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Fat Loss Key #1: Maintaining a Caloric Deficit
Your bank account shrinks when you spend more than you earn and it grows when you earn more than you spend.
Weight works the same way. You gain weight when you eat more calories than you burn and you lose weight when you burn more calories than you eat.
Consuming fewer calories than you burn is called a caloric deficit.
Despite the hype and the gimmicks, without being in a caloric deficit it’s physically impossible to lose weight. It’s a laws of physics, thermodynamics thing.
It doesn’t matter how many carbs you eat or detoxes you do, if you’re keto, vegan, paleo, on the Whole 30, or anything else—if you’re not in a caloric deficit, you can’t lose weight.
The Harris-Benedict equation is a handy way to calculate how many calories your body burns each day. This one works well.
To put yourself in the fat loss zone, split the difference between your BMR and your daily calorie needs and eat that many calories per day. For easy math, if your BMR is 1500 calories per day and your daily calorie need is 2000, 1750 calories is a good number to shoot for. That puts you at a deficit of 250 calories per day.
There’s wiggle room with how big your deficit can be, but I wouldn’t recommend going over 500 calories per day.
And remember, when it comes to weight loss, the answer is calories.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Take home: the only way to lose weight is to be in a caloric deficit.
Fat Loss Key #2: Understanding Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss
If you lose five pounds of muscle, you’ve lost weight, but congratulations are not in order.
Losing muscle makes you unhealthier, weaker, and look and feel worse.
Plus, proportionally speaking, muscle loss makes you fatter by increasing your body fat percentage.
Body fat percentage is calculated by dividing the pounds of fat on your body by your total body weight.
A 150lb person with 50lbs of fat therefore has a body fat percentage of 33.3%.
50lbs fat ÷ 150lbs body weight = 33.3% body fat
Let’s do a thought experiment and say that same 150lb person loses 5 pounds of muscle, bringing their total weight down to 145lbs, 50 of which is still fat. Now that equation looks like…
50lbs fat ÷ 145lbs body weight = 34.5% body fat
The person lost weight, but body fat percentage went up!
Let’s try that again, this time with the 5lb loss coming from fat.
45lbs fat ÷ 145lbs body weight = 31.0% body fat
Alas, body fat has decreased.
In order to get the body and health you’re after you’ll need to manage your body fat percentage. For women the sweet spot is below 25% and for men it’s below 20% (women naturally carry more body fat to support child birth).
This shifts the conversation from weight loss to fat loss, which is an important distinction.
It’s not really weight loss you want—it’s fat loss. That’s the most effective way to get the body fat percentage and look you want.
Take home: body fat percentage determines what your body looks like, not total body weight.
Fat Loss Key #3: Strength Training
It’s kind of expected than when losing weight some of the loss will come from muscle. It doesn’t have to be that way, but often times that’s how it happens—especially if you lose a lot of weight.
But luckily for us there’s ways to prevent that. Strength training is a key player here because it’s great for building muscle and super important for keeping muscle around during weight loss.
In other words, strength training forces fat loss as opposed to muscle loss so that when you see the number on the scale decrease you can feel confident your body is changing the way you want it to.
Cardio won’t help you here because it doesn’t have the same muscle building effect that weight training does. In fact, too much cardio can actually make your muscles shrink.
Which is why it’s so surprising most people believe you have to do cardio to lose fat.
That’s not true.
Cardio is great exercise and has a ton of health benefits, but it doesn’t guarantee fat loss (or weight loss in general).
Your priority during weight loss should be to maintain as much muscle as possible so you don’t look like a dried prune after you lose the weight.
That’s why weight lifting—not cardio—should be your priority if you’re trying to change how your body looks.
Training to keep muscle around is the same as training to add muscle. Work all the muscle groups, preferably 10-15 sets per muscle per week, until the movements start to involuntarily slow down due to fatigue.
If you’re lifting well and taking care of the other stuff that has to be in check in order to add muscle (more on this in a future post) you might even gain muscle andlose fat at the same time.
That’d be pretty slick.
Take home: to optimize the way you look and feel, strength training should be the priority while you’re losing weight.
These three keys are gold nuggets themselves. Fat Loss Keys 4, 5, and 6 are the icing on the cake that tell you how to really force your body into shedding that extra fat. Click here to read the next installment and learn three tricks to accelerate your fat loss.