Before starting, I want to say that this advice is relevant to you whether you’re a vegan or not, and whether you want to do a bodybuilding show or you just want to get leaner.
My first “cut” as a vegan ended up being the best cut I’ve ever had: it went so well, in fact, that I decided to compete in a bodybuilding show, competing in classic physique and men’s physique with about 20 other men. I placed 4th, meaning I qualified for my first national bodybuilding show!
In this article, I’ll share with you the best tips I can give for getting lean, and I’ll show you why science backs up this advice. We’ll go through how to drop your weight safely and effectively. It’s not difficult, you don’t have to starve yourself, and I’m loving everything that I eat.
If you’d rather watch this content/ listen to it, check out my YouTube video on the topic!
Opening Thoughts/ Safe Weight Loss
What I’d like to say first is that this advice is for actually losing fat and looking leaner, not just stepping onto a scale and having it read you a lower number.
Let’s take a look at a quote from an article in the Journal of Athletic Training:
“Body composition adjustments should be gradual, with no excessive restrictions or unsafe behaviors or products. On average, weight loss goals should be approximately 1 to 2 lb (0.5 to 0.9 kg) per week but should not exceed 1.5% of body weight loss per week.”
If you’re a healthy individual looking to get a bit leaner for whatever reason, I would be very skeptical when reading about products or magazines that claim to make you lose weight much faster than this. We see it in the science everywhere, there’s one rule to lose weight: stay in a slight calorie deficit.
With that said, let’s get started!
Tip #1: Weigh & Track your Food
About a year ago, in October 2017, I started tracking everything I eat. This is where I saw the biggest, most consistent changes with controlling my weight, both up and down. Why? You can see much more accurately what you’re eating, adjust it to stay in a slight calorie deficit, and be conscious of how much you’re eating.
Let’s look at this article: “Can following the caloric restriction from Dietary Guidelines for Americans help individuals lose weight?” A study of 54 overweight/ obese adults were given a weight-loss goal. They were encouraged to track their calorie intake and calories burned daily, staying at a 500-calorie deficit.
Did it work?
Yes, and I’d like to bring up two points of interest from the data:
- The importance of tracking your calories.
- The importance of staying in a caloric deficit.
How important is tracking your calories? Let’s take a look at this graphic showing these results:
Does tracking calories help you reach your weight goal? (FIGURE 1)
Note: This graph shows the number of days that were and weren’t tracked on average, not the number of participants who tracked and didn’t track calories. This means that those who reached the weight goal had tracked calories ~83% of the time, and those who didn’t reach the weight goal tracked their calories only ~35% of the time.
In general, people who succeeded at losing weight tracked their calories more often, and people who didn’t reach their weight goal tracked their calories less often.
So, does that mean you have to track your calories? No! I’m sure you know people who have lost weight without tracking their calories, of course it can be done. It might be easier to lose weight if you track your calories, and you may be more likely to lose weight, but it is definitely not mandatory to track your calories.
In addition to looking at the effect of tracking calories, the authors looked at the effect of staying on a calorie deficit. Can you guess which was more important?
The effect of staying on a caloric deficit when trying to lose weight (FIGURE 2)
Those who managed to stay on their caloric deficit lost almost FOUR TIMES as much weight as those who didn’t. Is that really surprising? If you want to lose weight, have a caloric deficit, it’s as simple as that, that’s all there is to it. It’s in the literature everywhere.
So, do you have to track your food? No: there was a correlation between tracking calories and losing weight, but maintaining your deficit is a much better indicator of if you’ll actually lose weight.
Tip #2: Eat less processed foods
Eat less processed foods.
There is a plethora of evidence other than weight-loss why you shouldn’t eat foods that are very processed. For example, here are some recent research articles on the topic:
“Ultra-processed fats and sauces and sugary products and drinks were associated with an increased risk of overall cancer, and ultra-processed sugary products were associated with risk of breast cancer.” (Fiolet et al. 2018), a study on over 100,000 people.
Other similar articles this year:
Ultra-processed foods and cancer: (Monge & Lajous, 2018)
Ultra-processed foods might increase cancer risk (Gourd, 2018)
What are some benefits of eating something like vegetables over processed foods?
One benefit that David Goldman pointed out in Health Science was that non-processed foods are more “nutritionally dense and calorically dilute.”
What does this mean?
You can get more nutrients that your body needs and take in less unnecessary calories, making it easier to stay on a calorie deficit.
There’s no silver bullet that’s going to make you leaner; it’s as simple as staying in a calorie deficit and eating good food. Keep your long-term health in mind and don’t do anything dangerous. Talk to your doctor about everything.
Related readings/ journals
Carels, R. A., Young, K. M., Coit, C., Clayton, A. M., Spencer, A., & Hobbs, M. (2008). Can following the caloric restriction recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans help individuals lose weight?. Eating behaviors, 9(3), 328-335.
Drewnowski, A. (2005). Concept of a nutritious food: toward a nutrient density score–. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 82(4), 721-732.
Fiolet, T., Srour, B., Sellem, L., Kesse-Guyot, E., Allès, B., Méjean, C., … & Hercberg, S. (2018). Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort. bmj, 360, k322.
Gourd, E. (2018). Ultra-processed foods might increase cancer risk.
Horswill, C. (2009). The 1.5%-Per-Week Rule Part 1: Fat Loss.
Monge, A., & Lajous, M. (2018). Ultra-processed foods and cancer.
Monteiro, C. A., Levy, R. B., Claro, R. M., de Castro, I. R. R., & Cannon, G. (2010). Increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods and likely impact on human health: evidence from Brazil. Public health nutrition, 14(1), 5-13.
Moubarac, J. C., Martins, A. P. B., Claro, R. M., Levy, R. B., Cannon, G., & Monteiro, C. A. (2013). Consumption of ultra-processed foods and likely impact on human health. Evidence from Canada. Public Health Nutrition, 16(12), 2240-2248.
Turocy, P. S., DePalma, B. F., Horswill, C. A., Laquale, K. M., Martin, T. J., Perry, A. C., … & Utter, A. C. (2011). National athletic trainers’ association position statement: safe weight loss and maintenance practices in sport and exercise. Journal of athletic training, 46(3), 322-336.
All the best, take care!