Fat loss is probably the most common problem I am asked to solve for new clients. Working in a gym as a personal trainer since 2011, I have had hundreds of clients come to me looking to lose fat, ‘tone up’ and overall, just feel better about themselves.
However, over the years the general public have had product after product and myth after myth thrown at them through media and money-hungry marketers. So much so that fat loss is now shrouded in mystery.
The true mechanism and strategy for fat loss has been buried deep below keto and low-carb hype as well as intermittent fasting and bodypump fads. It’s no wonder we are becoming more obese as time goes on, no one knows what the hell to do!
Well, not for much longer. Today, you are going to learn the most important step you need to know about fat loss.
How to lose it and how to make sure it stays off permanently. If you follow the advice outlined below and implement the strategies provided, I can guarantee you’ll see some amazing results and have a new outlook on fat loss and your body.
The most important step you need to get right for fat loss is… Energy balance.
It is the proven strategy and mechanism for fat loss that ensures you become a fat-burning machine whose only limitation is how far you want to go with your results.
You may have heard of the First Law of Thermodynamics –
“Energy cannot be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another”
When you hear this, you might think of energy such as a light bulb or perhaps flowers and plants absorbing energy from the Sun. Which is correct. It also applies to the food we eat and how our bodies use and burn energy for fuel.
You see, everything we eat provides us with energy; and we refer to this energy as calories. A calorie is simply a unit of measurement to determine how much energy something has. It is determined by how much heat energy it would take to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.
Food energy, or the calories we refer to when talking about food, is often seen as kcal or Cal (with a big C). This is the amount of energy required to heat up 1 kilogram of water.
It all sounds pretty technical, right? And how does it apply to you and your fat loss?
As mentioned above, everything you eat provides your body with energy, aka calories. And since we also know that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it applies directly to you because if too many calories are consumed, they don’t magically disappear or get destroyed… they stay with you, causing fat gain.
We obviously need food and energy to survive so calories aren’t bad. You do need to get your energy balance right, though.
Eat too much and you’ll store the excess as fat. Eat too little and you will lose muscle and waste away at your body.
To give you a better understanding of how much energy YOU actually need, you can calculate your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) and give yourself a rough range for the amount of food and energy you need to consume on a daily basis. You can check out a TDEE calculator on your free trial of my Steel Transformation Academy HERE.
Your TDEE is how much energy you burn per day, roughly. If you eat at or around this number consistently, you will essentially stay the same. No significant fat loss or fat gain. You will be in a state of maintenance.
If you eat more than your TDEE on a consistent basis, you will gain fat. The excess calories and energy you consume will be stored where you have an almost infinite capacity for storage, your fat cells. This is a calorie surplus.
If you eat less than your TDEE on a consistent basis, you will lose weight. Your body will tap into excess stored energy to make up for the loss it has experienced in energy from food. This is known as a calorie deficit.
Also note that weight loss and fat loss aren’t exactly the same thing. Often when you lose weight, especially if you’re crash dieting or reducing calories too drastically, you will lose muscle as well. Over time, you should ideally be focusing on losing as much fat as safely as you can while preserving, or even gaining, as much muscle mass as you can. But more on that another day!
Once you know your TDEE, you can then adjust and plan your food according to your daily requirements. A good place to start is aiming to consume 10-15% less calories than your TDEE for fat loss. Let’s use some numbers here to illustrate this point:
I calculate my TDEE and it says I burn roughly 2000 calories per day. I want to lose some fat so I’m going to aim to eat about 15% less calories than that each day.
TDEE – 15% = Target Calories
2000 x .15 = 300 (my deficit)
2000 – 300 = 1700 (my aim for total daily calories)
To subtract 15% of my total daily energy expenditure and find my new calorie intake, I first need to calculate 15% of my current TDEE. 2000 is my current energy expenditure so I multiply that by .15. That gives me 15% of 2000, which is 300 calories. I can then subtract this from my current energy expenditure to find my target energy expenditure, 1700 calories per day.
Please be careful when applying this knowledge. The whole “if some is good, more is better” mentality is rarely a good thing, but in this instance, it definitely IS NOT A GOOD THING. Dropping your calories by too much, too quickly is a sure-fire way to lose muscle mass (which is critical for your metabolism and long-term results), cause a yo-yo effect where you bounce back and gain even more weight than initially and can even put your health at risk.
A conservative approach with your calorie intake is always the best approach. If you can consistently hit 10-15% less calories than your maintenance numbers you will make steady and permanent progress.
So, now that the science-y stuff is out the way, we can focus on strategies and information that you can apply to the real-world to influence your results; like how to calculate how much energy you get from certain foods.
I won’t go into great detail about tracking your macronutrients or calories in this article (you can check it out here, though) but every piece of food impacts your total daily energy intake.
A banana, for instance, could give you anywhere from 70-150 calories, depending on the size. A bowl of oats and skim milk might give you 400 calories. A Big Mac will load you up with almost 600 calories (and that’s before the chips and drink). Your job now is to put together a day of food that allows you to eat delicious, tasty, filling foods that keep you under your daily energy requirements and provide you with the essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
While it might seem like a simple equation, eat less than a number that you just calculated, that does not mean it is easy. Some days you can smash all your healthy meals and not even think about a small serving of ice-cream. Other days you want to eat the whole tub! That’s why knowing your calorie numbers is great.
You can plan ahead and fit some of your favourite indulgences into your diet. You don’t necessarily need to stick to the exact number you calculate for your calorie needs every single day. Some days might be higher, some days might be lower — that’s fine. As long it averages out and keeps you in a deficit more often than not, you will be making progress.
For example, I know I’d like to go out and have a burger on Saturday night but I’m trying to stick to 1700 calories per day. It would be pretty hard to squeeze the burger and the calories it comes with into 1700.
So, what can I do?
I can drop my calories on Friday and Sunday to 1400 and ‘bank’ myself 600 calories in total. That means, if I have the burger and consume 2300 calories on Saturday night but stick to my plan the rest of the time, I will still be on track.
Your body doesn’t magically reset itself every night of the week. If I ate 200 calories over my maintenance on Thursday, that doesn’t mean I automatically put on fat. Your body is always adjusting and regulating itself. Feel free to calculate your daily calorie requirements and multiply it by 7. That way you can plan you whole week and know when you can afford some more calories or need to cut back a little.
As you learn how your body responds to certain calorie amounts and as your goals change, you can gradually loosen up the reigns of your tracking or tighten them up as you see fit. You can eat by feel and judge food by portion sizes or you can continue tracking exact amounts of food for precise results.
Either way, taking the initial steps of learning how to track your food and managing your calorie intake provides you with incredible insight into your nutrition and how important it is to get the right quantity of food, not just the quality.