When it comes to fat loss, your diet will get you 80% of the results. Anyone who knows anything about fat loss would agree with that statement.
Unfortunately, while the importance of diet has been established, opinions on how you should eat to maximize fat loss differ wildly. There are literally hundreds of diets for fat loss out there. Some work well, others are less effective, and some are just designed to empty our pockets.
Personally, I believe that a balanced, healthy, and sustainable approach is the best, if not only, way to achieve permanent fat loss.
Fat Loss VS Weight Loss
If you’ve tried to research fat loss online, chances are you’ve come across something like this:
‘Lose 20 pounds in 14 days with this secret/diet/supplement!’
While I’d love to tell you it’s that simple, burning fat so quickly is unrealistic. Even attempting it can be potentially dangerous. Let me make this clear: this post is not just about lowering the number on your scale.
Here’s the deal: your scale may be lying to you.
There’s a huge difference between fat loss and weight loss. You can lose 20 lbs in 14 days only if you eat a ridiculously low amount of calories and minimize water consumption, both of which will result in a rapid loss of water weight and muscle mass. Your scale doesn’t take into account whether you’ve lost fat, muscle, or water. It all counts as weight. And, for reasons that we’ll explore later in this post, burning through muscle is actually counterproductive when you’re trying to lose fat.
Instead of looking for weight loss tricks or ‘miracle diets’, you should focus on steadily lowering your body fat percentage through a proper diet.
Permanent and effective fat loss can (and should) be achieved without compromising your health or resorting to extremes.
As I just mentioned, success in fat loss is usually measured by numbers on a scale. This is why diets that promise you will lose X pounds in X days/weeks are so popular, even when they don’t get results.
What you must get through your head is that the number on the scale is merely an effect of losing fat. The causes of fat loss are your diet and exercise routine.
Why is this important?
Because if you follow a proper diet and exercise regularly, your body shape will inevitably change to reflect your healthier lifestyle. It’s not a matter of if, it’s only a matter of when.
Focus your efforts on what truly matters, and the number on your scale will take care of itself.
You’re Not ‘Going On A Diet’, You’re Changing Your Lifestyle
If you’re reading this post, chances are you’ve tried ‘going on a diet’ before. I bet you know others that have gone on diets as well. And I’m sure that most of them either failed to get results or regained the weight they lost after stopping their diet. I know it sucks because I’ve been in your shoes.
To be honest, I despise the phrase ‘go on a diet’. It implies that the changes you make to your diet are temporary and that you’ll eventually go back to the lifestyle that caused you to gain fat in the first place.
What you really want to do is change your lifestyle.
You must come to terms with the fact that you’ll stay on a healthy diet even after you’ve achieved your fat loss goal. Sure, you’ll be able to eat an extra snack here and there, but generally, your diet will remain the same.
Otherwise, any fat you burn will return when you revert to your unhealthy eating habits.
If there’s one thing you’ll take away from this post, let it be this: Temporary changes will only achieve temporary results.
The Principles Of A Healthy Diet
Now let’s talk about your actual diet.
We’ll start with some basic principles and then I’ll walk you through the process of tweaking your diet for maximum fat loss. If you haven’t read The Beginner’s Guide To A Healthy Diet, I suggest you do so now.
If you’re in a hurry, here are the key points:
1: Make sure you get your macronutrients.
Protein (10-35% of total calories)
Carbs (45-65% of total calories)
Fats (20-35% of total calories)
2: Get your calories from nutrient-dense animal and plant foods. This will ensure that you get the micronutrients your body needs.
3: Minimize consumption of liquid calories, added sugars, and empty calories like refined carbs.
Optimizing Your Diet For Fat Loss
The above principles provide us with a good general blueprint, but we’re going to make a few further adjustments to optimize your diet for fat loss.
There’s no sugarcoating it. If fat loss is your goal, you must count calories. This way, you’ll get a sense of how much food you actually eat (hint: if you’re overweight, it’s probably more than you need).
As long as the calories you burn (calories out) are more than the calories you consume (calories in), you’re going to lose weight. Naturally, this isn’t the whole story, but it’s a big part of it.
So how many calories should you consume?
To find out how many calories you need to maintain your current weight, you can use a calorie calculator.To lose fat you want to eat 400-700 fewer calories than the amount you need for maintenance.
But be careful.
You may be tempted to eat even fewer calories in order to lose fat faster. However, fewer calories are not always better where fat loss is concerned.
If you consume too few calories over a long period of time, your body will adapt, which is not a good thing. When your body adapts to a low caloric intake, it will try as hard as it can to keep you from losing weight. You will experience physical and mental fatigue, your fat loss efforts will suffer and your motivation will take a dive.
And as if that weren’t enough, you will also lose muscle mass. Your body needs more energy to maintain muscle than it does to maintain fat, so it will be more than happy to get rid of your muscle mass when there’s a calorie shortage.
Here’s why this is a problem: the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism.
When you’re on a hypocaloric diet (you consume fewer calories than you burn), you will almost certainly lose some muscle. If you want to maximize fat loss, you should do what you can to minimize muscle loss and keep your metabolism high.
Eat More Protein
Protein is an essential part of any healthy diet. And it’s also very important when you’re trying to burn fat.
Here’s how it helps:
In hypocaloric diets, protein can help maintain your muscle mass and keep your metabolism high.
Protein is the hardest macronutrient to digest, which means that digesting it burns more calories than digesting carbs or fat. It won’t make a huge difference, but every bit helps.
A high-protein diet can help reduce cravings and hunger.
In short, protein can help with your fat loss efforts and you should eat a lot of it.
In most healthy diets, the recommended protein intake is 10-35% of total calories. For maximum fat loss, you can try getting 25 or even 30% of your calories from protein.
When you know how many calories you should consume for fat loss, you can learn to calculate how much protein you need here.
Keep in mind that most animal protein sources are also rich in fat, so increasing your protein intake will probably result in an increased fat intake. To compensate, you might need to lower your carbohydrate intake a bit.
Eliminate Processed Carbs, Liquid Calories, And Added Sugars
Carelessly consuming processed carbs, liquid calories, and added sugars can really set you back if you’re trying to burn fat.
These foods offer few nutritional benefits. They don’t keep you full and overconsuming them can cause many health problems. Liquid calories such as soft drinks are particularly harmful since your body doesn’t even register them as food.
You may make an exception for fresh fruit and vegetable juices occasionally, but the nutrients in juices evaporate rapidly. If your juice is not fresh, it’s mostly empty calories.
Those of you that have read The Beginner’s Guide To A Healthy Diet are familiar with the concept of nutrient density. Simply put, nutrient-dense foods are animal and plant foods that have a lot of essential micronutrients.
When you’re on a hypocaloric diet, you’re already eating less food than you need. It’s very important, therefore, to ensure that the foods you eat are rich in micronutrients.
Minimize consumption of empty calories and make sure you eat a variety of animal and plant foods.
You may think that this is only a general health recommendation, but eating nutrient-dense foods can impact your fat loss efforts as well. Most nutrient-dense foods are rich in protein and/or fiber, both of which keep you full and reduce cravings.
I’ve already said what I think on the subject of meal frequency in The Beginner’s Guide To A Healthy Diet, so I’ll keep this brief. There is no need to go for 5-6 balanced meals a day. You can if you want to, but 2-3 meals will work just as well.
Your Cheat Meals
In most diets, there are meals where you can eat whatever you want. These meals are usually allowed once or twice a week and are called cheat meals. Some diets go as far as to include cheat days. As the name suggests, you can eat without limits for a whole day.
I’m not a fan of either approach, especially if your cheat meals/days are scheduled. Sure, you could make it work in an ideal world where your meals are your only concern, but real life isn’t like that. This is also why I dislike the ‘6-balanced-meals-a-day’ approach.
The more rules you have to stick to, the more likely you are to fail. Keep things as simple as possible.
Of course, I’m not denying the benefits of the occasional cheat meal. It helps keep your metabolism high and it also lets you unwind. However, your diet should be flexible in order to account for a busy schedule.
In this diet, a ‘cheat day’ is a day in which you eat 300-800 calories above maintenance. For example, if you need 2400 calories to maintain your current weight and you consume 1900 calories for fat loss, you can eat 3200 calories once a week.
Do not confuse eating more food with eating whatever you want. Eat what you normally would and just keep a few calories in the bank for whatever junk food you like.
I strongly suggest that you don’t schedule cheat days in advance. Events like holidays and family outings always seem to pop up, so keep your cheat days for such occasions.
Setting Goals and Tracking Your Results
Earlier in this post, I mentioned that your number one goal should be the adoption of a healthy diet and exercise routine.
Having said that, more specific goals and tracking your results are also necessary to ensure that you’re heading in the right direction.
Losing 1-2 pounds (~0.5 to 1 kg) a week is a realistic goal for most.
You will use a scale to track your results. It’s not the most accurate tool, as it doesn’t take your body composition into account, but it’s by far the most accessible. Everyone has a scale.
Weigh yourself once or twice a week, preferably around the same time. Personally, I used to weigh myself every Monday morning after going to the bathroom and before I drank any liquids. Alternatively, you can weigh yourself every morning and calculate your average weight each week.
Keep in mind that your weight can fluctuate for a variety of reasons, such as water retention. Consequently, the numbers you get from your scale will not always reflect whether your diet is working.
If you see that your weight isn’t dropping over the long-term, try reducing your caloric intake or adding more exercise.
Long-term Fat Loss
As previously mentioned, most of us can only lose 1-2 pounds a week without endangering our health. Perhaps you’ll be able to lose fat more quickly if you’re massively overweight, but that’s only because you’ll have more fat to burn.
In case you do have a lot of fat to lose, it’ll take you months to do it. And the more weight you lose, the more you’ll have to reduce your caloric intake. To keep losing fat over months, you can recalculate how many calories you need to maintain your weight every month and then consume 400-700 calories below that number.
Otherwise, your progress will keep slowing down until it stops altogether.
To conclude, I want to say this: you will make mistakes and have bad days. I’m not underestimating your desire for a healthier, more attractive body, I’m just being realistic.
And while you should definitely hold yourself accountable for your mistakes, you must learn to forgive yourself as well.
When most overweight people eat something they shouldn’t, they feel guilty and try to relieve that guilt by eating even more. They gain momentary pleasure, but then they feel even worse because they’ve sabotaged themselves.They’re trapped in a vicious cycle until they eventually just give up.
Don’t trap yourself with an all or nothing attitude. If 80-90% of the foods you eat are nutritious and healthy, you’ll definitely get results. It’s not the end of the world if you stray once or twice. Acknowledge your mistake and move on.
This post ended up much longer than I expected. Frankly, fat loss is a topic that I have a huge personal attachment to, so I really hope the stuff here proves helpful.
As always, stay on the grind.