How to NOT Suck At Losing Weight

This post title pays homage to Baker’s “How NOT to Suck at Blogging” over at ManVsDebt.com.  Baker’s the man, so make sure you check out his stuff!

So you want to lose weight.

You’ve finally hit that point where you’re ready to mix things up: you stepped on the scale and it was too damn high, you had to buy a bigger pair of pants, or you reached the top of the steps and you were exhausted.  Whatever your reasons are for reading this, I’m glad to have ya – you need to start somewhere, right?  Might as well make today the day.

When it comes to weight loss, I’ve heard every kind of story from people who have tried and eventually quit.  The moral of each story is this: they sucked at losing weight – there was a fundamental flaw in their plan that doomed them from the start.  I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to you so you’re not wasting your time.  Before we start, please know that everything listed below is my personal opinion, based on my own research and my experiences with helping people lose weight.  Take what works for you and ignore the rest of it.

Change your Mind

If I were a gambling man (which I DEFINITELY am), I’d wager that you’ve tried to lose weight before.  Whether it was a specific diet, or a new fad, a weight loss challenge at work, or a diet pill that you saw on TV, you probably lost a few pounds and after two weeks you went on vacation, got sick, or found last year’s Halloween stash of Peanut M&M’s and gave up.  What we need to figure out is why were you unsuccessful in the past, and what went wrong:

  • How much did you REALLY want to lose that weight?
  • Were you willing to cut back on drinking?
  • Did you really give up fast food?
  • Did you get lazy and start ordering pizza all the time?
  • Did you half-ass it?
  • Did you get sick and give up after you got healthy?
  • Did you have one bad day and then not keep going?

It all starts with your mental attitude.  I know that sounds lame (and it is lame), but it’s the truth.  If you’re not committed to this whole weight loss thing for the right reasons with the right attitude, it ain’t gonna work.  Some famous guy once said “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”  Figure out what will make this time different, and recognize the old habits when they start to creep in -  if you can stay away from these triggers, you’ll have a better chance of survival.

Your Diet is 80% of the Battle

You can’t outrun your fork, so just going to the gym isn’t going to solve your problems.  Sure, exercise is a big part of being healthy, but it’s your diet that really takes that cake (which is better than you taking the cake.  The cake is a lie!).  I’m going to guess you probably didn’t want to spend five hours a day in the gym anyway, so this should come as good news.

I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again: if you exercise 10 hours a week (which is a considerable amount of exercise if you’re used to sitting on your ass), you still have 158 hours to screw things up.  If you want to lose weight, you absolutely need to make changes to your diet.  There’s no way around it.  Just twenty to thirty minutes a day of physical activity to get your heart race pumping is enough to keep you healthy (along with a good diet).  Find something you enjoy doing, and do it all the time.

Don’t Blame Your Genetics

So you have big bones, a thyroid issue, a slow metabolism, etc.  Whatever your issue…and I’m going to put this as nicely as possible…”tough sh**.”  That’s the hand you were dealt.  If you asked for 150 less pounds, the big man upstairs would say “go fish.”  You’re going to have to earn it.

Some people can lose weight quickly.  Some people can look at a set of weights and get jacked.  Ya know what?  That’s how life works.  Wherever your starting point is, whether it’s 20, 50, 100, 200, or 500 lbs. overweight, that’s all it is: a starting point.  Some people get a head start, most don’t.  Complainers and excuse-makers suck.  The people that succeed are the ones that assess their situation, shut their mouths and get the job done.

Don’t Diet

Going on a diet sucks.  It’s extremely restrictive, it forces you to deprive yourself of anything tasty, and once you’re done with it you balloon right back up to where you started.  Why waste your time?  A diet will not change your life; it’s a change in your lifestyle that will change your life.  Today, you’re going to skip Taco Bell after work – not because you’re on a diet, but because the new you just doesn’t eat there.  (I don’t care that they have new special black taco shells either; it’s just food coloring).

Now, it’s up to you to determine how different this new you really is.  The more you try to change all at once, the higher chance you’ll have at giving up.  You need to find a good balance of changes, slowly incorporating new things into your routine.  This brings me to my next point:

Make Small Changes, Relish Small Victories

If you try to change everything at once, you’re going to get overwhelmed.  If you generally make ten trips a week to McDonald’s and drink five cases of Mountain Dew, switching to all vegetables and water will probably drive you bonkers.

Instead, pick one thing a week and change it. Switch from white bread to wheat bread, white rice to brown rice, regular soda to diet soda, diet soda to water, give up one extra meal a week from the BK Lounge, stop going to the vending machine at your office, etc.  Analyze your diet, find one thing a week to change, and eventually you’ll get to the point where you don’t even miss it anymore.

Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I guarantee that first time one of your co-workers asks, “hey, did you lose weight?” it’s going to feel amazing.  Build on that victory and keep the momentum going. A body in motion tends to stay in motion (thanks Mr. Wizard!) – once you get the ball rolling, keep it rolling.  If this week’s weigh-in isn’t as low as you had hoped, don’t let it slow you down.  Think big picture and keep doing what you’re doing.

Use Your Brain

3500 calories = 1 lb. of body fat.

If you consume 500 less calories per day (or burn 5oo extra calories per day with exercise), you will lose a pound per week.  So what’s easier: saying no to a big gulp of Mountain Dew, or running 5 miles?  Doing the Dew is 500 calories.  Running five miles burns 500 calories.  Why not skip the soda and skip the five miles?  You stay even.  If you skip the soda AND run the five miles, you’ll lose a pound.  It’s really a numbers game.

You overachieving readers are already wondering: “If 500 calories less per day will make me lose one pound, then 1000 calories will make me lose two pounds, and 1500 will help me lose three pounds…”  This is true, sorta.  You really shouldn’t aim to lose more than 1% of your body weight per week.  If you weight 200 pounds and you want to weigh 150, aim two pound loss per week.  Don’t get too greedy, or things might backfire.

Don’t Starve Yourself

If you plan on cutting your food intake to 600 calories a day to lose weight, it won’t work.  When you start to deprive your body of food, your body’s genetics kick in and decide to revert back to caveman times when food wasn’t abundant.  It flips on the “starvation switch”  and starts to horde every calorie that comes through your system.  Thus, you stop losing weight.  Then, when you start eating normally again your body is still in starvation mode and all of THOSE extra calories get stored too.

Suddenly, you’re bigger than you were before.  Suck. 1-2 pounds a week is a safe, obtainable, sustainable goal. Don’t get too crazy, or your plan will backfire.

How to Lose Weight

Okay, so now you understand how it works.  You did your reading, and you want to know what to eat to lose weight.  You really have two options:

  • Keep eating what you’re eating now, but eat less of it.
  • Change what you’re eating.

If you want to keep eating what you’re eating now: you’ll need to count calories.  Yeah, I know…it blows.  Well, you’re the one that wants to keep eating Firehouse Subs, Lucky Charms, and Papa John’s.  Here’s what you do: sign up for a free account at Gyminee.com and spend a few days keeping track of EVERYTHING you eat and drink.  A half a can of Coke counts,  a handful of your kid’s Goldfish count.  The two light beers after work definitely count.  I guarantee you eat more calories than you think.  After a few days, you can start pinpointing places where you can cut stuff out or reduce your portions.  At this point, it’s up to you to stick with it.

If you don’t want to keep track of what you’re eating: You’re going to need to make some changes to your diet. First and foremost, dump the soda. Switch to diet soda if you must, but know that it might be making you fat too. Next, you need to recognize that it’s not the fat content in foods that is making you fat, it’s all of the processed carbs and starches in your foods.  What do I mean by that?  READ ON!

Eat Real Food

Stop loading your system with junk food.  Eat real foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean meats.  GET RID of simple carbs and starches, which can be found in: cookies, soda, crackers, rice, pasta, bread, candy, cereals, bagels, french fries, juice drinks, Gatorade, sweet Tea, and so on. No matter the calorie and “fat content” of these things, it’s the carbs and sugar content that jack up your system and make you fat.

Screen shot 2009-11-09 at 8.18.10 AM

Although I’m actually trying to bulk up, switching to a more natural Paleo Diet (which I explain here) has caused me to lose close to 10 pounds in the past three months.  I haven’t lost any muscle, I’ve just dropped my body fat % WAY down.  If it can work for me, and it can work for tens of thousands of people across the country, it can certainly work for you.

Give up the low-fat meals from the freezer section (they’re made in a lab with chemicals and loaded with sugar), and eat all the vegetables and lean meats and fruits you want.  If you switch to all fruits, veggies, and lean meats, you WILL lose weight.  I explain my take on the Paleo Diet in my free E-book (hey shameless slug!), but it makes a lot of sense, and it works.  As I said at the beginning, this is the lifestyle that works for me and has worked for many of my readers.

Eat Breakfast

This is a must.  If you skip breakfast, you’re way more likely to be starving by the time lunch rolls around and eat something stupid.  This is the most common change I see in people who have turned their lives around.  DON’T SKIP BREAKFAST.  I’m not talking donuts, bagels, or sugary cereal either.  Eat a good, high protein breakfast and you’ll have a much better day.

Don’t Use Supplements

This is non-negotiable.  Every single day, there’s a new ad for a weight loss supplement that promises incredible results in a short amount of time without having to do any diet or exercise change.  When something seems too good to be true, it’s because it is.

These weight loss supplements don’t work and they can cause some serious damage to your insides.  Remember Hydroxycut? It was on the market for like 8 years before it was pulled from the shelves for being linked to liver damage.  Think about all the junk out there now.  I guarantee eight years from now some of it will have caused a few deaths.  Why risk it!

Better safe than sorry. Losing weight should be important to you, but not at the expensive your overall health.  My advice: keep your money, spend it on a session with a dietitian or personal trainer, and thank me later.

Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

It’s okay to slip up.  So you drank a case of Bud Light and watched 10 hours of football on Saturday while eating an entire box of Girl Scout cookies.  Who gives a ****!  You can’t do too much damage to yourself in a weekend (unless you decide to start snorting Drain-O or something), so take it easy with your food consumption for the few days after that and get back on the train.  One or two days isn’t terrible; it’s when you let that one day snowball into a few days/a week/a month that things quickly go to hell.  Never give up, never surrender!  Buzz Lightyear would be proud.

Make Yourself Accountable

Tell everybody you know that you’re losing weight.  It’s one thing to let yourself down when you skip a workout and pig out every other day, it’s another when you have to tell everybody around you that you’re slacking.  Be like Tyler, who started a blog back in January to keep himself accountable and has since lost 120+ pounds.

“But I tried that last time and then I failed, nobody is going to believe me this time.”  That should make you want to tell everybody even more to prove the doubters wrong when you are successful this time.  Accountability is a really powerful motivational tool, and it’s completely free.

Use it.

What Did I Miss?  What is Your Change for This Week?

I’m sure there are a few things I left out, which need to be in here to keep people from sucking.  What did I forget? Leave in the comments and I’ll edit them into the article for future readers.

What’s the one change you’re going to make this week?

-Steve

###

In case you missed it, here’s the other “how not to suck” post: How to NOT Suck at Working Out.

Picture from:  Joits, Augapfel

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  • http://twitter.com/265andfalling Steve

    Awesome article, to some people alot of this stuff might be a nobrainer, but to someone who has no idea what they are doing (or have been doing it all wrong), this is a great help.

    So much so, that I sent it to some co-workers who are in the Biggest Loser challenge w/ me at work. WooT.

    I think one of my issues is that I'm (trying) to focus more on cutting the calories and not paying as much attention as I should to the substance of the food. I know I need fiber, protein, etc, etc…and I know that eating 1500-2000 calories a day in Kit Kat bars isn't going to have same result as 1500-2000 calories in REAL food, but I need to put more of that in practice. Especially when it comes to getting rid of the processed food.

  • http://www.facebook.com/PORKLE Jordan Smith

    My approach towards eating better has been to eat well for all my “routine” meals and not worry about the “special-occasion” ones. So my breakfast is eggs and an avocado instead of french toast. My lunch is ham on wheat with peaches instead of Firehouse. But if I go to Figo with a date, I'm not gonna worry about eating all the bread and olive oil. (now I just need a date…)

    If you really are interested in losing body fat, I can't recommend “Good Calories, Bad Calories” enough. It's literally a 400 page exploration of all the scientific weight-loss experiments and discoveries. Imagine a mystery novel where the crime being solved is “why are Americans so frickin fat?!”

  • NerdFitness

    Hey Steve,

    It's all good man, you gotta start somewhere. And if you eat 2000 calories of kit kats a day, find a way to eat 1800 next week, and throw in some grilled chicken…then cut down to 1600 and add in some veggies, etc.

    It's funny, even for people who know what they're doing (and I'd imagine most people do), they still don't end up losing weight because they lose focus or give up too easily or whatever.

    Stick with it!

    -NF Steve

  • NerdFitness

    Great call Jordan.

    My weekends are my special-occasions generally. I spend too much time running this damn site during the week. Good Calories Bad Calories has already blown my mind and I'm only like 40 pages in. Really thick and dense but amazing.

    -NF Steve

  • http://twitter.com/Juncti Troy

    Great article, just reinforces the things I'd been trying to do myself. I didn't “officially” start my diet months ago, but I was taking the steps that would lead to my diet. I cut back from a few beers or drinks a night to eventually just a few on the weekend to the point now that I maybe drink every other weekend. I cut out coffee and energy drinks that I was having a good bit of (coffee with sugar at that), and aside from dropping those calories I started sleeping better which can only help the diet. Now my only source of caffeine is either 1 diet can of soda, or a diet lipton green tea.

    It adds up over time when you cut those things out. And the thing about drinking the beers you posted, I actually did that this weekend. Wound up caught up in all the sports going on and had 12 Corona lights over the course of the weekend, weighed myself this morning and was still down from my previous weigh in. I had the beer, but I kept the rest of the diet in check and didn't pig out on junk.

  • http://www.designtoimprovelife.com EuroPorter

    Good post, Steve, thanks. I'm going to get it to a friend who really deserves to be so much lighter. And I'm totally taken with the Paleo since you put me on it — would you believe I now eat a breast of chicken sautéed (no butter) with sliced tomatoes and bananas for breakfast? Amazingly good! Of course, I do miss my rice, and I blame you entirely for perpetrating that misery on a Charlestonian, but it's for a good cause and I only have about nine pounds to shed, so I'm just too close NOT to get back to my right weight. One of the worst parts of the obesity epidemic in the States is that you can't say “fat” anymore. You have to speak all sweetly and beat around the bush and God forbid you make somebody feel bad even though that's probably what they need. Really, just being supportive and saying, “You know, dude, you're looking a little fat and you have to turn that around before it goes any further,” is the nicest thing you could do, and do it early before it goes too far – then point out that you see some improvement when you really do, so they feel the reward end of the equation. Nothing works like the slightest move in the right direction and once the waistband loosens up, they're hooked on driving all the way back down to the correct body-fat ratio. So thanks again for the straight talk about it, that's really what everybody needs.

  • http://welcometothegarthshow.blogspot.com/ Garth

    Losing weight is easy and you don't even have to count calories! You hit on a couple of good points but missed some others. Whole foods is key – meat and veggies, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Grains are sugar! Moreover, chronic consumption of grains and sugars are more than likely the cause of chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes, arthritis, alzheimers and many other maladies. So step # 1 – cut the grains and eat whole foods. Against all conventional wisdom, fat is your friend. Contrary to what your mother will tell you, red meat and saturated fats do not lead to heart disease. Saturated fat will fill you up and help you to lose weight.
    Step # 2 – if you want to speed up the weight loss, then cut your portions. One way is to cut all your previous portions in half. You'll be hungry! But you'll also lose weight fast as long as you're eating the right foods. Intermittent fasting is also a great way to control your daily intake of calories (not that calories really have all that much to do with it!). Skip breakfast but have a healthy lunch / dinner of whole foods readily available. Intermittent fasting is great on the body and gives you the opportunity to build up a healthy appetite – a little hunger never hurt anybody and develops a healthy awareness of when you're actually hungry or full. Have a huge lunch – have a huge dinner – go crazy! It really doesn't matter as long as you're eating the right foods. It's very difficult to over eat real foods that aren't as calorie dense as Taco Hell or other junk food.
    I could go on forever on this stuff but you're better off reading some of the material that's out there :)
    My personal favorite – The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson of http://www.marksdailyapple.com
    Good Calories/Bad Calories by Gary Taubes as previously mentioned – tough read!
    The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain http://www.thepaleodiet.com
    Fat and Cholesterol are Good for You by Uffe Ravnskov – dispelling the Cholesterol myth
    Good luck!

  • NerdFitness

    Great post Garth,

    I haven't got a chance to read the Primal Blueprint by Mark yet, but I love his daily blog. I'm only about 40 pages through Good Calories – Bad Calories, and I've read both of Cordain's books. Fascinating stuff. I”ll have to add Ravnskov's book to my queue as well, thanks for the suggestion.

    I'm starting to do some research on intermittent fasting as well (eat stop eat) on the request of a friend of mine, and I'm excited to see what I can find.

    Thanks,
    NF Steve

  • NerdFitness

    Sounds like a helluva breakfast Porter. Sorry you're off the rice now!

    Yeah, we've become a society that's too politically correct and accommodating…and it sucks. We need to wake up as a society and realize that being overweight really isn't healthy and can cause a lot of problems.

    Reminds me of this story from 2007 where New Zealand refused immigration for a woman because she was too overweight; they were worried their healthcare system couldn't support her: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,312056,00.html

    -NF Steve

    -Steve

  • NerdFitness

    Ha, I'm right with ya on the weekends Troy. It's literally impossible to love in the south and not watch football and drink beer. Moderation is key, and don't let it throw you completely off track.

    Well played sir!

    -NF Steve

  • JFreedom

    This article makes some good points in reference to making simple changes in your diet. I've always had a pretty high metabolism, and have been a hard gainer all my life (like Mr. NerdFitness), but that's not to say I've been without my share of body fat. Having stopped my intake of a daily soda (have a Coke Zero every now and then instead) and staying away from the burger joints, I've managed to drop a few lbs of body fat over the past couple of months. I still do regular exercise, and haven't changed that aspect of my life, so it's cool to experience how even simple changes in your diet can have an effect (for me, at least :P).

  • Suse

    This is an excellent blog as are all your others. I'm getting the middle age spread round the middle – you know, the fat spilling over the top of the jeans, bit of back fat etc, but the rest of me looks skinny, no butt and thin legs so if I say I feel fat people think I'm being a bit stupid. I hate not feeling good about myself but I do little to change it. Truth be told though it is just plain laziness on my part and that is a hard one to work through. I know sugar and alcohol are evil but I could work all that off if I really wanted to or cut it out. I dont. Sometimes I wish someone would say to me, geez suse, you've got a bit of a gut on you, maybe that would make me sit up and take notice and do the business to change what i do. by the way, i live in NZ and we have really nice wine here so its hard to give up :-) I'll just keep reading until I find the one thing that really motivates me to get started on making the lifestyle changes for good.

  • Jordan Smith

    Intermittent fasting… no thanks bro, I'd rather continue to be single.

  • Jordan Smith

    As long as you drink red wine you might be cool.
    http://www.marksdailyapple.com/low-carb-alcohol/

  • NerdFitness

    Hahahaha, Jordan. Don't worry man, I'm sure there's a lady out there for
    you that loves Crossfit and Firehouse.

  • Don

    To be honest, I am cutting down on my food intake. I am packing smaller lunches this week with better foods.

  • http://twitter.com/Juncti Troy

    Weighed in this morning for my weekly weigh in and wound up down 6.6lbs in a week after not losing much the previous few. Down almost 20lbs in 7 weeks now. Hasn't been clean or pretty, and an injury has kept me from exercise for almost a month now, but I've still lost weight just from using moderation most of the time. I've also been trying to emulate Tyler by blogging it all at http://www.scattershotmind.com

    Putting it out there definitely seems to help keep me focused even when the diet gets a bit sloppy. I can always get back on track and keep dropping the weight as time goes by.

  • NerdFitness

    That's awesome Troy, congrats man.

    Just signed up for your RSS feed. you got another reader. Stick with it and
    let me know if I can help out in any way.

    -NF Steve

  • http://www.designtoimprovelife.com EuroPorter

    Wow, amazing story about the British woman not allowed to move to New Zealand because she was too fat. That is one serious reason to clean up your act, and I have to say, I think New Zealand's position makes sense, although I'm sure a lot of folks would say they were being far too tough. Thanks for the link, AND the recommendation of the Paleo, I'm already starting to see good results.

  • nina

    Great article as always. I think I”m going to start implementing the KISS motto. works for me. I'm a vegetarian, been my whole life, though recently eating egg whites.
    Just curious, how many servings of each food would you recommend? ie, dairy, protein, fruits/veggies would you say is adequate? I'm eating about 5 servings daily (ie today i had 2 kiwi fruits, 2 cups of grapes, 2 cups of lettuce in a salad, and sauteed veggies) is this good enough?
    What about products that claim they include a serving, like soup, naked juice, etc, are those something you would recommend when in a time crunch?
    Do you recommend a plate ratio? I've heard of some saying, half your plate is veggies, 1/4 is protein, and 1/4 fat. I'm eager to find a way to make it a no brainer.

  • nina

    Great article as always. I think I”m going to start implementing the KISS motto. works for me. I'm a vegetarian, been my whole life, though recently eating egg whites.
    Just curious, how many servings of each food would you recommend? ie, dairy, protein, fruits/veggies would you say is adequate? I'm eating about 5 servings daily (ie today i had 2 kiwi fruits, 2 cups of grapes, 2 cups of lettuce in a salad, and sauteed veggies) is this good enough?
    What about products that claim they include a serving, like soup, naked juice, etc, are those something you would recommend when in a time crunch?
    Do you recommend a plate ratio? I've heard of some saying, half your plate is veggies, 1/4 is protein, and 1/4 fat. I'm eager to find a way to make it a no brainer.

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  • http://www.jerseysmarts.com/ Joe

    Good article, Steve. Back in 2004/2005 I followed a very similar set of rules to lose 120 pounds (380 to 260). In fact, I’ve stuck to many of them through today (no fast food, no soda, only real food, etc). Over time, though, I’ve gained back 95 of those pounds so I have some work to do.

    But if I can point out one thing about your post and my own weight loss experience, it’s that you are dead on accurate when you say it’ll feel amazing when someone compliments you by asking whether or not you’ve lost weight. That’s a feeling that you can’t replicate by eating any type of food.

  • Alsummarell

    Great article thanks for the help.

  • Alsummarell

    Great article thanks for the help.

  • Alsummarell

    Great article thanks for the help.

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  • Brendan Perrotta

    This article just helped me out with a rough moment where I was still hungry after eating lunch and was contemplating eating a candy bar. Instead, I chose to eat the banana I brought with me. Thanks for helping me stay on track with my weight loss goals

  • Weight Loss

    http://weightlossskinnyfiber.com is also a good resource for losing weight.

  • Jeff G.

    I suck at quitting soda. Bad. I’ve got a 20-oz diet Coke in front of me right now. But this is it. No more for me. There, now I’m accountable. But I’m going to wait to say anything to anyone else until they notice it first. Since I am never without a soda in my hand, something tells me that people will start asking me, “Where’s your bottle of pop?” before this week is over. I’ll keep ya posted.

  • Vanny

    How’s it going now?

  • Sarah

    This article is very helpful. I am a “lifer” in the diet department sentenced to it for life without parole. I swear everything out there that could help someone lose weight, I have done. I know how to lose weight, its just the doing that has held me back. I enjoy the inspiration in this blog. It is bold, to the point and no beating around the bush, just the way I like it. I think everyone should be this open and honest. I am back at my weight loss, but this time as a lifestyle change and not a diet. Thank you.

  • Roberto

    in this article you say to eat breakfast and not starve yourself, yet in another article you talk about the complete opposite with intermittant fasting…help, I’m confused!?