Fat loss is confusing.
I get it.
I spent literal YEARS unsuccessfully trying to figure out how to lose fat.
It was a frustrating time. I wasted months of my time, and thousands of dollars on supplements and different diet plans... all for no results.
When I finally "cracked the code"... I was shocked at how simple fat loss really was.
I had just been focusing on the wrong things.
To help YOU avoid making the same mistakes I did, here are the top 5 things I wish I knew from the start of my fat loss journey:
1. All Fat Loss Comes From Creating A Calorie Deficit
Lots of diets try to sell you on the idea that they have “magical” fat loss properties.
"When following this diet, you'll NEVER be hungry, you can eat unlimited ___, and the fat will just fall off!"
The reality is, there are no magic diets.
All diets that actually work operate on one simple principle - they make you eat fewer calories than you burn in a day.
Seriously. It's that simple.
Eating fewer calories than you burn in a day is called creating a calorie deficit.
If you're not in a calorie deficit, you WON'T lose fat. No matter how "clean" or "Paleo" the foods you eat are.
Keto, veganism, intermittent fasting… they only cause you to lose fat, because (if) they make you eat fewer calories than they burn.
You can absolutely still gain fat following these diets as well, by eating more calories than you burn in a day. (This is called a calorie surplus.)
Basically, all diets are just different ways to restrict calories.
You probably know people who are following diets focusing on restricting or eliminating different things - carbs, non-paleo foods, meat, etc.
Despite constantly "dieting", these people probably aren't actually losing fat. Typically, they're missing the forest for the trees.
These diets don’t work because they make you eliminate a specific food group. They just CAN help you eat less. But it’s also very easy to follow these and NOT be in a deficit.
Now, I'm NOT saying you should only worry about calories in - calories out.
But if we don't understand the underlying principle of calorie deficits for fat loss, it's easy to feel like we have no power over how our body changes. It makes you feel like "diets don't work for you".
This is exactly where I was stuck for a long time. I was “kind of” tracking macros… and it wasn’t working.
“I must be one of those people macros don't work for... I need a different diet.”
The reality was, I was half-assing it. I wasn’t putting in the work to track and measure my food accurately. I was lying to myself about how much I was eating, and WASN’T in a deficit.
So I really just have to eat fewer calories than I burn in a day?
Yep. Weirdly simple right?
This principle opens up a whole new world of possibilities.
Online clients are shocked during our first call - the one where we dig deep into their diet history and lifestyle to create the perfect nutrition protocol for them specifically - when I tell them about the PLETHORA of different options we have to work with to make their plan fit them.
Alongside creating a calorie deficit, the co-most important factor of a diet is your ability to stick to it. This is exactly why I put so much time learning about clients lives, goals, and personalities before determining their nutrition protocol, when I could just prescribe everyone generic macros. When your plan is individualized to your specific needs, you're 100x more likely to be able to stick to it.
So, you have a lot of flexibility in finding the best diet for you. I would encourage you to check a few boxes to ensure an effective diet:
Adequate Protein (.8-1g/lb)
Adequate Fat (.3g/lb+)
80%+ Whole Foods
Got those boxes checked? Your health will be in good shape. From here, individualize foods, carbs vs. fat, meal-times, fed vs. fasted states, and daily calorie intake to what YOU feel best with.
2. You Don't Have To Cut Carbs
This was a life-changing realization for me. Unfortunately, way too many of the new online coaching clients I bring on have struggled for YEARS with this false belief in the past.
When I started my fat loss journey, I was hopping from diet to diet. None were working.
So I tried a low-carb diet.
In the first week, I lost 8lbs.
“This is CRAZY. I can’t believe I lost 8lbs of fat this week.”
It wasn't fat that I had lost, but water. Your body stores carbs as glycogen. Glycogen in turn stores water. So when you stop eating carbs, you deplete your glycogen stores quickly, and in turn you lose a bunch of water weight.
This is why the Keto diet yields quick initial weight loss. It’s not fat loss.
That said, I didn’t understand this concept at the time.
Due to a serious misunderstanding of how to diet, I decided eating strictly ground beef and
avocados was the way to lose weight.
Understandably, I got pretty sick of that food VERY quickly. As a result, I ate very little, and was losing weight rapidly quickly.
At the time, I associated the weight/fat loss with the low carb diet I was following. Really, I was simply losing a lot of weight due to creating a huge calorie deficit from NOT eating.
For the next 1.5 years, I was terrified to eat carbs. I thought that even a small dose of carbs would make me instantly fat.
After losing most of my muscle mass due to hardly eating, and then gaining lots of the weight back after eating ridiculous amounts of fat, I decided to give carbs another try.
I felt GREAT. I built more muscle. When I focused on fat loss, it was easier and I was more satiated than before.
I've been able to lose 65lbs since the start of this journey. I've gotten shredded for photoshoots, and hit major PR's in the gym.
CARBS ARE NOT THE ENEMY.
Again, eating any too much of any food will create fat gain, too much of any food will create fat loss.
For most of my online clients, it makes sense to take a more balanced, or even slightly higher carb approach.
While carbs are the only non-essential macro-nutrient - meaning they're not a must to live - when you look at the role of protein, carbs, and fat, more carbs make sense for most.
Protein: To adequately feed muscle growth, hormone production, bone health, and tons of other factors, your body needs protein. Protein is an essential Macro-nutrient.
About .8-1.2g/lb worth per day.
Past this point, there’s no added benefit to upping protein. It won't hurt, but it also won't help anything.
Fat: Just like protein, fat is essential. You basically have a “fat threshold” - a minimum intake you need for hormonal function and processes, as well as to prevent EPA deficiencies.
This threshold is thought to be around .3g/lb of body weight daily.
Go below this, and your hormones will take a hit. The most well known hormone that is disrupted here is testosterone.
The mistake here is, people often think..
“Ok, if some fat means my testosterone is higher… more fat = EVEN more testosterone.”
Past the fat threshold, you don’t get any added benefits from fat.
You won't just keep increasing testosterone the more fat you eat. (There are some muscle building benefits to increasing cholesterol intake, but that can easily be achieved at or near the minimum fat threshold.)
Carbs: Unlike fat and protein, carbs DO continue to give you benefits as you increase intake.
More carbs leads to increased training performance, more glycogen stores, faster recovery, more protein sparing.
So, to optimize your training performance - and in turn body composition - it makes sense to set fat and protein near the threshold marks, and then increase carbs as much as possible.
Out of the three macro-nutrients, carbs and protein are much harder for your body to store as fat, than fat is. The process to store carbs and protein as fat is MUCH longer and more complex than for fat.
3. Cardio Makes MUCH Less Difference Than Your Nutrition
When I first wanted to lose fat, I did what EVERYONE does - I started doing cardio.
Battle ropes, flipping tires, the stairmill, sprints - I did it all. I worked my ass off in the gym.
...And my body DIDN’T change.
The reality is, you just can’t burn that many calories through your training.
What you do in the gym typically makes up a measly 5% of the total calories that you burn in a day… which is why planning to “burn it off” in the gym is a terrible idea.
The amount of calories you burn in an hour-long cardio session can easily be consumed in the average margarita.
So, focusing on controlling your calorie intake, as well as focusing on movement is a much more practical plan for fat loss. (I have yet to see anyone actually get lean without following a well structured nutrition protocol.)
Until you get your nutrition dialed in, cardio won’t make a difference for your fat loss.
I do recommend everyone include some type of aerobic work (as it’s super important for your overall health and recovery from training), but it’s always kept at the minimal dose until online clients have their nutrition on point.
Cardio is like the cherry on top.
Does it help fat loss? Yep. You burn calories via cardio, which puts you in a larger deficit.
Does it make that much difference? Nope.
4. Cheat Days Are A Bad Idea
Another dumb mistake I was making for the first few years of dieting?
Taking a cheat day.
When I was following a low carb diet, I was also under the impression that taking a cheat day would actually help my progress.
I had heard it would “speed up my metabolism”.
Now, while eating more calories WILL equate to increased calories burned via digestion (simply because you're eating more), thus technically increasing your metabolism - it’s not NEARLY enough to make up for the calories you consumed. (You likely burn ~15% of the calories you consume in a mixed-macro meal, cheat meal or not.)
Basically, a cheat day, or even single cheat meal does nothing but slow your progress.
Let's break it down:
In a moderate sized calorie deficit, you’re eating about 500 calories below maintenance per day.
Eating here 7 days per week creates a deficit of 3,500 calories, or roughly 1lb of fat loss.
Problem is, it is CRAZY easy to eat 3,500 extra calories in a cheat day... or even a single cheat meal.
For example, let's say you decide to take your significant other out to Italian for your cheat meal. You eat:
1/2 a bottle of wine (~300 calories)
1/2 bruschetta appetizer (~425 calories)
2 pieces of French bread (~400
Caesar salad (550 calories)
Spaghetti and meatballs (1300 calories)
Tiramisu (500 calories).
The grand total? 3475 calories.
This effectively erases all the hard work you put into dieting the last 6 days of the week.
With multiple "cheat meals" like this in your week… you’re probably still gaining fat, despite spending 6 days of the week being hungry and "dieting". I've been stuck in this diet purgatory for way too long in the past - outside of your cheat day, you're miserable, and getting no results.
Call it quits on the cheat meals.
5. Incorporate Diet Breaks And Refeeds
When I finally started losing weight, I dieted for 6 months straight.
I lost 45lbs.
I also lost a ton of muscle, felt like balls, and had zero energy to devote to my job, training, or enjoying life.
To avoid a similar fate, all of my fat loss focused online clients take diet breaks.
A diet break is a 10 day to 4 week maintenance phase. We return your calorie intake to maintenance, or even a slight surplus. You’re NOT losing fat at this time.
“But you just said NOT to take a cheat day... if my goal is fat loss, why would I take a diet break?”
First, while a cheat day is typically just an excuse to eat everything possible, a diet break or refeed is very well structured. You'll know exactly how many calories you're eating, and what sources the calories should be coming from.
Whereas a cheat day sets back your fat loss, diet breaks and refeeds actually help it.
See, when you diet, you experience something called metabolic adaptation.
Basically, your metabolism downregulates as a response to you eating fewer calories and your body getting smaller/lighter.
Since your body is smaller, it requires fewer calories to fuel basal functions. Thus, your Basal Metabolic Rate is lower.
Moving your smaller body requires less energy, so you burn fewer calories via exercise. The Thermic Effect of Exercise is lower.
You're eating less food, so you burn fewer calories during digestion. The Thermic Effect of Food is lower.
You’re hungry and lethargic. In a subconscious effort to maintain homeostasis and prevent fat loss, you'll move less. As you take in less energy (calories), you’ll naturally expend less energy. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is decreased.
When calories are reduced, levels of the hormone Leptin decrease. When leptin drops, your body reduces energy expenditure, and levels of Ghrelin (the hunger hormone) rise. Obviously, this makes you hungry, making dieting more difficult. The increased hunger signal is another mechanism your body uses to try to maintain its body fat. Evolutionary, it makes sense for your body to want to hold onto body fat, as periods of food scarcity could be in the near future.
Cortisol levels rise. Cortisol is the “stress hormone”. While some cortisol is good, the devil is in the dose. Since dieting is a stress, dieting is associated with increased levels of cortisol. Constantly elevated levels of cortiosl lead to MORE ghrelin release, poor training recovery, and poor sleep (which leads to even more hunger, and even fewer calories burned.)
The longer you diet, the more pronounced all these adaptations get.
To add to all of the physiological adaptations, dieting is just very hard psychologically.
Honestly, this is the BIGGEST problem that stalls people fat loss - you're just sick of dieting, and not able to adhere consistently enough to make progress.
Enter: Refeeds and diet breaks.
These are GREAT tools for increase adherence, and actually following through with your diet until you're as lean as you set out to be.
Refeeds: Refeeds are typically 2-3 days in length. When an online client takes a refeed, we return their calorie intake to maintenance levels, almost entirely though carbs.The increased intake is a nice psychological break. Leptin levels also increase after 48 hours of carb overfeeding. This means that after a refeed, hunger is reduced, and energy expenditure is higher than it was previously - making your fat loss easier.
Clients typically take refeeds weekly or bi-weekly.
Diet breaks: Again, the length of a diet break can vary A LOT. Typically 10 days to 4 weeks. 10 days is the minimum amount of time it takes to most of the physiological benefits of a diet break. It often takes longer (up to 4 weeks) before you'll feel mentally ready to diet again.
Just like with refeeds, diet breaks are returning the hormones leptin, ghrelin, and the thyroid hormone T3 to more normal levels.
The rules are very similar to a refeed. Return calories to maintenance, increase carbs.
The main thing to keep in mind here - you still need to control calorie intake.
Unlike cheat days, you have very specific targets to hit to allow your body to return to normal without gaining fat in the process.
Just by reading this article, you're starting your journey to get lean in a MUCH better place than I did.
By avoiding my mistakes, you'll be able to build a lean, strong body in much less time than it took me.
If you want more help speeding up your journey with nutrition protocol designed specifically for you and your lifestyle - CLICK HERE to apply for online coaching.