How I Dropped 20lbs of Body Fat for a Holiday

It’s holiday season. The time where we all frantically diet and exercise like our lives depend on it. But is all that panic really necessary? After almost 10 years working with clients, I see the same patterns year after year. 6 weeks before a holiday you suddenly realise you’ve been neglecting your health, fitness and body composition, and have no idea where to even start to fix this problem. Many people adopt crash diets, meal replacement shakes, attend exercise classes or start running. Some people give a personal trainer a call and get expert help. And a few simply resign themselves to a body that makes them feel bad about themselves because they’re too busy, tired or stressed out. Now, I’m not suggesting you should do one thing or another. It’s your body and your life, and the most important thing is that you’re happy. But if you’re not happy, and the way your body looks, moves and feels is a big part of the reason why, I’d like to help with that – and an upcoming holiday is a great short-term goal to get you started.

In this article I’m going to tell the story of how I approached my own short-term goal of dropping some body fat for a holiday. I’m not sharing this because I think it’s a smart idea for you to copy everything I’ve done – it isn’t. We’re two different people with two different bodies, experience levels and lifestyles. However, my intention with this article is to break down the main principles behind what I’ve done in this particular fat loss phase, so you can pull the useful information from it and apply it to your own life, in whatever form that takes.

Fat Loss For Holiday

Calorie Regression

The first and most important change I made when I embarked on this phase of losing body fat was the address my daily calorie intake. This is important, because if you don’t know how much energy you’re currently taking in on a daily basis, you’re flying blind when it comes to making changes. Assuming your bodyweight is relatively stable right now (i.e. not changing much from day to day), your current intake of calories is maintaining that particular bodyweight. Once we ascertain what that is, we can begin to make some changes. For example, if your current calorie intake is 2500 calories per day, it would make logical sense that your bodyweight will start to reduce if we take that calorie intake down to 2400 per day. For me, I knew my calorie intake was 3200 per day before I began dieting. So the first change I made was to reduce that number down to 3000.

(As a side note: if you don’t know how to track your calories, download an app called “My Fitness Pal” from the app store and use it to log all food/drink you consume that has calories in it).

So, now I had a starting point for my new fat loss programme, 3000 calories per day. But what should I be eating, and what times made sense to eat?

Meal Timings & Food Quality

Life is pretty hectic for me right now. I have a business to run, 5-8 clients to see every day, a university course to study, and a relationship with my partner and step-son to maintain. That’s not a ‘poor me’ statement, but it means that I don’t have as much time to perfectly prepare food and lift weights as I did in my teens or early 20s. Life happens and you have to prioritise, right?

But that doesn’t mean your health goes out the window. In fact, it’s probably more important than ever for you to look after your health. What better example to set to your kids than to keep yourself in good shape, be a role model for discipline and self-love and stay healthier for longer so you’re more immune to the constant sickness bugs that come home with them from school or nursery. Not to mention the sweet abs you’ll have on those holiday photos.

Anyway, back to the point. Because my life isn’t as carefree as it once was, I had to plan my meals accordingly. Gone are the days where I could eat 7 times per day or train for 3 hours whenever I feel like it. As a result, I planned 2 main meals and one small meal for after my workout. I’d eat a decent sized meal in the morning (alongside a litre of water and a coffee), and a decent sized meal in the afternoon. Usually my workout was around 12pm, so I’d have a small meal (usually a protein shake and some light carbs) immediately after that. Everything would be tracked on My Fitness Pal, and the most important thing was that I took no days off. I was relentlessly consistent and followed this plan every day. On the non-training days I had the same number of calories but took the small meal out and had two bigger meals in the mornings and afternoons.

If you’re going to follow this principle, find out how many calories you’re currently eating (be honest with yourself) and slightly lower it. Then, look at your schedule and figure out how many meals per day is sensible for you to eat given your commitments, and what times you’ll be able to fit them in. You should have a plan for days that are different, for example a weekend if it’s a different kind of day to a weekday. You’re allowed to eat some off-plan foods and not be too restrictive but be mindful that if you exceed your total calorie amount for the day you won’t lose weight. You should also keep in mind that if you fill your calorie allowance on sugary treats and don’t eat enough good quality protein, your muscle mass will decrease and although you’ll lose weight, your body shape won’t look any better than it currently does.

Finally, I didn’t stay on that number of calories for the entirety of my fat loss phase. I gradually decreased the number in line with where my bodyweight was sitting as the weeks went by. As we’ll discuss, I changed my activity levels before messing around with my calories, but once I’d hit a plateau with bodyweight, I dropped my calories down 100 at a time, until I eventually reached a low of 2200 calories per day at the end of my diet. To reiterate, these numbers are personalised to me, not you. You’ll need to find out for yourself what number of calories is relevant to you at what time to keep your fat loss progressing. If you need help with this, I have a 6 Week Body Transformation programme that covers exactly this topic. Click the button below to learn more:

Weight Training

The next piece of our holiday prepping puzzle is weight training. If you’re interested in having an improved body shape for those swimsuit photos on the beach, we need to get you weight training. Weight training not only breaks down muscle (so you can repair and grow it through your diet and sleep), but also helps to improve your metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn at rest) so you have a much easier time being in a calorie deficit and losing body fat for that upcoming holiday. For more reasons to train with weights, click here to read another article I wrote on that topic:

For me, weight training stayed pretty similar to how I programme it all year round. I personally follow a push, pull, legs split – which is fancy meathead talk for saying I split the week up into body parts, each day I train a different group of muscles. I’m not going to go into too much detail about that here, because my training style isn’t appropriate for beginners. Instead, the training style I recommend for beginners is a full body approach. One that means you train your full body each time you go to the gym. This stops you getting too sore and allows you to practice those big, complex movements that can be so difficult to learn (but provide a massive return on time investment). For the lowdown on all the different training styles, head over to the other article I wrote on training styles by clicking here:

Alternatively, you can watch a YouTube video on two different training styles here:

Full Body Training:

Upper/Lower Training:


The next most important component of my fat loss programme was N.E.A.T. This is a fancy fitness term that stands for “non exercise activity thermogenesis”. That sounds complicated but it really isn’t. It just refers to all the energy you burn off that isn’t directly related to your weight training or cardio sessions. Pottering around the house, loading the shopping into the car, walking the dog – these all fall under the N.E.A.T. umbrella. The best and most straightforward way we can measure N.E.A.T. is by measuring our step count. It’s a fairly safe assumption that if we up our daily step count, we up our daily energy expenditure. The first thing we need here is data. Just like when we set our calorie intake allowance, we need to figure out how many steps we’re currently doing on a daily basis. For many of us, this information is already available. If you carry around your smartphone in your pocket or bag all day long, or if you wear a smart watch, the health app on these devices will likely already be tracking your steps. All you need to do is access it and determine what the rough average is over the last few weeks. If you don’t have one of these devices or you don’t want to carry one around with you all day – I totally get it. An easy alternative here is to buy a cheap pedometer from Amazon (or elsewhere) and use it for 3 days as you go about your daily activities. Then you’ll have a rough average of your normal day’s step count. Once you have that data, just slightly increase the number of steps you’re doing for the next week or so. For example, if your current step count is around 5000 per day, aim for 6000 per day for the next 7 days. Then you can increase this 1000 at a time until you reach 10,000 per day. This is the exact methodology I used in my fat loss protocol.

Additional Cardio

Finally, once we’ve set our calorie allowance, programmed our weight training sessions and determined our step count, we can look at additional cardio. This is the last item on our checklist for good reason – I don’t believe we need to utilise this from day 1. Simply changing the diet, beginning weight training and increasing the daily step count should be more than enough to start seeing the scales move. In fact, I personally don’t add any additional formal cardio sessions in until I’ve maxed out the step count variable and dropped my calorie intake by 300-500 per day. Once these variables have been progressed, I then look at utilising cardio as a tool to keep my bodyweight coming down at a nice steady pace (1-2lbs per week is more than enough for healthy fat loss).

There are a few options for different types of cardio sessions, everything from circuit training to HIIT to plain old running on the treadmill. If all else were equal, I’d probably recommend HIIT as the most effective form of cardio for fat loss. HIIT is a type of cardio that mimics weight training, in that you have a period of hard work (for example, sprinting) followed by a period of rest or lower intensity exercise (for example, walking). However, in my case, I have been wary of doing too much high intensity exercise on top of my weight training due to a weakened immune system & many niggling illnesses that have plagued me over the summer. As a result, HIIT training felt like asking for trouble – and I didn’t want any more time off work or training, especially with a holiday coming up. So, to preserve my immune system (which was still recovering) while still increasing my energy expenditure, I opted for plain old steady state cardio sessions before & after my weight training. In practice, this looked like a moderate intensity stationary bike session for 10 minutes before I started my weight training session, and 10 minutes after I finished. I probably waited 5-6 weeks before I began adding these cardio sessions in, because initially the diet and step count changes were enough to see me progress.

The type of cardio you choose is up to you. Hopefully you can see from my case study that the choices you make are contextually dependent on your specific circumstances at the time. That’s why I can’t recommend a specific diet, a specific training programme or a specific cardio type. Those variables all depend on you. However, I hope this article has given you some insight into the kinds of things that will really move the needle for you in a fat loss programme and get you looking your best for that upcoming holiday (or for anything else you’re trying to get in better shape for).

If you need any help putting all of this into practice, I created a personalised 6 Week Body Transformation Programme specifically for people like you. In this programme we tailor everything to your specific needs, building on the principles we talked about in this article but going at your pace, no one else’s. We’ll personalise your nutrition, training and lifestyle habits so you can achieve the body you’re working towards over the first 6 weeks of working together, then teach you the process so you can maintain and continually improve it as you go along. To learn more about the 6 Week Body Transformation Programme and whether it’s right for you, click the button below:

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time.

Andy Clements

Personal Trainer & Body Transformation Coach