Fat loss is a tough thing for our society to grasp. We want results quickly but are often unwilling to give the process the patience it needs. We don’t understand how much food to have, and most importantly, we don’t understand how much is ENOUGH for our bodies.
If you’ve ever browsed a fitness magazine or googled “fat loss diet”, you know that calories play a massive role in any program. At the foundation of fat loss is the dance between calories in vs calories out. If you eat more calories than you use in a day, you will gain weight. Likewise, if you burn more calories than you eat in a day (through exercise or daily life activities) you will lose weight.
The assumed simplicity of this equation is why so many of us have been led to believe that the higher our caloric deficit (ex. 800-1000 calories per day or) the faster fat loss will occur.
The reality we all need to understand is that our first priority is rarely our body’s first priority.
Your body doesn’t care if your legs have some jiggle or if your stomach has rolls, it cares about surviving and keeping you alive. A massive caloric deficit may produce results in the beginning, but over time you will notice a struggle to lose those last 5-10lbs and you can even experience fat gain.
WEIGHT VS FAT
Before we go any further, we need to understand the difference between weight and fat. Fat is stored energy. When you eat more energy than your body needs, it stores it for future use in the form of fat cells. Weight, however, is more complex. Your weight is the sum of your muscles, bones, ligaments, etc. as well as the bottle of water you drank, and the salty meal or stress that is causing you to hold onto water. Having weight is not a bad thing, it’s a natural thing and will fluctuate day-to-day.
Now that we know the difference we can understand that losing fat is ideal, but losing weight might not be the best indicator of a program’s success. The best way to know if you’re losing fat is by measuring body fat percentage, using skinfold calipers, comparing body measurements, or taking progress photos. If you’re losing fat, you will see your body become leaner, smaller, and more toned.
THE PROBLEMS WITH UNDEREATING
If your goal is to lose fat, you need to develop a sustainable calorie deficit. When I say “sustainable deficit” I’m talking about a reduction of 300 – 500 calories per day, MAX. Larger deficits put stress on your body and tell it that times are tough, which causes it to adapt until it feels safe again. This is accomplished by reducing your metabolic rate to save energy and maintain only essential bodily functions, like breathing, pumping blood, digesting food, and keeping you upright. Because as you now know, your body’s priority is to keep you alive, not to have a six-pack.
When you don’t eat enough food everything beneath the skin changes. A significant hit to caloric intake can suppress thyroid function (making it harder to lose weight), decrease the function of sex hormones (low or no sex drive), and increases the level of the stress hormone, cortisol. As we’ve previously discussed (here), chronically high cortisol levels can cause insulin resistance and disruption to hormone levels, while promoting fat gain and water retention.
A low daily intake can also interfere with strength training and exercise. Since your body is only concerned about having enough fuel to live, it isn’t going to use energy building muscle or allowing you to train at high intensities. You will feel exhausted, sweat more, and you will feel like you’re working hard, but you’re actually training at a lower intensity. If you’ve ever felt “gassed” or been unable to lift as much weight as you previously could in a workout, it may be a sign that you weren’t eating enough in the days leading up to that training session.
Finally, a low caloric intake can compromise your metabolically active tissue. Muscle is high maintenance for your body – and that’s a good thing! Your muscles are constantly breaking down and rebuilding throughout the day to keep your body strong and safe. Since muscle is so highly metabolic, it takes a lot of energy to maintain it. The more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate will be, which allows you to burn more calories by doing absolutely nothing (pretty cool, eh?). When your body is given the fuel it needs, maintaining muscle is no problem, but when supplies are lacking, it becomes much more challenging.
When someone cuts their calories the thought is that the body will only use fat as fuel. What more commonly happens is that, along with fat, the protein within your muscles are broken down and used as energy. This is why so many people in a caloric deficit see massive scale-related progress in the first few weeks; their bodies are breaking down muscle tissue and they’re losing weight, but it’s not necessarily fat. While this may be a short-term solution, it is sabotaging people in the long run.
A calorie deficit can have its place in an effective and successful fat loss program. Keep in mind that the fastest you can lose fat safely is at an average of 1 lb per week. There will be weeks where the scale doesn’t budge and then there will be weeks where you drop 2 lbs. Look at your journey from the perspective of a year and you will be setting yourself up for success.
Step 1 – Calculate Your Daily Caloric Needs
Use the calculations below to determine your daily caloric needs. Once you have determined your activity level, multiply your bodyweight in pounds by the given multiplier. This will give you an estimate of your daily caloric requirements.
Note – this is advice for the general population and is not intended for athletes, bodybuilders, those with medical/health conditions, or those under the direction of a doctor/specialist.
Step 2 – Adjust Your Nutrition.
You need to adopt healthy nutrition strategies if you want to see long-term success. Good news, this doesn’t have to be difficult. Start small and focus on the basics by drinking enough water, eating lean proteins, and adding veggies to your routine. Check out the post Stop Dieting and Start Succeeding and scroll to the bottom for simplified nutrition recommendations.
Step 3 – Strength Training
I can’t stress how important it is to challenge your body and make your muscles work. Strength training is an investment in your future. By picking up a weight (no matter how heavy) you are building stronger bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. You are giving yourself the chance to live pain and injury free while increasing your metabolic rate and reducing your body fat percentage.
Regular exercise participation will lower your blood pressure, help regulate cholesterol levels, eliminate bloating, restore posture, reduce chances of developing type 2 diabetes and improve your quality of life by freeing you from your limitations.
“The unpopular, not-so-marketable thing about fat loss is that it’s going to go slower than you want, you’re going to get frustrated, you WILL feel like it’s not working and sometimes you’re going to feel like you’ve messed up. BUT, do not let yourself quit. Never stop. Because as long as you don’t quit you WILL succeed.” – Jordan Syatt
Yours in health,