What’s a Simple Way to Lose 10 or 20 Pounds?

What’s a Simple Way to Lose 10 or 20 Pounds? post image

This year, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about diet, and how to drop a few pounds.

And by “thinking” I mean googling terms like “what’s an easy way to lose weight” while drinking red wine and eating cheddar-flavored Bugles.

I come from ‘that’ half of the population who can go on streaks of weeks, months – or even years – without showing any restraint about what I’m tossing into my mouth.

Thursday night? Dessert and wine. Oh yes.

You just signed a new client? Let’s have dinner! (and dessert!).

We sold our business! Let’s go out to eat — for an entire year.

And about all that advice on Google…  I’ll cut the suspense: there are tens of thousands of answers, most in diametric opposition to each other.

It’s shocking how little the web seems to know about nutrition.

For me, seemingly simple diet advice like “watch your calories and cut out simple starches” (which – now I know – is, apparently, highly controversial) can quickly spiral into hours of reading and ‘decision fatigue’ at the moment of truth.

This brownie couldn’t hurt, right?


Lately, my cycling habit has compelled me to focus on numbers, and one that keeps popping up is my weight.

A cyclist hauling around 20 pounds of excess body fat is at a huge disadvantage. For the amount of time it would take to outride that handicap with increased power, one might have to train vigilantly (6 days a week) for a year. I’d rather put down the Bugles. (This year I’ve trained a ton and have firmly solidified the wisdom that you “can’t ‘out exercise’ your fork.”)

Here’s something I discovered this month that seems to have a lot of potential. In truth, this wasn’t the first time I’ve come across this simple tactic. But it is the first time it resonated with me.

A few caveats:

  1. This technique sounds so boring, and obvious, that it’s easy to disregard (as I did for years, particularly because many people say that this thing “can’t work,” or it “isn’t how losing weight actually works.”)
  2. It sounds like, and may very well be, a major pain in the pass, or “PITA.” Which is also a delicious Lebanese food.

Because of these two reasons, I’ve honestly just glazed over this tactic for years.

Why? I preferred instead to read endlessly about the value of paleo vs. vegan, organic vs. farmed, supplements vs. nutrient dense, starch solution vs gathering my own berries, etc, etc, etc. I considered eating big breakfasts, or little ones, or none at all (What?). Enough knowledge, and my will power would come through…

But this tactic does away with all that.

It’s about just one simple thing.

Here goes:

Track your calories.

Yep. Just write down everything you put in your mouth.

I know what you are thinking. Well, at least here’s what I was thinking.

That suuucks.

And it’s boring.

And, why can’t I just be paleo?

Fair enough.

But here’s the good news.

You can do it easily thanks to the My Fitness Pal app. It has a huge database of foods and their various combinations. You pull out your phone at meals anyway, right? Why not try it for a month?

The method has some interesting benefits:

  • People online will argue about thermo-whatever and metabolism and … well they will argue, but this technique moves past all that and gets your attention on what you’re putting into your body.
  • While many of us carry around a sense of shame about our eating habits, or are running a constant negotiation in our heads that says, “okay I’ll have the dessert but no breakfast tomorrow’, etc, this one simple thing requires us to do none of that. If you eat it or drink it, write it down. That’s it. The judgments you make in the future are bound to be improved just from this basic accountability. “What gets measured gets managed.”
  • If you do this for just one month, you’ll learn a lot about food and its calorific and nutritional content. Even if your goal isn’t to lose weight, it could still be worth it. I’ve talked with people who’ve done this for a few months and have then used the knowledge they’ve gained of portion sizes, calorie counts, and nutritional values going forward.

Now, I’ve only lost 12 pounds, and my track record says it won’t last. But I don’t want to wait years until I blog about it. I wanted to share it now and see what ya’ll think.

This approach to diet is called the “CICO” — Calories in, Calories Out” method– and I found out about it from a wonderful community on Reddit/r/Loseit. Check it out for some inspiring stories of people changing their lives. Their quick start guide, is free, and invaluable, if you plan to try this method out.

Loseit’s Quick Start Guide

You’ll find tons of interesting tips and tactics. I won’t share any of my favorites in this article because I’d really like to stress the simplicity of this plan of action – it’s about making it work for you.

The potential upside is huge: you don’t need to be vegan, or paleo, or change your lifestyle, or hang out in gyms, or eat half of what the waiter brings you, or stuff your face with salads.

You just need to track what you eat, and go from there. Perhaps, for the first month, you might not want to set a weight loss goal. Just track. Even when you eat two bags of Bugles. It’s ‘okay’. Only you will see it.

What do you think? Any simple ideas like this that led to big health improvements for you? I’d be interested to hear about them.



PS, here’s a quote I pulled from the Loseit community that I thought summed up these ideas nicely:

“I tried going low carb, but I just couldn’t give up enough carbs to go ketogenic.

I’ve always been too lazy to count calories. I figured, I know I’m eating too much, I just need to work on eating less, smaller meals, more vegetables.

Well, that wasn’t working…

Finally I figured, what the heck; people keep talking about MyFitnessPal and tracking calories, I guess I’ll try it since nothing else has worked.

I started recording all of my calories and then I realized, almost immediately, that I was making decisions based on gaming that final number [Calories allowance per day].”

Published on 11.29.16
  • I lost 20-25lbs in a month by cutting sugar (of all types) completely out of my diet… I then went on to lose another 20ish pounds. I also did a lot of yoga, kettle bells, biking, paddle boarding and running. I managed to keep it off for about a year before the second 20lbs started creeping back in after I started to eat whatever I wanted and didn’t really exercise as much. I’m now on a mission to remove that and a little more. I’ll check back in in a few months. Thanks for the well-timed post!

  • Funny, the other day I looked at the photos from this year’s DCBKK conf and thought, Dan’s business is going well; finally one can see it :)

    The last couple of weeks I went on a diet myself and lost 18lbs in 12 weeks.

    I totally agree that you need to measure your weight and intake. Calorie intake is a lead indicator, lost weight is the lag indicator.

    I kept it simple, because we all know what we need to do: Eat well and exercise. The best diet advice I ever read was: Eat food, mostly plants, not too much. (No, brownies is not food)

    You also should have a good reason to loose weight. I think if you do it to stay healthy is the best motivation.

    Here is what I did:

    – Read the book the 12 week year
    – Started measuring lead (calories, Yoga sessions and gym sessions) and lag indicators (weight)
    – Started going to the gym again. It’s boring but effective.
    – Started doing Yoga on days I’m not going to the gym
    – Did not eat more than 1800 calories (tracked with YAZIO app)
    – Doing intermittent fasting. Only eating between 1pm and 8pm.

    Thanks for the post. See you next year, hopefully.

  • Jeffrey O’Brien

    After putting on 10-15 pounds of pure muscle freshman year in college I travelled Europe for a month where I proceeded to eat and drink like any self respecting 19 year old American would…obviously after a month I came home a fat 185 pounder opposed to a muscly one and it only got worse for the next few months.

    In the fall I started really paying attention to what I was eating and tried to keep it to around 1800 calories a day while rock climbing (indoor and out) several times a week. Basically the weight melted off within a couple months, results were amazing.

    Now that I mention it, seems like I could stand to get back to that program…

  • Good for you for going with the simple method you’ll actually use rather than the complicated ones that are hard to start or stick with!

    My mom uses My Fitness Pal and she definitely has much better eating habits; it also seems to be easier for her to make those choices naturally. And you can still indulge, but it’s way nicer to indulge in, say, an occasional slice of Belgian chocolate cake, than wasting calories on mindless pretzels every day.

    I think I’m going to start using it too – not to lose weight, but more so that I don’t gain it after moving back to the States, haha.

  • Seems like you came to the same conclusion as I did :-)

    If you look at the other popular diets you will find that they also work because:
    1. people start watching what they eat for the first time (paleo, moonphase, …)
    2. they are calorie reduction diets (vegan, low carb, …)

    I also use MyFitnessPal for input and Garmin (workout and steps) for output. And to verify that it is working I have a Fitbit Wifi scale (together with https://trendweight.com/ )

    The biggest problem I have is keeping on track when travelling, especially on business. Being away from my bike and having business lunches plays havoc with my system. Then it is a matter to get back into the groove when I am back.

  • “We sold our business! Let’s go out to eat — for an entire year.” – that made me laugh more than it should. Perhaps a laugh of identification of my sort of justification.

    I haven’t gone done the counting calories path yet, but I am conscious of what goes in. I recall a great quote from Benjamin Franklin. “To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.” I never really thought about that until my first visit to the US, where portion sizes would be enough for two full meals. It’s just easier to become accustomed to eating less.

  • Chris Mack

    What you measure gets focused on and improved – that’s natural.

    Something I’ve found to be even easier is to drop to an 8 hour eating window. Say noon-8pm. Can’t eat (or drink anything but water or herbal tea) before or after that.

    It’s really remarkable how much less you eat just by doing that. No tracking, no special diets. Mostly because breakfast is gone, you stay in fat-burning mode until noon. And you just naturally eat less most days. Also, I seem to naturally gravitate more towards high protein, high fat foods (low carb) since switching to this. Not really doing it on purpose, but I think because it’s hard to skip breakfast if you’re eating a high carb diet. Easy peasy on a high fat/protein diet.

    I lost 5 pounds in a couple weeks that way, no exercise. Then lost a bunch more the next couple of months, with exercise. I don’t weigh myself anymore – but I’m down a lot (15-20lbs would be my guess). And that’s still drinking lots of beer and wine and otherwise being sub-optimal on the diet front. Another ~10 to go!

  • Since you are losing weight while also training so hard, are you also tracking your measurements? I realize on a bike a pound is a pound, whether it comes from fat or muscle – but the scale isn’t always the best (or only) tool to measure how a body is reacting to a meal & exercise plan.

  • good point and I’m not yet … kinda still in the “easy wins” phase.. .I’ll have to move to this though, lots of cyclists regularly get dexa scans (!?!) for this reason.

  • love this idea! good luck with the 10!

  • haha and ya know what, if you live in VietNOM that might not be the worst thing. But in Barcelona or USA, as you noted, it’s a different story! :)

  • I think you’re right, for all the health reasons people choose Vegan diets, for example, it seems that more fundamentally (those who stick to whole foods) are cutting out calorically dense foods.

    There’s a ton of complexity but I like the simplicity of simply knowing the numbers and working from there.

    I feel ya on the business travel, it’s probably worth enjoying those trips and the food they’ve got there! :D

  • Agree! Also for US mgmt they also have many famous chain/resto meals in the database if you were to find yourself in one of those places.

    Also I can speak from experience, mindless pretzels are completely delicious and totally add up :) I’ve noticed many wins just like that, using the calories when you want them to ‘count’

  • :D Seems like any extra weight as a climber would have a similar effect as cycling (if not more…) 1800 calories a day would be pretty aggressive for someone active of your size, perhaps more than 2 pounds a week?

  • haha I was celebrating with my fork!

    Thanks for the heads up on the app and book. And congrats on the huge success! That’s killer.

  • cheers Greg good luck with it! I actually did the same and had the same result of it coming back (wrote about it a few years ago). Interested to see how this new, less restrictive approach, works out over a longer term period. Let us know how it works or if you find anything that works.

  • Chris Mitchell

    I used the same method to lose 12 kg – I’ve another 12kg to go. The only other thing I’d suggest with any weight loss thing is take a long term view. Don’t try and lose 10 kilos in 2 weeks or some other mad goal. If you lose a kilo (2 pounds) a month, you’ll be 12 kilos lighter in a year’s time. That is eminently achievable and allows for plenty of cheesecake willpower failure scenarios along the way that won’t derail you from getting to your ultimate goal. It’s the whole “people overestimate what they can do in a week and underestimate what they can do in a year” thing.

  • JoshFrets

    Oh good, I came here to write this exact answer, but Elisa has saved me the trouble. :)

  • Johnathan Solorzano


    Have you tried the App Myfitness pal? It helped me lose 20 lbs in 3 months!

  • every day

  • agree!

  • I grew up in a cycle of crash dieting and fast foods, so when I first came across the Paleo diet in 2009 I was lucky to make a simple mindset choice: instead of limiting my intake of bread and sugars, I would find ways to make vegetables taste better than bread, and steaks taste better than soda.

    It took a few years, but it stuck. Now I don’t think of bread or soda as an option, and when I do encounter them I don’t feel any guilt.

    I’ve noticed every successful diet boils down to “make yourself aware of the stupid choices you’re making.” What gets measured gets done. If you have an abundance of willpower this works well enough, and its probably a good choice for where you are in your life.


    The most sustainable approach to diet is to remove willpower as a requirement.

  • makes sense, after one month of this ‘counting’ strategy certain foods have simply become ‘bad deals’ in my mind and not something to ‘be smart about and be resisted’… i’m hoping that solidifies into something long term. we’ll see!

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