Fat loss doesn’t have to be a confusing grind. Follow these 7 steps to guarantee it happens in the most efficient and enjoyable way possible.
The best way to burn body fat is to decrease how much you eat. You could do it with more exercise, but it takes a lot of extra activity to make any difference to body fat.
Therefore, you need to have a way to regulate energy intake. Blindly aiming to eat less is too imprecise, and could lead to inadvertently eating too much or too little. Both outcomes are inefficient at best, and eating too little increases the likelihood of a rebound in a lot of people (because of excessive slowing of the metabolism).
I personally prefer and recommend using a smartphone diet tracker because it enables the greatest control. But any system that allows you to regulate energy intake is fine (meal plans for example).
Weigh yourself first thing in the morning every day and record the measurements. Ignore daily numbers because they’ll fluctuate—your 7-day average weight is what will guide the diet.
Take tape measurements around your hips and waist every month.
Take photos of yourself in your underwear every month. This feels horrible at the start of a diet, but trust me, when you’ve made progress these photos will be gold when you compare them to how good you look now.
2. Calorie target
With a system of measurement in place, the next thing is a daily caloric goal that will produce fat loss.
Take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by 11-13. (For kg, multiply your body weight by 24-28, for stones 154-182.)
If you’re particularly active or have a fast metabolism, use the higher number. If you’re an office worker or have a slow metabolism, use the lower number (and of course use the middle range if you fall somewhere in between).
The resulting number is your daily calorie target.
150 lb construction worker with fast metabolism: this person would use the higher multiplication factor:
150 lb x 13 = 1950 calories/day.
150 lb office worker with slow metabolism: this person would use the lowest multiplication factor:
150 lb x 11 = 1650 calories/day.
The above numbers are just a place to start. People’s energy requirements vary a lot due to different metabolic rates and activity levels, so all we can get is an approximate number. That’s all we need though, because we can adjust as we go.
Aim for 1-2 lb fat loss (roughly 0.5-1 kg) per week. If you have a lot of fat to lose, a faster rate is fine. On the other hand if you’re quite lean and putting the final touches on a 6-pack, a slower rate is better.
The rate you choose to lose fat also depends on your preference. But it’s important to know that a faster rate risks more kick-back from your body. This can increase the chance of plateaus, make long term maintenance of your results more difficult, or lead to a complete rebound.
3. Monitor and adjust
Keep an eye on your weekly average body weight. Don’t change anything if you’re losing weight at your expected/desired rate.
Subtract a further 5% from your daily calories if you’re not losing fast enough.
Add 5% to your daily calories if you’re losing too fast.
To minimize the chances of losing muscle during a diet, aim to eat 0.8 g per pound of body weight (1.8 g/kg) of protein. More is fine, but unnecessary. Protein has another advantage for dieting in that it’s filling, which helps fight hunger.
Carbs and fat
With protein in place, fill in the rest of your diet with carbs and fat as you please. Proportions of carbohydrate and fat intake make a negligible difference on body fat loss. By far the most important thing is overall energy balance.
Further, the flexibility of being able to eat whatever you like massively outweighs any slight benefit you might get from trying to optimize carbs and fat for your body. The reason is that an enjoyable diet makes adherence more likely, and a diet you enjoy and stick to is far superior to a theoretically perfect one you give up on.
5. Meal frequency
Tailor your eating frequency to your tastes and preferences. One meal, twenty meals, breakfast, no breakfast, it doesn’t matter. For fat loss overall energy intake is king.
However, if you want to be optimal, to minimize the chance of lean mass loss, spread your protein intake over the day in at least four meals.
6. Stress and sleep
Minimizing stress and getting adequate sleep are important for fat loss. Easier said than done in our busy lives, I know. But if you prioritize these things, you’ll have a much easier time.
If you just want to lose weight, diet alone will do it. If you want to optimize your health and appearance, you must exercise. The form that will give the most bang for the buck is resistance exercise, ie, weight training.
- It builds muscle, and muscle helps burn extra calories even when you’re inactive. Plus it gives you shape and looks good.
- Weight training itself burns energy.
It doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming. There are a few fundamentals to have in place, and everything else can be customized to your preferences (I work out for 20-30 minutes at a time these days).
Weight training fundamentals
- Include movements like squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, bench presses, and parallel bar dips.
- Try to get stronger in these exercises over time.
- Learn how to do the movements correctly. This is extremely important, both to avoid injury and to work the correct muscles.
- Pay attention to recovery. Exercise is a stressor, and so is dieting.
You can get lean without cardio, but if you can make time for it, it’s a great way to boost your caloric burn. Even a half hour brisk walk can burn an extra 150ish calories (depending on body weight, sex, walking speed, etc).
Of course cardiovascular exercise is great for health too.