Eating right doesn’t need to suck! Here are my practical “secrets” to getting your body fat down to 5%!

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I spent the last couple days thinking, “what should I talk about in my inaugural fitness blog post?”   Should I talk about how to most quickly get ripped and shredded? Or maybe 30 minute workouts for busy professionals on the go? Or perhaps my bench press routine to press over 2x your body weight? Hmmm… then, I sat down for lunch yesterday, and the perfect topic was literally sitting right in front of me, in the form of mouth-watering tri-tip steak (6 oz), scrumptious brown rice, home-made salsa, and kimchee (yes, I’m Korean)!

Some of you know that I’ve been on a diet now for the last couple of months to shred my body fat down below 5% to take pictures for a new project that I’m doing. I’m losing weight at a gradual pace of around 7 pounds a month, or ~1.5 pounds per week. I’m doing this by eating about 800 calories less per day than I burn (since 3,500 calories = 1 pound of fat, this means that I’m losing 1 pound of fat every ~4.5 days)… right now, I’ve figured out that I’m burning about 3,400 calories per day (averaged out over the week), which means that I’m keeping my diet at around 2,600 calories per day. What was encouraging was that last Friday, I went to get my body fat tested, to ensure I was on the path to getting down to 5%… I got tested via the hydrostatic method (the most accurate body fat testing method) at Fitness Wave in San Jose (… my result came out to just under 5.9%, which was very encouraging, given I have 3 more weeks of dieting left (I thought that maybe I was at around 7% at that time). I’ve actually lost another pound since the test, so this means that I will use the remaining time to drop body fat at a slower rate by actually increasing my caloric intake to about 3,000 per day… this is awesome, as it means I can eat more snacks each day… in fact, I’m snacking on a bag of baked Pop Chips right now, while I’m writing this post!

Anyways, getting back to the topic of losing weight and dieting while eating good foods… you know, I find that dieting has not been nearly as difficult for me as I thought. You know why? Because I’m literally eating like a king while losing weight. Seriously, DIETING and EATING RIGHT DOES NOT NEED TO SUCK! Now, the only place where I find dieting impacts me negatively, is when I engage in heavily cardiovascular activities, like playing basketball or soccer competitively. Since I play both sports competitively every week, I notice that I have less energy, speed, stamina, and power than usual, but that’s somewhat expected because I’m cutting significant calories, and thus other macronutrients along with it. Okay, but aside from that, let me tell you why dieting doesn’t have to suck. First, let me debunk several dieting myths that I know you’ve probably heard at some point:

  1. You gotta severely cut carbs to really lose weight. This is total garbage. I’ve tried both dieting while cutting carbs AND dieting while eating plenty of carbs in a healthy ratio… and both methods work the same, as long as you stay under your caloric budget. In fact, I usually get about 40~50% of my daily calories from carbs (for me, that’s 250~300+ grams/day at current caloric levels), so I stay energetic for my workouts, AND I feel less hungry because I’m not depriving myself of a key macronutrient that gives energy. The reason why a lot of people on Atkins and other carb-deprived diets often lose weight is because along with less carbs, they are eating less calories overall. Look, if a carb-deprived diet works for you to lose weight, AND you can continue this lifestyle with no sugar cravings or lack of energy, then by all means keep doing what works for you. It’s just that for most people, I find that it’s very difficult to cut out this critical macronutrient for the long-term while staying energetic during workouts or exercise.
  2. You have to eat 5~7 times per day to keep your metabolism going. This is not true. Again, it all comes down to how many calories you eat versus how many you consume. It does not matter if you do it in one sitting or seven… as long as you create a caloric deficit, you will lose weight. Now, having said this, there are a few caveats to this… first, if you are involved with weight training, then you need to make sure you get a regular flow of protein into your system, so eating just once a day is not ideal… this is because your body is constantly repairing muscle tissue, and it’s looking for protein to do so… if you starve yourself of protein for most of the day, your body will not have the proper building blocks for growth and can even break down what you have. Thus, if you’re working out a lot, it’s important that you eat at least several times per day to keep a continuous flow of protein coming into your body. As I will show you below, I love eating constantly throughout the day, because for me, this helps me eat less, stay full, and continuously provide protein and nutrients to my muscles. The second caveat is that pragmatically, eating a little less, but more often, tends to keep most people more satiated and thus eat less calories. If this is the case with you (as it is for me), then by all means, eat 5~7 times per day, albeit in smaller portions.
  3. Don’t eat after 6~7 pm, to prevent fat buildup. This is complete and utter hogwash. You know, I stay up until 3~4 am almost every night, working on different projects, and I’m constantly snacking until I go to bed, and it hasn’t impeded my weight loss one bit because I’m staying under my caloric limit for the day. As long as you stay under your caloric budget, it does not matter what time you consume your food. So go ahead and eat that Ham sandwich at 3 AM… I certainly do!

Now that I’ve debunked some prevalent myths, I want to lay a few ground rules to help with your diet. This is especially pertinent if you are on any kind of workout or exercise regimen:

  1. Rule #1: Eat anything you want throughout the day that keeps you full and satisfied… but obviously, stay under your caloric budget (in fact, I’m going to prove this point to you in the future, via an interesting experiment that I plan to run and post on this blog). Now, for long-term nutritional purposes, it’s also a good idea to have a pretty balanced ratio of food intake, though… what I like to do is to try and hit a 40:40:20 ratio in terms of protein to carbs to fats. It’s totally fine if you are off by a bit, though (e.g. 30:50:20, 35:40:25) – I’m usually a bit high on the carbs, as I enjoy eating carbs and they give me plenty of energy for my daily activities.
  2. Rule #2Take a good multi-vitamin (almost any type of multi-vitamin will suffice) and preferably Omega-3 fish oil, and drink lots of water. This is for your overall health and to promote fat-loss (yes, fish oil for fat loss… go figure!). Especially if you are working out along with your diet, it’s very important to take at least a good multi-vitamin supplement. Try to drink at least .5~1 gallon of water per day (8 x 8 oz of water to 16 x 8 oz), as it is essentially to proper bodily functions, electrolytes, etc.
  3. Rule #3: Don’t try to lose too much weight at one time. Seriously. It’s much more sustainable and enjoyable if you take time to lose weight, as opposed to trying to go on a juice diet for 2 weeks to lose 20 pounds. If you’re pretty new to dieting, I would not recommend losing more than 1 pound each week (you do this by eating 500 less calories per day than you consume), unless you absolutely must lose weight in a short time to fit into a certain pair of pants for a near-term event or something like that (chances are, you will not be able to sustain the lower body weight if you lose too fast, and you may even slingshot back to a heavier weight after your diet is finished because you are so hungry and calorie-deprived). If you’ve dieted before, you can try to lose up to 2+ pounds per week, but it can get pretty challenging, especially if you are trying to lose quite a bit of weight while working out hard.
  4. Rule #4: If you are involved with resistance/weight training, you need to consume at least 1 gram of protein per pound of your body weight per day. For serious body builders, crossfit, power lifters, etc. I recommend getting 1.5 grams per pound of body weight. This ensures that you have the most important macronutrient for muscular growth in plentiful amounts. Now, since you have this “constraint” on your diet, you must do just a little bit of planning so that you can ensure that you stay within your caloric budget while getting plenty of protein, while eating the foods that you enjoy and keep you full. As such, this rule becomes a bit of a caveat to Rule #1, which is to eat whatever you want within your caloric budget. What I find helps in this situation is to use nutritional supplements. I use two supplements: one is a meal replacement protein drink (I use Myoplex Original from EAS, but it doesn’t matter at all what brand you use) that has both PROTEIN AND CARBS, and this should be taken within 30 minutes of completing your workout. By the way, the reason you also want carbs (not just protein) after a strenuous workout session is that you must replenish your depleted glycogen stores quickly because if your body cannot replenish this, it may break down muscle tissue to take what it needs. So prevent this from happening by eating a well-balanced meal replacement drink or taking a combination of a protein drink with 24 ounces of Gatorade or a piece of fruit, like a banana or apple. The second supplement I use is Whey protein. I like Whey protein because it provides nearly pure protein with little else (thus low calories)… as such, if I’m short on protein during the day or at night, I drink this to ensure I have ample protein, while adding only a little to my total calories. Also, I like to drink it before bed and first thing in the morning, to give my body plenty of protein to repair muscle tissue while I sleep. FYI, stay away from EAS Whey Protein here, as it tastes like crap and gives the lactose intolerant people like me diarrhea… instead, I like to drink Dymatize Whey Protein because it tastes delicious, just like chocolate milk (Chocolate Mint flavor)… yum…

So here’s a sample of what I eat on a daily basis… it changes day by day and week by week, but I continue to lose fat because I am carefully tracking my calories and staying under a specified limit. By the way, a great resource to find caloric information of different foods is found here:

Sample Day (eat 2,500 – 2,700 kcal):

  • Breakfast: Generally, I drink one serving of Whey Protein, as well as ½ cup of oatmeal (prior to cooking) w/ 1 teaspoon of brown sugar OR a jelly sandwich on 2 wheat bread slices.
  • Mid-morning snack: An energy bar (e.g. Cliff Bar, Granola Bar, Atkins Bar, etc.), an apple, or a serving of yogurt.
  • Lunch:
    • If I’m at home, I eat a plate of meat (6 oz cooked of lean steak, pork, fish, or chicken), 1/2~1 cup of brown rice, and a side of vegetables like salad, kimchee, homemade salsa, spinach, etc. I usually drink water at home (no soft drinks). Sometimes I’ll mix it up by cooking stir-fried veggies with 96% lean ground beef, then I put this over a bit of brown rice. It’s really delicious.
    • If I’m in the office, I usually eat a 6” chicken/roast beef sandwich (e.g. Subway, Toaster Oven, Quizno’s, Lee’s Sandwhich Shop) with no cheese or mayonnaise, but with almost everything else on it (I throw on tons of jalapenos, baby!). Then, I drink either water or a Coke Zero. I try not to waste calories on sugary drinks, like soft drinks, unless they have zero calories.
    • On the weekends, I’ll sometimes eat a big bowl of Pho (delicious Vietnamese rice noodles)… I just have to adjust my calories for the rest of the day a bit because Pho is pretty high in calories… but it tastes OH SO GOOD!~
  • Mid-afternoon snack: ¾ cup of 2% cottage cheese with a sliced apple or pear to make it taste much better; sometimes I’ll eat a yogurt or an energy bar instead.
  • Late-afternoon snack: a piece of fruit, like a banana, or a granola bar.
  • Dinner: I eat another plate of meat (6 oz cooked of lean steak, pork, fish, or chicken), 1/2~1 cup of brown rice, and a side of vegetables like salad, kimchee, homemade salsa, spinach, etc. Again, I mix this up… sometimes I eat home-made steak tacos on wheat tortillas with lots of veggies and salsa. The key is portion control (I stay at around 6 oz of meat, cooked).
  • Post-workout meal: High-protein meal replacement drink (Myoplex Original by EAS) with a banana or 12 ounces of Gatorade, immediately after my workout.
  • Late-night snack: Atkins meal bar, baked chips, granola bar, etc. I eat enough and keep the snacks spaced out to keep myself more full, while staying under my caloric limit. Also, if I’m really craving “bad” foods with high calories or lots of trans fats (e.g. cinnamon rolls with icing, cake, pastries, etc.), I will take a very small piece and just nibble. It helps me “enjoy” that food and eliminate the cravings, at least a little bit, while not putting all of the nasty crap into my system.

All of this comes out to about 2,300~2,600 calories per day, give or take. So I’m eating delicious foods while staying full and losing weight. What really helps is that I’m staying away from potentially super-high calorie foods like mega-sized burritos doused with guacamole & cheese, fried foods with tons of calories & trans/saturated fats, foods with lots of mayonnaise or melted cheese, or restaurants where you are just not sure exactly what ingredients they are using, etc… of course, it’s harder to stay under your caloric budget when you have to eat out a lot (e.g. working professionals), but as long as you use a little common sense (e.g. no mayonnaise or cheese, take it easy on the fatty or fried foods) and portion control, you can stay within your caloric budget. What I do is try and control my eating situation as much as possible – for example, I stick to foods where I know the caloric content (or check it out first online), bring some of my own food to the office, eat at restaurants where I know the menu, have extra meal bars ready to eat just in case, etc… and if I have to eat at a restaurant where I don’t know the menu or ingredients, like at a new Italian restaurant or something, I try to stick with foods that are more easily recognizable, like simple spaghetti with light meat sauce separately on the side, while staying away from the dishes with melted cheeses. If I’m at McDonald’s, I try to order the grilled chicken sandwich and stay away from the French fries or eat just a little bit.

Oh yeah, regarding social situations where you need to drink alcohol… listen, just budget it into your total calories, and you’ll be fine. This is one area that I have to be careful about, because I can seriously put the beers down, especially if they’re dark beers like Guinness, Young’s Oatmeal Stout, Newcastle Brown Ale, etc… but anyways, the worst part about alcoholic drinks are the empty calories they present (they contribute very little to nutrition while racking up the calories), as well as the fact that alcohol prevents protein synthesis and dehydrates you, which are both bad for people who are training… but again, lots of situations arise for me where I need to have drinks, so I just budget it into my daily caloric budget and plan my nutrition more strictly on the days that I know I’m going to be drinking. And of course, just limit the amount that you drink… for example, almost every week, I have a pint or two beers with my indoor soccer team after our game… but you know, I burn a ton of calories playing soccer, so I’m more lenient about my caloric consumption on those days (I’m more concerned about the impact of alcohol on my muscles, as I mentioned). Again, use good common sense (e.g. drink in moderation), and don’t be afraid to have a “cheat day” each week where you indulge in life’s pleasures a bit.

Following these rules while dieting have helped me shred down from ~190 pounds early this year(at ~17% or so body fat ) to almost 170 pounds right now (at ~5% body fat), while retaining most of my strength. I hope some of this information is helpful for your own diets. Good luck, and keep checking my posts, as I’ll follow up with a lot of posts regarding practical advice on dieting, exercising, and interesting fitness-related topics!

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Julie says:

Paul, great info ~ thanks! Isn’t kimchee loaded with sodium though? I prefer raw almond butter over Jif’s sugar. Also, in my fitness journey I have found that it’s great and so helpful to find a trustworthy health store too, as mine has taught me so much and introduced me to so many new things I would have never known about, without overwhelming me or draining my account. Thanks again!

Paul Kim says:

Hi Julie, yes kimchi has a relatively high amount of sodium, so if sodium intake is of utmost importance to you, you can substitute other veggies for it. At the same time, kimchi is very high in fiber and super high in certain vitamins & minerals (e.g. vitamins A, B, C, calcium, and iron), helps digestion through lactobacilli, and may prevent cancer. In fact, Health Magazine named kimchi one of the healthiest here. For me, I like the taste, so I mix it in with other greens as part of my diet, especially as I consume red meats, chicken, pork, and fish :) But again, you should use foods that work best for you!

paulkimpk says:

Hi Tim, good question. It should be based on your CURRENT weight. Base it on 190 pounds. As your body weight drops, the target protein level will also drop. Just remember, the 1 gram per pound is a MINIMUM target, if you are working out seriously… I would target higher, if you are working out very intensely and want maximal muscle gains, while concurrently slimming down. Keep it up, man!

timoneil says:

Hey Paul,

Great info here! Quick question for you on the protein intake levels-

You mentioned that a person should ideally take in 1-1.5g of protein per pound of body weight… My question is which body weight target should we considered- the current body weight or the target?

For example if I weigh 190lbs but I’d like to get to 170lbs… Should I be taking in at least 190g or 170g of protein per day?


tagami says:

Hey Paul – Having insight from someone that has “run the gauntlet” reinforces my objective of 25 @ 50 (body of 25 years @ 50) that much more. Really glad you started this blog! Looking forward to reading more. T-minus 4 months, 6 days!

paulkimpk says:

Ted, I’m very happy that this is helpful to you. Keep up the great work on the 25 @ 50… it’s awesome that you’re so motivated about fitness!

Tim says:

Great article Paul! Thanks for sharing!

paulkimpk says:

Thanks for the kind words, Tim! Keep checking back, subscribe via email/RSS, bookmark, etc. as I will be updating the posts often with relevant content!

Leo rhee says:

Paul, do you do cardio? These days, I’m doing a lot more cardio than weights.

paulkimpk says:

Hi Leo, yes I do cardio… most of the cardio each week is divided into two days, specifically indoor soccer one day (50 minutes) and basketball on another (2 hours). I choose these specific activities because I particularly enjoy playing soccer and basketball. Depending on whether I need to burn more calories or not, I will do additional running outdoors or on a treadmill. Sometimes I also perform functional cardio exercises, where I do a short-but-intense session of multiple sets of exercises with little rest in between, which really helps get the heart going and burns calories for a longer period after my workouts. Yes, keeping your cardiovascular health up is really important, especially as we get older :) Keep it up!

J D K says:

very informative! looking forward to reading more posts.

paulkimpk says:

Thank you! Please stay tuned…

Charles says:

Paul, great article…I’m going on your diet starting today. However, I’m traveling alot so what do I order when I go out to eat? Just eat a salad? Also, I love bread and much do I have to cut down?

paulkimpk says:

Charles, eating out is one of the biggest issues that impede weight loss for working professionals like you… layer on top of that travel (including international travel), and it becomes even more difficult. As I mentioned in the post, you have to use a combination of trying to control your eating situation (e.g. bringing your own snacks, eating foods that you know, choosing “healthier” restaurants, etc.) and use portion control, as well as good judgment. For example, take out the cheese and mayo in sandwiches. Order salad dressing on the side and use sparingly. Take it easy on the sauce. Stay away from or minimize fried or buttery foods. Stick to fresh, raw, or less processed foods like whole grains, fruits, veggies, etc… what I do at many restaurants, if I don’t know what ingredients were used to cook the food, I will usually stick with dishes made from white fish, then other fish, then chicken, then red meats, in that order of choice. I find that makes things a less risky in terms of minimizing calories and fats.

Frankly, the best way to lose weight is to actually record your foods and count or estimate calories. Doing this leaves the least to chance.

Julio says:

Paul- I’m using a great app on my iPhone to track my calorie consumption in addition to my exercise. I’ve lost about 15lbs but am still at at around 19% body fat and want to get that down to 10-15% range. I am averaging about 1,300 net calories per day or less with the exercise and am consuming a healthy amount of protein (100-140) but in the past 3+ weeks haven’t seen any improvement in weight or body fat… What gives? I am 5’9″ and weight 169lbs now…. Congrats on your transformation!

paulkimpk says:

Julio, congrats on the progress thus far because losing 15 pounds is a big deal! Regarding your recent plateau… have you changed anything, like your diet or your level of exercise? Sometimes these plateaus are a function of something changing in your caloric intake versus your caloric burn. If you have not tried this yet, this is the right time to begin counting calories by recording exactly what you eat on a daily basis, then recording their calories and macronutrients (i.e. protein, carbs, fats). On top of this, I would write down any exercise that you perform, with details on what they are (e.g. running for 30 minutes, soccer for 1 hour, etc.). This is the best way to try and ascertain exactly what the issue might be. Let me know after you try that, and I should be able to help you figure this out… good luck, Julio!

Rianne says:

Looks a lo easier than the Paleo diet I’m following at the moment!

paulkimpk says:

Rianne, after completing Paleo, try this one out. I’ll upload another post in the near future about the precise steps (including Excel entries) that I take in tracking my diet… ping me if you have issues.

Lars Koschin says:

great read – do you use a personal trainer or are you past that phase ;)
and if someone starts workout – do you think a personal trainer would help or do you think its better to figure everything out on my own ?

paulkimpk says:

Lars, good question. Personal trainers are generally a good idea, if you are willing to spend a bit of money. They provide two big benefits, in my opinion: first, they provide knowledge/information on exercise & diet, which is particularly helpful for beginners; second, they motivate and keep you accountable to exercise (they kind of force you to exercise and stay on your fitness path). Now, as long as you can get both (e.g. get information from blogs like mine) and have motivation/accountability to work out, then you probably would not need to hire one. It’s totally up to you, and having one does not hurt at all and can be very beneficial :)

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