Everyone wants to loose body fat. In a country where almost 70% of the population overweight or obese, loosing weight is by far the most popular fitness goal.
Here’s the secret. The truth of the matter is, for the most part there is no secret. Loosing body fat is a result of utilizing more calories (in the form of stored fat) then you consume (in the form of food and beverages). This is the most important part of fat loss. While exercise is most definitely essential for optimal fat loss (the second most important aspect of fat loss), caloric restriction is still more important. Think of it this way how much time does it take to reduce your caloric intake by 500kcal? Really no time at all. Its more of a decision to be committed and consistent with eating less. Once you decide to do this its an immediate decrease in caloric consumption. On the other hand how long does it take to burn 500kcal with exercise? This truly depends on the individual and the type of exercise, but for most it will take some time. An individual weighing 155 pounds burn 500 calories walking 4 miles per hour for 90 minutes. That’s a huge difference between an immediate decision to rid your diet of 500 excess kcals or an hour and a half on the treadmill each day to burn 500 kcals.
The truth is you do not need the newest diets, you don’t need OTC supplements, and you don’t need to restrict yourself of whichever macronutrients and foods the popular media is telling you are making you gain fat (think carbs, fat, gluten, meat, sugar, dairy, nuts, fruit basically everything but water). What you really need for fat loss is caloric restriction, discipline, and commitment. Fat loss is not an easy or quick process.
One thing many people do not realize is that fat loss and health are not 1:1. Indeed, there are many overweight people who are extremely healthy and many thin and people of healthy weights who have metabolic dysfunctions. Understand this, loosing fat is not about being healthy, at least in a direct way. While I am not and have never advocated eating an unhealthy diet to loose weight (even the word “healthy” is not a concrete and definable term, any educated nutritionist or dietician will tell you this ) the simple truth is you can eat shit and still shed body fat. Anecdotally well all know this. Most of us have encountered the guy who eats whatever he wants and has a 6 pack. Or the girl who could care less about the quality of her food decisions and is thin all year round. Studies have proved this as well. There are many cases of nutritionists eating”unhealthy” foods and loosing large amounts of weight, this professor lost lost 27lbs in 2 months eating Twinkies. This study found that there was no correlation between junkfood was unrelated to BMI for 95% of individuals. My own personal anecdote supports this as well, I lost close to 50lbs in a matter of 4.5 months all the while eating desert every single day. Yes everyday. ***The silver lining to this is that the rest of my diet was on point. I ate adequate protein, more than enough vegetables and fruit, plenty of water, appropriate amounts of fiber, and supplemented with Omega 3’s. I went from 265-270lb at around 20% bodyfat, down to 220lb to around 9% bodyfat. The key is actually sticking to the amount of food you need to eat to loose weight.
However, while caloric restriction and exercise are the main pillars of fat loss, there are many tricks and tips to increase your chances for success. Here are 6 ways to optimize fat loss!
1. Eat more fiber, but not too much
As I discuss in my article here most people are not eating enough fiber. Many times this lack of fiber can cause bloating and a distended stomach. A lack of fiber causes slower transit time of food through the intestines, meaning you’ll have food hanging out in your colon for longer periods of time. Many times this bloat can cause the illusion of body fat and simply by increasing your fiber intake will take inches off your waistline. However, on the other hand consuming excessive amounts of fiber can cause also cause bloat! So as with everything, especially with diet, the key is moderation. For more on fiber recommendations check out my fiber article.
2. Do more Cardio
Not everyone has to do cardio to loose weight. However, if your not one of the blessed few who don’t hold fat around their waist, or just don’t hold much fat at all, you are going to have to do cardio to optimize fat loss around your waistline. Stubborn fat is actually somewhat different from the rest of fat throughout your body. Stubborn fat is typically the fat around most women’s waist and thighs, and most men’s lower stomach and back. Stubborn fat experiences less less blood flow than fat found elsewhere in the body, and is less sensitive to the fat mobilizing effects of the catecholamines (bad for fat loss), and more sensitive to insulin (bad for fat loss) (1). Because of these conditions stubborn fat is generally the last fat to be lost in a fat loss phase. Men trying to get below 12% and women below 19% will notice these are the areas where fat takes the longest to remove. Doing more aerobic exercise will increase blood flow to these “stubborn” areas and help mobilize triglycerides aka body fat.
3. Increase the amount of water you drink and minimize all other liquid calories
It’s a fact that most people don’t drink enough water. Drinking water is essential for fat loss. In fact drinking more water than necessary can help you loose more bodyfat. Drinking adequate/excessive water helps burn more calories by increasing resting metabolic rate or RMR (2). This study found that increasing water intake by 1 liter per day can help burn an extra 23 kcal a day (3). Over the curse of a year that’s roughly 17,000 kcal or almost 5 lb of fat! You should also consider minimizing all other liquid calories. While there is nothing inherently wrong with drinking a cup of juice or having a beer here and there, but the truth is if fat loss is your goal you should really consider minimizing if not completely ridding your diet of liquid calories. Liquid calories are not processed by the brain the same way solid whole foods are (4). Therefore, many people have a tendency to drink too many liquid calories and in turn eat excessive amounts of calories which translate to fat gain (5).
4. Eat More Protein
Protein is one of the most valuable tools you have for fat loss. Protein does two valuable things for fat loss. One, protein increases satiety, meaning you are more satisfied and less likley to overeat when eating higher amounts of protein in your diet. Protein can also reduce cravings and help make you eat less calories overall (6). Two, protein can actually increase the amount of calories you burn each day (7). This is because of what is known as the thermic effect of food. All food you consumed must be “processed” by the body to be utilized, during this “processing” your body actually burns calories. As it turns out protein burns more calories than fat or carbohydrates. For example if you eat 200kcal or protein your body will actually burn 40-70kcal of that 200kcal in digestion.
most importantly …
5. Track what you Eat
This is the one thing most people don’t want to do. But its so necessary, because if your not measuring your food how will you know what your actually eating??? Many people make claims about their diet, “I don’t eat that much!”, “I NEVER eat!”, “I eat plenty of protein!”, ” I’m avoiding sugar!”, the list goes on. The fact is, most people aren’t truly consistent with their diet. Unless you’ve got a food scale with you at every meal you really are just guessing. And to a certain degree for most people’s goals estimating is close enough to achieve their goals. However, if you want to OPTIMIZE progress in terms of fat loss, tracking food is key. Because the reality is loosing fat isn’t “eating healthy” for one day, or guessing that you were in a caloric deficit for a day, need to be aware of how much you are eating consistently for period of several months to even years depending on how much fat loss you desire. In fact keeping a food diary is so important that this huge study found that those who kept a food diary lost almost double the amount of weight compared to those who did not (8). Loosing 20lbs of fat takes more than 2 weeks, I don’t care who says it does. Loosing weight takes time and effort. If you are really serious about loosing weight you will track food. This is a foolproof way to loose weight, if you are tracking food and hitting your caloric needs each day you will loose weight.
6. Reward yourself
Rewarding yourself is necessary for fat loss,especially for sustained long term fat loss. One of the main reasons people give up on their fat loss goals is because compliance to strict diets. While you do need to make sure your on top of your caloric intake as much as possible, diet breaks and cheat meals/days are actually good ways to increase your adherence to a fat loss phase. I personally have found that leaving around 5-10% of my total caloric intake each day for a small reward for doing well on my diet that day (so unfortunately the smaller your caloric intake the smaller the reward, this is where having more lean mass comes in handy). Some days I choose to forgo this and wait until the weekend to have a bigger reward for even longer adherence to my currently dietary goals. Eventually, this can sometimes become a game where you challenge yourself to adhere to you diet for X amount of days to get to a reward. While I don’t recommend all out cheat days that frequently, I do think that weekly cheat meals or daily cheat snacks are a great way to maintain adherence to a diet for much longer than if you set unrealistic standards.
1. Mcdonald, Lyle.2003. The Ultimate Diet 2.0. 1st Edition. Austin, Texas: Lyle Mcdonald Publishing.
2.Dennis EA, Dengo AL, Comber DL, Flack KD, Savla J, Davy KP, Davy BM. Water consumption increases weight loss during a hypocaloric diet intervention in middle-aged and older adults. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010; 18: 300–307.
3. Stookey JD, Constant F, Popkin BM, Gardner CD. Drinking water is associated with weight loss in overweight dieting women independent of diet and activity. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2008;16:2481–8.
4. Mattes RD, Campbell WW. Effects of food form and timing of ingestion on appetite and energy intake in lean young adults and in young adults with obesity. J Am Diet Assoc 2009;109:430–7.
5. Malik VS, Schulze MB, Hu FB. Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review.Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;84:274–288.
6. Veldhorst MA, Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Westerterp KR. Gluconeogenesis and energy expenditure after a high-protein, carbohydrate-free diet.Am J Clin Nutr 2009;90: 519–526.
7. Johnston CS, Day CS, Swan PD. Postprandial thermogenesis is increased100%on a high-protein, low-fat diet versus a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet in healthy, young women. J Am Coll Nutr 2002;21:55–61.
8.Hollis JF, Gullion CM, Stevens VJ, Brantley PJ, Appel LJ, Ard JD,Champagne CM, Dalcin A, Erlinger TP, Funk K, Laferriere D, Lin PH,Loria CM, Samuel-Hodge C, Vollmer WM, Svetkey LP; Weight Loss Maintenance Trial Research Group. Weight loss during the intensive intervention phase of the weight-loss maintenance trial.Am J Prev Med. 2008;35:118 –126.