The process of fat loss is quite possibly the most misunderstood and overcomplicated concept in the fitness industry today. Although the so-called experts will tell you that there are special foods or secret ratios of proteins to carbs to fats that you should eat in order to lose fat, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that fat loss is not complicated, at least in principle, although adhering to the appropriate behaviors (such as calorie reduction and/or increased physical activity) can be difficult in practical application.
The science of weight management basically boils down to the concept of energy balance and the caloric balance equation. This equation places the calories you consume (foods and beverages) on one side, and the calories you expend or burn on the other. When both sides of the equation are the same, your weight is maintained. When the amount of energy you expend (from activity) exceeds the amount of energy you consume (from food), you lose weight. This is known as an energy or calorie deficit, and programs that are successful at stimulating fat loss use this as their sole mechanism for reducing weight and fat. So, that’s it – no secrets, no special fat-burning exercises, foods, or pills – just a calorie deficit. Can it really be that simple? In a word, yes! In fact, biologically speaking, it can’t be any more complicated.
The way the concept of a calorie deficit works is pretty simple. Your body needs a certain amount of energy to perform essential bodily functions (like make organs work), physical activity, and digestion. Collectively, the sum of these three variables is something we call your total daily energy expenditure, and it is the amount of calories your body needs to survive on any given day. If you take in fewer calories than what your body needs, you have to get the remainder of the energy from an internal source; fortunately, the body stores a significant amount of internal fuel in the form of fat. So, let’s just say you expend 2000 calories on a given day, and you only consume 1500 calories; your body would have to use 500 calories from its internal fuel storage of fat. That 500 calories is 1/7 of a pound of fat (a pound of fat is the equivalent of 3500 calories). So, by creating a daily calorie deficit of 500 calories, you would lose one pound per week of fat (500 calories x 7 days = 3500 calories or 1 pound of fat).
How do you do this? Follow these four tips for consistent and lasting fat loss:
1.Be Patient: Calorie deficits of more than 1000/day for men or 500/day for women are not advised, as values in excess of these cause a significant amount of muscle mass to be burned for fuel. In most cases when the calorie deficit is excessive, the muscle mass burned will exceed the fat mass burned, resulting in a softer, flabbier appearance (you’ll have the same amount of fat or maybe more, but you’ll have less muscle). The realistic upper limit for fat loss per week is 2 lbs. for men and 1 lb. for women. If you set that as your goal, it may take you longer to get to your goal weight, but all of the weight you lose will be fat and, most importantly, you will be able to better maintain your weight loss.
2.Focus on Fat Loss, NOT Weight Loss: People place too much emphasis on the scale when they try to lose weight. Remember: the scale tells you change in mass, NOT change in fat. So, even though your scale weight may be going down, you could be getting fatter (if you are losing muscle). Conversely, your weight might not change but you could be losing a significant amount of fat (if you are building muscle). To determine how much fat you need to lose, and the appropriate rate of fat reduction, find a fitness professional who can measure your body fat with skinfold calibers. This can provide you with invaluable information.
3.Progressively Increase Physical Activity: As you probably figured out, one of the ways you can create a calorie deficit is to do more to increase your energy expenditure. To ensure fat loss, try to expend an additional 250-500 calories per day from exercise. Examples of activities that would do this are: walking at 3 m.p.h. for 60 minutes (320 calories); cycling at 6 m.p.h. for 60 minutes (240 calories); or running at 5.5 m.p.h. for 45 minutes (500 calories). As you can see from this list, the activities should be dynamic, whole-body types of exercise that increase heart rate, breathing rate, and even make you sweat a bit.
4.Progressively Decrease Calorie Intake: The flip side of the equation is to eat less. The easiest way to do this is to decrease all of your portion sizes by 25% (so eat about three-quarters of what you normally eat). Replacing foods higher in fat or sugar with fruits, vegetables, and foods rich in fiber are other good ways to reduce calorie intake. Overall, women attempting to lose weight should consume, on average, about 1200-1400 calories per day, and men approximately 1800-2000 calories per day.
If you remind yourself that fat loss isn’t all that complicated and follow these four tips, in time, you will achieve your fat loss goals.