Fat loss can be a daunting topic; everywhere you look someone has a different opinion, a different method or a different product guaranteed to make you lose weight and get those 6 pack abs in mere weeks if not days.
Often just trying to find something that works can be exhausting and enough to put you off, but I urge you not to throw in the towel just yet.
This article was written to give you the exact information you need to start or continue your fat loss journey without the annoying industry bullshit or added fluff that is so common nowadays.
This article will cover;
- The difference between fat loss & weight loss – trust me it’s important
- What calories are and why they’re so important (includes the energy balance equation)
- Macronutrient introductions and why you need to include them in your diet
- How to calculate your calories and macros
- The hierarchy of diet adherence needs
- Common fat loss pitfalls and how to fix them
Let’s jump right in;
The Difference Between Fat Loss & Weight Loss
You may think that if you’re losing weight then all is right with the world and there is no reason to worry, but this is a big mistake and something you’ll pay the price for further down the line.
You see although losing weight results in you losing fat the difference between aiming for maximum fat loss and just maximum weight loss is worlds apart.
Weight loss can come in many forms;
- Water weight
- Bowel movements
- The removal of clothes
- Cutting your hair
- Losing muscle mass
- And of course, losing fat
You get the picture.
Fat loss, however, comes from one source, fat.
The point is if your aim is just to lose weight, you can do that, but you’ll also end up sacrificing your muscle mass in the process leaving you with subpar results.
@@Instead, you want to focus on maximising your fat loss whilst minimising the amount of muscle you’re losing.@@
How do you do this?
You manipulate your calories and macronutrients to put yourself in a calorie deficit large enough to facilitate fat loss whilst minimising your risk of losing muscle. This is what will have you looking ‘ripped’ and ‘lean’ when you come to the end of your fat loss journey.
Calories, What Are They & Why Are They Important?
A calorie is a unit used to measure the energy found in food or fluids. The amount of calories you eat and use for energy each day directly impacts whether you will lose or gain weight.
When working out your daily calorie needs there are several processes that your body performs which impact the number of calories you need per day.
Basal Metabolic & Resting Metabolic Rate (BMR & RMR)
This is the number of calories your body needs at rest to perform basic functions like breathing and generally keep you alive and ticking. It is the minimum number of calories you’d need to maintain your weight if you lay in bed all day.
This process is often referred to as BMR or RMR.
The Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)
This is the number of calories your body burns when working to digest any food that you’ve eaten and accounts for a small portion of your daily calorie burn.
NOTE – meal frequency doesn’t matter and research shows there is no need to ‘stoke’ your metabolism by eating 6 meals a day
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis is the energy you expend on all things that aren’t sleeping, eating or exercise like activity. It includes things like commuting to work, fidgeting, gardening, etc… It can make up a large number of calories depending on the individual and their daily routine. (1)
Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
This is the total amount of calories you burn each day inclusive of the above processes and any additional exercise you do.
Using this number, you can manipulate your daily calories to lose, gain or maintain your weight. This is done by manipulating your energy balance to bring about the desired effect.
The Energy Balance Equation
The energy balance, as known as ‘calories in vs. calories out’ is the relationship between energy used and energy stored. It has 3 outcomes;
Weight loss = If you burn more energy than you store you will lose weight
Weight gain = If you burn less energy than you store you will gain weight
Weight maintenance = If you burn and store energy in equal amounts you will maintain your weight
@@The energy balance is important to understand as it’s at the foundation of any weight loss efforts and if you do not eat in a caloric deficit you will not lose weight, it’s a simple as that.@@
However, calories as important as they are, are only part of the story. You also have to pay attention to your macronutrients as this is where you get your calories from.
Macronutrients, What Are They & Why Are They Important?
Macronutrients are where you get your calories from, there are 3 primary macronutrients and they each provide a number of calories per gram.
- Protein has 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates also have 4 calories per gram
- Fat has 9 calories per gram
Protein is used by the body to fuel a process called protein synthesis which supports the growth and maintenance of your body’s tissues and cells. It helps in the preservation and building of muscle mass, supports your immune function and aids in the production of essential hormones and enzymes.
Carbohydrates can be metabolised by the body very quickly and for this reason are you’re body’s preferred source of energy. Carbs also aid in the proper function of your heart, brain, kidneys and muscles and are also important for intestinal health and digestion.
Fat is an important part of your diet as it allows for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, maintenance of cell membranes and hormone production. It can also be used as energy by the body and as insulation to help maintain a normal core body temperature.
As you can see each macronutrient plays an important role in your diet and are needed in different amounts to sustain fat loss, preserve muscle mass and continue to give you enough energy to function day to day.
How Do You Lose Fat?
In order to lose weight and therefore fat, you must be eating in a calorie deficit. This is achieved by eating fewer calories per day than you burn. If you’re doing this then you will lose weight and in turn fat. Below is a very simplified explanation of what’s happening;
- When you eat something, your body stops drawing on its internal stores of energy (i.e. things you’ve already eaten that have been stored for future use) and instead starts to break down and use what you’ve just eaten.
- This causes your insulin levels to rise and assist with nutrient assignment and storage. It’s not until after you’ve finished eating and your food has been broken down and stored that your insulin levels will return to their base level and you’ll stop drawing on the eaten food for energy.
- At this point, your body will again begin to draw from your stored energy for fuel.
The image below from James Krieger is a perfect visualisation representation of this process.
As you can see it's the using up of this stored energy that results in fat loss if you’re in a calorie deficit.
How to Calculate Your Fat Loss Calories
When losing fat, you want to aim for a reduction of 1 – 2 lbs per week or approximately 1% of your total body mass in lbs. This is the safest recommended rate of weight loss and will put you in the sweet spot of maximising fat loss whilst minimising muscle loss.
The easiest way to calculate your calories without complicated formulas is;
Your bodyweight in lbs x 12 = fat loss calories starting point
This should put you in the ballpark to lose the optimal amount of weight per week. However, you will need to track your weight over 2 – 3 weeks to ensure you’re not losing weight too quickly or too slowly.
Remember when dieting to lose weight the goal should always be too:
- To lose fat and not just body weight
- To lose fat in the most efficient way possible
- To retain as much muscle mass as possible
If you are dieting to just lose weight with no thought about where the weight comes from then you will end up losing not only the body fat you wanted but also the majority of the muscle, you worked so hard to get.
This is where macronutrients come into play, as whilst total calories determine whether you’ll lose weight or not, macronutrients will determine if it’s total weight or primarily fat that you’re losing. (2)
Setting Up Your Macronutrients for Fat Loss
There’s a lot of debate in the industry about the optimal macronutrient ratio and what follows here is something that has worked well for me and my clients but as you’ll see there is some flexibility to adjust the ratios towards what you prefer.
However, I’d recommend getting at least month to 6 weeks under your belt before you go changing things too much.
Research shows (3, 4, 5) optimal protein intake to build or preserve muscle mass is 0.6 – 1.1 g per lb of bodyweight, with the idea of sticking closer to 1.1 when eating in a calorie deficit and closer to 0.6 when eating in a calorie surplus.
The general recommendation and one I’ve used and given myself is to have approximately 30% of your daily calorie intake made up from fat and for the most part, this is a solid strategy. However, depending on your daily calorie needs, making 30% of your daily calorie intake up from fat can lead to an unnecessarily high fat intake.
When this is the case, a recommendation of 15 – 20% of your daily calorie intake from fat is proposed. Ultimately, provided you get at least 0.3g of fat per lb of fat-free mass you’ll be eating enough to maintain health. (6)
The total amount of carbs will depend on your total protein and fat intake, so the best way to calculate your carbohydrate intake is to first allocate your protein and fat intake and then use all remaining calories from your daily allowance for carbs.
Daily Macronutrient Intakes:
- Protein = 0.6g – 1.1g per lb of bodyweight (approx. 15% - 30% of daily calories)
- Fats = 15 – 30% of daily calorie allowance
- Carbs = remainder of daily calorie allowance
The Hierarchy of Diet Adherence Needs
When it comes to sticking to your diet and seeing the results you want there are a number of factors which will influence the quality of your results and the likelihood that you'll stick to your diet long-term. When you're choosing which type of diet to follow and how to structure it around your lifestyle you'll do well to keep the following 5 factors in mind.
If your nutrition and training plan are not suitable for your goals, then you’ll struggle with everything else in this pyramid. You’ll struggle to stay consistent, you won’t stick to your calories or macros and your food choices will swing wildly for great to awful and back again. It’s for this reason that sustainability is your number one priority when creating your diet.
Once you’ve found something sustainable the next key is to be consistent as all the good intention in the world means nothing if you’re not consistent in your efforts. Fitness is a long game and rewards those who work towards their goal over a prolonged period of time.
As we discussed earlier calories are vital when it comes to manipulating the energy balance equation to either lose, maintain or gain weight. You can train as hard as you like but if your calories aren’t set up properly then you’ll never make the progress you want.
Once you have your calories set up you need to choose the correct macronutrient ratio to support your goal. Without paying attention to where you’re getting your calories from you can easily lose fat and muscle which will leave you with poor results. However, if you set up your macronutrients correctly you can maintain or build muscle, maintain energy levels in the gym and promote good health.
5. Food Quality
If you've read much of my work, then you’ll know I firmly believe in balance and being able to include the foods/drinks you like in your diet whilst still getting the results you want. The key to this is the 80/20 (70/30 or even 60/40 in some cases) rule where the majority of your diet is made up of filling and highly nutritious foods. Then the remaining 20 – 40% can be used to include the things you like.
Common Fat Loss Pitfalls & How To Avoid Them
There are 2 decisions you can make when you’re not losing fat:
- Continue to cut calories and increase cardio in an attempt to stimulate further fat loss
- Review your current progress, identify the problem and employ a solution
One of these decisions will result in continued, sustainable fat loss and the other with lead to binge eating, weight gain and you giving up.
Whenever you stop losing weight unexpectedly it’s important you first address the possible issues or fix the common mistakes before considering reducing calories or increasing cardio.
More often than not one of the following is the culprit;
#1 - Not Tracking Your Calorie Intake Properly
This may sound like a no-brainer to some of you out there, but you will be surprised by the number of people who neglect to properly track their calorie intake.
Just think, if you don’t know your daily calorie intake and do not track your calories then how can you know if you are eating appropriately for your fat loss goal.
Remember, the energy balance equation (calories in vs. calories out) is king when it comes to changing body composition, so before you increase your training or change your eating habits make time to work out and track your calories and adjust from there.
#2 - Trying to Out Train A Bad Diet
Leading on from point one, it is vitally important to realise that diet plays a larger role when it comes to fat loss than training does.
Of course, weight training is advised to maintain strength and muscle mass when eating for fat loss but do not be fooled into thinking you can out-train a bad diet, as no amount of training will help you lose fat if your nutrition is not dialled in.
#3 - Utilising Quick Fixes
I know it can be tempting, they wouldn’t be so excessively advertised and heavily marketed if they weren’t but trust me they are a complete waste of your time and effort.
You must reframe your mindset and understand that anything worth having takes time. Invest in yourself and the time it takes to make a meaningful and lasting change, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
#4 - Unrealistic Goals
Don’t set yourself up to fail! When embarking on your fat loss journey you must set realistic goals. You’re not going to be able to build 10kgs of muscle in one month, nor are you going to be able to drop 5% body fat in one month.
Understand what you want to achieve and how you are going to achieve it, then break it down in manageable chunks. Clinging to unrealistic goals will only serve to disappoint and depress you. It doesn’t need to be this way.
#5 - Hidden Calories
Hidden calories refer to the calories that often don’t get counted and get chalked up as inconsequential.
Things like the milk in your coffee, the squirt of sauce and the oil used when cooking can seem negligible due to the small quantities they are usually used in but, if you add up the additional calories over a day or week you’ll find you can end up 100s of calories over your goal without realising it.
Although it sounds rather complicated when you break it down and look at what is actually happening in the body doesn’t need to be this complicated for you.
In fact, losing weight is a simple process that simply requires you to burn more energy than you eat on a daily basis. If you can get this right, then you’ll find fat loss a breeze.