Kimber Rozier, CSCS
I’m no mathematician. The most math I do on a daily basis involves adding 45lb plates and calculating total caloric intake. However, I do believe there’s a simple (rough) equation we can all apply to weight loss:
(2 x (Quality of Nutrition + Water Intake) + Intensity of Exercise) x Quality of Sleep = Quality of Weight Loss
Obviously, none of these variables have distinct, perfect values. And the word quality is highly subjective. But let’s dig in to the reasoning and how you can apply this simple equation to your weight loss.
Variables A and B: Nutrition and Water
Nutritional quality is the absolute foundation of any weight loss program. As the old saying goes, you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Calorie counting is complex, however, and can differ based on who you ask. Your best bet is to shoot for nutritional density over caloric density. Foods with high nutritional density, such as vegetables, weigh much more for the number of calories they offer, while calorie dense foods, such as chips, weigh much less and smother you with calories.
Get more nutritionally dense foods to eat less while staying satisfied. Focus on whole, minimally-processed foods featuring fiber and lots of water. Most vegetables and fruits fall under this category, which is why raw, plant-based diets have wild success. That doesn’t mean you have to eat foods you hate. Plenty of lean meats, good fats, fish, and whole grains offer the same benefits. Check out a few lists of nutritionally dense food here and here.
Finally, eager exercisers often neglect water. We’ve all been told we need 8 cups of water per day since we were children, but how often do we actually track that? When losing weight, the additional exercise you put your body through requires an even higher intake of water. We’re pretty bad at noticing slight dehydration, as people often lose 1-2% of their body weight of water before thirst kicks in.
Two problems with this - first, you’ll think you’re losing fat and weight when you’re just dehydrated. Second, metabolism relies on water to work effectively. Starve your body of hydration, slow down your metabolism.
Variable C: Exercise
Exercise intensity controls your weight loss, as it helps you get into a negative caloric balance. Combining low to medium intensity exercises with high-intensity intervals, such as circuits, Tabata, or any other HIIT, is a great way to plan the week. If you can use a day or two for “recovery workouts”, with long jogs, walks, or bike rides, that’ll help burn calories on those days while flushing out any residue of your hard sessions. Depending on your fitness level, anywhere between 2-4 days a week should feature high-intensity training for the best metabolic results.
For weight loss, coupling resistance training with cardio sheds fat the quickest. Muscle is where metabolism takes place, and the more you can build, the more your body will burn at rest. Therefore, make sure you get on a well-rounded, total body training program. An example week could look like this:
Monday - Total Body Lift
Tuesday - HIIT
Wednesday - Total Body Lift
Thursday - Light Recovery Swim
Friday - HIIT
Saturday - Total Body Lift
Sunday - Rest
However, if you don’t have time, can’t get into a gym, or just prefer long walks, that’s fine! Just get out and move more than you were before, dial in your diet, and minimize stress.
Variable D: Sleep
Sleep, metabolism, and appetite are closely related. Getting enough sleep will help you lose weight more than most realize, which is why it’s multiplied in my basic equation. According to research from the University of Chicago, those on a diet who received 7-9 hours of sleep per night lost significantly more fat than sleep-deprived participants. That might be because not getting enough sleep makes you hungrier during the day. It also adds to stress, which can be a trigger for many to reach for comfort foods.
The mechanisms in your body, including fat storage, serve one purpose - keeping you alive. The body is very good at adapting to any situation when it feels threatened. If it feels it’s in danger of survival, it’ll hold on to stored energy, also known as fat. Therefore, without adequate sleep and recover, high stress and muscle damage will limit your results. you’re not actively recovering from workouts, the stress levels, and muscle breakdown will limit results.
That’s why sleep multiplies the entire equation. It truly can make or break any diet or exercise program. Fix your sleep!
Product: Weight Loss
Mix them all together, let cook for a while, and you’ll eventually come out with weight loss. How long will it take? That depends, again, on that ever-vague descriptor of “quality”. Connect with a coach, nutritionist, or doctor if you’re having specific issues who can dial in a program for you. And get a good mattress to sleep on.