The phrases ‘how to lose fat’ and ‘how to lose weight’ are some of the most commonly searched terms in Google, and it’s no surprise given the obesity epidemic in America.
When someone searches for ‘how to lose weight,’ they’re almost always looking for an explanation or solution on how to lose fat. Losing weight is quite easy, but losing body fat, and keeping it off, is a more intricate process.
There are great, as well as horrendous, ways to go about this process. Some will leave you lean, strong and happy, while others will leave you hungry, famished, and prone to gaining the weight (and fat) back.
In this piece, I’m going to cover the following topics:
- How to lose weight (what is weight loss, really?)
- What fat loss is
- What causes fat loss to happen
- How to lose weight/fat fast (though not recommended)
- How to lose weight with fad diets (not the best idea)
- Can you eat junk food and still lose fat?
- My thoughts on IIFYM (if it fits your macros)
- The use of fat loss supplements
- Should you follow a specific meal plan?
- All about food combinations
- My preferred method for losing weight, torching body fat and keeping it off
What Is Weight Loss?
I understand the question seems simple, but it needs a definition and some explanation for further understanding.
Weight loss is a reduction in body weight. In saying that, I can lose weight right this instant. All I must do is get up from this computer, walk to the bathroom, and urinate. Depending on how much I excrete, I may lose anywhere from a 1/4 — 1 pound without any exercise or diet restriction at all.
If I wish to lose more weight, I’ll simply defecate, and this would yield some more weight loss. If I want even more weight loss, I’ll just drink some heavy mineral water loaded with extra magnesium and let the anus river flow (this is what’s known as a serious diuretic effect).
You see? Weight loss is easy. All you have to do is relieve yourself.
I know this example is horrible, and maybe disgusting for some, but it’s to make a harsh point:
Losing weight is not the same as losing fat.
Simple manipulations in your fluid intake can yield upwards of 20-pound swings (in either direction on the scale) in body weight, without actually losing any body fat.
This is where the ever-popular, quick-fix juice cleanses and fasting protocols come into play. Want to drop 10 pounds by the weekend? Great, try this water, lime, honey, and cayenne pepper cleanse for the next 3 days. You’ll fit into those pants for the party.
But beware, the water retention will come back, and those pants won’t fit so nicely like last weekend. It’s called a quick-fix for a reason, and it’s far from what we’re truly after, right?
TL;DR: weight loss is not the same as fat loss. No one truly wants to just lose weight. That’s easy. We want the weight loss to be in the form of fat, and ideally to keep it off with a solid diet and exercise plan.
What is Fat Loss?
Fat loss is the reduction in fat mass from your body. When someone has a drastic transformation from fat to ripped, it’s because they lost a lot of fat, and not muscle. This is what the majority of folks want when they aim to lose fat.
Note: for everyone who says they want to loose fat, remember this: words matter. Words mean things. Sometimes I feel I’d love to loose fat all over the place, but that might get messy. Imagine a bunch of fat splattering all over the wall. It’s like a horror film, but real-life. You don’t want to loose fat. You want to lose it. One ‘o’ makes all the difference, folks.
What Causes Fat Loss?
Negative (-) energy balance, plain and simple.
Energy in (eating food), energy out (expenditure), and your unique maintenance-level intake are all factors in what actually makes you lose fat.
To put it simply, all you need to lose weight (hopefully mostly from fat) is a calorie deficit. This means by the end of the day (or week, or month on a longer timeline), you’re in a negative energy balance. You’re burning more than you’re ingesting.
Simple math: If you burn 2500 calories in a 24-hour period, and only consume 2000 calorie, you’re in a 500 calorie deficit. So, that energy is going to come from somewhere. Your body, if you do this correctly, will use its reserves (either stored glycogen or body fat).
How your body determines where to obtain the energy from is a very complex* process. You have three forms of energy it can pull from, either protein (ingested or in the form of lean body mass, a.k.a. muscle), fat (the stuff on your tummy, and butt) or stored carbohydrates (glycogen) in the muscles/liver.
Of course, through diet, and training, we try to influence the body to burn mostly fat when we go on a restricted diet, but this is not in our control 100% of the time.
Your body thrives off sugar (glucose, which is the simplest form broken down in the blood). It’s our preferred energy source. Then we have fat, which is arguably the second source (but this is hard to say with varying rates of gluconeogenesis), and then we have protein that’s burned up (via gluconeogenesis).
*Us fitness folk have our preferred methods of making this fat loss thing happen, but to be fully transparent, it’s a complicated biochemical process that involves your hormones, the effects of food ingested and your expenditure. And NO ONE truly has this fully figured out yet.
How To Lose Weight Fast
In this section, I’m going to mention popular concepts that work, but may not be the best for the long-term. At the end of the article, I give my recommendations for the best ways to lose fat and keep it off.
Method 1: Water Manipulation
I mentioned the process of relieving yourself above. This is one of the fastest ways to lose weight effortlessly. However, you know it’s not actually doing anything in terms of actual fat loss.
Water manipulation, both heavy restriction, and over-hydration, is a horrible way to go about losing weight because you never actually make any true progress with your body composition. It’s an endless cycle of losing, and gaining back fluid within the body.
All the popular cleanses and juice fasts fall under this category because they’re doing nothing to help you actually burn fat.
Method 2: Low Carb Diets (also Ketogenic Diets)
Low carb diets* are very popular among fitness enthusiasts and dieters alike. It’s no wonder why, either. Reducing carbohydrates can help you lose weight pretty darn fast because of two reasons:
1. You automatically reduce caloric intake when you remove one of the three main macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, fat).
2. You reduce your levels of stored muscle glycogen, which also reduces the amount of water in your cells. As you might imagine, both of these components (glycogen, and water) contribute to your body weight.
Ketogenic diets oftentimes recommend less than 50g of carbohydrate per day and cause the body to produce ketones, which are what’s made when your body begins breaking down fat for fuel. NOTE: ketogenic diets are NOT my preferred method for losing body fat.
There are plenty of problems with the low carb approach, and I’ll explain in full in the Fad Diet Section below.
*To be clear, I’m defining low carb as anything less than 100-150g of carbs per day, which is largely dependent on the individual.
Method 3: Low Fat Diets
Like a low-carb diet, reducing your fat intake drastically helps reduce overall caloric intake due to the fact that one fat gram contains 9 calories. If you suddenly reduce your fat intake, you lower calories by default.
While eating a super low-fat diet is not as popular as it was in the past, it’s still prevalent among dieters, fitness folk, and bodybuilders alike.
Fat makes food taste good. Fat is also helpful with the absorption of key vitamins we ingest through food. Fat is also a precursor for certain hormones in the body…
This too is a bad approach, and I’ll explain further in a bit.
Method 4: Super High Protein Diets
Many popular diets recommend eating lots more protein. Many people, especially those following the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is naturally lower in protein, can benefit from adding more protein in their diet, but we don’t actually need above and beyond a certain amount.
When you raise your protein intake, especially drastically, it does a few things:
- Increases satiety, which usually prevents you from overeating other foods.
- Limits the types of foods you can eat because most tasty foods contain a good amount of carbohydrate and fat.
- Causes your intake of fat and carbohydrates to go down by default, especially if you’re trying to stick with a certain caloric range, or using percentages (such as 50% protein, 30% fat, and 20% carbohydrates).
Like the low carb and low-fat options I mentioned, a super high protein diet has its own disadvantages, mainly that it limits the nutrients you can obtain from other foods and it’s rather costly for your body to break down protein into glucose when you could just eat some more carbohydrate instead!
There are healthy ways to lose weight quickly, and safely, but eliminating entire food groups, or trying to manipulate your diet drastically with the above scenarios is hardly a good long-term approach.
Method 5: Just Eat A ‘Healthy’ Diet, and Weight Will Fall Off
This is a common idea. “Oh, I’ll just start eating healthily, and I should lose weight easily.”
Many people believe this, and while it’s a nice sentiment, it’s not true 100% of the time.
Now in certain cases, many people will change their diet from junk food to so-called health foods, like lean meat, broccoli, kale, sweet potatoes, coconut oil, et cetera, and naturally lose weight as replacing junk food with healthy foods tends to reduce overall calorie intake.
And when you reduce calorie intake, weight loss happens.
But for some people, it doesn’t work. They replace a few meals with gigantic salads and opt for whole food dinners prepared at home as opposed to the drive-thru window. They might spend weeks and even months implementing this new behavior, yet nothing happens.
Their diet could be much healthier than it was before, but if calories are not reduced, weight loss won’t happen.
How To Lose Weight With Fad Diets [AVOID THESE MISTAKES]
Ahh, the F-word. Fad diets are rampant. Every gas station tabloid promises you can lose 30 pounds this month with a special diet. Upon closer review, you learn it’s hardly healthy, nor practical.
A fad is something that comes and goes. It’s popular for some time and then passes on. No fads ever last. They often go through cycles, fading away and returning over time.
This has happened over and over with the various low-carb, low-fat approaches we know today. Heard of the Atkins diet? It’s a form of high protein, low carb dieting. Eat all the protein and fat you want, and still lose weight. Now that’s faded off, and we have the many, many variations of Paleo.
Yes, I’m loosely labeling the Paleo umbrella of dieting a fad. There are great ways to go about being “Paleo” but I’d prefer if you just said you were eating a whole food diet instead. If you’re offended, or an avid Paleo dieter, I’d encourage you to read Matt Stone’s book 12 Paleo Myths with an extremely open mind. You might just learn a thing or two.
Matt takes a very objective approach in looking at the research, studies, and real-world implications of trying to follow a diet we think our ancestors used. I’ll say… the Paleo diet, without all the restrictions, is definitely better than most fads out there, but limiting a lot of foods for fear of grains or gluten can get you into even more problems. Anyway…
There was a time when fat was demonized, and an entire frankenfood industry was born as a result. Want to eat a cookie but on a low-fat diet? No problem, you have 10 options of low-fat cookies to choose from. Ignore all the chemicals and fake substances that hold said cookie together.
Here’s how you lose weight with a fad diet…
You jump on the bandwagon, and eat from the list of allowed foods, while restricting all the forbidden foods. You keep it up until you either get to your goal weight or lose control altogether and give up.
Either way, you’re doomed for failure because a fad diet is not sustainable. Severely limiting your carbohydrate intake on any diet is not good for your health as some might try to convince you of.
Eating as much cream, and fatty cuts of meat while eliminating carbohydrates will not magically make you lose fat if you’re replacing your carb intake with extra cheese and oil on a daily basis.
A fad diet can make you view particular foods and nutrients as being good and bad, or ‘off-limits.’ It’s polarizing, and it creates a mental divide that can be incredibly hard on your relationship with food. Stress is bad for you, no matter how you cut it.
If adopting the Paleo diet causes you to eliminate all dairy, you will be missing out on all good dairy can offer you, mainly the calcium, quality protein and saturated fat (which seems to be good for hormone production, and not the cause of heart disease).
And then we have the recent advent of gluten-free zealots who believe gluten is the cause of all problems related to fat loss and gain, as well as being responsible for many other health problems.
It’s been estimated that only 10% of the population is sensitive to gluten and far less than that actually have celiac disease. As for the rest of us in the world? We have been thriving on grains (both gluten-containing and gluten-free varieties) for thousands of years. It’s science, homie.
Some even claim we advanced tremendously evolutionarily due to our ability to harvest grains. In fact, I recently read in Matt Stone’s ‘The 12 Paleo Myths Book’ that cooking our food was mostly likely one of the biggest contributors to our rapid evolution. To put it simply, cooking food makes it more palatable, and even more nutritious in certain cases. Want the lycopene from a tomato? Cook that sucker!
Here’s the deal. No one particular food is inherently bad or good on a grand scale. We all react to various foods differently based on our physiology, as well as epigenetic (environmental) factors.
Fad diets may seem like a good idea for the short-term, but the long-term implications are undesirable. Fad diets are impossible to follow forever. Your body will always win out over willpower. Humans have evolved over thousands of years, and the body is smarter than your quick-fixes.
Follow a fad diet if you want quick weight loss, but only wish to gain it back, and feel worse in the end.
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Can You Lose Weight Eating Junk Food?
Sure. The very simple explanation is calorie balance. An energy flux above or below your maintenance intake is what causes weight gain or loss. However, the intricacies run deep.
The human body cannot be reduced to a simple calorie equation of eating less and moving more because we’re not machines. We’re living, breathing organisms, with very complex biological, and psychological processes.
The rate in which we lose weight is dependent on our movement, stress levels, ability to store and use energy, stress response, thyroid health, and other factors such as sleep quality, and genetic predispositions.
Ever heard of the Twinkie Diet?
A Kansas State University professor went on a diet full of junk food for 8 weeks. In that time frame, he lost 27 pounds, which is an absurd amount of weight considering he wasn’t grossly overweight in the first place. The full story can be read here.
On a daily basis, two-thirds of his intake came from ‘convenience store’ foods, such as twinkies, cakes, candy bars, chips, etc. The rest of his intake was a multivitamin, protein shake, and a can of veggies.
His intake, unsurprisingly, was reported to being less than 1800 calories per day. So it’s easy to see he why lost weight. He took in far fewer calories than he burned.
The puzzling part of this experiment was that his health markers seemed to improve. Good cholesterol went up, while the bad cholesterol went down.
Caution: don’t be fooled into thinking a diet full of junk food is good for you, or even a viable approach to long-term fat loss. It obviously worked in the short-term, and the payoffs seem to be favorable, but there are some possibly unfavorable underlying issues at hand.
But before we hit those, let’s talk about a very popular dieting method known as ‘If It Fits Your Macros’ (IIFYM).
What About IIFYM?
First, let me explain what IIFYM is. This dietary approach is pretty simple. If you’re at all physique-conscious, you’re probably aware of a few things:
- You want to hit a specific amount of protein, carbs, and fats daily.
- You also want to control your overall calorie balance in a manner that allows you to lose weight steadily to preserve muscle mass, or gain it slowly with the hopes of building muscle, with little fat gain.
Everyone who’s building their physique understands that protein needs to be a good bit higher than the RDA (46-56g), usually to the tune of about .8-1.3g per pound of body weight (give or take depending on what scientific literature you’ve read).
In addition to protein intake, carbohydrates and fats are adjusted according to the goal.
Case in point: if you’re building/maintaining your physique, you understand monitoring your intake, and tracking macros are imperative to your success.
The Birth of IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros)
IIFYM in a nutshell: Any food is free-game assuming you make it fit within the macro totals you’ve laid out for yourself. This could literally mean consuming a snickers bar, 2 cans of coke, a few slices of pizza, and a boxed cherry pie every day under the umbrella of IIFYM. Sounds great, but I’m not convinced…
My hunch and I could be totally wrong, is that it was born out of the bland, and boring diets most bodybuilders and physique-conscious people typically follow. You know the drill—lots of overcooked fish, chicken breast, broccoli, and the occasional rice dish.
Most other foods like dairy, pasta, potatoes (other than sweet potatoes), fatty pork, and even some cuts of beef were off limits for the reason they might be higher in calories, or somehow less magical than other foods for getting big and lean…
The above may sound like a harsh representation of the typical fitness enthusiast’s diet, but it’s a true reality for many people.
In fact, my friend and mentor Alan Aragon did a short video on the origins of IIFYM here (Facebook link).
I am all for people being free of restriction or deprivation. But I don’t believe a diet should ever consist of mainly junk (processed, low quality) food. This is not a healthy long-term approach as far as I’m concerned. Just look at obese westerners who’ve been consuming fast food their entire life… Many of us are royally screwed.
And as it turns out, some IIFYM advocates seem to think only for the short-term, and that a diet full of franken-food is acceptable.
Remember this: nutrition science is very complex. We still don’t know everything about it, and probably won’t for a long, long time. I believe a diet should consist mostly of whole foods with your favorite treat whenever it makes sense (I like to give the buffer of 5-15% of your total intake for treats).
Or, if you enjoy eating ice cream daily, Haagen Dazs has some flavors with no fillers, or any ingredients you won’t recognize (it’s usually just salt, cream, milk, eggs—that’s it!).
One thing we do know for sure is that our diets have changed a lot in the last century. We have much more food than we need, and we’re eating things we didn’t use to in very large amounts (ie: polyunsaturated fats from vegetable oils, high-fructose corn syrup, highly-palatable candies, and cakes, etc). We should also note these foods are often devoid of nutrients the body needs and can obtain from non-processed, whole food.
I could go on and on, but I’ll leave you with an excerpt from an article Darya Pino wrote:
“Nutrition is complicated, but eating is not. Spend your energy discovering what works for you and try not to get too caught up in the science.” — Processed Food Versus Real Food
What About Supplements?
Many people wonder if taking supplements, and even protein powder is necessary when trying to lose body fat.
Here’s the scoop. Supplements are rarely necessary.
Supplements defined: A dietary supplement is a product intended for ingestion that contains a “dietary ingredient” intended to add further nutritional value to (supplement) the diet.
Supplements aren’t meant to magically make you lose more weight or fat. They may be marketed in that manner, but we know the only way to lose fat is to create a caloric deficit through diet and exercise. In LGN365, I even have special calculators where you plug in your height, weight, gender, and activity level and it does it for you!
Examine.com has a list of fat loss supplements, and fat burners, but they’re no magic bullet. You’d still have to create a caloric deficit, and exercise to see any appreciable fat loss. The extra amount of fat you’d burn through these supplements would be negligible, at best.
In short, most fat-burning supplements marketed heavily in magazines and online are overhyped, and overpriced. If you are sold on getting into the supplement game, it’s best to use a site like Examine.com to create your own stacks, become informed, and source them yourself.
What about supplements that aid in general health?
Ah… now here is where lies some value. Depending on our diets, and our individual metabolisms, we may or may not be adequate in certain vitamins and minerals.
Take, for example, the person living in the cold northeastern United States (or someone who never goes outside). During the summer months, they’re exposed to an adequate amount of sunlight to produce enough Vitamin D for normal function.
However, during the colder months, there’s hardly enough sunlight to produce an optimal amount of the vitamin. Therefore, supplementation is probably warranted. Talk to your doctor, folks.
The same goes for zinc, magnesium, Vitamin A, Calcium, etc. All these supplements have very little to do with fat burning, in the traditional sense, but are all a part of a healthy, functioning metabolism.
You won’t find these supplements being mass marketed as fat loss aids, because eating enough food, and getting plenty of vitamins and minerals for a healthy metabolism hardly makes for a sexy fat loss marketing campaign.
Fat Loss Meal Plans — What Should You Eat To Lose Fat?
This is a legit concern. Another pertinent question is what shouldn’t you eat?
The question might be better asked this way: What shouldn’t you eat?
If you’re looking for meal plans optimized for you, I’m afraid to say the internet can’t provide that for you. Sure, you can find sample meal plans from your favorite fitness personalities and bodybuilders, but these are catered to their bodies and preferences.
Following a sample meal plan of a fitness pro might or might not work for you. Do they routinely eat canned tuna twice per day with rice cakes? Do you hate canned tuna and rice cakes? Allergic to tuna, or rice cakes? If you answered yes to either of the above, well Houston, we have a problem.
I am vehemently against the idea of creating, or following a meal plan based on what someone else is doing. In fact, I don’t make meal plans for anyone (not even coaching clients). Meal plans can be extremely limiting (okay, or freeing), depending on the person, the goal, and what they’re trying to accomplish.
Meal plans can be helpful in the following situations:
- You’re extremely busy and have no time to eat meals on a whim.
- You aren’t confident in preparing meals regularly.
- You prefer having some structure to your weekly feedings.
Meal plans can be extremely limiting in these situations:
- You want to enjoy one or two meals out each week.
- You tend to associate a meal plan as being restricted to certain foods and meal times.
- You get obsessed with tiny details that don’t matter (meal timing, exact macros, food phobias developed from foods not being on your ‘okay to eat’ list).
Making Meal Plans Work
If you’re going to create a personal meal plan for yourself, here’s what you need to know. It’s extremely easy to stick to your diet if you’re eating the same foods day in and day out. This is also called uniform eating. The problem with this concept is a lack of variety in the diet.
Some people get bored very easily—to the point of deliberately going out of their way to break the diet, consume a bunch of junk and feel bad about it later. This doesn’t have to happen.
Variety can be very beneficial in this context. If you like to have a varied diet, but want to eat similar meals daily, try alternating your daily menu every other, or every third day.
If your breakfast usually consists of a cheese omelet, orange juice, and a bowl of oats, make a point to have a protein fruit smoothie two to three days per week.
I personally like mixing up a handful of berries, milk, greek yogurt, one banana, and a scoop of protein powder most mornings. But it can be anything.
The reasoning for this is to give your body a variety of nutrients, and energy sources. Assuming your diet is well-rounded, you’ll hopefully avoid a vitamin/mineral deficiency. If you’re worried, get a blood test to see if you’re deficient, and then see about individual doses of what you’re lacking in. This is why I take Vitamin D in the winter, and occasionally in the summer if I’m not out in the sun much.
Meal Prep—Why It’s A Good Thing
You know the old saying… if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
This is true in everything, but especially with your meal plans. Why? When you plan out and prepare your meals ahead of time, it saves you a lot of energy and willpower. If you already have your meals prepared, all you need to do is reheat, and eat.
One app I LOVE for this is called EatThisMuch. You can customize it to your liking, but it’s great for getting meal ideas. You can determine your macro targets, and even pick what types of food you like or want to avoid. For instance, I pretty much avoid all nut butter, and vegetable oils, so this makes it easy when the meal ideas are generated.
Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like after I hit generate.
What About Magical Food Combinations?
Hype. There’s an old idea that you shouldn’t combinate fats with carbs, and if you do so, you’re sure to pack on slabs of fat. The problem with this thinking is it’s extremely shortsighted. The caloric excess over time is what produces fat gain, not the supposed mistake of mixing your carbs and fats in one meal together.
In fact, I prefer all meals have protein, carbs and fat in them for taste, digestibility, and the sake of balance.
Of course, there are times when you might be doing a targeted refeed with a TON of carbohydrate (in excess of 800 grams in a day). In this case, making sure your fat intake is lower could help mitigate fat gain. But this is a highly targeted, and specific process most people don’t need to worry about.
The most important aspect of fat loss is creating a caloric deficit. Fancy meal combinations don’t do much, if anything, for fat loss. In LGN365, we use carb cycling as the preferred method of fat loss and muscle gain.
Which Diet Plan To Follow?
I‘m going to first explain the problems with the fad diets I mentioned above. Then I’m going to give you a solution, my preferred methods, for losing fat steadily, and keeping it off.
Low-Fat Diets can be okay in some cases, but are not preferable for most people. Our dietary fat intake is what’s responsible for hormone production. Going too low on fat can cause hormones, like testosterone, to plummet, and raising your fat intake super high doesn’t seem to do much good, either. It also doesn’t leave much room for carbohydrates and protein, which are both beneficial in their own right. This is an interesting read regarding dietary fat intake.
In fact, even essential nutrients such as Vitamin K, D, A, and E are labeled as fat-soluble, which means without the presence of fat, cannot be absorbed and utilized by the body. So a low-fat diet (anything less than 10% of your daily calories from fat, or less than 30-40 grams daily) is probably not a good idea for the fitness lifestyle. Again, talk to the doc.
Low Carb Diets usually work great in the beginning but cause most people to feel horrible, and perform badly down the line. Here’s why. When you embark on a low carb diet, you tend to produce more stress hormones initially (such as catecholamines, cortisol, adrenaline, etc). The first part of this experience is great because you’re more alert, have lots of energy, able to hit your workouts with ease, and hunger is typically blunted for many.
But what seems an amazing beginning will typically catch up to you. Over time, you begin to feel sluggish, tired, irritable. Your weight loss may stall, and you just might gain back some fat despite lowering carbs even further.
Matt talks a lot about these stress hormones in the Catecholamine Honeymoon. If you need more convincing that low-carb is a bad idea, read his article.
Go low carb for long enough, and your body temperature might fall slightly. Ever gone low carb for a long time, and notice yourself suddenly intolerant to the cold? Everyone around you walking around in shorts and a tee, while you need pants and a sweatshirt?
This is a fairly common experience. Cold hands and feet after periods of low carb dieting are good indicator your metabolism is slowing down and adapting. Prolonged low carb diets have been shown to reduce thyroid output. I know all about this.
And let us not forget the fact that building and maintaining muscle takes carbohydrate (which is stored as muscle glycogen). The biggest, and leanest individuals won’t be sporting a low-carb diet, and if they are, it won’t be for long periods of time. If they do any sort of low carb, it’s typically sprinkled with high carb refeeds. Anthony Colpo does some explaining on why low carb is a bad idea for physique-conscious people here.
How To Lose Weight, Drop Body Fat, and Look Good Doing It
Here’s my preferred method of going about the fat loss thing. You’ll need to focus on the following concepts to make the most of your efforts:
- Consistent weight training (3-5x per week) with very few (or zero) cardio workouts
- Eat more whole foods, and more carbs (in general)
- Track your intake
- Prioritize rest and sleep
- Get some accountability
Weight Training [Sans the Cardio]
Look, there are 1,001 different ways to lose body fat via exercise, but I’m partial to weight training. In fact, it’s all I have my clients do as their main fat loss exercise. No running. No spinning. Just lifting. Hard and heavy sessions, 3-5 times per week.
Note: I’m not saying running, or jogging, or yoga, or whatever you prefer is bad. It’s just not my preferred method, nor what I’m best at providing expertise on.
Now, there are many ways to go about this. For beginners, I prefer a full-body routine. Upper/lower splits are great too. Heck, even traditional body-part splits have their place in helping you lose fat and shaping your body.
When I created LGN365, I provided the minimum effective dose when it came to fat loss programming. Full body and upper/lower splits are the bread and butter here. Gym sessions that last 1 hour or less over 3-4 days per week are amazing for adherence and results.
Weight training is important because it helps your body hang onto, and even build muscle mass while you’re eating less to torch your body fat. It sends the signal of “burn fat and carbs for fuel, not muscle” as your body takes care of utilizing energy in other forms (usually body fat).
It’s also important for building strong bones, which comes in handy as we age. We don’t wanna be breakin’ any hips unless it’s on the dance floor.
JC Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It
It’s also important for creating the shape you want—you know, the big chest, wide shoulders, slim waist, and thick arms?
Or the tight booty, round shoulders, slim waist, and v-shape?
Without weight training, you’d look like a smaller version of yourself when you set out to drop the body fat.
This is why diets without resistance training do literally nothing for shaping your physique.
Why Little to No Cardio?
Because recovery is important, and while you may feel the extra cardio is beneficial, I don’t believe it to be the case. Stress is stress is stress.
We recover when we allow ourselves the chance to. Training hard in the gym is great, but the positive changes don’t come while being under the bar. They come when you’re feeding your body and resting. In this case, you are what you eat, and a reflection on how you sleep.
I feel that, depending on the trainees schedule, adding cardio onto a lifting routine usually compromises their results. Is it beneficial in some cases? Sure, but if you can lose fat, and shape your physique without the extra activity, yeah… do that.
Only add the cardio when it becomes utterly necessary.
Whole Foods with a few treats [no traditional IIFYM stuff]
When looking to lose fat, I believe whole foods are ideal. Beef, fowl, fish, pork, broth, potatoes (all varieties), rice, oats, bread, apples, oranges, bananas, pineapple, virtually any fruit, brown sugar, dairy (all sources), coconut oil, butter, onions, romaine, corn, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, and the list can go on and on.
A diet full of whole foods offers the following:
- a wide array of vitamins and minerals
- satiety (feeling full)
Why not traditional IIFYM?
Because I don’t believe a lifelong diet should be full of junk. It’s completely cool to have treats in your diet on the regular, as long as it’s not the bulk of your intake. I prefer to make 85-95% of your intake with whole food and fill in the rest as you like.
If this means having a treat (candy bar, carnival food, take-out, fast food, etc) 2-4 times per week, and you can fit it into your macro goals, then by all means… have fun.
There’s nothing wrong with this, and it also allows for more flexibility, as we cannot control our diets, or social lives 100% of the time. And who wants to anyway? I write more about this in Why Fitness Should Complement Your Life, Not Rule It.
Tracking Your Intake
There’s an old saying that goes something like this: you can’t manage what you don’t measure. If you’re not tracking your intake, you can’t make changes based on real-world results.
It’s like saying you’re going to eat healthy in hopes of losing weight. However, if you don’t track what you’re eating, you may lose weight too fast, or not at all. Without tracking your energy intake, there’s no way to make any educated changes based on the outcome.
Tracking your intake is actually pretty easy, even if it seems complicated at first. I wrote a No-BS Guide To Counting Calories to explain exactly how to track your intake.
How do I determine my calories and macros?
Good question, not so simple answer. I will give you a starting point.
For most people who are active, and training 3-4 (or more) times per week, a good way to determine your maintenance caloric intake is by multiplying your body weight in pounds by 15-16 (for my metrically-inclined readers, you’d multiply your bodyweight (BW) in kilograms by 33-35).
Remember, this is a rough suggestion, so it may differ for you based on real-world results. If you have real-world data, use that.
Math Example: 200-pound male
15×200 = 3,000 calories
How to Set Macros?
This is a simple guide, and can be manipulated depending on the client/athlete’s needs, but here’s a simple way I’d set my maintenance macros for the 200-pound (90 kilos) male.
Protein = 1xBW in pounds (2.2xBW in kilos)
Fat = 20-30% total calories (66 – 100g)
Carbohydrate = remainder of intake
200-Pound Male Maintenance Macro Example:
Protein = 200g (~26% of intake)
Fat = 85g (~25% of intake)
Carbohydrate = ~360g (~49% of intake)
How To Determine The Caloric Deficit
There’s a lot that goes into setting the deficit, such as how much fat the person has to lose, their starting body weight, their activity levels, previous dieting history, if they have a deadline, etc.
So I’m going to give you a starting point based on the above numbers and you can adjust as per your own needs.
In general, the more fat you have, the harsher the deficit.
I prefer small to moderate deficits. and only extreme deficits for short periods of time.
Small deficit: 100-300 calories per day below maintenance
Moderate deficit: 400-600 calories per day below maintenance
Large deficit: 700-1,000 calories per day below maintenance
Extreme deficit: >1,000 calories per day below maintenance
In general, I like to start people at around 300-500 calories below maintenance per day.
So, on average using the example above, that would mean 2,500-2,700 calories per day.
My reasoning for this is I believe we should try to find that sweet spot where we lose fat while eating the most food possible. Would it be okay for someone like the above with a 3,000 calorie maintenance to start with a large deficit? Sure, but at what cost? If they don’t have a deadline or beach to hit anytime soon, I prefer it to be nice and steady.
Starting on the low end is especially a good idea for those who are already very lean, and those who are naturally lighter in body weight, such as shorter men and women who aren’t terribly overweight in the first place. I can’t imagine telling a woman with a 2,000 calorie maintenance level to cut her intake in half for the sake of fat loss.
Cautionary Advice: When aiming to lose fat, the whole idea of more is better does not ring true. More exercise, bigger deficits, and fewer days off might seem like the magical method to make you lose fat faster, but it’s not. It’s a recipe for burnout, and losing control of your diet constraints.
I believe a moderate deficit is best, along with 3-4 steady days of strength training will do the trick. This is what we recommend in LGN365, anyway.
Sleep, Rest, and Relaxation
Sleep. While it’s very important for optimal bodily functions, hormones, performance, and mood, many people don’t take it seriously enough. There are a lot of recommendations for proper sleep duration, but it’s hard to say what’s optimal for everyone. I aim for 8-10 hours per night, and that seems to suit me well.
Some might need more, or less depending on their personal preferences, training loads, and general life stressors.
However, I do know that getting to bed at a decent hour (definitely before 11pm) and rising with the sun (in accordance with natural circadian rhythms) is very important for energy levels and hormonal production. I wrote about this at length in this article. Skip down to the part titled Horrible Sleep Habits.
If you’re one of those who believe you can overwork yourself on very little sleep, a rude awakening is in your future. Trust me.
Get Some Accountability
Look. It’s easier to make this whole thing work when you have support and accountability. Plain and simple. Losing fat, and building muscle is hard work. Why go at it alone?
There are, literally, hundreds of options. You can get coaching, join a community online such as Fitocracy, participate in forums, hire a trainer, or join a class at your local gym. How you get the support doesn’t matter, so as long as you get it somewhere.
In my article, How To Stack The Deck In Your Favor, I polled a bunch of folks in one of my muscle gain groups and their remarks were amazing. When we have others fighting a similar fight as us, we feel a sense of belonging. We get the encouragement and drive we need to push on, when all by our lonesome, we give up.
I have people in my life who keep me accountable with my training (yes, I have a coach), business, and work/play times.
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