How Rachael Lost Over 8kg in 18 Weeks

To accompany our ‘Why YOU are the Secret to Your Weight Loss blog post, Rachael Fisher recounts her recent experience with losing over 8kg.

At the end of August in 2021, I decided that I wanted to lose some weight. Sydney had recently entered the hardest lockdown we had seen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I noticed that some poor eating habits were creeping in. These poor eating habits were mainly eating larger portion sizes than usual, and spending a bit too much time ordering Uber Eats.

After not weighing myself since 2020 (this is coming from someone who would typically step on the scales every morning), I clocked in at 75.7kg on 23 August 2021. This is around 10kg heavier than my usual weight,  and I was feeling less confident and comfortable with myself. At 168cm tall and a body weight of 75.7kg, my BMI was 26.9 which is categorically “overweight”. I knew that something had to change which would address at the core, expending more calories than I was at that point consuming.

If you’re interested in knowing your BMI, you can calculate it on the Heart Foundation’s website

Dietary Changes 

Lockdown can offer an opportunity or threat. With no end in sight, it became the perfect opportunity to buckle down and focus on losing weight (or more specifically, fat). Here’s why:

  • There were no social gatherings to attend.
  • Restaurants, pubs and bars were closed indefinitely.
  • We have a well-equipped home gym.
  • We have two beautiful French Bulldogs that we love walking daily.

To make things as easy as possible, I also made a conscious effort to tidy up my food environment. I subscribed to a weekly delivery of YouFoodz for dinner, and stocked up on plenty of nutritious snacks (like fruit!) and kept foods that I had been overindulging in (like tubs of Magnum Almond… my ultimate weakness) at the supermarket. 

I also downloaded an app called Carbon Diet Coach. I had used another food tracking app called MyFitnessPal for over 8 years and would adjust my own calories and macronutrients when needed, but was drawn to Carbon Diet Coach as the tracking feature is very similar to MyFitnessPal but it had the added bonus of auto-adjusting your calories and macronutrients based on your weekly “check-in”. This feature helped quantify the emotional component that comes with adjusting your own dietary intake, and made it a less subjective (and at times stressful) experience. Each Monday, I would “check-in” and add my body weight into the app, and mark whether I was compliant or not. To be compliant, I needed to be within 2.5% of my nutrition targets for the past week.

For some people, tracking your diet so diligently can seem like a tedious and sometimes unbearable task. For others (like myself), I enjoy the structure and the analysing the data. This is an example of the individual approach to losing weight and fat loss – different strategies work for different people.

Carbon Diet Coach

Training and Physical Activity

So, I was all sorted with the diet. Generally speaking, I don’t make any changes to my strength training sessions when I am losing weight. I also don’t train specifically to lose weight. I train to get stronger, improve my body composition (by gaining lean muscle mass) and stay healthy.

What I did change was increasing my step target to 10,000 each day on average (70,000 for the week) and added in two cardio sessions. The cardio sessions were about 30 minutes in duration, and consisted of high repetition isolated weight training, and some intervals or steady state cardio on the rower we had at home. 

Having these specific goals with my diet, training and body composition not only helped me get to my desired outcome, but it also made lockdown, dare I say it… enjoyable. These processes contributed to my fat loss, but more importantly, they also helped me stay on track even when my body weight would fluctuate. 

My week of training and exercise looked like:

The Process

Whilst my training and exercise didn’t drastically change over the course of 18 weeks, Carbon Diet Coach auto-adjusted my calorie and macronutrient intake 7 times. 

I started on 1755 calories per day, which was broken down into 170g carbohydrates, 55g fat and 145g protein. I initially lost more weight than expected in the first week, so my calories went up to 1929 calories by adding an extra 30g carbohydrates and 6g fat for the next fortnight. My weight loss plateaued shortly after that, and my intake dropped down to 1670 calories with 160g carbohydrates, 50g fat and 145g protein. I managed to see a decent rate of weight loss on those calories for 8 weeks. After the eighth week, my weight for the second time had dropped more than expected so my intake was adjusted up to 1746 calories with 170g carbohydrates, 54g fat and 145g protein. That lasted 4 weeks before my weight loss plateaued. To finish the year, I ended on 1482 calories with 131g carbohydrates, 42g fat and 145g protein.

I noticed a significant difference in my hunger levels for the last two weeks. What got me through was eating foods that were higher in volume and lower in calories to increase my satiety (like strawberries and salads) and increasing my water intake. I was also looking forward to taking some time off tracking my diet over Christmas, which was fast approaching.

Rachael preparing a salad

The Food Diary

In case you’re wondering what those calories and macronutrients look like in a day, I have added a video recording of my food diary when I was on 1746 calories per day in early December. When my calories and macronutrient targets dropped a few weeks later, I had to tweak my meals slightly. An example of this would be swapping the banana for strawberries, avoiding unnecessary fats like olive oil, and skipping the dessert or swapping it for a lighter alternative.

Breakfast: Two poached eggs with avocado and tomato on sourdough toast (plus a drizzle of oil).

Lunch: Pulled chicken sandwich with spinach, tomato and cheese (on sandwich thins, which is just a lower calorie/carbohydrate option compared to normal bread) with a Granny Smith apple.

Snack: Protein shake with a banana and a vanilla Chobani Fit.

Dinner: Roast pork and mash YouFoodz meal with a Skinny Cow ice cream cookie.

The Outcome

Over the course of 18 weeks, I dropped 8.3kg. That’s an average of 0.46kg per week. If you take a look at the graph below, you’ll notice that my weight loss was not linear week-to-week and I experienced my fair share of weight fluctuations. I will admit, it can be disheartening sometimes when you feel like you’re giving it your all and not reaping the benefits straight away but it’s important to trust the process and stay the course… you will get there in the end.

Body Weight and Calories over 18 Weeks

Whilst the scale is a good indicator of progress, it’s not the only indicator. These are some of the other benefits I noticed with losing weight:

  • I am feeling much more confident and comfortable. 
  • I lost 7cm from my waist.
  • My clothes are fitting better. 
  • My BMI dropped to 23.4 which put me back in the “normal” range. 
  • I am down two notches in my weightlifting belt.
  • I got stronger, specifically in my bench press (although this likely is not related to losing weight).
  • My resting heart rate is lower.

What Now?

Almost two months have passed, and I have managed to maintain my weight loss with an array of social events thrown into the mix – Christmas, New Year’s and a holiday up to Hamilton Island to name a few. Whilst I am feeling a LOT more confident (and my BMI is back into the “normal” range), I would still like to drop a few more kilos. So for the next short period of time, it’s back to tracking for me!

Rachael sitting in her kitchen

Why YOU are the Secret to Your Weight Loss

Weight loss isn’t simple. The old mantra “eat less and move more” [1] is not only unrealistic, it’s overly reductionist [7]. If we consider weight loss as a simple physical goal, we ignore the complex human behind the process. Furthermore, this reductionist approach fails to consider the environment, social and cultural landscape that the individual interacts with. This may present more or less opportunities for managing one’s health. All this is to say, that we may have less agency than we realise yet still there’s a pervasive weight loss stigma that only serves to worsen the issue for those struggling with being overweight and obese [10].

In Australia alone from 2017-18, an estimated 12.5 million Australian Adults, or 2 in 3 Australians were classified as overweight or obese [10]. Today, I want to briefly explore the complex topic of weight loss. I’d also like to provide you with some direction, if losing weight is something you should do and are ready for.

Let’s talk obesity

Obesity is a term used to describe an abnormal or excessive fat accumulation. This is a chronic disease state which results from an imbalanced interaction between hunger (appetite) and fullness (satiety). As a result, Individuals eat at a higher energy balance than normal which results in excess energy stored as fat. It causes a myriad of metabolic, biomechanical, and psychosocial health complications. This is a multifactorial issue as many of the inputs driving appetite and satiety are subconscious and influenced by psychological, environmental, biological, and social cues. Therefore, we can’t “will” ourselves to be less hungry or more disciplined, however we can consider which inputs are modifiable. Available treatment categories include lifestyle modification, medication, and surgery, escalated based on individual needs. 

Man stepping on weight scales

The classic additive model 

Now that we’ve got some definitions out of the way, let’s dive into some of the deeper points. Although it would seem intuitive, our bodies do not linearly increase energy expenditure due to increased activity [7], or decrease exactly linearly as we reduce energy intake. In the latter case, we call this “metabolic adaptation” where the more we’ve lost, the less we burn at a rate lower than what we would normally predict (although this is not so extreme that it would prevent long term weight loss [8]).

When people say “eat less and move more” they are implicitly referring to the additive model that assumes you can outpace your energy expenditure by simply training with more frequency and intensity without realising that your body, in an effort to maintain homeostasis will reduce energy expenditure elsewhere without your conscious control. This is known as the Constrained Energy Model.

Constrained Energy Model

There are many ways in which our bodies subconsciously attempt to maintain homeostasis. For example, individuals can experience metabolic changes that are behavioural, such as “sitting instead of standing, or fidgeting less, but they may also include reductions in other, non-muscular metabolic activity”. In another example, men and women enrolled in a long-term exercise study exhibited reduced basal metabolic rate over time. Lastly, “studies in healthy adult women have shown suppressed ovarian activity and lower oestrogen production in response to moderate exercise” [7]. Our bodies have tightly controlled mechanisms to manage fluctuations in activity and bodyweight.

Although I’m potentially making a strawman argument here, when people say “eat less”, many assume that means ‘rabbit food’ (for example, lots of salads). What I’m trying to highlight is that the statement itself is one part inaccurate and one part misleading. We can eat relatively low calorie (energy dense) high volume foods. Of course we should exercise and we need to consume less calories than what we’re burning to lose weight. All this is to say, the energy in and energy out equation has more factors influencing it than just food intake and exercise output… and we haven’t even considered the thermic effect of different foods yet!

Sourdough on bench top

Look beyond the scale

Often when people come to me and tell me that they want to lose weight I ask if they have considered what they think about maintaining or gaining muscle mass. Usually I receive a quizzical look until I explain further. We should specify weight loss as ‘fat loss’ and secondly, know that maintaining lean body mass while losing fat is paramount to long term success [9]. A greater amount of lean mass (muscle tissue and organs) will increase one’s resting metabolic rate and also carries with it a range of other health benefits [9].

When determining how to lose weight, we should strive to reach a healthy overall weight and bodyfat level. Adipose tissue (fat storage site) is a metabolically dynamic organ that also serves as an endocrine organ capable of synthesizing a number of biologically active compounds that regulate metabolic homeostasis. Adipose tissue in physiologically desirable quantities helps maintain body homeostasis [5]. In an abnormal situation such as obesity, adipose tissue does not perform its function correctly and this results in a “dysregulation” of the mechanisms reasonable for maintaining a stable environment, potentially leading to metabolic disorders and other chronic complications [5]. 

For many, a combination of both the BMI scale and waist circumference norms should provide enough of a reference to go by regarding bodyweight targets and fat loss but of key importance is to strive to be within a healthy range while developing or at least maintaining muscle mass. The Heart Foundation states that your health is at risk if your waist size is over 94cm for men and over 80cm for women. They also have a BMI calculator if you’re interested in knowing where you sit on the scale.

Heather bench pressing 30kg

Considering the individual

Understandably, the issue is complex. Unfortunately, the marketability of a single method or ‘quick fix’ is far easier than a complex answer. As Stan Efferding said [11] compliance is the science. Spending time arguing about which diet or exercise program is best is problematic as there’s currently no conclusive evidence showing one is superior to another but moreover, even if there was, it would be a moot point if the individual couldn’t sustain the process. The number one predictor of success is compliance. The most consistent dieters have the best outcomes.

Behavioural changes that you can implement

Thankfully we have resources that demonstrate trends which can be modified at an individual level [2]:

  • 98% of participants report that they modified their food intake in some way to lose weight.
  • 94% increased their physical activity, with the most frequently reported form of activity being walking.
  • Most individuals had to keep with their food modifications.
  • 78% ate breakfast every day.
  • 75% weigh themselves at least once a week.
  • 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week.
  • 90% exercise, on average, about 1 hour per day.

Some other evidence-based tips that you can start immediately include the following:

  • Participating in regular exercise which increases sensitivity to satiety signals (plus other benefits)!
  • Increasing availability of high satiety foods (think protein, fibre, whole grains and water).
  • Reduce availability of hyper-palatable foods that are energy dense.
  • Create an environment that supports your goals. This might be as simple as sitting down at the table without distractions to become aware of your satiety and appetite signals. 

Realistically, some people will find these easier than others. Some are born with success, some have to work hard for success. The behaviours that make you successful need to become part of your lifestyle. You will need to troubleshoot which behaviours you can stick to.

Jake with male client

Troubleshooting why you aren’t losing weight

So you’ve gotten started and you’re not sure about your progress. Fat loss (remember how earlier we said to specify it?) can be a frustrating process! Despite the frustration, we recommend having some form of weekly accountability to ensure that you’re heading along the right path. So, what happens when the scale doesn’t read how you’d expect it? I think firstly, have realistic expectations. For better or worse, your physiology is not that sensitive. Consider it a blessing that you won’t lose weight instantly. Your body has a plethora of complicated checks and balances in place to maintain homeostasis. The inverse is true (which is good) that you won’t instantly gain body fat from that night out eating pizza. Now, you might gain weight but we have to consider fluid balance, in part determined by salt and carbohydrate intake (found in pizza right?) and other factors as well as:

  1. time you weighed yourself,
  2. number of bowel movements you’ve had, and
  3. food in the intestinal tract.

These three points all determine someone’s current weight on the scale.

If you want a more accurate reading, we suggest:

  1. weighing yourself under consistent conditions, and
  2. weight-in regularly enough (perhaps daily) to take an average.

If your weight is going down every 1-2 weeks and you’ve been consistent, you’re probably doing fine. In saying that, don’t change anything just because you didn’t see much progress in a week or two. Stay the course and continue to track. With a consistent base you can make an informed decision about what changes you need to make, if any.

Woman Measuring Waist

Conclusion

It’s easy to see how complicated weight loss can actually be. This is why we always encourage people to consider sustainable, long term strategies. We don’t have the scope in this article to cover pharmaceutical and surgical interventions but please note these are safe, well researched and highly effective when applied in the right context. During your weight loss journey, training and aiming to improve performance goals can be a fantastic way to keep you motivated and be a healthy distraction from just thinking about your physical self as just overweight or obese.  We also want to encourage people to be kind and consider how weight stigma has negatively impacted people’s lives. I think the National Obesity Prevention Strategy has some fantastic ambitions that we can all take away today. They are, All Australians:

  • live, learn, work and play in supportive healthy environments,
  • are empowered and skilled to stay as healthy as they can be, and lastly
  • have access to early intervention and primary health care.

Resources

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32969147/
  2. http://www.nwcr.ws/Research/default.htm
  3. http://www.nwcr.ws/Research/default.htm
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33977636/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32443588/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25182101/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4803033/
  8. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/112/3/558/5835207
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30513859/
  10. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/overweight-and-obesity
  11. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySUrqIRaCvU