I don’t focus my yoga practice on weight loss, but sometimes we all want to lose a little (or in my case, a lot) of weight. Either we’ve over-indulged over the holidays or just haven’t been careful about counting our calories as we should, a few pounds can creep on pretty easily. In my case, I had three pregnancies where I gained 40, 60 (yes, 60) and 30 pounds respectively and lost all of the weight and then some each time. I did that all while caring for young children as a stay-at-home mom with very little time to myself let alone time to plan out or stick to complicated nutrition and exercise plans. So I’ve had success developing a system that works for me. Your system might look a little different, but I’d like to share the lessons I learned while losing the baby weight three times over with all of you to help you on your journey and achieve your goals.
I am not a doctor or a nutritionist, I’m just a normal person who has had success losing a lot of weight and keeping it off. Please consult with your doctor before embarking on a weight loss plan.
Weight loss isn’t a goal of my yoga practice, but it has been a result. While yoga can be a great and extremely challenging workout, I do yoga for overall well-being. I do feel that it has helped me lose weight though beyond just the physical exercise that happens during vigorous flows. Yoga is a time to center yourself, de-stress and calm the mind. Plus, I just don’t feel like downing a bacon cheeseburger with fries after I do yoga, I naturally just feel like eating healthier.
First, don’t sweat it.
Really, it’s just your weight. Unless you have a dangerous health condition that requires you to lose weight quickly, which I’m assuming you aren’t. If that’s the case, please see a doctor right away. Many of us just want to lose weight because we want to be a smaller size, or we want to be leaner, have more muscle definition, etc. Which is all fine - but if you’re already in a healthy BMI range why stress about it?
If you are stressing about weight loss that won’t help you lose weight anyway. First, cortisol - the stress hormone - impedes weight loss so you want to stay calm simply for that reason. Secondly, if you are stressing about getting the weight off, you will likely freak out if the number on the scale doesn’t change or even surprisingly goes up as it will. Expect these surprises to happen so you don’t go off the rails and throw in the towel when they do. For me, I know that when I’m doing a lot of strength building vinyasa sequences my weight will mysteriously go up even if I’m not eating more, only to quickly go back down again. I believe my body gets a little inflammation and possibly water retention when building strength and repairing muscle tissue, which would explain the slight and temporary gain. But these things happen so it’s nothing to get stressed out about.
After all, if you are in a normal healthy weight range and you’re just trying to lose vanity pounds, what’s the big deal anyway? If you are overweight and trying to lose weight for health reasons, have faith in your body and stay calm by knowing if you stay the course you will achieve your goals even in the sight of slip ups and unexpected changes on the scale.
Of course, doing yoga will help tremendously in the department of de-stressing on your weight loss journey.
Lasting weight loss happens slowly.
Especially for people who are in a normal healthy weight range. Your body doesn’t want to let go of its fat storages and it can be a stubborn process. Don’t expect to lose 5, 8 or 10 pounds in a week. This type of weight loss is not healthy and likely will not last. Try instead to aim for 1 - 2 pounds per week max. Honestly, this is even a lot! I take it as a huge win if I’ve lost half a pound in a week.
Do the math.
I read a fantastic book by Michael Matthews called Thinner, Leaner, Stronger and it had a ton of great advice in it. I base my nutrition intake on what I learned in this book. I tried the workout plan and it wasn’t for me but just the nutrition advice alone was huge. Matthews discusses the importance of knowing your TDEE and cutting the right amount of calories needed in order to safely lose weight. He also discusses a concept that really resonated with me. In his book, he recommends a healthy diet to fuel your day and your workouts, but he’s sure to let you know that when it comes to weight loss, the amount of food you eat is much more important that what you’re eating. You can eat as clean as you want, but if you take in too many calories, you will gain weight. This is where the math comes in.
Calculate your BMI:
There are a lot of free online BMI calculators you can use, including this one from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/english_bmi_calculator/bmi_calculator.html
This will give you an idea if you’re in a healthy weight range already or not.
Next, it’s important to calculate your TDEE, or your total daily energy expenditure and its the average amount of calories you burn in a day.
Calculate your TDEE:
Again, lots of free online TDEE calculators available. You can try this one:
Once you have your TDEE, figure out how many calories a day would reflect a 20% reduction in overall calories. I’ve had success cutting 15-20%, but I like to plan on 20% so I can leave room for little slip ups in my day (too much salad dressing, just got really hungry before I had dinner ready, etc.)
You can reasonably stay at this calorie level safely for a month or two without doing any real damage to your metabolism. In this time you should lose anywhere from 4 to 8 pounds.
Now comes the tricky part
I honestly don’t feel like restricting my calories to this level is too hard, and I believe doing even just a little yoga in the morning helps to curb cravings throughout the day. I up my protein and fiber intake to curb my appetite and I drink lots of water and I feel fine. What can be difficult is carefully coming off of the diet with reverse dieting. This time you spend coming off your calorie-cutting phase is just as important to your weight loss as cutting calories was in the first place.
This is the hard part because once you’re done cutting calories, you’re kind of done right? But you can’t just go back to eating your full TDEE right away or your body will go into rapid fat storage. This is where people who have had success losing weight get trapped and end up gaining back more than they lost in the first place. It’s important to come off your calorie restriction slowly, adding about 100 calories at a time for a few days, then 100 more for a few days, and continue like this until you’re back at your full TDEE and you can go into maintenance mode. Monitor your weight closely while reverse dieting and if you start to gain weight, don’t worry you can just go back to cutting for a little while and then try to build your calories up more slowly next time.
Something worth noting after you’ve lost the weight and reversed your diet back up to your full TDEE, you should still keep an eye on how much you eat to maintain your weight. No matter how much you work out or how clean you eat, if you take in more calories than your TDEE you will put weight back on.
Yoga has definitely helped me to lose weight but there are so many other benefits I get out of my yoga practice too. Yoga helps to center me and makes me feel more peaceful throughout the day, it improves my strength, flexibility, back pain, and sleep habits. These are the reasons I keep returning to my mat and the weight loss has just been an added bonus!
If you’re starting out on a weight loss journey, I highly recommend discussing it with your doctor first. I would also recommend reading Thinner, Leaner, Stronger by Michael Matthews as most of what I learned here I learned from his wisdom. I tried the workouts and they weren’t for me, but you might like them. The information he shares on nutrition really worked for me though. He breaks it down and makes it really simple to understand.
You can get the book on amazon via the ad below.
Enjoy, good luck, and namaste.
Thinner, Leaner, Stronger by Michael Matthews