Just How Fast Can I Get the Body I Want?

Be honest, you’ve said the following sentence before:

“I want to lose 20-50 pounds, and I’d like to pack on some muscle too…but not too much! Can I do this in 2-3 months? How long will this take?”

I know you have, because I certainly did when I started training.

Men want to know “the secret” to a thinner waistline, but also get bigger arms and chest.

Meanwhile, women ask how they can lose weight while getting more toned, without getting too bulky. And apparently, according to that magazine cover above, how to get a firm butt in 22 minutes.

That is an incredibly specific amount of time. Anyways!

If you’ve had those same thoughts, then today’s article is for you.

Today we’re going to dive into these goals, and how to best go about them.

Spoiler alert: if you want to get in shape and lose weight the RIGHT way, and actually keep the weight off, there’s no “secret formula” or shortcut. There IS, however, a strategy you can implement that can help you get the results you’re after in a healthy way. 

We created a 10-Level Nerd Fitness Diet that takes reality and your behavior into account, because we know how tough it is to stick to a diet long term. Grab our strategy guide when you sign up in the box below, pick the level you’re comfortable with, and then follow the instructions and start leveling up!

What We’re After

toned abs

I know why we have those goals of “smaller waistline and bigger/toned muscles.” 

We’ve been listening to and following the image put forth by the infomercials, magazines, and advertisements that in just 30-90 days with a few workouts (or one key piece of equipment) – we can accomplish everything we want:

  • Shredded, six pack abs!
  • Lose stubborn “belly fat!”
  • Bigger chest and arms!
  • Hot women falling all over you!

For women, the message is only tad different:

  • Lose stubborn “belly fat!”
  • Tone your hips, butt, thighs, arms!
  • Get that bikini body!

Regardless of which camp you fall into, you see these commercials full of professional fitness models and genetically flawless dudes, and then we look at ourselves in the mirror…and we decide enough is enough: we want to look like them!

And here’s a program that tells us we can get there in just 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week, for 90 days.

And thus we get started.

90 days later, we’re slightly closer to our goal, but we didn’t build a lot of muscle and we only lost a bit of weight. So we freak out: “those other people got results, but I only lost a few pounds and I don’t have women falling all over me. What did I do wrong?”

Forgetting the fact that I can pretty much guarantee the actors/models in those ads definitely did not use the program they’re advertising to get fit, these programs aren’t even designed with you in mind.

Don’t worry, we CAN turn you into a superhero. It’s just going to mean going about things a bit differently…

Okay, but I want to lose fat and gain muscle…

ChangeAllTheThings

If you are trying to lose ‘belly fat’ and also get bigger and stronger, it’s incredibly difficult to do both at the same time. It’s just how our bodies work. 

Which then might lead to your next question:

“Well, Steve, I want to gain muscle and lose weight, but I have no muscles and I have a gut. What do I do first? WHY CAN’T I JUST DO BOTH AT THE SAME TIME!?”

Putting on weight (be it fat or muscle) requires eating more calories than you burn every day.

Losing weight requires burning more calories than you eat… so if you have these two goals, it can feel as if you are watching a battle of tug-of-war. If you try to do both at the same time, neither side can get an advantage and you’ll struggle to see any discernible results in either direction.

OUR RECOMMENDATION: For most people, the first thing we recommend is to drop your body fat percentage: put the focus on fat loss (notice I didn’t say weight loss) and maintain the muscle you already have. Once you get your body fat percentage down to a specific level, you can then turn your focus to packing on muscle.

Here’s why we recommend this:

  • Carrying extra body fat isn’t healthy: if you’re already overweight, packing on MORE muscle and fat is going to push you farther away from a healthy body fat percentage (which is our ultimate goal).
  • Build momentum early. Losing weight, for most people, is an easier and faster process than building muscle. When you get rid of the body fat covering up the muscle you already have, you’re going to build up emotional and mental momentum.
  • Create a great starting point: Physiologically, when you get rid of excess body fat and are down to a level that you’re happy with, you can adjust your training and nutrition so that your whole body, all the way down to the cellular level, is now dedicated to a single cause: BUILD MUSCLE!

So, what should your game plan be? Here are a few strategies to drop weight while retaining as much muscle as possible:

  • Focus primarily on Paleo-type foods
  • Eat more carbs on workout days, especially right after your workout (sweet potatoes, fruit, rice)
  • Eat more fat on non-training days (almond butter, avocado or guacamole, nuts)
  • Always eat enough protein (lots of chicken, fish, and a protein shake here and there)
  • Get enough sleep!
  • Consider working out in a fasted state – as explained in our article on Intermittent Fasting.

I know all of the above is much easier said than done. We know we need to eat healthier, we just can’t get ourselves to do it! Which is why we created our free 10-Level Nerd Fitness Diet strategy guide, that takes all of that into account. Grab yours now when you sign up in the box below and Join the Rebellion:

Next, after fixing your diet, pick one (or all) of the three types of exercise below:

When you strength train, your muscles are broken down and need to recover. The calories you are consuming during this period are used to rebuild those muscles and recover, keeping them strong. When you walk (especially first thing in the morning, in a fasted state), you don’t tax your body enough to need to pull from your muscles’ fuel stores.

Instead, you pull from the fat you already have.

Everybody wins!

ONCE YOU’VE DROPPED YOUR BODY FAT LOW ENOUGH (somewhere between 10-15% for guys, 18-22% for women), you can adjust your diet to consume more calories/carbs on training days and start building muscle – making adjustments along the way.

How much weight can I actually lose?

Athena Final Before and After

For most Rebels who email us, your first step should be to cut down your body fat percentage by combining healthy eating with strength training. If you happen to be super skinny, you can probably skip straight to the “how to get big” article!

Your next question might be, “Just how quickly can I lose the fat then?”

We’ve shared tons of success stories here on Nerd Fitness where people have lost 100+ lbs in a year, and even one story where Anthony lost 200+ pounds in a year:

Before After Anthony

Whenever we post these stories, we receive a few dozen emails from people saying “But that can’t be healthy to lose all of that weight so quickly.”

Our response is always the same: every person will react to strength training and healthier eating decisions differently. If somebody is incredibly overweight, and they switch to a healthy diet and proper exercise and stick with it for months and months, their transformation COULD be drastic and also completely healthy.

In this nerd’s humble opinion (and I am not a doctor), any day spent 200+ pounds overweight is unhealthy, and the faster we can get a person down to a healthy body fat percentage, the better (provided it’s done in a sustainable, healthy way).

We encourage people to NOT starve themselves, to NOT overexert themselves with exercise, and to listen to their bodies.

The Nerd Fitness training and diet philosophy involves healthier eating decisions, building exercise habits, and months and months of dedicated work! Depending on your situation, you could lose anywhere from .5 lbs to 5+ lbs a week and be completely healthy. Everybody is different, so if you are concerned about your rate of weight loss, be sure to check with your doctor.

One BIG factor here: If you are strength training and actively trying to preserve the muscle you have, the weight will drop off more slowly than if you solely focused on eating better and eating less and exercising as much as possible at all costs. However, in the long run, we believe most people find this route preferable.

Again, our goal is not pure weight loss. It’s building a body that is healthy and gives you confidence. Don’t just focus on the scale, but the big picture.

If you want to learn more about getting started with strength training (our recommended method for training to help you build the body you want), we created a free guide that virtually holds your hand through the entire process: Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know. 

Grab our guide free when you join the Rebellion in the box below:

What’s really possible?

steve push ups

Here’s the truth: we’re human beings. Y

es, we are capable of freaking amazing things, whether it’s Joe transforming, or Saint getting in incredible shape for his wedding, Anthony dropping 200 pounds, or Bronwyn becoming an actual superhero.

Unfortunately, unlike in superhero movies, there’s no super serum we can take to turn us from Steve Rogers into Captain America in a matter of minutes – or even in a matter of months! No matter your desired level of superhero status, it’s gonna take hard work! And a crazy amount of patience and dedication.

Focus on the fundamentals above, and be aware of these advertised shortcuts:

1) Those magazines, DVDs, infomercials, and books that promise amazing results in minimal time and with minimal effort are often designed to prey on your insecurities about your body, and paint an unrealistic picture of what you can accomplish in a few short months. Not cool! They don’t want to get you healthy; they want to sell products. If they got you healthy AND taught you how to keep going, you wouldn’t need them anymore! If you LOVE these DVDs, great! As long as you are also fixing your nutrition, then any form of exercise can help you in your quest for a flatter stomach or slimmer body.

2) Unless you’re a member of the X-men (if you are, let’s hang out), or on steroids, it’s brutally difficult to build lots of muscle while simultaneously losing fat. As explained above, to build muscle, you need to eat a caloric surplus so the extra calories go into muscle building.

To lose fat, you need a caloric deficit so your body is forced to burn fat for energy. How does one eat too much and too little at the same time? It’s kind of like trying to thread a needle while riding Space Mountain after eating a gallon of Dippin’ Dots.

Not impossible, but certainly no walk in the park.

Fortunately, if you are just getting started with strength training, you can make some SERIOUS strength gains (which is not the same as muscle gains) while simultaneously losing weight. We’ll explain that in Thursday’s article.

3) If you’re trying to lose weight and the scale went up, you probably did NOT build muscle. We get this quite a bit too, from people that are overweight and in their first two weeks of attempted weight loss.

The conclusion they come to, thanks to what we’ve been told, is “muscle weighs more than fat, so I must have put on muscle AND lost fat!”

Building muscle is not as easy as you’ve been told, so it’s likely that you either:

  • Put on fat because you are still eating too much (a caloric surplus), OR
  • Are carrying additional water weight, or your first weigh-in was inaccurate. Remember, the scale lies. Increased carb/sodium consumption for a few days, menstrual cycle for women, or any number of factors can give you a totally inaccurate starting weight, or progress weigh-in.

If you are overweight, the scale should be trending down if you are eating properly and exercising. If after a month you’re not seeing results, or the scale is going up, we’ll need to make some small adjustments to your diet (look at your total calories and the sugar/grain consumption).

Yes, you can EVENTUALLY accomplish each goal if you have a solid plan to follow, and you’re dedicated. Becoming Captain America, Black Widow, or Katniss Everdeen is possible. It just depends on how badly you want it, and what you’re willing to give up to get it.

I can tell you building a body to be proud of is absolutely worth it, but you’re much better off building that superhero frame one step at a time, instead of all at once!

But I’m ready to see Results now

alarm clock

I hear ya! Look, I would LOVE to get you in killer shape for your wedding in two months and help you lose 50 pounds, and give you a bigger chest and arms (or ‘toned’ arms and legs), and make you look like Daniel Craig in James Bond or “famous action star in big movie.”

Unfortunately, here on planet Earth, in a place we call “reality,” we have to attack this differently than in Hollywood.

We’re much more interested in getting you down the proper path, with a strong, solid base, that sets you up for year after year of success (rather than for 15 minutes during a movie shoot).

I want this article to become a resource for the Rebels who are confused about weight loss –  so let’s hear your questions!

I guarantee if you have one, there are a dozen others with the same question, too. It’s why we created a ton of free resources to help you too.

Grab our 10-Level Nerd Fitness Diet strategy guide and our Strength Training 101 guide free when you sign up in the box below, and let us help you get started on transforming like Optimus Prime today!

If you’re curious, there’s another side of this coin that we’ve delved into as well: “how fast can I build muscle?”

What else can I answer for you about healthy weight loss? What tips do you have for your fellow Rebels?

-Steve

PS: We have 650+ free articles and dozens of free workout plans on Nerd Fitness, but if you’re looking for a comprehensive course that covers all of this stuff, check out the Nerd Fitness Academy – level up a character by completing quests and missions, follow the workout plans, and level up your nutrition to get started down the path to life as a superhero.

###

photo source: Ray Sawhill: Tone your butt, Ray Sawhill: 22 minutes

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  • Ann Plicque

    suzie, you need time off for muscle repair. I do two days in a row. one off. two days in a row one off, then walking or biking. (if I’ve done a lot of upper body work) If you constantly tear down your muscle and don’t allow for repair time you’re defeating your purpose.

  • Ann Plicque

    And ya know that PX90 does get you ripped. The results are obvious. But can you keep up that level of intensity for the long haul. For 90 days it’s possible. But there should be some transition to a kinder gentler program…PX90+…It all looked way to unrealistic. I’d have never bought it. And I haven’t Well off to body pump!

  • waywardsister

    Has anyone here ever tried the Body By Science (or similar) style training? Lift slowly, to failure, 1 set.

  • OrangeBeanie

    I figured the same thing too! For a few months I was doing sit ups and push ups everynight. 5 different forms of push ups every night. I’m still low scoring on them. So I’m definitely going to try and switch it up and do strength training with a barbell.

  • Taylor
  • Taylor

    Yep – that’s right – and we’ll touch on that on Thursday.

    There’s mixed thoughts on how best to see strength progress while in a deficit. I wouldn’t overthink it too much – but if you want to do some experimenting and see what works for you, the 3-6 rep range would be a good place to start.

  • Sweet Pea

    Can’t wait for Thursday’s post! I’m wondering how this plays out in terms of not gaining size, but if you are losing the fat and gaining strength, is there more muscle definition? Is it simply a result of losing the fat and nothing more, or are those strength gains bringing more definition to the muscle, ie changing the shape?

  • katie

    You might look at these articles for some explanations:

    http://www.cracked.com/article_21137_5-details-they-cut-from-my-season-the-biggest-loser.html

    or

    http://nypost.com/2015/01/18/contestant-reveals-the-brutal-secrets-of-the-biggest-loser/

    There are lots more. I got these with just a quick google search. I don’t know if these articles are anymore real than the show, but if there is some truth it would explain the big losses.

  • Runner Five Niner

    I’m in the same spot. It takes a LOT of food to fill me up, and I’ve tried all the tricks: eat lots of fat, eat lots of protein, fill up on vegetables; eat lots of fiber; drink a lot of water etc etc etc. None of it helps … the only way I was ever able to lose weight was to count calories and stay around 1300 or less. So I either have to deal with being hungry all the time or being fat all the time. :/

  • Hi Krissy!
    I read your post and just got what you wrote. I’m 5’7 and have managed to get rid of 7.5lbs in the last 4 weeks (current weight 186lbs). I’m not doing Paleo (not just yet anyway!!) but made some more informed choices with my food, I go for a walk at lunchtime no matter how short, I go to spin and am doing some basic strength moves at home (deadlifts/shoulder press/bicep curls/) In the UK we have a site called http://www.weightlossresources.co.uk and its helped me no end in tracking what I was eating and where that deficit should be. Finding http://www.nerdfitness.com was the missing link!!!
    Good luck
    TT

  • Runner Five Niner

    This is probably a dumb question, but why do you need extra calories *from food* to build muscle if you’ve got a bunch of fat stores on your body? Is there something that prevents muscles from pulling energy from those fat stores in order to build up?

  • Trent

    I love P90x. It totally served as a gateway exercise program to get me in the best shape of my life (no, I’m not a beachbody coach).Since completing P90x three years ago, I’ve run three marathons and completed Insanity twice. I’m doing it again.

    Of course, not everyone’s results are the same.

  • Runner Five Niner

    Another question: it says “eat more carbs on training days and more fat on non-training days”. I strength-train MWF and run Su/Tu/Thu. So I “train” 6 days a week — with the above advice that seems to imply that I should only eat higher fat once a week. Is that right?

  • Rose E

    Hey Guys 🙂
    Brilliant post as always…
    One question: How do you work out how many calories or kilojoules or energy…. unit… things you are consuming verses how many you are burning?
    – Rose

  • Taylor

    Yep. This is why we often rec losing weight first. Then consuming a caloric SURPLUS when you gain muscle!

  • Taylor

    A great place to start is using google to find a basic BMR or TDEE calculator.

  • Simon

    Hey I have the academy but in there there’s nothing about sprints or jump rope… should I be incorporating those also?

  • tehtarikmemoirs

    Loving the idea on this article. I’ve been trying to do write ups on similar topics as well while trying to promote a healthy diet and training, but in the context of an Asian diet, which unfortunately consist A LOT of white rice and oily portions of spicy meals!

    My own observation is that in this part of the world, people get demotivated from two things. 1) promises of an “uber beach body” in 12 weeks but see no progress after 6 weeks and (2) the challenge of eating healthy, which is surprisingly “more expensive” to maintain here.

    I will continue to keep track on your articles, try them out myself and perhaps will do review on them as well! You definitely have a huge fan/reader over here!

    http://www.tehtarikmemoirs.com

  • Bluben

    When I started lifting I could do a single push up. Barely. With terrible form. I couldn’t even keep up with other people doing normal pushups while I was doing knee pushups. Fast forward a few months and I decided to try a few on a whim and I was able to do 20 with good form. Been about a month since then and I’ve gotten a lot stronger. Probably about time to test again actually.

    The takeaway is that lifting can only help you (assuming you do it safely). It’s okay to add in some isolation work if you have time, but Paul is absolutely right about focusing on the core compound lifts. I recommend focusing on your core while you lift and making sure it stays tight. There is a huge carryover to core strength on bodyweight work.

  • Pris

    THANK YOU for the wake up call! For the longest time now, I’d been fooling myself into believing that I could build muscle *and* lose weight equally well simultaneously (yes, I’m overweight), not realizing that, DUH, one requires a caloric deficit while the other requires the exact opposite! Not to mention the other three important points of this article about building momentum, creating a great starting point and getting rid of extra body fat if you’re already overweight.
    So glad I read this today and I’m even more thankful for newfound clarity on the matter that I can put into practice and get legit, lifelong results.
    You guys are awesome. 🙂

  • Pingback: How Fast Can I Build Muscle Naturally? | Nerd Fitness()

  • CrewDog

    Old crew dog here you might want to check out “you are your own gym” I don’t know your AFSC but it was good for the flight line rats.

  • Tourmaline

    What counts as strength training, if you’re trying to do it only every other day? For example, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I go to classes for mat pilates and “intermediate” gymnastics (we’re working towards front and back handsprings). Would it be a bad idea to start lifting on Wednesdays?

  • SamB

    My biggest concern is losing the strength I have now. Schlepping my body around at 300 pounds has made me exceedingly strong, and I know my body will cannibalize that extra strength as I lose weight, since the human body is amazing and refuses to maintain anything it doesn’t need. (Geez, plasticity, you ruin everything!) How do you maintain that strength and lose weight at the same time? Is it just a matter of increasing the weight that I lift in direct proportion to the weight I lose?

  • Steven J

    You got part of it. Lift in order to keep the muscle that you have, and keep your caloric deficit between 300-500 calories. Everyone’s body is different (I don’t count calories because I am genetically thin as a rail) but I have a friend that loses weight with a 300-500 caloric deficit and gains weight at a 1000-1500 caloric deficit, so pay attention to how your body reacts. Lift until you feel that you get a good workout and push yourself a little harder each time or at least try to maintain that level. As mentioned in a post above, if you strength train while in caloric deficit, your body will burn fat and replace it with some muscle, maybe not enough to bulk up, but enough to keep the muscle that you have while burning fat.

  • Ryan Romaio

    I have a question about eating enough protein… You really only mention white meat, (Fish and chicken) do you recommend avoiding or limiting red meat? Personally, I prefer steak to chicken 😛

  • Anna Blom

    So what about when you have sugar addiction? I know I have a sugar addiction and this results in cravings I feel I cannot stop. This is my main problem for being overweight. No soda, no crisps… Mainly biscuits and chocolate. And once a month/3 weeks a pizza.

  • hondosan

    just to update a bit. i actually stopped gaining muscles after 3 weeks. now 6 weeks into the diet i stopped gaining a single gram of muscle. the 3kg in muscle i gained, were probably regained from where i left off before i paused training. it seems regaining is a lot easier then to gain muscle the first time around. bodyfat keeps dropping though and i am well on target.

  • hjhjjh

    I love this free book

    http://womenlift-faster.pe.hu/

  • hjhjjh

    I love this free book :

    http://womenlift-faster.pe.hu/

  • No problem with red meat, though we recommend it being grass-fed, which is more expensive and tougher to get a handle on. http://www.marksdailyapple.com/will-eating-red-meat-kill-you/ if you’re concerned about red meat consumption. because I don’t have ready access to high quality red meat, and chicken is so easy to come by and cook, I tend to eat mostly chicken for my protein source.

  • Although it’s true your body might be strong for carrying around 300 lbs, it’s not healthy to maintain a weight of 300 pounds just for strength reasons. I would argue a temporary loss of strength to get your body down to a healthy body weight is a much healthier path. Eat plenty of protein, especially after your workout.

    Once you get yourself to a healthy weight, you can certainly pack on strength without packing on additional size. For reference, Staci on team NF weighs 150 pounds and can deadlilft over 400 pounds, 2.5x her bodyweight. Strenght does NOT have to be tied to size.

  • Depends on your goals – is it fat loss? How many miles are you running? I would load your carbs immediately into your meals after strength training. If you eat carbs on running days, and I don’t know if you’re running a mile, 4 miles, or 20 miles on those days…you need to find a good balance that works for you that suits your goals (if it’s weight loss, building muscle, etc.)

    Experiment, track, and adjust based on results over 2 weeks 🙂

  • Anna Blom

    You hero you, thanks for linking that article to me. I hadn’t read that one yet. I’ll go and tackle this addiction right away. Head on… With a charge for bonus attack points. >:D

  • marie b

    Hi there love this article my question is it do 6classes a week mainly strength training (trx)I am at a good weight but as I’ve had 4 children I find the belly part hard to shift there is a 6classes undertake trying to get out lol

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  • Andrius Pavardenis
  • For weight loss, Eat a healthy low-calorie diet with lots of fruits, vegetables and be physically active. Add more protein to your diet. Protein keeps you feeling full for longer and burns more calories during digestion, http://Bit.ly/ClearlyFit

  • SamB

    Wow. Thanks for the reply, Steve. Apparently I need to log into Disqus more regularly. And I’m sorry if I was unclear… It certainly isn’t my intention to stay 280 lbs. (Not a typo.) My thoughts in asking were specifically in response to Staci, who indicated that, if she had it to do all over again, she would start lifting immediately, instead of getting thin first. Is it not possible to lose weight and maintain strength simultaneously?

  • Spectrav

    I know where you’re coming from on this, being in the Army I’ve got to keep my pu/su scores high as well. When I’m getting ready for a PT test I just alternate days. 5 sets of each motion, so say you start at 20 pu’s and 20 su’s. Do 5 sets of 20 pu’s the first day. Then 5 sets of 20 su’s the next. Every new day add on 1-2 more reps for each. So the third day is 5 sets of 21 pu’s. So on and so on. If you hit a wall, keep pushing through to failure until you hit the mark then increase again. I can add on another 20-30 pu’s to my AFPT in a month or two. If you’ve never been good at them then you might have to work harder since you don’t have the muscle memory. Really all it boils down to is progression on the target motions for a PT test.

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  • Steph

    Hi There!

    I have a “preference” question. I’ve been practicing IF for a couple weeks now, and as a person who would eat the WHOLE day its been rather fine till now, eating from 1pm – 10pm.

    Problem is (or is it??) I really am an evening work-out-er. Generally I’ll have two similar sized meals: 1 to break the fast and the 2nd post workout.

    Is this advisable, can I continue? Since its only been two weeks and I’m quite average fitness/weight, I won’t say that I’ve seen huge changes yet. But then I don’t want to continue if its wrong from the start.
    Thanks a lot! 🙂

  • Weighterkill

    Thanks for sharing.I know you want to look your best, want to be lean, muscular and sexy, especially during the Summer months.I’ve already managed to pack on 22lbs of pure muscle since starting this program,see my review of it:>bestfitnessandmusclebuilding(dot)com/14fl< Best wishes.

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  • tagrean

    Nice post, thank you

    Best paleo recipe

  • Debbie Lee

    Is walking is better than running?

  • balthazor

    No reason other than being sick of my current weight, but I was wondering if there would be suggestions for workouts from anyone here. I’ve been doing interval running ( 30 sec run 120 sec walking) it totals to around 2.34 miles a day. I get severely sick though avoiding details I’ve become good friends with the sink. Around 280 – 300 And 17 figured it’s better than any time to change. Another issue is I don’t eat a lot and haven’t eaten regularly in about 6 years I don’t eat lunch or breakfast just dinner and occasionally not that. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  • Dragona73

    For me I just can’t get enough food to feel satisfied for some reason and I keep allowing myself to eat more than I need to how could I stop that on a very low budget?