This Fat Loss 101 article is for anyone who has ever been completely confused with all the misinformation floating around in the world regarding how to effectively lose fat for good. Particularly around the start of a new year, predatory marketing starts bombarding you from all directions, telling you all the latest and “greatest” dieting tactics. The problem is, this bombardment of useless products, cleanses, and get slim quick schemes are not actually the answer. And they will most certainly leave you in a place similar to where you started: frustrated, stuck, and wondering what to try next. So before we dive into what DOES actually matter for lifelong fat loss, let’s first go over what definitely does NOT work for longterm fat loss:
· Short-term diets
· Juice cleanses
· Exercises to spot-reduce fat in your belly or any other area
· Slim tummy tea
· Any product that promises fast results
· Anything that doesn’t include proper nutrition + exercise
While we all love the idea of a quick-fix and instant results, that simply does not exist when it comes to body composition changes. And while short term, extreme diets may work at first, they’re setting you up for a major weight rebound once you stop eating extremely low calories (which no one can do longterm). Which leads me to fat loss tip #1….
1. Play the long game
This is the un-sexy answer nobody loves, but it’s the strategy that will actually get you lasting results. If you’re looking for a fat loss plan that will help you lose 10+ lbs in 30 days, think again. True, sustainable fat loss occurs at a rate no faster than .5 to 1 lb per week. If you’re losing way more than that, it’s likely water weight, or you are taking drastically unhealthy measures. And while you may be so desperate to lose fat that desperate measures sound pretty great right about now, consider the majority of the contestants from the show Biggest Loser. This show is a prime example of how unhealthy fat loss measures may lead to initial results, but longterm failure. A study conducted following 14 of the contestants from the show reported that they had all gained the lost weight back, and some even gained MORE back than they initially had. Why? Because they did not play the long game or set up for longterm success. In the process of losing the weight, they severely underregulated their metabolisms, and never successfully set up healthy habits they could continue with after the show. All proving that it’s how just about losing the weight, it’s about HOW you go about it.
2. Prioritize a Calorie Deficit Above All Else
Have you ever heard the saying “abs are made in the kitchen”? Well, it’s not entirely wrong. You can exercise for 2 hours daily but if you are eating a surplus of calories, you will still gain weight. Simply put, a calorie deficit means that you are taking in less calories than the amount your body needs to maintain your weight. Each of us has a different maintenance point. While we can plus our age, weight, height, gender, etc into a calculator to tell us our Basal Metabolic Rate/maintenance calories, these generators are rarely ever accurate. The BEST way to figure out your unique maintenance calories is to actually track every little thing you eat for a full week. Don't alter how you typically eat, just observe and diligently keep track. At the end of the week, calculate what your average daily calorie intake is. Boom. There it is. You now have your customized maintenance calories. Now if you're trying to lose fat, you'll need to shave off a few hundred calories off of your maintenance calories each day. A modest deficit is best because you'll likely be more compliant over time. Anyone can drastically slash calories for a week, but then we all know how that turns out. It's simply not sustainable. I recommend going no more than 300 calories below your maintenance each day. If you go this route, your progress will be slower, but you'll be FAR more likely to not gain it all back ultimately.
Creating a calorie deficit is the ONLY way to lose fat. Often times people will say things like:
-I lost weight because I went low-carb
-I lost weight because of a juice cleanse
-I lost weight because I started fasting
Or another hundred other varieties. When the reality is, they lost weight because they were eating in a deficit while doing "x" diet. It had nothing to do with juice, cutting carbs, or what times of day they were eating. It always comes down to calories. Which is actually quite freeing! This means you don't need to stress about:
Eating late at night
Eating processed foods sometimes
Eating 3 meals per day
Eating 6 meals per day
HOW, WHAT, and WHEN you eat will simply dictate how you FEEL! It doesn't have an affect on your ability to lose fat AS LONG AS you're still in a calorie deficit. Studies have actually been done to show that an individual lost a LOT of weight while eating nothing but McDonalds every day, 3 meals a day for a month. All because.....wait for it....his calories were below his maintenance thus creating a calorie deficit. This shouldn't encourage you to gorge yourself on fast food 3 meals per day, but rather it demonstrates that it really is a numbers game at the end of the day. Think about it like this:
How much you eat = fat loss or fat gain
What kinds of foods you eat, how often you eat, macronutrient ratios (carbs, fats, proteins) = health, satiety (how full you feel) + how you feel in general
This means there's no need to cut out food groups, restrict, cut out all sugars or processed foods 100% of the time, or eat because the clock tells you it's meal time. That's great news and makes losing fat a whole lot easier/less stressful! I find that I am way more successful with losing fat when I still allow myself to have the occasional dairy queen blizzard, burger, chocolate, or [insert your favorite not-so-healthy foods].
I eat in a calorie deficit, eat only when I am actually hungry (usually 2 meals per day because I feel best this way), and eat healthy foods about 80% of the time. It really doesn't have to be too complicated, see!?
3. Prioritize Strength Training
Your third tip when it comes to working towards a leaner physique is prioritizing strength training! And when I say strength training, I mean heavy, slow compound lifting with a goal of building muscle. You may think "Okay but I don't want to build muscle, I just want to tone". I've heard this one a LOT and I used to fall prey to marketing scams built around the word "toning". Toning = becoming lean enough (calorie deficit) to uncover muscle (strength training). There actually is no way to "tone" a muscle. It either grows or shrinks. If you want the "toned" look, you need to focus on building muscle. People often blame their bigger arms or legs on lifting weights, when really it's because they haven't achieved the leanness required to achieve the "toned" took. That's why the calorie deficit and lifting of weights need to go hand in hand for fat loss. Another reason why lifting weights is so crucial is because the more lean mass (muscle) you have on your frame, the higher your metabolic rate will be at rest. This means you can burn more calories doing literally nothing than someone with less muscle mass. This is why lean people have an easier time staying lean when they've taken the time to build muscle. Their bodies are more efficient at maintaining a lower body fat. And the third reason why strength training is so effective for favorable body composition is because it will actually shape your body in a way that no other types of training can do. Having defined legs, arms, abs, or a juicy booty simply won't happen from an elliptical. If you’re totally lost on where to start when it comes to strength training, check out my Mountain Strong Program
I recommend lifting weights at least 2-3x weekly.
4. Daily Movement
My fourth tip for fat loss is living an active lifestyle. Too often we prioritize all the exercise but we neglect getting ANY movement in throughout the day outside of our 40 minute workout. Technically, even if you workout 7 days per week for 1 hour per day, yet you don't move around at all outside of your workout, you are still considered to be sedentary. YIKES. So basically, getting those steps in every day shouldn't be an afterthought. We need to actively look for ways to move around more each day. Here are a few ways you can do this:
· Take a daily walk
· Walk to the store, work, wherever you need to go as often as possible
· Pace while you're on the phone
· Take the stairs instead of the elevator/escalator
· Clean the house
· Play with your kids/dogs
· Play sports
· Find active hobbies you enjoy
· Take bike rides
I once heard a celebrity trainer who trained big names like Hallie Berry and Jessica Simpson give a talk about how to effectively change ones physique. He said that he wouldn't even train his clients until they got their 10,000 steps that day. It's that important.
I recommend shooting for 8,000- 10,000 steps daily.
Rather than doing endless cardio workouts, focus on movement. Cardio has its place in improving cardiovascular health, prepping you for your outdoor goals or other endurance-based events, but ultimately is NOT vital for fat loss. It can actually be a hinderance if you’re the type of person who thinks doing cardio “earns” you back a bunch of calories or it simply makes you ravenous.
5. Protein + Veggie Consumption
The final piece of the puzzle is getting your protein and veggie consumption on track. The reason this matters so much for fat loss specifically, is for satiety purposes (getting full). While we already covered that calorie AMOUNT matters most for fat loss, not all food is created equal when it comes to what actually fills us up. This is why it's extremely easy to eat 800 calories of ice cream, but eating 800 calories of grilled chicken isn't so easy. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient and thus, very important for fat loss. Another reason why it aids in fat loss is that it helps preserve your lean mass (muscle), as you're in a calorie deficit. This ensures that you don't lose too much muscle as you're losing fat. Thus preserving your metabolic health, and giving you the "toned look". A general rule of thumb is to aim for 1G of protein per your GOAL weight in lbs. So if your goal weight is 130 lbs, you're aiming for 130 G of protein. You may be thinking "Um WHAT?! There's no way". Depending on how much protein you're currently consuming, this may feel daunting. I recommend seeing where you typically fall with protein consumption, and then gradually increasing. If you've been chronically under-eating protein, shooting for 80-100 G is a great place to start!
Vegetables are also extremely helpful when it comes to fat loss, and not just because they're healthy and nutrient-dense. Due to their fiber content, they are also extremely filling for minimal calories. When you're eating in a calorie deficit, finding foods that provide good volume without high calories is gold. This is where veggies win out compared to every other food. Minimal calories- high volume. PLUS they're amazing for your body. I recommend looking for veggies you enjoy eating and finding different ways to prepare them that feel good in your belly. I recommend trying to eat veggies at least 2 times daily.
Okay- you made it to the end! Put all 5 of these steps together (starting at the top) and you will see success. But don't expect overnight results. Focus on habit formation instead of just seeing quick changes. Be consistent for months, and you will get there! If you need some guidance and you're looking to get started on a program that covers all your bases, be sure to look into my Fit for Hiking Guides and take the quiz to see which program is best for you! For more of a strength focus, my Mountain Strong program is a great place to start.
I am rooting for you, and I cannot wait to see your progress. Send me a note if you're starting your fitness journey so I can cheer you on!
PS- If you're looking for a step-by-step checklist for a healthy day, click HERE for my FREE Healthiest Day Roadmap!