Ok, if you’re reading this you’ve probably figured out by now, losing weight isn’t easy, and it isn’t exactly fun either. But it doesn’t have to be the ridiculously restrictive and totally unsustainable hell that many perceive it to be.
As is the case with any goal in life worth achieving, whether it be in business, relationships or self-improvement, there are some basic, fundamental principles that inevitably drive you towards success.
In this article, I am going to break down what are in my opinion, the 10 most important rules to live by, in order to achieve long-term, sustainable fat-loss.
Energy balance really is key when it comes to losing fat. The most basic, yet crucially important rule to abide by is to ensure that you are taking in less calories than you are burning off on a daily basis. So the first thing you need to do is calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) which will tell you the amount of calories your body will burn each day at rest. The next thing you need to consider is your average daily activity level, ie. roughly how many calories you are likely to burn through movement and exercise. Adding these 2 numbers together will give you your daily weight maintenance number. Then, you would just subtract 500kcal/day to lose fat at a steady, sustainable rate with minimal muscle loss (recommended) or as an extreme, subtract 1000kcals per day, which will help you lose weight quicker, but likely at the expense of more muscle loss. However, always set an absolute minimum of 1,400kcals per day, because when you go below that, it becomes very difficult to get the amount of nutrients your body needs. A great tool to track all of this is a free app called Myfitnesspal. Start by inputting your details on their site to calculate your BMR HERE.
Avoid any kind of fad, overly restrictive “diet”. Even the word, “diet” suggests a temporary fix, and what you need is a long-term solution. Crash diets promise extreme fat loss in the shortest time possible, “lose ten pounds in 2 weeks” or words to that effect. The simple and unfortunate truth is that these fad diets are not sustainable and you will always end up putting the weight back on and then some as soon as you start eating normally again. (Sounds all too familiar, right?) If you want to lose weight and keep it off then you need a sustainable, long-term plan, not a drastic, temporary fix. The best place to start is by identifying the daily habits and behaviours that caused you to gain the fat in the first place, finding solutions and alternatives and practicing healthier habits on a consistent basis. Consistency is key when it comes to fat loss so if the mere thought of starting a “diet” makes your mouth go dry then you’re never going to be able to keep it up, not only for lack of motivation but for the long-term health implications of starving your body of anything remotely satisfying. Consistency drives change so find a solution that you know you will be able to stick to long-term.
Eating a high protein diet is without a doubt one of the most important factors when it comes to improving your physique. Not only does it help to keep you fuller for longer, but protein breaks down into amino acids in your body, which help to preserve and even build lean muscle mass while you burn body fat. This in turn helps to boost your metabolism so that you burn more calories while you exercise and even at rest. Not only that, but you will also attain a much leaner, more “toned” and more defined look as you work towards achieving your fat loss goals.
As for fibre, try to focus predominantly on green vegetables like peas, broccoli, green beans and sprouts. These are the foods with the highest fibre content relative to their calorie content. Fibre is difficult for your stomach to digest, takes up a lot of room in your stomach and triggers receptors in your brain to tell you that you’re full. It very difficult to consume too many calories from eating these types of foods which makes them by far the best option to ensure you get all the fibre you need and make yourself feel full without consuming too many calories.
Simply wanting to lose fat is not enough. In order to stay the course, push through those gruelling workouts, resist those cravings every time those hunger pangs kick in and commit to your programme 100% until you reach your goals, you need to ask yourself, “WHY is losing this fat so important to me?” Fat loss isn’t the goal, the goal is how you’ll feel once you’ve lost the fat. The kind of answers I hear a lot when I ask my clients these questions are, “I’m going on holiday with friends in a few months so I want to look good on the beach”, or “I’m going to a wedding and I have to fit into my bridesmaid dress.” While these are perfectly valid reasons, try to dig a little deeper, do a little soul searching and think about why you REALLY want to lose that body fat. Find those deeper reasons that light a fire within you. Maybe it’s a past experience that’s knocked your confidence and made you lose your sense of self-worth, or maybe the thought of your holiday photos going on Facebook for all to see while your self esteem is so low is triggering anxiety within you. Maybe there’s one particular person you want to impress but you’re lacking the self-confidence to be naked in front of them. It could be literally anything, but dig deep and find the reasons that motivate you so much that failure isn’t an option.
Many people instinctively gravitate towards long, punishing cardiovascular workouts when trying to lose weight. This is understandable as over the past few decades, the media has often steered us towards the misconception that doing cardio is the only way to burn fat and lifting weights will bulk you up. However, the truth is that it’s not that black and white, not even close in fact. Firstly, in order to achieve that lean, “toned” physique that most of us are striving for, a high quality, structured weight training programme is an absolute necessity. Not only that, but it is also one of the most effective tools in your arsenal when it comes to burning stubborn body fat, too. Strength training and time under tension training will help you preserve and even build lean muscle mass during a fat loss programme. This in turn will boost your metabolism and help your body to burn more calories during exercise and even at rest. Focus primarily on heavy, compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, rows, pull-downs and chest presses. These exercises will give you the biggest “bang for your buck” when it comes to muscle building and burning calories/body fat. Make sure you lift weights heavy enough to really challenge you, but always ensure that you maintain safe and proper form.
Stress and sleep deprivation are two of the biggest hindrances when it comes to achieving your fat loss goals. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body increases it’s production of the stress hormone, Cortisol. Having excess Cortisol levels in your body causes the body to hold on to fat stores and eat in to muscle stores, which is completely counterproductive when it comes to attaining a lean, defined physique. A lack of sleep also boosts your levels of ghrelin, a hormone associated with hunger, while suppressing leptin, a hormone that signals fullness and satiety. In one study conducted by The Canadian Medical Association Journal, one group of people who followed a structured nutritional programme and slept only 5 and a half hours per night lost on average 55% less fat than another group who followed the same nutritional programme but got 8 and a half hours sleep per night. Manage stress levels by practising meditation, take up yoga, swimming, or anything that completely allows your mind to switch off from all the stresses of day-to-day life. Prioritise sleep and aim to get a minimum of 7 hours per night. This will help to reduce stress levels, enable better recovery between workouts and ensure that everything in your body is working as efficiently as possible.
Ok, so we’ve all been approached by at least one of these juice-wielding sales people, likely a lot more than one and the sales pitch always makes the results sound so appealing… “Replace every meal with one of these nutritious juices and you’ll lose so much weight so fast you’ll never look back”, or words to that effect. So are they right? Is it really possible to lose all this weight just by replacing your meals with juices? Yep! But will your body be in better condition for it and will you keep the weight off long term? In the infamous words of Jordan Belfort, (Leonardo Dicaprio) in The Wolf Of Wall Street, “Absolutely f***ing not!” The only reason you’re losing weight on one of these crash diets is because you’re putting in barely enough calories to sustain yourself, so if you want to do it that way, save yourself a lot of money and just eat a few lettuce leaves and a couple of pieces of fruit every day. This drastic restriction of calories causes your body to eat into muscle stores for energy, so a lot of the weight you are losing is the kind of weight you want to keep in order to keep your metabolism working efficiently. Eventually, as soon as you start eating normally again (which you will have to do for your health) your body will begin to store whatever it can as valuable fat stores after being deprived for so long, your metabolism will be working at a fraction of it’s normal capacity and you will gain all the weight back and then some. Aside from that, when you lose weight on one of these fad diets, you create a bad relationship with food, you don’t learn any of the long term habit changes you need to sustain your progress, you don’t learn how to adjust portion sizes or how to maintain a healthy diet, so as a result, the weight will always inevitably creep back on. Instead of opting for a damaging, short-term fix, start by ensuring your body is in a 15-20% deficit and practise healthy eating habits that you can sustain long term.
While steady state cardio will burn calories and help you build your fitness levels, when it comes to fat loss goals and attaining a lean physique, it just isn’t the most effective way to spend your time in the gym. Research shows that cardio aerobic training is not only ineffective for fat loss, but can actually be detrimental. For example, in one study, subjects who did 40-minute, steady state cardio workouts for 3 months gained an average of 0.44kg of body fat, whereas a group that did much shorter, high intensity (HIIT) cycle sprints lost 1.5kg of body fat. One reason for this is that the “after-burn” effect is greater after a 15-20 minute HIIT workout than it is after a traditional, 40 minute, constant-pace cardio workout, meaning that you will burn more calories during the 24-hour period after your workout, thus burning more fat for energy and recovery. Sprint training also increases your metabolic rate by stimulating the production of your human growth hormone (HGH) by up to 450% during the 24 hours after you finish your workout. HGH is responsible for increased caloric burn and also slows down the aging process, making you feel younger both inside and out. HIIT training also preserves muscle whilst burning fat, as opposed to aerobic cardio, which has been shown to encourage muscle loss along with fat loss. Not to mention that HIIT is much more time-efficient and perfect for a busy schedule as you can achieve more progress from a 15-minute interval session (done 3 times per week) than someone else running on the treadmill for an hour. You can do it anywhere, as it requires no equipment so you can even cut out the commute to and from the gym to save more time!
If you don’t keep track of your progress each week, there is no way of knowing that the efforts you are putting in are really working, and that you are continuously moving in the right direction. So if your goal is weight loss, step on the scales each week, but don’t base your progress on that alone. Your weight can fluctuate, and weighing yourself alone doesn’t tell you much about your actual body composition. That’s where measurements and before and after photos come in. Measure your waist, hips, thighs, upper arms and anywhere else you are trying to lose fat from. Sometimes, your weight may not have dropped significantly, but your body composition, ie. your body fat and muscle percentages may have changed drastically. Always remember, muscle is 3 times as dense as fat so your body can look very different but weigh exactly the same. Take a photograph in the mirror, wearing either just your underwear or some fitted gym clothes, then take the same photograph, stood in the same spot, same time of day, lighting etc, 12 weeks later and compare the 2 images. Often we don’t notice the changes when we see ourselves every day so comparing those photos shows us how much has actually changed.
As I mentioned in point 2, sustained fat loss requires a long-term lifestyle change and consistency is key. But weight loss is never completely linear. Inevitably, sometimes life gets in the way, be it in the form of work, a social event, a bereavement or any of life’s unplanned occurrences. This means you may temporarily “fall off the wagon”, but that doesn’t mean you’ve ruined your efforts. What matters is how you handle that and what you do afterwards. So you went out, caved in to temptation, got sh**faced and fell asleep face-first in your half-eaten kebab. (that wasn’t just me, right?) Don’t beat yourself up about it, we all have to live a little too! Brush it off, treat today as a fresh start and get back on that wagon just as quickly as you fell off it. Rome wasn’t built in a day, there will be hurdles along the way but stay as consistent as possible and the results will follow.