A Complete Guide To Effective Fat Loss
Forget the restrictive diet.
Restrictive diets almost never work. Most people who complete a restrictive diet end up more overweight than when they started. They make you hungry and grumpy. They can even deprive your body of the essential nutrients it needs to function properly.
Sensible nutrition and moderate exercise do work. Not everyone likes to be told what to eat, how much and when to eat it. Our job is to give you the information you need to make your own choices about what you eat, how much you eat and when you eat it.
Many of you eat frequently in restaurants or in friends’ homes. It’s an important part of your job or lifestyle. For you, overly prescriptive eating plans may not work, even if you wanted to try one. We give you the tips and tools you need to make sensible choices, and still enjoy your business dinners and meals with friends.
If your body holds excessive amounts of body fat, losing weight can be one of the clearest indicators you are reducing it. However, losing weight should not be your main goal. Losing fat should be. Why? Because lean body mass (muscle) is good for you and too much body fat is bad for you. And muscle is denser than fat – meaning a fistful of muscle weighs more than a fistful of fat. Most diet programs measure how much weight you lose, not caring whether you are losing muscle or fat. A lot of dieters lose muscle as well as fat. When you lose muscle, you become weaker, more prone to illness and your metabolic rate declines – meaning your body will burn fewer calories naturally. Our program helps you lose fat, while maintaining or even increasing lean body mass.
We know that many people don’t want big muscles (though we can help you build them, if you do). But just about everyone wants a toned body. A toned body means a body that has more muscle and less fat than an untoned body.
The science is actually fairly simple.
Weight loss is the combined result of how many calories you eat and how many calories you burn. The number of calories you burn is the result of how much physical activity you do, how muscular you are and what you eat. The number of calories FROM FAT that you burn will determine how much fat you lose. The number of calories from fat you burn (and how much muscle you retain while burning fat) depends on how much physical activity you do, what kind of physical activity you do and what you eat.
The calories you eat.
Simple, really. Only four things have calories, and just about everything you eat and most things you drink have one or more of the four things in it. Most of what you eat has no calories. Food is mostly just water or fibre.
The four things that have calories are carbohydrate (4 calories per gram), protein (4 calories per gram), fat (9 calories per gram) and alcohol (7 calories per gram). Carbohydrates, proteins and fat are called macronutrients. Your body needs some amount of each of them to be healthy. Alcohol is technically a poison. Your body does not need it or want it, but it can be a pleasant addition to a healthy diet, in moderation.
You can count calories if you wish, though you don’t need to count calories to lose fat. You do need to know the basic facts about fat loss (described below) and you need to make good choices. If you want to count calories, the easiest way is to use one of the many free apps. “My Fitness Pal” is useful for counting calories (and tracking your macronutrient and micronutrient intake) if you are prepared to spend a few minutes plugging in what you eat every day.
The calories you burn.
Everyone has a basic metabolic rate. Your basic metabolic rate is the number of calories you need just to maintain your current weight (neither gain nor lose), assuming you did no physical activity at all. We measure your weight and percentage body fat. With that, we calculate your basic metabolic rate.
Then, everyone has an activity factor, which can range from sedentary to extremely active, depending on the amount of daily physical activity you do on average. Your activity factor is the number of additional calories you burn (on top of your basic metabolic rate) for the amount of physical activity that you do. We take your basic metabolic rate, multiply it by your activity factor, and determine your daily maintenance calories. Your daily maintenance calories are the number of calories you must eat every day to maintain your current weight at your current activity level.
Weight loss (losing both fat and muscle) occurs when you are in a calorie deficit, meaning you eat fewer calories than your daily maintenance calories. There is great individual variability in the rate of weight loss. It is also not a linear process, as much as we would like it to be. However, as a rough guide, a moderatedeficit of 20-25% below your maintenance calories may yield a loss of a pound a week. However, try not to fixate on the speed of your individual response. And never go higher than a 30% calorie-deficit. Your health and metabolism will suffer. Consistency and patience with a moderate deficit will get you where you want to be in both good health and good mood.
Remember, there are two ways to create a calorie deficit – you can eat less or you can burn more (most easily, by increasing your physical activity). The best way is to do both.
As we said, if you’re overweight, we understand that you care about losing weight. But switch to caring more about losing fat. You will then need to care about what specifically you eat, what kind of physical activity you do, and how muscular you are. Here’s why:
The kind of physical activity you do.
If you happen to work on a loading dock or in the stockyards, you probably are very physically active in your daily life. Most of us are not. That means, if we want to increase our physical activity, we must make it a part of our lifestyle. All physical activity will contribute to fat loss. Some physical activities contribute more than others.
Want to hear something neat?
When it comes to burning calories, the most effective tool you have is increasing how active you are when not performing intentional exercise. This is referred to as NEAT which stands for Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. This includes housework, gardening, fidgeting, standing, more, ahem, ‘adult’ activities and walking among other things. The simplest way to increase NEAT is to walk more. This does not mean going on frequent long hikes or leaving your desk for hour long walks. It means making small, consistent efforts every day. Getting off the train a stop earlier. Taking the stairs instead of the lift. Walking instead of taking the car for short journeys. Over weeks and months, the calorie-expenditure of increasing NEAT far exceeds that of several bursts of hard exercise every week. It is much less tiring and doesn’t require the recovery of hard training – indeed it can actually assist recovery from training. Another advantage is that NEAT is far less stimulating of your appetite than intense exercise. When your goal is fat-loss, this makes being in a calorie-deficit a whole lot easier.
The highly respected scientist, author, and speaker in the field of exercise and nutrition, James Krieger has produced what is regarded as the seminal work on the impact of NEAT on Fat Loss. Here’s a link to a 10 minute highlight video of him presenting on the subject in more depth if you’d like to watch it:
The Impact of NEAT & Training for Fat Loss with James Krieger
Intentional exercise - what's best for fat-loss?
Now let’s talk about intentional exercise. Contrary to popular belief, Strength Training is the best form of exercise for fat-loss; not cardio. If you’re surprised, you’re not alone. It’s a popular misconception that pounding away on pavements and treadmills is the best way to lose fat. There are health benefits of cardio that mustn’t be dismissed. But for reducing body fat, strength training is the best exercise.
This is because strength training, properly performed, preserves muscle tissue when you are in a calorie-deficit. Indeed, it’s possible to grow some muscle tissue in a calorie-deficit if you’re a beginner. Why is this important? Because, every kilo you lose will be compromised of as much body fat as possible. Remember, it’s the fat you want your weight-loss to come from – not your muscle!
We discuss this is more detail in the Body Shaping section of the Information Library.
Cardio is a useful tool to burn even more calories if needed. But it’s time-consuming and actually unnecessary to achieve fat-loss if you are in a calorie-deficit, engaging in consistent strength training, walking more and eating well. If you’re currently inactive, carrying excess body-fat and have a less than ideal diet and lifestyle, these changes are also enough to significantly improve your health.
What you eat.
What you eat is important to your overall health and wellbeing in countless ways. It impacts your mental health, your resistance to disease (ranging from the common cold to cancer), your moods, your vitality, your hormonal balance, the functioning of your brain, heart, stomach, liver and just about every other organ. It also determines how fast you burn fat.
Here are the ten guidelines we recommend you follow to maximise fat loss, while promoting optimal health:
1. Ensure you are consistently in a calorie deficit
When it comes to fat-loss you can forget almost everything you’ve heard about carbs, sugar, hormones and meal-timing.
Weight-loss is created by one thing and one thing only: Consistently being in a calorie deficit.
e. Consuming less calories than your body is using.
This is the law of thermodynamics. One of the most certain scientific laws there is.
This is good news because you can be in a calorie deficit while including food you enjoy. (We will cover this in point 8)
However, the key word is consistency. Being in a calorie-deficit from Monday to Friday isn’t good enough. As annoying as it is, weekend calories still count. What you average over seven days will dictate if you end the week in a calorie deficit or not. Doing that over weeks and months (with strategic breaks where calories are increased to maintenance to give you mental and physical rest) is the number one factor to succeed at long-term fat-loss.
2. Eat more protein. (1.5-2 kg per kilogram of goal bodyweight)
Protein, and the amino acids into which the body breaks down protein, are the basic building blocks of lean body mass (muscle). Without protein, we cannot maintain the muscles that we have and we cannot increase muscle. Our bodies need protein to produce the enzymes, hormones and other chemicals that we need to have a healthy bones, skin and blood, as well as muscles.
Some foods are high in protein. 100 grams of meat, chicken and fish all contain 20 to 25 grams of protein. Some foods contain moderate amounts of protein. 100 grams of eggs and cottage cheese contain 10 to 15 grams of protein. Some foods have a reputation for being a good source of protein, but actually contain relatively little. 100 grams of beans, lentils, nuts and tofu contain 5 to 10 grams of protein. We recommend that our clients eat 1.5-2 grams of protein per day per kilo of goal body weight. This is harder for vegetarians and vegans, but it can be done when you know how.
Why protein helps us lose fat.
Whenever we are in a calorie deficit, our bodies naturally lose both fat and muscle. By eating enough protein, we are able to maintain more muscle and lose more fat. We also need protein to recover from exercise. Maintaining (and building) muscle means a higher metabolic rate. The higher the metabolic rate, the more calories we burn.
Our body uses far more energy to digest protein than it does to digest carbohydrate or fat, something referred to as the thermic effect of food (TEF). In fact, up to 30% of the calories contained in protein are used in the digestion process itself.
Finally, protein triggers our body’s production of leptin, which is the hormone that tells us we are full (not hungry). By eating protein regularly, we stay fuller longer. We eat less and we are less grumpy. Protein is your number one tool to stop hunger becoming unmanageable and therefore keep you on plan.
3. Eat more fruit and vegetables
No doubt you know that fruit and vegetables support health by providing abundant vitamins, minerals and fibre. They are critical for the proper working of all of our body’s functions, and essential for disease prevention and disease risk reduction.
However, from a purely fat loss perspective, eating plenty of fruit and veg is especially powerful because they are high-volume/low-calorie foods. This means they take up a lot of room in your stomach at very little calorie cost. (For example, 300g of broccoli contains only 117 calories. 150g of raspberries – 48 calories). So, the beauty of high-volume/low calorie food is you can eat it in abundance while remaining in a calorie-deficit. Just the physical process of chewing and swallowing more food has been shown to increase satiety. Fruit and vegetables also contain a lot of fibre which also helps to keep you full.
If you are tracking your calories, a good guide is using 10-15% of them on fruit and vegetables. You will be amazed by how much food this will enable you to eat!
4. Eat sufficient fat to support health – especially Omega 3 – but be mindful of not overconsuming it.
Fat, especially so-called “healthy fats” (Omega 3, 6 and 9 and particularly Omega 3) is essential for the proper working of many of our bodies’ functions, avoiding heart disease, memory loss and depression, slowing down the aging process and even increasing so-called good cholesterol (HDLs) and decreasing bad cholesterol (LDLs and VLDLs).
However, fat is also by far the most calorific of macronutrients at 9 calories per gram compared to the 4 calories per gram that both protein and carbohydrates yield. And fat is by far the easiest to overconsume. This is because fat takes up less ‘real estate’ on your plate and in your stomach, calorie for calorie than protein and carbohydrates. It also frequently requires less chewing. Think butter and oils. Over twice the calories, less room in your stomach, less effort to swallow.
So be mindful. Ensure roughly 80% of your fat comes from healthier sources such as olive oil, avocado, oily fish, and cold-pressed seed oil to support your health. The other 20% – don’t worry about (see the 80/20 Rule below). Then make sure you aren’t overconsuming it.
If you are tracking your calories and macronutrients a good guide is 0.8-1g of fat per kilogram of goal body-weight.
5. Don’t fear carbs.
Carbs are the body’s preferred fuel source. They are the dominant macronutrient found in most of what we eat, including bread, rice, pasta and beans on the one hand, and fruits and vegetables on the other. They are also in chocolate, coca cola and donuts. All carbohydrates, whether from broccoli or a donut, are turned into sugar in the body. The body uses the sugar for energy and, if you are in a calorie-surplus, stores any excess sugar as fat. It is common knowledge that vegetables are “good” for you and donuts are less good. But this is true for many reasons, including the other ingredients donuts contain, much lower vitamin, mineral and fibre values, and the number of calories donuts contain (most of which comes from fat). So avoid blaming the carbs in junk food like donuts for their lack of healthfulness and contribution to a fattening diet!
If your protein and fat targets have already been optimised you may need to reduce the amount of carbs you eat to achieve a calorie deficit. But as long as you are getting most of your carbs from wholefood sources such as rice, potatoes, bread, pasta and beans, carbs will support your health, mood, energy, training performance and greater overall activity while you are in a calorie-deficit.
6. Minimise junk food while keeping your diet enjoyable by applying the 80/20 Rule
Roughly 80% of your calories should come from nutritious, whole foods such as fresh meat, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, legumes and whole grains. However, to make your diet psychologically sustainable, the other 20% can come from whatever you like to eat purely for pleasure. Unless you have a medical condition that prohibits it, nothing is off the menu. The science is very clear about this is two ways. 1 – Adherence – studies show that people will not stick to a diet that excludes food and drink they enjoy indefinitely. Indeed, however long they manage to adhere to a 100% healthy diet, the diet is frequently followed by an equally long (or longer) spell of bingeing on the foods they excluded. 2 – Health – a diet comprised of 80% ‘healthy’ food is sufficient to improve and support health. Moreover, because it is sustainable, over months and years it is more supportive of good health than repeatedly attempting and failing to stick to a restrictive diet. Interestingly, merely losing body fat with ‘unhealthy’ diets has been shown to improve key health markers. We are not suggesting you do that. The more you adhere to healthy eating principles, the greater the benefit to your health. But you do need to know the required standard of nutrition to succeed with both your health and fat loss goals is realistic and sustainable.
So, as long as roughly 80% of your food choices are healthy, you have permission to indulge. Just make sure you:
Enjoy your indulgence. There is no point in eating a bowl of ice cream, a pizza or a slab of foie gras, and then beating yourself up. If you eat it, then eat it with purpose and enjoy it.
Think ahead. Before you indulge, make a mental note of what you are about to eat. It may be something high in sugar or trans fat. Think about portion size, and whether you want to reduce it. Think about whether “low fat” or “reduced sugar” alternatives are available that you could enjoy almost as much.
Be accountable to yourself. You ate it, you enjoyed it. Your job is to stick to the guidelines as often as you can. Remember your indulgences (what you ate, how much and when). Know that as long as you are still in a calorie deficit, your indulgence will not slow down your fat loss. Then pat yourself on the back for eating healthily 80% of the time.
7. Drink plenty of water – for health and appetite management.
Alongside macronutrients, micronutrients and fibre, water is essential for our body’s functions to work properly. Sixty percent of our body is water. Much of the food we eat contains water. Also, water is produced in our body as a waste product when we burn calories. But, our body has a natural water deficit of around 1 ½ to 2 litres per day – more when we sweat.
When in a calorie-deficit, alongside eating sufficient protein and fruit and vegetables, drinking more water is also one of your greatest hunger-management tools. If you’re unsure how much water to drink, a useful guide when dieting and training for fat loss 0.03 litres of water per day per kg of goal body weight. If your goal weight is 60kg you should try to drink 1.8 litres of water. For simplicity you may round this up to 2 litres. If your goal weight is 90kg you should try to drink 2.7 litres, which you may round up to 3 litres.
8. Drink alcohol in moderation. Genuinely.
Alcohol is technically a poison that contains 7 calories per gram. The alcohol itself is not fattening, in the sense that our body will not store calories from alcohol. (Although the other ingredients in alcoholic drinks can be). Instead, when we drink alcohol, our body will start burning the calories from alcohol as an energy source until the alcohol has been fully processed and flushed from our body. Until this is complete, the calories from the food in our body will not be burned. This is one way that drinking alcohol slows down fat loss.
Another is the stimulating effect it can have on appetite. Especially when drunk in large quantities – which also diminishes the willpower to avoid overeating when food is freely available. And let’s not get started on the morning-after greasy fry-up that many people turn to!
That said, for many of us, an occasional cold beer or a fine wine is part of the fabric of our life. If you do drink, do so in moderation, factor it into your diet and cut calories elsewhere if needed. Your fat loss goal will not be sabotaged.
9. Become more active by increasing NEAT
For the reasons described in more detail above, become more active in your daily life. Walk more. Take the stairs. You will burn fat. You will look and feel better. You will live longer.
10. Engage in regular strength training
As discussed above, strength training will ensure that the greatest amount of your weight loss is comprised of body fat as possible rather than a combination of fat and muscle.
Bonus Point – One step at a time.
We now know that restrictive diets do not work. We now know what does work – making better choices, one step at a time. None of us is a superhero. We cannot make all the changes to our diet at once that we need to make to eat a healthy diet and maximise fat loss. We recommend that you choose one or two changes you feel capable of making now. It can be as simple as adding eggs (protein and “healthy” fat) to your breakfast three days a week; or eating a punnet of berries, instead of crisps or cookies, as your midday or evening snack; or drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning and while at your desk; or taking the stairs at work, instead of the lift. Over time, as these “easy” changes become habits, you can add more.
Remember the ten guidelines.
Post them on your refrigerator. Share them with your spouse or partner. Re-read them once a week for a few weeks. They are:
01. Ensure you are consistently in a calorie deficit
02. Eat more protein. (1.5-2 kg per kilogram of goal bodyweight)
03. Eat more fruit and vegetables
04. Eat sufficient fat to support health – especially Omega 3 – but be mindful of not overconsuming it.
05.Don’t fear carbs.
06. Minimise junk food while keeping your diet enjoyable by applying the 80/20 rule.
07. Drink plenty of water – for health and appetite management.
08. Drink alcohol in moderation. Genuinely.
09. Become more active by increasing NEAT.
10. Engage in regular strength training.
Within a matter of weeks, you will notice positive changes in your body composition, strength, mood, vitality and overall happiness. These changes will fuel your motivation to carry on – and to better define and more easily achieve your personal goals.