I’ve always found I work hardest with a goal in mind. A deadline.
At the start of 2015, I had recently got a girlfriend and had gained some weight. I decided I wanted to get lean. So I signed up to compete in a physique competition with one of my best friends. I had three months to get ready to walk on stage.
A before and after shot.
So you may be thinking, “3 months? That’s ridiculous.” You’re right.
I’m not special, so how did I do it?
As Will Smith says,
“Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening, work ethic. You know, while the other guy’s sleeping? I’m working.”
I agree with the first half of that statement. But not as much with the second, I value sleep. But I didn’t get shredded enough to walk on stage by sleeping. And working hard as an answer is a cop out. Everyone knows to go through anything transformational requires hard work.
I can’t teach you how to work hard, that’s something you’ll have to master yourself.
What I can do though, is run you through exactly what I did over those 92 days of competition prep.
1. Sign Up
This is often overlooked when considering trying to lose weight. To me, this is one of the most important parts and why I’m putting it first.
For me, signing up was registering and paying for the upcoming men’s physique competition in my city. I entered in two divisions, paid my fees and had a final date in mind.
For you, signing up may be some sort of challenge, it could be the fact you want to run in the fun run coming up later in the year, it may well be a competition like me.
It could be anything. Whatever it is. Be specific. Be really specific.
Just saying, “I want to lose weight.” is not good enough. It’s too easy to stray away from. It’s equivalent to, “I want to be a millionaire.”
Cool goal, but how, when, why?
Frame it in a way you can keep working towards. Pick a goal weight, a goal number, a goal date, a goal dress size, whatever it is be specific. Pick a date, write it on your wall, post it in your bathroom, above your scale.
In my case, my goal was to “Today is February 22, 2015, I, Daniel Bourke, will get lean enough to stand on stage in a fitness model competition by 25/05/15.”
I had no choice. The competition date wasn’t going to move. It was the 25th May. Not the 26th, not the 24th, the 25th.
This will put you in the right mindset. This is fundamental. Now all of a sudden you’re accountable. Every single day counts.
Thinking of missing a day? Well you just decreased your chances of reaching your goals.
So sign yourself up to something. Sign yourself up to a specific goal.
2. Get a Coach
Anyone who claims they’re self-made, be skeptical of them. Sure, weight loss is most definitely an individual journey but why do everything yourself when you can (especially in today’s world) stand on the shoulders of giants.
Even Arnold, who is often referred to as self-made, strongly states that he is not a self-made man.
I had a competition deadline and I wanted to do it right, I didn’t want to just compete, I wanted to win. I had dabbled in the fitness world for a couple of years. I had even competed before. The first time, I did it all myself. Not this time.
I hired him as my coach. It was probably the best decision I’ve ever made in my seven year fitness journey (so far).
Yes, I PAID for a coach. Even though, I knew the information I needed was available online for free.
Do you have to pay for a coach? No you don’t. You could follow everything I’m about to write in this answer and you can do what I did (remember I’m not special). But another thing I’ve learned is that often, people (including me) don’t take things seriously unless their paying for it.
If you can’t afford a coach. Become your own coach by educating yourself with the abundance of free resources online.
So now, not only was I paying for the information on how to best get ready for a show. I was accountable to someone other than myself. I was accountable to Marc.
So if you want to lose weight, or complete any sort of goal for that fact, I’d highly recommend getting a coach. If you can’t afford one, do your research.
Remember though, there’s an abundance of people out there who will claim they can help you achieve your goals and sure they may be able to but ultimately it’s up to you. No coach in the world will have a magic wand to help you achieve your goals.
What I loved about Marc is that from the start he told me,
Nothing works unless you do.
It has resonated with me ever since.
My advice for getting a coach?
Do your research. First and foremost, don’t just hire anyone. If you’re going to be paying for someone to guide you through something as significant as losing weight (ultimately the knowledge they impart on you could change your life), find the right person.
As I said, I had watched Marc for years, I had seen him do the things I wanted to do (get on stage).
So find someone who has done what you want to achieve. If you’re paying for it, try and make sure you’re contacting them, not a member of their team. You want to be able to pick their brain when you can. And make sure you do.
If you hire a coach, ASK THEM EVERYTHING.
The goal of every good coach/teacher should be to ensure their pupils become better than them. If you’re coach isn’t trying to put themselves out of a job with you, you can do better.
In person coaching is best but sometimes it’s not an option. Online with contact options is the next best thing.
3. Put It Out There
When I signed up to my first competition, I told no one. I was scared of what other people would think of me. Looking back, this was the opposite of what I should have done.
The next time was different. I made it known. I told everyone.
Even if people didn’t ask, I would work out a way to make it known I was competing in a few months.
This made me even more accountable. All of a sudden, I was no longer only accountable to myself. I had an entire network of people around me holding me accountable.
I created fear myself. The fear of letting everyone down. Fear and love are the two best motivators in the world. I had both.
I fell in love with the process. I made it a game with myself to see what I could achieve.
So put it out there what your goals are. It’ll end two ways. You’ll either fail or you’ll achieve what you set out to achieve.
And trust me, the latter is one of the best feelings you’ll ever experience.
4. Track Your Progress
Humans are terrible at estimating. Even experts are terrible are estimating.
We overestimate, underestimate, claim this, claim that, sometimes we may get it right but there’s no arguing with numbers and evidence.
Track your results. What should you track? You should track the results that are directly relevant to your goal. Your goal may be different to mine (competing on stage) but I did manage to lose a fair bit of weight in ~90 days so I’ll run you through how and what I tracked.
- Calorie and macronutrient intake
- Workouts (reps and weights)
- Appearance (with progress photos)
I would send a weekly email to Marc with all of these details. This is where the accountability comes into play.
I’ll break each of these down in seperate points.
5. Progress Photos
Every week, I would take photos of my front, back and side, tensed and relaxed.
Why? Because my goal was to get on stage. I needed to get lean. I needed to to look good.
But there’s also the fact that the scale can be deceiving. If you’re working out, chances are you may be putting on muscle AND losing weight. So paying attention to the number on the scale may not be the best indicator of whether you’re losing weight.
Take progress photos. The changes will be minimal on a weekly basis. Fortnightly or monthly may be best for you.
But these will be you reference. Photos don’t lie. If you feel like you’re not making progress, compare the photos from when you started to where you are now, then decide. Take action based on these.
My philosophy with weight loss is that it is 90% food and 10% training. Obviously this not an exact science but from my experience this ratio holds true.
You can never out train a bad diet.
Yes, this took a lot of time. Making good food takes time.
I would get up early and cook food before going to university or work. I would make time to make food. There’s no two ways about it.
Okay, you may have 3 kids, a full time job, other commitments etc. And food prep like this is just a no go. Well invest in a meal prep service. Out source the food preparation. And yes, I know eating healthier costs more. It shouldn’t but it does. Can you really put a price on health though?
If you’re still going to make excuses, realise that you have to eat. You can’t not eat. The leading causes of death around the world can be prevented with proper nutrition.
So if you’re going to eat badly, understand you’ll be both lowering your chances of losing weight as well as damaging your overall health.
I could spend hours talking about this but let’s get back to what I actually did.
The first week of my preparation, I found my baseline calorie intake. Let me run you through what this is and how you can do it starting today.
A baseline calorie intake is the average amount of calories you take in on a daily basis.
To work this out, I used an app called MyFitnessPal.
Here are the steps:
- I signed into the app.
- I tracked everything I ate for a week.
- I got the average intake of my calories for the week (by adding up the total daily intake and dividing it by 7).
Tracked everything? Yes. I tracked everything that I put into my mouth.
You may be thinking that sounds tedious and you’re right. But it got me results.
I weighed all of my foods using a small digital.
If you can’t weigh your foods, use the inbuilt barcode scanner in MyFitnessPal or even the hand portion size rule.
Without a scale, using your hand is the next best thing to estimate the quantity of foods you’re eating and track it.
Don’t change what you eat for a week. Keep it the same. Just track it as if you were eating your normal diet. This is important.
By doing this for a week. I knew exactly what I was eating. Remember what I said about people being bad at guessing?
So now I had a starting point. Most calorie tracking apps will give you a starting point based off your height and weight and this may be fairly accurate but mine was completely different.
My average daily intake was about 3100 calories. Now I could use this number and work it into the magic equation.
In other words, if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight.
There’s far more science behind it but this is weight loss in a nutshell. So to lose weight, I would have to burn more calories than I consumed.
The body requires a lot of energy to stay up and running as it is. So by lowering my calorie intake, slowly, as well as burning a few extra working out, in theory, I should lose weight.
At the start of the prep I was eating around 3100 calories per day, by the end, I was eating about 1600 calories per day.
I was hungry all the time. It was hard. But if it was easy, everyone would be shredded with abs.
Each week my calories were lowered by 100–200. This is where Marc came in. His keen eye and experience was guiding me through the process.
Throughout the entire process I was burning more calories than I was consuming and in turn, losing weight.
What did I eat?
Anything, but mostly whole foods. 90% single ingredient foods and 10% processed foods.
My main protein sources were:
- Lean meats
- Whey protein
- Egg whites
My main carbohydrate sources were:
- Sweet potato
- Other Potatoes
My main fat sources were:
Rather than a strict meal based diet plan, I was following a modified version of the dieting style IIFYM (if it fits your macros).
This means, no food was off limits as long as it fit within my macronutrient goals. But it wasn’t an excuse to eat poor quality foods.
For example, if my total calorie intake for a day was meant to be 3100 calories. My macronutrient goals for the day may look like:
- 180g protein (4 calories per gram of protein = 720 calories)
- 370g carbohydrates (4 calories per gram of carbohydrate = 1480 calories)
- 100g fats (9 calories per gram of fat = 900 calories)
This means, I could eat anything (within reason) that would fit within those ranges.
Each day of eating was similar though because prepping meals in bulk is easier than cooking every single day.
Tracking your food is hard. But it gives you an idea of what you’re eating on a daily basis.
If you think you’re food is plain and boring, you’re probably doing it right. It will take a while for your body to adjust to eating in a different way. There are bacteria in your gut which enjoy the foods you most eat, so when you change it, they get angry and start to cause you to crave those foods.
It takes a few a months to adjust these bacteria to get used to certain foods. I’ve eaten in a certain way for long enough that I no longer crave foods high in sugar, or damaged fats (usually these are the worst, but do your own research as to what foods you feel you should eat).
What should you eat? There’s arguments for and against for almost every kind of diet. My advice, eat what’s sustainable for you. My favourite resource for nutrition information at the moment is, NutritionFacts.org.
In my opinion, the best diet in seven words is, eat food (whole foods), not too much, mostly plants. But this can be interpreted in many different ways so find what suits you best, track it, start understanding the quantities and adjust your intake to your goals.
Notice how I put training at number 7? Most people start with training as number 1.
Looking back at my journey, this was the easiest part.
I was training 4–6 times per week, including additional cardio sessions towards the end of the prep.
During the three months, this probably changed the least. I was already training at least 4–6 times per week (without cardio) and I still currently train at least 4–6 times per week.
A typical week of training at the start of the prep might have looked like this:
- Monday — Chest Day
- Tuesday — Back Day
- Wednesday — Leg Day
- Thursday — Rest Day
- Friday — Shoulders and Arms
- Saturday — Whole Body
- Sunday — Rest
By the end of the prep the training days weren’t much different, the only difference was the added cardio sessions.
So the week would’ve looked like:
- Monday — Chest Day + 20 mins walking on treadmill incline
- Tuesday — Back Day + 4 mins of TABATA training
- Wednesday — Leg Day
- Thursday — Rest Day + 30 minute walk
- Friday — Shoulders and Arms + 11 mins of HIIT training
- Saturday — Whole Body + 4 mins of TABATA training
- Sunday — Rest + 20 mins walking on treadmill machine
The extra cardio was to the increase the amount of calories I was burning on a daily basis.
What did I track for training?
My training mainly involved weightlifting. So I was tracking the number of reps, sets and weights I was doing every session. With every new session, I would try to beat my previous records in some small way. Many consecutive small steps add up.
I had this training schedule in my calendar. I knew ahead of time what I would be training, whether or not I needed to do cardio and because of my tracking I knew what my goals would be for each session.
The best app I’ve found for tracking weight sessions is Strong.
Or a simple notebook will suffice.
In terms of tracking, this was my lowest priority. Getting on stage didn’t mean weighing in at a certain weight. My goal was to look lean and muscular.
I started the prep at 88kg and got on stage at 71kg.
I weighed in every morning, naked, after going to the toilet. I averaged about ~100g weight loss per day. But this weight loss wasn’t a goal, the idea was that if I was losing weight, I should be getting leaner which was the goal.
If I lost too much weight, I’d end up losing the muscle I worked so hard to build.
Progress pictures were more important to me than numbers on the scale. I was more worried about the look than what I was weighing.
How did I keep the weight loss up?
If my weight stayed the same for a consecutive number of days (didn’t go down) or went up, my daily calorie intake would be lowered slightly.
What would this look like? Here’s an example:
- 22/02/15 — Weight: 88.0kg, Calories: 3100
- 28/02/15 — Weight: 87.0kg, Calories: 3000
- 01/03/15 — Weight: 87.1kg, Calories: 3000
- 02/03/15 — Weight: 87.0kg, Calories: 2900
- 09/03/15 — Weight: 86.5kg, Calories: 2800
- 10/03/15 — Weight: 86.5kg, Calories: 2800
- 11/03/15 — Weight: 86.5kg, Calories: 2800
- 12/03/15 — Weight 86.5kg, Calories: 2700
- 13/03/15 — Weight 86.4kg, Calories: 2700
- 14/03/15 — Weight 86.3kg, Calories: 2700
This process repeated until the end of prep where as previously mentioned I ended at about ~1600 daily calories and ~71kg.
I’ve created a tracking template you can use for free on Google Docs, feel free to make yourself a copy. I used one exactly like it for my prep and I use the exact same one for my clients.
Preparing for a competition is a real test. Looking back, I didn’t rest enough. I continually put myself in situations where I could’ve suffered a serious injury.
I was sacrificing proper sleep to make sure my food was prepared and I had done morning cardio sessions.
Now I treat sleep as being sacred. My goal is 8 hours per night. Some people need more, some people need less.
Find what you need and get it. No excuses.
Don’t overwork yourself. Your weight loss goals will be impeded if you’re injured or worse, be completely undone.
If you have a choice of getting a proper nights sleep or getting up early to fit a workout into your schedule. Get the proper nights sleep and do a shorter more intense workout instead. The sleep is worth it. There’s studies promoting both sides, my experience favours the sleep side but everyone is different.
That’s not to say don’t workout. If you really want to improve your health/workout. Proper rest, proper workouts and eating well should be priorities.
10. Getting Back to Reality
For 12 weeks and many subsequent weeks, I was a hermit. I ate a very particular way, I trained practically every day, without excuses and I was studying full time/working 30+ hours a week.
I was on a mission. I didn’t eat out with my girlfriend at the time. Even at family dinners, I had my own prepped meal.
My life revolved around looking as best I possibly could on stage.
Living like this is not for everyone. Even after getting on stage, I continued to eat tracking my calories for months.
I didn’t want to undo all of the work I’d done getting lean. This is where I was lucky to have a coach. Marc strongly advised that I start reverse dieting. Essentially eating in a controlled manner until I got back to my baseline calorie intake I started at (about 3100 calories).
So if it took me 12 weeks to slowly get down to 1600 calories per day, I should do the same but in reverse back towards 3100.
I continually attribute this to being the most important part of my weight loss journey. The reverse is just as important, if not more important as losing weight in the first place.
You see people like Oprah who lose 50 pounds in 8 weeks and then gain 100 pounds in the subsequent weeks (major over exaggeration).
No hate towards Oprah, just a public example, she has been very open about her weight loss/gain journey.
This is called yoyo dieting. It’s what happens when you lose a drastic amount of weight over a short period and think you’ve made it so you go back to how you were living before the weight loss.
Here’s how most fad diets work:
Massive immediate daily calorie reduction = Rapid weight loss
This would be the equivalent of me going from a starting 3100 calories per day to 2000 calories per day. Instead of slowly going down little bits of a time, they get you to drop a massive amount in one hit and then show you before and after photos of massive weight loss.
What they don’t show is the after after photos.
Here’s a few recent photos of me:
Trust me, I don’t look like this all the time. Both of these photos were taking under optimal lighting conditions.
I still use selfies like the one above to track my progress.
The reverse diet helps you get back to a sustainable amount of daily calorie consumption whilst staying lean.
I’m now eating around 3000–3500 calories per day (I don’t track anymore, this is a guesstimate after tracking for two years). I believe I’m as lean as I am now because of the work I put in during the reverse dieting phase.
The reverse dieting allowed me to return to a normal way of living. No longer did I have to worry about tracking my foods or weighing them. I had built up a keen eye for knowing how much I should be eating on a daily basis.
I now no longer pay for coaching. Marc embodied in me all of the knowledge I need to coach myself. But if I was to ever go for a big goal like stepping on stage again, I would definitely consider hiring a coach.
I didn’t win any prizes for stepping on stage but the fulfilment of accomplishing a goal I set out to complete was far better than any prizes that were on offer.
1. Sign Up
Sign up to a goal. Don’t have a competition to get ready for like I did? Create your own goal. Be sure to make to specific.
2. Get a Coach
If you want to get serious. Pay for a coach. The right coach, find someone who has done what you want to do. Do your research right and the value you will get from them will be worth far more than the price you pay.
If you can’t afford a coach, become your own coach by educating yourself. Read books, watch YouTube. The information is out there.
3. Put It Out There
Make yourself accountable. Create a fear of letting others down. Fear is an incredible motivator. You’re more likely to let yourself down than you are others.
If you fail, who cares? At least you tried. Try again. If you succeed, it’s the best feeling in the world.
4. Track Your Progress
Make your results concrete. Measure your success in relation to your goal.
5. Progress Photos
If your goal is weight loss and you’re working out, you may be gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time. So take progress photos. If the scale isn’t moving, refer to these as evidence of your progress.
Track your food. As I mentioned, for me this is 90% of weight loss. You can never out train a bad diet.
This is a small piece of the puzzle. Your body burns enough calories just staying alive. If you do it right, you can lose weight without training at all but I wouldn’t suggest this.
Train in a way that moves you closer towards your goals.
The whole point of this question was weight loss but I put this at point number 8. There’s much more to losing weight than just a number on the scale. Work on the above and this one will happen automatically.
Sleep well, and don’t overtrain yourself especially if you’re new to training.
10. Getting Back to Reality
Just because you’ve lost a lot of weight, doesn’t mean you’re finished. There is no finish line. Staying healthy and keeping the weight off is a perpetual journey.
Be skeptical of any diet which promises extreme results in a short amount of time. The best diet shouldn’t even be referred to as a diet. It should be a sustainable way of life.
I hope this helps in some way. I tried to impart as much as my story as possible. Remember, my goal of getting on stage may be completely different to yours. However, I did end up losing a fair amount of weight and have kept it off ever since using the exact steps I mentioned above.
Whatever your goal and journey, I wish you all the best.