Last August I competed in my first bodybuilding competition. And the number one question I got afterwards was “What did you do to lose the weight?!”
This sounds familiar doesn’t it? When we see someone on Instagram or YouTube who has lost weight and looks great, most of us immediately want to know how. What did they eat? How did they exercise? What can we copy so we get the same results?
The thing is, I lost weight for my bikini competition by literally working my butt off. I trained consistently six to seven days a week for months. The last month I even went twice per day. I weighed out and counted all of my food, said no to countless social events with friends, and in the last month switched to eating the same foods every day.
That doesn’t mean YOU have to work that hard just to lose weight. In fact, you shouldn’t. But there are six things that I did that are worth trying if you’ve got a weightloss goal for the new year.
1. Lift weights
You’ve probably heard this over and over again but I’m still going to say it – Lift weights! Seriously. Before I started bodybuilding, I never went into the weight room. Mostly because I was intimidated by all the dudes and lack of women. I stuck to “female” things like the elliptical, yoga, dance class, etc. And while I did lose weight, my body didn’t really change. I just looked like a smaller version of myself.
And when I say lift weights I mean pick up a pair of 20 lbs dumbbells, not 2 lbs. Heavier weights do not equal more muscle. It just means you’ll burn more calories because it’s harder. Think about how many times a mom picks up her child, who probably weighs more than 10 lbs. Why are women so scared to pick up a dumbbell that weighs the same?
If you want abs, nice arms, a big butt….shape the muscle through weight lifting.
2. Stop doing hours of cardio
Cardiovascular exercise is great for your heart, but not so great for losing weight. Back in college I used to hop on the elliptical for over an hour every day. At first it worked. But after a while, it stopped being challenging and my weight plateaued. That’s because our bodies adapt really well to whatever stress we put it under. Remember that saying “It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger.”
During prep instead of spending hours on the treadmill I ran sprints. I think this made a huge difference for my body. I started at 10 minutes of sprinting (15 seconds sprint, 45 seconds walk) and worked my way up to 18 minutes by the end of prep.
Not only will you be done with your workout quickly, but you’ll benefit from something called the “after burn,” also known “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.” When you do steady state cardio like running, you’ll burn calories during the run only. But when you do a high intensity workout like sprinting, you’ll actually keep burning higher calories after you finish. One study said you burn about 200 extra calories after only two and a half minutes of sprinting.
3. Cook your own food
A lot of bodybuilders will cook all of their own food and portion each meal out into containers. I did this for most of my prep, even carrying my own food with me through airport security. If you’re not competing you definitely don’t need to be this extreme. But I do recommend you make 80 to 90% off your own food. Why? Because then you know exactly what’s in it.
Restaurants are in the business of making you food that is so good you want to come back. So they are going to add tons of salt, butter, sauces, and sugar to their food to make it delicious. Not to mention even if they post calorie counts online, those numbers probably aren’t accurate. If you’re trying to lose weight, cook your own meals during the week. Plus you’ll save money.
4. Cut out alcohol
I’ll admit I used to drink alcohol, especially in college. I was on my school’s dance team and boy did we like to party. But as I got older I realized feeling awful the next day just wasn’t worth it. Plus every time I drank, I would make poor food choices. So for the last few years I would stick to maybe one glass of wine with dinner.
But then I started prepping for my bodybuilding competition and stopped drinking completely. At first it was weird in social situations. I would be at a friend’s place and they would open a bottle of wine only for me to say no thank you. But guess what? None of them cared. In fact most people will completely understand if you say you’re not drinking.
Still not convinced? Remember that alcohol is empty calories. One 5oz glass of wine is about 123 calories. But you aren’t getting any protein, carbs or fat in it for energy to burn off. And multiple that by two drinks per night, four nights per week and you’re consuming almost an extra 1000 calories.
5. Learn to say no to food
This was the hardest lesson for me to learn. Turns out I have FOMO (Fear of missing out) when it comes to food. If my friends are eating something, I want to eat it too. But a lot of times what my friends are eating isn’t what I should be eating. I still remember talking to my coach, almost in tears, because I was sad to miss out on the annual lobster pot luck my friends have every year.
Now if you’re not competing, don’t feel obligated to skip out on important food events like weddings, holidays, or special dinners. But if it’s just a regular Friday night and your friends are having pizza and beer, learn to say no thanks.
This also goes for free food. It is my weakness. For some reason if I’m offered free food, especially at work, I always feel the need to eat it. But the thing is I’m a grown-ass woman with a job. I can buy my own food. So can you. If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t grab the office donuts just because they’re free.
6. Track how much you’re eating
During my prep I followed IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros). Basically the theory is as long as you eat a specific gram amount of carbs, fats, and protein each day, you can eat whatever you want. Now I still stuck to “bro” foods like chicken, sweet potato, rice, and brussels sprouts. But with IIFYM, I could swap in a protein bar or even a glass of orange juice if I really wanted. Heck one night I even treated myself to some coconut ice cream.
But what is most helpful about IIFYM is that it teaches you portion size. If you’re familiar with it from social media, you’ll see that a lot of people don’t like it because some get obsessive about it. But honestly, that’s not the fault of IIFYM. People can become obsessive about anything! For example some people who “eat clean” can get super obsessive about only eating unprocessed foods. That doesn’t make that way of eating bad. It just means you need to take an honest look at yourself and decide if you need help not going off the deep end.
By weighing out all of my food, I started to realize what was a good portion size for me. Typically each meal was about 4oz of meat, 200g of a starch like rice, and 150g of a veggie. And by keeping track of how I felt afterwards and how my body responded (with weight loss) I could finally understand how much I should eat. IIFYM isn’t magic. There are no magic numbers to hit. It’s just data. You have to collect it, analyze it, and make changes for it to work. But it does work.
One last point…
One last point that I forgot to put in my video is whatever you do, you have to do it consistently. I went to the gym every day for months. I said no to extra food every day for months. Losing weight doesn’t happen overnight. In fact it shouldn’t. Doctors say a healthy rate is 2 lbs of weight per week, tops. If you lose weight faster, you’ll risk losing muscle. Not to mention feel like crap. Every day wake up with the decision to stick to your workout or diet goal for that day. And eventually the scale will follow.