This article ties together the four-part fat loss series. To make your fat loss as quick and painless as possible, I highly recommend following this up by reading:
You're here because you want to lose body fat.
To lose body fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit.
Energy (calories) consumed < Energy (calories) burned = Fat loss
Or, as you've probably heard it: Calories in > calories out = fat loss
Basically, if you’re eating fewer calories than you’re burning in a day, you’re in a calorie deficit.
Every diet in existence causes fat loss by, in some way, creating a calorie deficit.
Sooo, you’re saying I lose fat by eating less, and only by eating less?
Yep. Groundbreaking right?
Generally, creating a calorie deficit of ~3,500 calories leads to ~1 LB fat loss.
Therefore, eating 500 calories below your maintenance calorie intake every day for 7 days, should lead to about a pound of fat loss. (500 x 7 = 3,500)
As you diet, you're taking in less energy (calories). Therefore, you'll feel more lethargic, and likely expend less energy. This reduces the "calories out" (calories burned) side of the equation changes.
For this reason, fat loss often stalls- despite eating at what you initially calculated as a deficit. More on that here: Why Fat Loss Stalls (And What To Do)
You'll often hear people blame "Slow metabolism" or "out of balance hormones" for their inability to lose weight.
These are rarely the issue. I talk about these myths more in: Why Fat Loss Stalls (And What To Do) (tl;dr: We suck at estimating our calorie intake, and are usually eating more than we think. Our bodies also burn fewer calories as they get smaller.)
The truth is... 99.9% of the time, if you can't lose fat, you're simply eating too much.
Some diets are believed to have magical, mysterious fat loss properties. Especially intermittent fasting and keto.
This is not the case. All diets are simply different ways of getting you to eat less, and therefore creating a calorie deficit. Not a single diet exists that allows you to lose weight without creating a calorie deficit.
How Do I Create A Calorie Deficit?
I highly recommend you use a calorie tracking app. MyFitnessPal is my personal favorite. More on different ways of measuring calorie intake in: Strategies To Make Dieting Suck Less
1. You need to know what your calorie intake should be.
Use this calculator if you don’t know already: https://tdeecalculator.net/
Now multiply this number by .85 (for less aggressive fat loss) OR .8 (for more aggressive fat loss).
Gerald- a 200 lb man, has a maintenance intake of 2,800 kcal per day.
To determine starting cutting calories, he simply multiplies his maintenance intake by .85
2,800 X .85 = 2,380
Gerald's cutting intake is 2,380 kcal per day.
Next, you need to figure out how to divy up these calories by macronutrient.
The three macronutrients (macros) are:
-Protein: 1 gram of protein contains ~4 kcal
-Carbohydrates: 1 gram of carbohydrate contains ~4 kcal
-Fat: 1 gram of fat contains ~9 kcal
2. Calculate protein intake.
When you’re cutting, adequate protein intake is a must.
Hitting your protein requirements means you're more likely to build/preserve muscle (depending on how long you've been training).
Aim for 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, daily.
To calculate: multiply your bodyweight X 1. That's how many grams of protein you'll be eating.
200 lb Gerald needs 200 grams of protein.
200 X 1 = 200.
800 of Gerald's 2,380 kcal/day will come from protein. (Remember, protein contains 4 kcal per gram)
200 X 4 = 800 kcal
3. Calculate fat intake.
For optimal hormonal function and health, at least 15-20% of your daily calories should come from fat.
Protein intake should remain constant, but you’re free to adjust fat and carb intake to preference.
Most feel and perform better with a higher carb intake. So keeping fat lower (~20% of daily kcal) generally makes sense.
Back to Gerald, with a goal intake of 2,380 kcal.
2,380 x .20 = 476
Gerald will be eating 476 kcal of fat per day.
To determine how many grams of fat this is, simply divide by 9. (Remember, fat contains 9 kcals per gram.)
476/9 = 53 (Well, 52.89)
Gerald will be eating 86 grams of fat per day.
4. Calculate carb intake.
All that's left to do is fill the your remaining calories with carbs.
Gerald has a goal intake of 2,380 kcal per day.
Subtract the 800 kcal coming from protein.
2,380 - 800 = 1,580 kcal
Subtract the 476 kcal coming from fat.
1,580 - 476 = 1,104 kcal
Gerald has 1,104 kcal remaining to fill with carbs.
To determine how many grams of carbs to eat, simply divide by 4. (Remember, carbs contain 4 kcal per gram.)
1,104/4 = 276
Gerald will be eating 276 grams of carbs per day.
Gerald's final macros:
Total calories: 3,086
Protein: 200 g | 800 kcal
Fat: 53 g | 477 kcal
Carbs: 276 g | 1,104 kcal
How Fast Should I Lose Weight?
Unless you're new to the gym, and already pretty low body fat, you're going to lose a good chunk of weight in the process of getting lean.
For most, the ideal speed of weight loss when cutting is .5-1% of body weight per week.
Go much slower than this- you won't see see much progress on a weekly basis. Your cut will drag on. You'll get sick of dieting.
Go much faster than this- you'll feel constant fatigue, mental performance will suffer, and you're at a higher risk of muscle loss.
Again, a general recommendation. But for most, .5-1% of bodyweight per week is easiest to adhere to.
How Do I Measure Progress?
As mentioned, the scale is a good way to measure progress. However, on a weekly basis, scale weight can fluctuate pretty wildly, due to things like water retention from higher sodium intake, stress, and digestive issues.
Especially for women, hormonal fluctuations mean looking at weekly scale changes isn't always the most accurate measure of progress.
For the scale- Don't make adjustments on weekly changes. Look at the trend over multiple weeks-monthly changes.
You're still aiming to lose .5-1% of bodyweight loss per week, just don't worry if this doesn't show up on the scale every week.
However, the monthly trend should show 2-4% of total bodyweight lost.
Weigh yourself at least three times per week. First thing in the morning, before eating or drinking, and after using the bathroom. Having multiple weigh-ins per week will give you a much better picture of where your weight actually is at.
Body measurements- To accurately gauge progress, take the following measurement once per week, at the same time you weigh in. For accuracy, measure in centimeters with a soft tape measure.
1. Chest. Take a circumference measurement, with the tape at the level of the nipples.
2. Navel. Take a circumference measurement of your torso with the tape 2 cm above the navel.
3. Hips. Take a circumference measurement around the broadest part of the hips.
4. Thigh. Take a circumference measurement around the broadest part of the right thigh.
Make sure to record these along with weekly weight changes. If weight loss has stalled, but measurements are decreasing, or vice versa, stay the course.
When both weight loss and measurements stall for 2+ weeks, it's likely time to implement a change. Read this article on how to make the necessary adjustments: Why Fat Loss Stalls (And What To Do)
It's common knowledge that a calorie deficit leads to fat loss. So why do so many people struggle losing fat?
While it ultimately come down to...
calories in < calories out = fat loss
...there's a lot of other factors that make sticking to a diet much harder. Learn how to deal with those here: Why Dieting Is So Hard (And How To Make It Easier)
Finally, people often just choose a diet structure that doesn't fit their lifestyle. Finding a diet you can adhere to is key to sustainable results. I wrote a guide on the different diet structures I use with clients here:Strategies To Make Dieting Suck Less
If you have questions about any of this- shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm happy to help!