Fat Loss isn’t an overly complicated process.
It’s doesn’t require going keto.
Or going full tilt on the carnivore diet.
And it sure as hell doesn’t mean you have to eat only lettuce and kale for the rest of your life.
The real key to fat loss is making sure you don’t take in more calories than you use. The above diets all work because they eliminate entire food groups from your menu. If you have fewer things you can eat, then you’re generally going to eat less.
But optimizing how you look, feel and perform is more than gimmicky diet plans. You could starve yourself and lose fat. You’ll just be emaciated and weak as shit.
Over the last 15 years of working with clients from all walks of life and athletes competing on the highest levels, I’ve found the keys to losing fat, keeping it off, and kicking ass comes down to a few things:
1. Track your food intake. Take a week and measure out your food servings and count your calories. We tend to underestimate our caloric intake and we lose sight of what a real serving size looks like. If you think you’re eating a cup of rice but it’s really a cup and a half, you’re taking in 50% more calories than you realize. If you misjudge serving sizes a few times each day, you’re going to be taking in a lot more than you’re accounting for! After a week, check your weight. If it went down, then whatever you took in over that week was below your baseline caloric needs, so keep eating that amount until your weight stops going down. When it does, drop it 200-500 calories, and continue.
Tracking what you take in is the most accurate way to judge your caloric needs, but if you’re the type that absolutely needs to make things more complicated than necessary, multiply your bodyweight by 11. That’ll give you a rough idea of the number of calories needed to maintain your current bodyweight.
If you gain weight eating that amount over the course of a week, decrease it by 200-500 calories per day, and do the same when you’re fat loss plateaus.
I’m not suggesting you count calories forever, just for a bit of time to get a real idea of what you’re taking in and reaquaint yourself with serving sizes.
2. Eat for health and longevity first. Fat loss will follow. The internet is full of 25 year old peons touting the IIFYM bullshit. Will you lose weight? Sure. A guy ate nothing but Twinkies for 2 months and he lost 27 pounds.
But if you want to feel great, energetic, strong, and vibrant, fueling yourself up with crappy food and chemicals is not the answer. Paul Chek uses the example of cooking 2 chickens side by side in your oven, one organic and free range, the other conventional. After cooking them, try to tear the bones apart. The organic one will literally leave you in a sweaty mess because they’re strong and pliable, whereas the commercial ones will tear apart easily.
So what does “quality food” mean? Stick to the following list for the most part, and try to go organic and/or local when you can:
- grass fed beef
- potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams
- yogurt and/or other fermented foods like kombucha and sauerkraut
Oddly enough, it’s the same list I recommend for people trying to build muscle. The only difference is the quantities that you’ll eat.
3. 80% Compliance Will Give You 95% of the Results. You already know that eating real foods is key. “Eat mostly plants and animals, just not too much,” is a line Mike Boyle has made popular, and I agree. It’s really hard to overeat when the majority of your nutrition comes from these whole foods. HOWEVER, you’re a human being, and pizza is f’in awesome. If you follow Mike’s guidelines 80% of the time, you’re going to be on the right path.
So if you eat 3 meals a day, then that would equate to every 3rd day having something that’s not a plant or an animal. That doesn’t mean go HAM on a box of thin mints, but if you’re consistently following a sound nutritional plan, having a cookie every couple days isn’t going to make or break your fat loss plan.
And when you do eat something delicious that’s atypical, realize that the day isn’t a wash and you need to follow it up with with 18 Miller Lites and a chocolate lava cake. Have the pizza, have a beer if you want it, account for it in your weekly intake, and move on with your life. If you do this every now and then, it’ll work itself out.
4. Actually Diet, But For Small Chunks of Time. Find two or three times in the year when you can schedule two to four week blocks with no social events, no travel, and are able to buckle down and go super strict with your nutrition. The 80% compliance rule isn’t a diet, it’s how you should be eating normally. These super strict fat loss blocks are money to make serious progress. Don’t eat out, take extra time to prepare food for the week, cut out all booze, and really diet. It’ll suck, no question, but you’ll make some serious strides. Then you go back to your usual nutritional plan.
You’ll continue to make progress when you get back on to following the 80% rule, and it’ll be a little slower, but you’ll maintain the fat you lost over the short diet block and continue to lose more.
5. Stop Beating Yourself Up With Exercise. Train to build muscle, and eat to lose fat. I see people every day punish themselves on the treadmill trying to burn X calories because they ate some cake. F*ck that. Celebrate your body’s ability to move, be strong, and perform, rather than try to undo eating something that you deem “bad.”
Marathon cardio sessions will beat you up, run you down, and impact your ability to train hard going forward, and they don’t burn nearly as many calories as you think. You had some beers on a Saturday? Have fun while you do it with people you care about, then brush yourself off the next day and go about business as you typically would.
6. Average 10,000 Steps Every Day. Aside from keeping your cardiovascular system healthy, this is where the bulk of your daily calorie expenditure comes from. Sadly, this is a huge struggle for many because of how demanding the daily grind can be. Sit in the car to go to work, sit behind your desk all day, sit in your car on the way home, just to sit on the couch and veg out watching GOT reruns.
Take your dog or kids for a walk when you get home, on training days get a mile or so in on the treadmill before you hit the strength training, take breaks from your desk and walk around for 10 minutes-just do something to move around and get those steps in.
Those old ideas about parking as far away as possible from an entrance and taking the stairs over the elevator came from somewhere.
Worst case scenario, when life gets especially crazy during the week, go for a big time hike on the weekend to average out to 10,000 for the week.
People often want to make up for lack of steps with higher intensity stuff, but it just isn’t going to work. High intensity interval training is a great tool, but you aren’t going to burn the same calories in a 15 minute HIIT session as you would walking 10,000 steps.
And if you claim that you do longer HIIT sessions than that, it’s not really HIIT. You can’t go truly high intensity for that long. If the duration goes up, the intensity comes down, leaving you with medium intensity work for a subpar volume.
7. Strength Train. Don’t lift weights for the sole reason of burning calories. That’s what people are doing when they lift the pink dumbbells and dance with them for 30 minutes. Lift weights to build strength and muscle. Yes, your metabolism is going to be elevated for 48-72 hours after you lift, but that’s an added bonus.
If you don’t train in a way to build muscle, then you’ll lose fat and muscle while you’re in a caloric deficit. You’ll just become a smaller version of the same composition you currently have. This is why the myth of light weights for high reps when dieting is so flawed-what builds muscle keeps muscle.
And nobody is out there using Richard Simmons weights to build muscle.
8. The Scale Doesn’t Tell The Whole Story. Changing your nutrition or training program, frequency, and/or intensity typically leads to fluctuations in fluid, so don’t freak out if you don’t lose much in the first few weeks, especially if you are just starting out. If you follow all of the steps here, it’s normal to not lose a pound for the first 2 weeks, but “feel different.” Usually, the 4-5 week mark is where the magic starts showing up on the scale, so don’t get frustrated and give up before you get there!
Listen, you can’t bottle up and sell consistency, so everyone wants to make fat loss as complicated as possible. It’s a simple process, it’s just not always easy. If it was, everyone would be jacked, tan, and ripped to shreds 365.
If you’ve been struggling with consistent fat loss, simply start at the top and just start tracking. That which gets tracked gets improved.
And improvement>stagnation 100 times out of 100.