person I wanted to become. That person was someone whose family and close friends can rely on, no matter what. There was one contradiction. How could I become that person if I didn't know how to take good care of myself? I realised that it would be incredibly hard for me to be there for them if I felt tired all the time. The feelings of self-doubt would get the best of me.
I decided to approach weight loss from a different angle. This time I wanted to truly understand what weight loss is, how my body worked and what it meant to lose weight. Fast forward to today, I am currently sitting at 85kg, the lightest I have ever been, and I grew a love for cooking, nutrition and weight lifting. I keep receiving questions from people that hear about this, so I decided to write this article to share with you what I learnt and what helped me through this journey.
Do not take this article as dietery or medical advice. This article is missing a lot important details on weight loss and many concepts have been simplified. It describes what worked best for me to get started with weight loss. It might make you see weight loss differently or spark some ideas on how to approach it. What works for one person, might not work for an other. Always do your own research and consult your doctor.
Weight Loss is not the same as Fat Loss
When it comes to dieting and weight loss, you will hear the term 'weight loss' everywhere. This term implies that for one to reach their goal, all they have to do is somehow make the number on the scale go down. This is not correct. The scale can tell you how much your body weighs at a given moment. This includes the weight of your muscles, the weight of water or food you just had, your bones and so on. No one wants to have their muscles shrunk. The focus should be on losing fat instead.
Your body weight can fluctuate a lot through the day. Because of this, it is recomended to weigh yourself on the same time of the day, at the same internals, i.e. every morning right after going to the bathroom. It is also recommended to check the average of your weight per week. This can help you understand if your weight goes up or down over time (trend). If you own a smartphone, high chances are your phone can already average out your weight if you track it digitally.
How we gain and lose fat
The food and drinks we consume fuels us with energy to walk, dance, think and so on. Our bodies require a set amount of energy to function properly. Even while resting, your body uses energy. If we take in more energy than our body can use, that energy is stored in our body for later use. If we take in more energy than we can use, we gain fat. When we use more energy than what we take in, we lose fat. The amount of energy we get via foods or drinks is measured in calories.
The amount of calories burned in a day is formally referred to as Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE for short). It consists of the calories used by your body for vital functions (Basal Metabolic Rate, BRM for short), the physical activity through the day (such as exercise or fidgeting) and the energy required for your body to digest, absorb and metabolise food (Thermic Effect of food). BMR burns the majority of calories through the day.
There are calculators online to calculate your TDEE. They cannot be fully accurate but they help a lot. Having that number in my mind made tracking calories much more meaningful to me. It was the tool I needed in order to be aware of how much food is too much for my body.
Keeping track of calories does not start easy for sure. I had tried calorie tracking a few times in the past. Given that I understood a bit better what calories are, I was more keen to give tracking another go. In order to make the process easier, I tracked everything I ate but fruits and vegetables. I knew that fruits can be high caloric, so I kept them to a minimum. Even though the measurements of what I ate were off, it made it much simpler for me to get started. When I started, I set a calorie deficit of 100 calories to see how things will work out.
The first month, I think that I barely got myself to eat in a deficit. It was not as if the food was not enough – I found myself underestimating the calories in some food. Other times, someone at the office would bring birthday cake or celebratory donuts. Being able to resist the 'be-nice-say-yes' voice in your head takes time. In the long run, calorie tracking taugh me how calorie-dense each food is and enabled me to make better decisions through the day.
Losing fat does not mean feeling hungry
One of the things I was not willing to sacrifice in order to lose fat was my mental health. I know that when I am feeling hungry, I get cranky and everything around me is to blame. Luckily, as it turns out, the amount of calories that you eat have nothing to do with how hungry you feel.
Voluminous low calorie foods are Godsend for fat loss. I tend to eat tons of spinach and add veggies in my dishes to make me feel fuller. My go to snack is pop-corn, which I have every other day. Popping 50 grams of corn without using any oil or butter has less than 200 calories and it makes a tub of food! 0% fat Greek yogurt is another one of my favorites. 200 grams can be around 108 calories and a great base for desert.
Different food can have different satiating effects. Potatoes are known to be one of the most satiating foods out there. Knowing how satiating different types of food can be leads to better food choices. For example, snacking on apples is a great way to cut down on hunger in between meals, compared to cookies.
Last but not least, there are tons of low or no calorie alternatives to food you might be having daily. A 330ml can of Coca-Cola contains 139 calories. The diet version of it contains 0. If there is a kind of food you cannot live without, see if there is a lower calorie version.
Some might argue at this point that having soft drinks or sweets might not be healthy. They might also argue that people who want to lose fat have to cut them down entirely. Rome was not built in a day though. No one can change their habbits overnight. The intent here is to keep changing the habits you have built through the years, gradually, into healthier ones. It is natural not to do everything perfectly at once. As long as you are better than how you were a week or a month ago, that marks success in my book.
You do not need to go to the gym to lose fat
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go to the gym to lose fat. Your body does not mind how much you can sweat through exercise. Feeling 'sore' from working out doesn't burn off more fat either. As mentioned earlier, losing fat is a matter of using more energy than what you consume.
I am not advocating against exercise. Quite the opposite. Exercise is a fun way to stay healthy, relieve stress and feel happier. It also helps with maintaining muscle tissue while trying to lose fat. You have already heard the myriad of benefits it brings. Exercise has a bad rap as it is often seen as a chore.
I am a strong believer of the idea that there is a type of exercise for everyone to enjoy. If you are looking for ideas, Wikipedia lists 8000 different sports and sporting games. Exercise does not have to be something you see at the olympic games or on TV. Even a 1 mile walk (~1.6km) can burn about 100 calories, total of 700 calories a week. Walking has the added benefit of allowing you to explore your surroundings. Maybe you will discover your next favorite coffee shop by walking around your city. It can be the perfect time for that podcast you always wanted to listen to but never found time for.
The problem arises when people try to exercise too hard to speed up the fat burning process. Even though that should work on paper, in reality it doesn't. Instead it leads to exhaustion and lack of motivation, ultimately leading to giving up both exercising and dieting.
Be careful who you trust
There is a lot of misinformation about health and weight loss out there. We find ourselves idolising our favorite TV heroes and movie stars and admire their impressive looks. Social Media is filled with Instagram models and body builders with outstanding physiques. Being exposed to so much 'perfection' can make the viewer believe that all of this is real. It is not.
High chances are the god-like figures you admire are either CGI (images generated with the help of a computer, similar to Photoshop) or cannot be acquired naturally. Steroids can give super-human growth, yet no one talks about it. This doesn't mean that the person did not work hard to achieve such results. It may take years of determination, hard work and strict dieting. Even if two people follow the same process, put in the same effort and diet, the results are greatly affected by their genetics.
It is, therefore, unfair to mislead people into believing that getting abs in 7 days or losing targetted fat is achievable simply by buying some online training course or attempting some intense fitness challenge. The number of likes and followers one has does not make them masters of a topic. It makes them masters at marketing their work. Always do your own research and make sure to check as many sources as you can. This includes this article as well. Josh Brett has made an excellent video titled The Dangers of Tiktok Fitness on this topic. I highly recommend watching it when you get the chance.
The journey is not over
After failing multiple times to lose weight, I knew that something had to change. I see a common pattern across all attempts; multiple failures and multiple attempts. I still eat more calories than I should every now and then. Sometimes it is on purpose as I want to try making some new recipe or indulge in some traditional Greek dish. Other times it is entirely by accident. Life happens. The difference now is that 'failing' doesn't affect me anymore. Maybe I will have less calories the next day, or lower the calories I eat in total through the week. It is a lifestyle that I enjoy rather than an obligation.
Now that I feel more energetic than even, I channel all this energy into designing and building my business. You can follow me on Twitter to follow along this journey, where I share everything I learn as I grow my business.