How can I lose fat? This is a question found everywhere on the Internet, and one that sparks billions of dollars for the “health and fitness industry”. Nutrisystem, P90x, ketogenic diet, Paleo diet, etc. … It seems like all these systems provide only temporary results, and the moment you decide to stop doing the routine, your body rebounds.
Before we get into the science of losing fat, mindset is a priority. The truth is, it’ll take hard work and self-discipline to achieve your fitness goals, whatever they are. Most people seek the easy way out. Consistent hard effort over time is the only guaranteed method for success.
To make this simple, think caloric deficit. This is a scientifically proven “secret” that helps you lose weight, shed fat, and look leaner. What exactly is a caloric deficit? A caloric deficit occurs when you burn more calories than you consume. The most basic scientific facts regarding fat are that 1 pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. In order to lose 1 pound a week, you need to create a calorie deficit of about 500 calories a day. The only flaw here is that this doesn’t account for changes in body composition and the consequent reduction in calories burned. Your body responds to a caloric deficit by making you burn fewer calories; this is often called “starvation mode” or Adaptive Thermogenesis (1).
Your body has an internal mechanism that is called the body weight set point. This means that all of your bodily systems are attuned with each other to function within a specific weight range and specific level of energy consumption (2). You are a living being, and biological organisms like to be "stable" and not be responding to constant dramatic change. This is your body's way of achieving homeostasis.
A little later, we will explore other factors in fat loss – but first, let’s talk more about caloric deficit. Does it really make you lose fat? Yes, but weight loss is not just fat loss. Losing weight refers to any combination of lost fat, body water, and muscle (3). You do NOT want to lose muscle.
The great news is that there are ways to minimize the loss of muscle mass:
The Best Approach: A slow and steady approach to body fat loss.
The approach for the body: Fat loss is a situation in which you improve your physiological health, hormonally and metabolic; in so doing, your physique improves.
The approach for the mind: Fat loss is a mindset change that requires you to change your relationship with food, firm new beliefs about how you treat yourself and create healthy eating habits.
Remember that internal setpoint we talked about? Your body's biological system likes to be stable, so creating drastic change will force your body to adapt. This is why so many people struggle with weight loss and gain their weight right back after a quick “diet”. That’s why the slow and steady approach helps keep the weight off after you lose weight. This approach gives your body time to catch up and adapt to its new (lower) caloric demands (6).
1. Other than taking it slow, diet is key. Your diet should be mostly whole foods. You need to eat foods that were grown or raised, not manufactured and made (unprocessed). The reason for this is that we are not eating for calories, but rather eating to optimize hormones and nutritional benefits.
2. You need to eat clean, like it’s your job to be healthy. Create a better relationship with food by eating more slowly. Eating clean (whole foods) creates a healthy mind-gut connection. This will improve hormonal health, which is crucial; it controls metabolism. If you’re overweight, you likely have high estrogen, skewed leptin levels, lower testosterone levels, and are insulin-resistant (7). Put simply, your hormones are contributing to you being overweight, and you need to counter this through dietary changes. Your insulin, leptin, testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol all influence how your body stores nutrients, burns/stores fat, and functions on a daily basis.
3. You have to outsmart your body. Your body hates change and just wants to maintain homeostasis. That’s why, to lose weight, you need to do long periods of slight undereating, periods of maintenance eating, and periods of slight caloric surplus. I personally am not a fan of calorie counting, so instead, I keep a scale handy to track my gradual progress.
4. Exercise. This is self-explanatory. Get up and move around! Be active, go on walks, do some cardio, lift some weights.
There is no set prescription for fat loss. Every person is unique. Losing body fat is a process that requires self-discovery, self-discipline, and experimentation to drop the weight.
I don’t want to sugarcoat this so, here it is: You are fat because you eat too much. The issue with weight gain is that you eat more food than your body needs. There are genes connected to being overweight, but blaming your DNA for your weight-loss challenges wouldn't be right.
A high-protein, moderate- to high-fat, low-carb, zero to very low sugar diet is probably going to be the best strategy for you. And don’t forget whole foods, which supply you with plenty of micronutrients.
A good diet lifestyle should begin with foods like:
Remember, do not try to lose weight as quickly as possible (slow and steady, please). Your body does not like abrupt change.
Create a healthy relationship with food. Don’t eat and multitask. Eat slowly, get in touch with yourself, learn the difference between being full and stuffed. Pay attention to how food affects your energy levels afterwards. Do not eat foods that make you feel sluggish and bloated.
Crucial: Lower your sugar intake. Over-consuming sugar is the most common cause of weight gain. Sugar is toxic, creates metabolic problems, leads to overeating, Type 2 diabetes, and hormone imbalances. Try cutting out all added sugar in food and see how it can lead to drastic fat loss.
Fat-loss is a challenge to your patience, so take it slow and steady. Eat clean, like it’s your job to be healthy. Over time, you will see changes – and will form a new, more loving relationship with your body.
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