The Beginner’s Guide To Fat Loss
The hardest part of the fat loss process is believing that this time will be different. But, it can be if you’re willing to remove the usual complications associated with weight loss and commit to a different approach.
After helping thousands of people lose weight, the key to building an effective fat loss plan is knowing where to start, building a plan that is sustainable (think easy over restrictive), and having guardrails to help you stay on track.
You’ve been fed a steady diet of misinformation about what your body needs in order to look its best.
In this Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Fat Loss, we’ll teach you everything you need to know in this 10,000+ word post. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
Where Do I Start With Fat Loss?
All (and we do mean all) successful fat loss diets and programs have one thing in common: they are sustainable.
No one diet is best for fat loss. And, that’s maybe the hardest idea to accept because of diet culture. It is a gross overstatement to say that avoiding any one food is “all it takes” to lose fat.
It doesn’t matter if it’s carbs, fat, wheat, dairy, gluten, sugar, late-night eating, or processed and/or packaged foods. And that’s not a guess. Yale researchers took a look at many diets and compared low-carb, low-fat, low-glycemic, Mediterranean, mixed/balanced (DASH), Paleolithic, vegan, and elements of other diets.
Their findings? There isn’t a clear winner because all can work for fat loss. The real secret is relying on a few principles (more protein, fruits, and vegetables, fewer processed foods), and finding a plan that you can stick with for a long period of time.
The diets that work all share one common trait: help you create a calorie deficit that you can maintain for a long period of time.
That second part — the duration — is the most underrated and important part of making fat loss last. Most people have experienced losing weight, but it’s usually for a short period of time, somewhere around 2 to 8 weeks. It feels good when it happens, but it’s incredibly frustrating when the weight loss stops and the pounds find a way back on to your body.
No matter what dietary strategy you choose (low-carb, counting macros and calories, etc.) or workout plan you follow, you can’t escape the physics of fat loss. To lose fat, you need to consume fewer calories than your body burns every day. This is called a “calorie deficit.” It’s like gravity.
Because you’re eating fewer calories than you need, your body will burn stored fat for energy. This is how fat loss happens.
Here’s another way to think of it: Your body needs a certain number of calories just to handle its daily functioning, such as keeping your heart beating, fueling your brain, powering digestion, and helping you move around.
This is called your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). When you think of your metabolism, this is what we’re talking about.
You can create a calorie deficit a few different ways, but it’s most efficient to do with a combination of diet and exercise. And, we’ll show you exactly how to make that happen.
Fat Loss Diets: The 3 Rules You Must Follow
There are dozens of different methods (and we’ll talk about some of those below) that can help you create a calorie deficit. And, while that could feel stressful, it should be freeing. It means you don’t need to swear off pasta, pizza, or other foods you love.
Do you need to adjust how much you eat of those foods? Sure. But, knowing that every effect fat loss diet has some flexibility is a game-changer. In fact, research from the University of Alabama found that people who follow diets where they have flexibility are more likely to lose fat — and keep the weight off.
More importantly, you don’t need to try dozens of methods. You just need one that fits you.
The mindset of doing multiple things to cut calories is where most people go wrong. Radical, dramatic diet methods and workouts lead to burnout and falling off your diet once again. You need a plan that is stable and sustainable.
Take a ketogenic (keto) diet as an example. It can definitely work for fat loss, but it’s very restrictive and not a good fit for anyone that likes carbs. Can you try it? Sure. But, if you can only sustain it for 1-2 months, within 3-4 months there’s a high likelihood you’ll weigh more than when you started, and that’s not a good trade.
The truth is, there are only 3 fat loss rules that matter. Focus on these 3 rules (and you don’t have to be perfect) and you will lose fat.
Rule #1: Adjust Your Diet
Fat loss doesn’t have to be painfully hard, but it does require changes that result in you eating few enough calories so your body can burn fat.
While many diets will suggest there’s another barrier — whether it’s carbohydrates and insulin, or gluten and inflammation, or lectins and toxins — science has shown over and over again that you need a caloric deficit to lose weight.
Your belly comes from eating too many unused calories. If you overeat, you’ll store fat, regardless of what foods those calories come from.
Now, that’s not to say some people don’t need to avoid certain foods or ingredients due to food allergies (which is an entirely different, super-interesting topic), but the truth is most people are overreacting and cutting foods from their diet because they’ve been tricked into believing these “bad foods” are a health problem. They’re not.
If you’re trying to understand nutrition, it’s best to consider the words of Mike Israetel, Ph.D., professor of exercise science at Temple University:
“Ultimately, successfully countering weight gain and obesity is a combination of many nutrition and behavioral principles that keep the fundamentals (like calorie balance) in mind. Catchphrase demonization of a single nutrient as a magic-bullet cure is unlikely to ever be the solution, and–in fact–more likely to create problems and confusion about how to fight obesity.”
Now you might be thinking, “But, everyone says that if I just remove carbs I’ll lose weight.”
Researchers have examined that exact thing. One study in particular compared carbohydrate intake ranging anywhere from 4 to 45 percent of total calories in low-carb diets, and fat content at 30 percent or lower in low-fat diets
Here’s what the researchers found:
- Low-fat diets were slightly more effective at lowering total cholesterol and LDL.
- Low-carb diets were more effective at increasing HDL and decreasing triglycerides
- Neither diet was more effective than the other at reducing bodyweight, waist girth, blood pressure, glucose, and insulin levels.
This overall lack of differential effects led the authors to conclude that both low-carb and low-fat diets are viable options for reducing weight.
We need to stop trying to blame individual foods. They are not the problem. Certain tactics — like eating fruits and vegetables — might help with weight loss and maintenance. But, at the end of the day, controlling weight gain is more about total calorie balance than any particular food. If you can make that your focus, you will go a long way towards ending the vicious cycle of going on (and off) diets and feel more in control of the entire fat loss process.
Rule #2: Prioritize Strength Training
You’ve probably heard that you can’t “out-train” (or out-cardio) your diet, right?
And that’s true. How much you eat will dictate the majority of your fat loss efforts, no matter how hard you work in the gym.
Here’s why: you don’t actually burn that many calories during your workout. A hard 30-minute strength training session will burn anywhere from 180-266 calories for most people.
That’s not a lot. A Starbucks Vanilla Latte takes care of that.
However, strength training is important if you want to shed unwanted pounds of fat, and more importantly, keep them off.
Here’s why: When you’re eating in a calorie deficit, your body has to find energy somewhere. Ideally, you want your body to pull this energy from your fat stores.
But, your body can also break down existing muscle for energy depending on how you’re training.
And that’s no good because when you start to lose hard-earned muscle, your body will begin burning less and less calories each day. This makes it harder for you to keep losing fat.
That’s why “weight loss” shouldn’t be your goal. The goal is to reduce your body fat while keeping (or even increasing) the amount of muscle you have.
And the best way to do that is by training hard during your diet. This signals your body to hold on for dear life to that muscle — because it needs it.
Oh, and here’s an added bonus: when you add resistance training to your routine, it can speed up the weight loss process by making your muscles more efficient fat-burning furnaces.
When the now-more-muscular you (looking good!) exercises, you’re able to do more work, which will help you burn more calories during the workout and your day-to-day life.
Not sure where to start with a workout? Don’t worry, we gotchu. You’ll find a complete 12-week fat loss strength training below.
Rule #3: Don’t Underestimate Sleep
Chances are, you’re not sleeping enough (thanks, Netflix).
And here’s why that’s a big problem. Not sleeping enough can make you hungrier, desire bigger portions, and crave higher-calorie foods.
Oh, and it can cause you to lose muscle instead of fat during your diet.
Sleeping less than six hours triggers the area of your brain that increases your need for food while also depressing leptin and stimulating ghrelin (hormones that help control or stimulate your appetite).
If that’s not enough, sleep loss also creates an internal battle that makes it feel almost impossible to lose fat.
When you don’t sleep enough, your cortisol levels rise. This is the stress hormone that is frequently associated with fat gain. Cortisol also activates reward centers in your brain that make you want food.
At the same time, the loss of sleep causes your body to produce more ghrelin. A combination of high ghrelin and cortisol shut down the areas of your brain that leave you feeling satisfied after a meal, meaning you feel hungry all the time—even if you just ate a big meal.
And, it gets worse.
When you’re sleepy (as little as 1-2 hours of missed sleep), you’re much more likely to eat foods you would typically be able to resist.
According to researchers at the University of Chicago, sleep deprivation is kinda like getting high. “Sleep restriction seems to augment the endocannabinoid system, the same system targeted by the active ingredient of marijuana, to enhance the desire for food intake.”
In other words, you’re far more likely to say “screw it” and eat high-calorie foods that can easily sabotage your fat loss.
Finally, according to researchers in South Carolina, sleeping one hour less per night for a week could cause you to hold on to more fat and lose more muscle when trying to lose weight.
Even more interesting, the study participants were allowed to catch up on sleep as much as they wanted on the weekends, but still went from losing mostly fat to losing primarily lean mass.
The bottom line: Not enough sleep means you’re likely to feel hungry, reach for bigger portions, and desire every type of food that is bad for you—and you don’t have the proper brain functioning to tell yourself, “No!”
How Do I Know What Good Sleep Is?
A great night of sleep starts with small decisions you make during the day. To set yourself up for success, when possible, curb your alcohol and caffeine consumption around 3 pm. (We realize on some nights this just won’t be possible, but — remember — you don’t need to be perfect, just need to be consistent.)
Here’s why: while alcohol can make you feel sleepy, it disrupts your deep sleep cycles. So, while you might be asleep, you’re not getting the restorative sleep your body craves.
What’s more, alcohol can also reduce your melatonin production by up to 20 percent.
Ever noticed that when you drink, you wake up feeling even more tired? A lack of restorative sleep is part of the reason why.
The same goes for caffeine. For most of us, it brings us life every morning. But, the stimulating effects of coffee can linger in your system. A small cup of coffee will affect your mind and body (and therefore disrupt your sleep) up to 5 hours after you drink it. So, the seemingly innocent cup around 4 pm or after dinner can have more of a negative impact than you might think.
When it’s time for bed, try to prioritize your sleep hygiene. Here are a few simple tips that will help you improve your sleep.
- Limit your time spent on electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed.
- Keep your room as dark as possible. Can’t see your hand in front of your face? You’re on the right track.
- Keep your room cold, around 65-67 degrees seems to work best for most people.
For more detailed (and surprising) reasons you might be struggling with your sleep, check out this article.
How Do I Eat for Fat Loss?
Now that you know the rules of fat loss, it’s time to put them into action. We’ll provide the tips that will help you find the right diet for you, as well as how to navigate all of the typical traps that cause you to fall off your plan.
Fat Loss 101: How to Create A Caloric Deficit You Can Maintain
Remember, creating a calorie deficit is the foundation of any fat loss because without it you will not lose weight.
To create a calorie deficit you need to burn more calories than you consume. That can be done in two ways.
- Increasing physical activity (this can be as simple as increasing the number of steps you take per day).
- Reducing the amount of calories you eat.
In most cases, it takes a combination of the two so you don’t fall into the common burnout traps of extreme dieting or training.
There is a lot of information and a lot of confusion about dieting: which plan to pick, how to stay consistent, what to do when eating out, conflicting information about supplements, and what the heck is a macro anyway?
But, we’ve got your back. Everything you need to know from why most diets fail to if you can have alcohol on a diet plan. Read on and find out how to eat for fat loss.
2 Reasons Why Most Diets Fail
You may be asking yourself, “why can’t I lose weight?”
You may believe you are destined to never lose weight because dieting is too hard.
You may have tried and failed at several types of diets and can’t figure out why nothing is working.
No matter what you think or believe, we’ve worked with everyone from those who need to lose 10 pounds to those who need to lose 150 pounds. We know the hurdles and understand what it takes to overcome them.
Here are two reasons why most diets fail for most people and how to set yourself up for success. If you can avoid these mistakes, the fat loss process becomes much easier
Fat Loss Mistake #1: Choosing Perfection Over Consistency
Screw perfection. No one is perfect, so it is time you cut yourself a break when it comes to your diet. You need to have self-compassion and patience if you’re going to succeed in any goal, and that includes fat loss.
Many people quit fat loss programs because they screw up once and think, “I ruined it!” That could not be further from the truth.
You’re going to have days where you can’t (or didn’t) eat as well as you want. The key is to not abandon the plan when you have an off-plan day. Instead, clear the slate and get right back on your plan as soon as possible.
You should also know that being perfect doesn’t mean “eating clean” all the time. This sets you up for failure early on. It creates the idea that you are either on or off a plan–this shows up as the “all or nothing” feeling.
There is a lot of space between eating “clean” and eating like a dumpster fire.
How to stop the “all-or-nothing” cycle.
If you are like most people who try to lose weight, you have experienced the all-or-nothing feeling of dieting.
It feels something like this:
You did great all week. Then, a co-worker brings donuts in on Friday morning to celebrate a birthday. You enjoy a couple of donuts and now you feel like you failed. So you think, “screw it, I messed up so I may as well have more and start again on Monday.”
Later that day you have cake at lunch because screw it.
That night you order the extra cheese appetizer and drink all the beer — because, you know, “screw it, I already messed up today.”
You notice how all or nothing mentality starts to become a slippery slope and will ultimately prevent you from making progress.
Here is what you need to do instead.
Think of your food choices on a scale from 1- 10.
1 = the worst possible food you can think of. Perhaps a greasy burger, deep-fried in lard, with bacon and cheese. (This is the “ALL”)
10 = the healthiest food you can imagine. Kale salad with lean protein sprinkled with magic pixie dust. (This is the “NOTHING”)
Next, consider everything you eat and all the choices you make exist somewhere in between 1 and 10. You have the opportunity to eat foods that fall between the two extremes.
Your goal is to think of ways you can make each meal “a little bit better” and move up the scale one or two steps.
Here is an example.
Starting with a double bacon cheeseburger and fries. Let’s call this a 2 on the scale.
Swap the double for a single. Exchange the fries for a baked potato. You just moved up the scale from a 2 to a 5. Pretty awesome!
Add a side salad and you are looking at a solid 6 or 7.
When you start to look at food as a scale rather than all or nothing, you have a lot of control to make adjustments to the foods you eat without completely giving up on the diet or restricting all the foods you love.
Fat Loss Mistake #2: Having The Wrong Plan
Oftentimes, diets fail because they don’t match the person. Just because a diet worked for Susan the keto-loving yogi doesn’t mean it will work for you.
Sometimes, a diet plan is just not a good fit.
Remember Susan the yogi? She hates carbs, so keto was a great route for her.
You? Your middle name is “unlimited pasta.” Good luck feeling confident about sticking to keto for more than 30 days.
There are many ways to “diet”, make sure you are picking a method that works best for you based on your lifestyle and preferences.
How to Match Your Personality to a Diet
The Best Fat Loss Diets
We gave you the pros and cons of many popular diets. But, you may still be curious about the “best” diet.
Research has proven that the best diet is the one you can stick with for a long period of time (depending on the goal) while maintaining high compliance.
High compliance means you are flowing the plan 80-90% of the time during the week.
How do you know if your nutrition compliance is high? Use this mindset as a reference:
Fat loss occurs over time. It’s not one day at a time. It’s more like 1-2 weeks at a time. That’s where the 80% rule comes in: If you look at things in a 2-week spurt, and you have 14 days, that means you only need to be on point 11 out of 14 days. You can also break this down by meals. So say 3 meals per day, then 52 meals every 2 weeks. That would mean 42 meals on point, or 10 meals where you let loose.
Do I Need To Track My Food?
You don’t have to track your food in a diary or food tracking app to have a successful fat loss journey.
But, if you have stubborn fat that won’t budge and you have no idea what your calorie intake is over the course of an entire week (including the weekend), you may benefit from tracking for a couple of weeks.
Here’s why tracking your food works.
Most people grossly underestimate how much they eat and significantly overestimate how much physical activity they get. When you use a food log, you can see how much you are consuming rather than assuming you are not eating more than you need.
One study does a wonderful job of highlighting this problem. The research looked at people who believed they were resistant to weight loss (they self-reported that they were eating as low as 1200 calories per day).
Once food was tracked, the participants discovered that their actual food intake was under-reported by an average 47% and they over-reported their physical activity by 51%. There were no indications of a slow metabolism.
The key to tracking: be honest with yourself.
Nutrition coach Natalie has worked with hundreds of clients who ask this same question. Here is what she has to say about food tracking.
How Do I Track My Calories?
You have two options:
- Pick a free calorie tracking app (we like MyFitnessPal, Lifesum, and FitBit–but you can use any app that you like).
- Log your food manually in a journal
Once you have decided where you want to enter your food logs, track the food you eat for 14 days.
Worried about time? On average, it takes people between 5-10 minutes per day to track all of their meals. Most people spend more time than that on social media or watching tv each day.
Add your meals as you go so you don’t forget anything. Pay close attention to the serving sizes you eat. If you are not sure about your serving sizes you may want to practice with a food scale at home.
Stay on the lookout for hidden calories — things like sauces, dressings and dips. Be sure to record other sneaky calories sources like bites of food throughout the day (aka: snacking), and calorie-containing beverages, such as juice, soda or alcoholic beverages.
THE KEY: Be honest in your food tracking. Just because you don’t log something doesn’t mean you didn’t eat it. Those calories still count.
After you have two weeks of data, retake your body weight. Weigh yourself first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, after using the bathroom.
If your weight has gone down over the 14-day period, congratulations you are eating in a calorie deficit. Keep going.
If your weight has gone up over the 14-day period, then you are eating more calories than your body needs. Time to adjust your calories.
If your weight has stayed the same throughout the two-week period, you’ll know you’re consuming a maintenance level of calories. Time to adjust your calories.
How to adjust your calories for weight loss
Gained or maintained weight during the 14-day food tracking period:
- If your daily average is less than 2500 calories, subtract 200-300 calories per day.
- If your daily average is more than 2500 calories, subtract 500 calories per day.
Rate of weight loss
Adjust your daily calorie intake up or down so you are losing weight at a rate of 0.5-1% body weight per week. (Example: 0.5-1% body weight of a 200 lb person = 1-2 pounds per week)
How Can I Eat At Restaurants And Still Lose Fat?
Listen, we love eating at restaurants, but it has some disadvantages. The benefit of cooking meals at home is you can control the ingredients and portions. It gives you full control over hidden calories that go into your food — oils, butters, sugars, etc. It also gives you control of adding larger portions of low calorie, high satiety foods such as leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, lean protein.
But, it’s not realistic to think that you will be able to cook 100% meals at home 100% of the time.
With most things, planning ahead will help you stay in better control when you dine out. Because you can eat out and lose fat.
If you know where you are eating, look for a menu online before you arrive. Get an overview of what options will be available and how you can make them work for you. Getting a sense of what options may be tempting to you before you arrive will give you the foresight to be smart about your choices rather than forcing you to rely on willpower.
Even if you can’t prep, you can master eating out at restaurants by following these three simple steps.
Step 1: Start By Focusing On The Main Entrees (We Will Come Back To Appetizers).
Look for a meal that has lean protein and vegetables. For vegan/vegetarian look for meals with complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, whole grains, and beans.
Once you have your meal selected, ask yourself if there are ways you can make it a little bit better. For example: ask for sauces on the side (or not at all), swap creamy dressings for vinegar, hold the chips. If you struggle with overeating portions, be prepared to ask for a to-go box right away and put some away for later. This is an example of using the 1-10 scale in the section discussing the reasons why diets fail Mistake #1 Choosing Perfection Over Consistency.
Step 2: Look At Appetizers And Sides.
Now that you have selected your main meal. Is there anything missing that you should have included? It is likely the main dish is enough calories to keep you satisfied, and you don’t need anything more. But, if the dish is lacking in vegetables add a side of ‘veggies of the day” or an appetizer like vegetables and hummus.
Step 3: Close The Menu.
Continuing to read all of the delicious details and look at the savory pictures can heighten automatic responses to hunger (salvation, grumbling belly). This natural reaction can start to make you feel more out of control and impulsive about ordering food–hello cheese fries! If you followed steps 1 and 2, have confidence in your choice and move on.
Still not sure what to order? We still have you covered. We created a Born Fitness Restaurant Survival Guide to help you get started and navigate tricky menus. This guide gives you ordering options for 17 of the most popular cuisines, including finding premade meals at grocery stores.
Your Fat Loss Meal Plan (And Grocery List)
Here’s something most people won’t tell you: Meal plans can be a problem.
And it’s not because you’re often eating the same 4-6 meals over and over again (there’s no real health danger in that). The issue with meal plans is dependency. If you only know one way to eat and life throws you curveballs, you’re more likely to be derailed.
That’s why it’s important to use a meal plan like training wheels. Get a hang of things, learn how to feel confident and believe you can do it, and then remove some of the security only to learn you can do so much more when not restricted.
That’s dieting. Restrictive plans lead to failure. But, initial restriction that builds confidence can change your life forever because it puts you in control of your eating.
This 2-week plan will provide you with the control and comfort you need, so you can eventually add more variety and freedom and still lose fat by using all of the other tips we’ve provided.
The Best Fat Loss Workout
The goal here is simple: crush fat. The best way to do that is total body workouts. These workouts focus on general fatigue (your heart is pumping) instead of local fatigue (no single body part will ever feel like it’s “done”).
Plus, to enhance the fat-burning effects, we’ll use single-arm and single-leg movements where we can. This means more reps and more “metabolic stress” (aka fat-burning magic).
Use a weight that helps you reach the goal reps listed. And—as you progress with each phase—you’ll get stronger and bump up the weights when the rep ranges become easy.
Each 4-week phase will include new exercises and progressions to make things a little harder.
There are 3 phases that will last a total of 12 weeks. Perform each phase for 4 weeks before moving on to the next.
The totals listed below are your work sets. So, if the workout called for 3 sets of 8 reps, you have 3 work sets of 8 reps.
You may wish to include a warm-up set or two for each exercise. In a warm-up set, you’ll start with a light weight (say 50-60% of what your working sets will be) and then progressively add weight over the next set until you’re ready to jump into your work sets.
Take a 45-second rest between each exercise set.
PHASE 1 (4 WEEKS)
|Exercise||Wk 1||Wk 2||Wk 3||Wk 4||Rest|
|A1. KB Deadlift||2×8||3×8||3×10||3×12||30s|
|B1. Split Squat||2×8||3×8||3×10||3×12||30s|
|B2. Dumbbell Row||2×8||3×8||3×10||3×12||30s|
|C1. Seated Leg Curl||2×8||3×8||3×10||3×12||30s|
|C2. Suitcase Carry||2x:30||3x:30||3x:30||3x:30||30s|
PHASE 2 (4 WEEKS)
|D. HIIT Sprints (any cardio equipment or running)||4 sets (ea week)||:10 hard / :75 recover|
|D. HIIT Sprints (any cardio equipment or running)||4 sets (ea week)||:10 hard / :75 recover|
PHASE 3 (4 WEEKS)
How Often Should I Work Out?
There are 2 workouts in each training phase (4-week block). Each session will be a total body workout.
Your goal is to train 4 days per week. Alternate between Day 1 and Day 2, working toward 3-4 sessions per week. That’s the ideal training volume. But, if you’re able to get in only 3 workouts per week, that is still solid.
Please note: We don’t recommend performing more than 2 resistance workouts consecutively. Try to take a day of rest (or cardio) between each lifting session if possible.
If you’re not sure how to set up your workouts based on your schedule, here are 2 sample training weeks:
Sample Training Week #1
Time available each week: 4-6 hours
|Tuesday||Off or Walking (30-60min)|
|Thursday||Workout 1 + HIIT|
|Friday||Off or Walking (30-60min)|
|Sunday||Off or Walking (30-60min)|
Sample Training Week #2
Time available each week: 3-5 hours
|Tuesday||Off or Walking (30-60min)|
|Thursday||Off or Walking (30-60min)|
|Friday||Workout 1 + HIIT (Start with workout 2 next week)|
|Saturday||Outdoor Easy Walk (30-60 min) or Off|
Do The Workouts Have To Be Done In A Gym?
The workouts require some equipment but there’s no need to join a fancy gym. Most of the workouts can be completed with just a few dumbbells, a lat pulldown, and a cable machine.
In fact, most hotel gyms would be more than adequate.
What If I have Injuries?
If you have an existing injury please consult your doctor before beginning this exercise program.
Unfortunately, injuries happen. While we fully customize our online client’s programs to work around any aches or pains they have, we’re obviously not able to do that for this program.
However, here are some common injuries and how to work around them in this (or any) program.
Limit your overhead pressing.
Substitute any overhead press exercise with push-ups. Why push-ups? A push-up allows your shoulder blades to move freely, which makes them shoulder-friendly.
Plus, push-ups are a “closed chain” exercise. This means that instead of stabilizing a DB overhead (which is “open chain” and more demanding on your shoulder joint), you can create stability by pressing into the ground.
Rule #1 with back pain is to avoid any exercise that causes pain. Back pain is not something you want to “push through” because you risk making things far worse.
For most people, exercises that require you to bend at the hips (like an RDL or deadlift) will cause the most pain.
To adjust, decide if you’d like to work more on your glutes or hamstrings. If you’d like to target the glutes, replace these exercises with hip thrust variations. And for the hamstrings, we’ve found that machine-based hamstring curls are often pain-free.
The answer to knee-pain (unless you’re dealing with an injury) is often to get your glutes more involved.
When you squat, “reach back” with your hips during the movement. This will shift your weight back and prevents the knees from traveling too far forward.
If you’re experiencing knee pain during a lunge, try this. As you step back (or forward) into the lunge, fold at your hips and let your chest lean towards the ground. This will take the pressure off your knee and put more of the load on your glutes.
I hate running. What about cardio?
Cardio is not the key to fat loss.
But, a little bit of cardio can give you a little extra edge needed to tip the scales in your favor simply because it’s helping create a calorie deficit.
Here’s what we suggest: Start with 1-2 low-intensity (easy movement with your heart rate staying below 120bpm) sessions per week.
You don’t need to log excess hours on the treadmill. You can use any piece of equipment you like, or even go on a nice long walk.
Then, during the last 2 phases of your training plan (weeks 5-12 below), we’ll introduce high-intensity Intervals during your workouts to help kick the fat loss into high gear.
During a hard workout in the gym, you tear down the fibers in your muscles. When you sleep, your body is able to repair the damage (this is how you get stronger and build more muscle).
Remember, building muscle is important for fat loss because the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism.
And taking a few days off each week might seem counterintuitive to fat loss but it’s the hidden key that will unlock long-term results.
You only need to train hard 3-4 days a week to see great results. Train more than that, and you risk elevating stress hormones in your body that can make losing fat very difficult.
On your off days, try to stay active. Go on a long walk, or try yoga.
How Do I Know If My Fat Loss Plan Is Working?
At the start of your fat loss plan, it can be rough to take your first round of progress photos and record your starting weight. This part can be uncomfortable.
But, taking progress photos and your measurements is important. If you’re aren’t tracking, there’s no way to tell if you’re making any progress. And, at the end of the day, we’re here to help you get results.
Remember: Your photos and measurements are just a snapshot in time. They’re the starting point on your fat loss map.
And in no way are they judgments on your value or worth as a person, OK? (*hugs*)
Should I Weigh Myself?
Ah, the scale. Everyone’s favorite piece of the bathroom to hate.
Here’s something you may have heard before: The scale is a lousy way to gauge your progress.
Even if you have heard it before, it’s worth repeating: You can’t rely on the scale alone to gauge your progress.
Why? Because there are so many factors that can affect the number you see on the scale each day. And most of them have nothing to do with whether or not you’ve gained body fat.
For example, here are just a few of the reasons why the number you see on the scale could go up:
- You’re stressed.
- Your salt intake was higher thanks to those fajitas at your favorite Mexican food place.
- You’re constipated because who needs vegetables?
- Or, you just drank a big ol’ glass of water.
But, you should still weigh yourself if you’re trying to lose fat. Although the scale will lie at times (because of the reasons above), it’s an important fat loss metric.
How Do I Take Measurements And Photos?
We want to make sure the scale number you’re getting is accurate. Here are some rules for getting good data out of the scale:
- Weigh yourself first thing in the morning.
- Do it after going to the bathroom, but before getting anything to eat or drink. Yes, this includes coffee (but you better believe I start the kettle going before I jump on the scale…)
- And do it without clothing — or if you do wear clothing, use the same outfit every time.
Because the scale will fluctuate at times, we need to combine it with other tools to measure whether or not you are truly making progress.
That’s where progress photos and body measurements come in.
Progress photos give you clear visual evidence that your body is changing.
And body measurements track the changes at specific locations across your body. For example, if your waist is decreasing in size, you’re likely losing fat.
To take your photos, follow these steps:
- Chose a space to take photos that has consistent lighting.
- Get your full body in the shot, and take a photo from the front, side, and back (don’t forget your phone has a timer function!). Wear minimal clothing. For guys, board shorts or tights work best. For women, you can wear a swimsuit or sports bra and shorts.
To get your body measurements, all you need is a tape measure. We recommend this one to our clients, but a regular one you’d use for home improvement projects (if you’re handy, which I am not) could also work.
Take your measurements with your muscles “tensed.” This will help make your measurements more consistent.
So, if you’re measuring your waist, brace your midsection first, and then take the measurements.
How Often Should I Take Measurements?
You don’t need to jump on the scale every morning. In fact, we suggest recording your bodyweight only once per week.
Can you track your weight every day? You can if you want to but keep in mind what we talked about: your weight will fluctuate from day to day.
And most of those shifts won’t be a big deal. What matters is how your body weight changes over time. We want to look for trends upward or downward over a longer period.
Visual changes take longer to measure with photos and measurements. You only need to take your photos once every month and your measurements every 2-4 weeks.
Do Gender And Hormones Affect Fat Loss?
The path to fat loss is the same for both men and women. However, how each gender deposits fat might be different, so where you lose weight first could differ.
Women tend to carry more fat around the hips and thighs, while men carry more fat around the midsection.
You may notice the areas your body favors fat gain are also the areas that lose fat last when you are dieting. While you can build muscle in specific areas, there is no way to “spot reduce” body fat.
But, you are not doomed to carry unwanted body fat. Finding a training program and nutrition strategy that you can sustain for several weeks and months help you move that “stubborn” fat. In other words: it takes time, but it will happen.
Do Men And Women Have To Train Differently?
If you’re a woman, getting stronger is the most empowering thing you can do in the gym. Nothing will make you feel more bad-ass than busting out your first set of chin-ups.
More importantly, strength training can benefit women in so many ways — from fat loss to improved aging.
And, while it’s true that men start with more muscle mass and strength, pound for pound, women will gain strength faster than men.
The stronger you get, the more muscle you’ll be able to build (and we talked about why that’s important above).
And, if you’re a woman, you don’t need to worry about becoming bulky. Adding “bulk” is a result of how many calories you eat. Lifting will make you a stronger version of yourself. You’ll gain muscle and strength relative to your physique.
How Does My Metabolism And Hormones Impact Fat Loss?
Do you ever feel like your metabolism is broken? You’re not alone, and the good news is your metabolism is likely OK.
Certain medical conditions such as untreated Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism can slow your metabolism. If properly diagnosed and treated, individuals with these diseases have the same ability to lose fat as someone without the disease.
But, that is the exception to the rule. Your metabolism is likely just fine, and it doesn’t work the way you think.
Despite what common sense would have you believe, leaner people have slower metabolisms than heavier people. Those who carry more bodyweight have a faster metabolism than thinner individuals because the body requires more energy to carry out daily functions. The bigger you are, the more calories you burn each day.
More mass = more work required = more energy burned.
It may be hard to accept, but staying on top of food intake and activity level is the key to losing weight and keeping it off.
That’s not to say that genetics or hormones don’t play a role. They most definitely do. Some people just don’t gain weight as easily, but it’s not because of a broken metabolism. And that’s why focusing on habits that are proven to help people of any size lose weight is more effective than restrictive, fringe behaviors that only might work for a small group of people.
PMS cravings are no joke! At the very least, we can actually blame this one on hormones and not on our “willpower.”
Estrogen, cortisol, and serotonin are the three big players that contribute to PMS cravings.
Estrogen and cortisol go up and serotonin levels go down. These hormonal shifts make women more metabolically charged and as a result are HUNGRY.
The biggest cravings are for carbs (sugars) because they digest fast and make us feel good. That is why the ‘not so healthy’ stuff becomes everything you want and can’t seem to say no to.
So what can you do? Stay ahead of it.
If you track your menstrual cycle you may have some idea when to expect your period and the joys that go with it (fatigue, hunger, mood swings, etc). If you don’t, you should start. Knowing when these hormone shifts are coming will help you stay in control.
If you feed your cravings (and moods) early, then you can avoid being face deep in treats later.
Use these FIVE tricks to outsmart your PMS cravings and stay in control:
- Slow digestion by including healthy fats. Try tuna on crackers, salmon, saffron oil, avocados. Slowing digestion helps you feel satisfied longer.
- Increase calories with complex carbohydrates. In the week leading up to your period increase your servings of complex carbs. Start with an additional 1-2 servings from this list. Complex Carbs vs. Simple Carbs
- Drink more water. Increasing water will help fight fatigue. Feeling tired is a big player in increased cravings and overeating.
- Take a brisk walk. Go for a brisk walk or do a light exercise to get your body moving and help your mood. Improving your mood helps to avoid binging. You may not feel 100% up for a full workout, but getting your body moving can help your mind.
- Be kind to yourself during this time. We can certainly do our best to curb our hunger, but don’t be hard on yourself if things are not perfect.
How To Personalize Your Fat Loss Plan
From alcohol to supplements and fitness trackers, here are all the finer details that will help you stay ahead in the fat loss game.
Can I Drink Alcohol And Lose Fat?
Generally speaking, drinking alcohol shouldn’t be demonized when the goal is improved health and/or a better body composition. In fact, moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to a variety of health benefits, and some research even suggests alcohol consumption is tied to a longer life.
But, if you’re consistently over-consuming alcohol, however, then you might run into trouble. Over consuming not only sends all of the health benefits out the window, but it can also lead to over-consuming calories.
Over-consuming calories means you are not in the necessary calorie deficit needed for weight loss. And that means weight loss will not occur.
Fact: Alcohol has calories. 7 calories per gram to be exact. Compared to protein (4 calories per 1 g), carbohydrates (4 calories per 1 g), and fat (9 calories per 1g).
More often than not, the problem with calories is not from alcohol, but the behaviors associated with drinking.
People get the “drunkies” and the “munchies” when drinking. A loss of inhibition can lead to eating more food. Appetizers with drinks, pizza after drinks, and late-night pantry raid after drinking all adds up, and even a couple nights a week of this behavior could prevent you from losing weight.
It is safe to bet that you can drink alcohol and still lose body fat. Enjoy yourself when you’re out, but be aware of the foods you are eating during and after drinking.
Your Guide To Alcohol And Fat Loss
Avoid: sugary drinks, added fruit juices, calorie-dense mixers like tonic water.
Better: Light beer (4.9 ABV%), red or white wine
Best: clear liquor (80 proof) with calorie-free mixers like club soda
How many calories are in your drink?
|Beer (4.9% ABV)||12 fl oz||150 calories|
|Beer (craft, 6.9% ABV)||12 fl oz||200 calories|
|White wine||5 fl oz||125 calories|
|Red wine||5 fl oz||125 calories|
|Sweet dessert wine||3.5 fl oz||165 calories|
|80 proof spirits (gin, rum, vodka, whiskey)||1.5 fl oz||97 calories|
What Is Considered “Healthy” Alcohol Consumption?
If you do not drink alcohol, there is no reason to start drinking now.
Drinking more alcohol increases risks of alcoholism, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, suicide, and accidental deaths. For these reasons, The American Heart Association cautions people not to start drinking.
If you do drink alcohol, The Guidelines for Americans suggests up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 1- 2 drinks per day for men.
What Supplements Should I Take For Fat Loss?
While things like protein powders can have some impact (because they help you hit your protein goals and keep you fuller), supplements are far less important than total calorie intake (energy balance) and daily habits/behaviors.
Not to mention, there’s no fat loss pill that will make any significant difference.
Focusing on supplements before you work on behavior changes is like throwing a 12-ounce bottle of water on a blazing skyscraper. It simply won’t make a difference. And, in the case of supplements, it could cost you a lot of money for something that has a very small impact.
What matters the most is creating a calorie deficit and changing behaviors.
There are times when a supplement may be useful. That is when you have a known deficiency such as a vitamin or mineral deficiency. Best to get a blood test to confirm this with your doctor—don’t assume you do (or don’t). Once you know with certainty that you need a specific vitamin or mineral, your doctor can recommend the right amount for you.
You may find having a protein powder on hand helps fill in the gap when you are not able to have a meal. Protein powder should not be your primary source of protein. Always aim for lean protein from whole food sources first–chicken, lean beef, and fish.
Not all protein powders are created equal. Because the regulations on supplements are not as strict as the foods we eat, you may not always be getting what they say is on the label. To make sure you are getting top-quality, look for the NSF Certified for Sport label. This label indicates that every single batch has been tested for quality and safety.
Want to know more about supplement safety? Read this short article on supplement safety from Ladder.
Should You Use A Fitness Tracker?
Fat loss comes down to consuming fewer calories than you burn (no matter what diet or workout program you follow). So, if you’re not losing weight, you’re consuming too many calories.
But, that’s easy to do if you make the mistake of “eating back” the calories you burn during workouts.
On the surface, it makes sense. If you “earned” 500 calories during your workout, you should be able to consume 500 extra calories that day and still lose weight as long as you remain in a deficit.
However, there are two issues here:
First, activity trackers – like the FitBit or Apple Watch – greatly overestimate calorie expenditure.
A study published in the Journal of Personalized Medicine found that the numbers given for energy expenditure (calories burned), by a variety of wrist-worn devices, were off by 27.4% to 93%.
Second, most fat loss calorie equations already include your activity in their formula.
They’ve already factored your workouts (and daily movement) in so you don’t have to. That means the calories you’re eating back add to your total for the day and this can easily stall your fat loss (or even cause you to gain weight).
This isn’t to say that activity trackers aren’t valuable. Your workout data can serve as a benchmark instead of a calorie measurement. This will give you a good idea of if you did more or less activity than yesterday (or last week).
But don’t let this data factor into the number of calories you eat. Keep your diet plan consistent. If you’re not losing weight (and your body circumference measurements aren’t budging either), slowly reduce your calorie intake.
How Should I Track My Workouts?
Most workout tracking apps offer a clunky user experience that complicates (not improves) your gym experience.
For most, the best option is going to be an old school workout journal. It’s the simplest, most effective way to record your progress.
For a great example of how to use a workout journal, check out James Clear’s post here.
Cut The BS: Fat Loss Techniques To Ignore
Life is too short to spend more time banging your head against a wall of fat loss lies. Here’s what you can completely avoid if you’re trying to drop a few pounds (and make that weight loss last).
Not Worth It: Detoxes And Cleanses
The promise of rapid weight loss in a few days is tempting. As is the idea of cleaning out your insides to “reset” your body.
We are here to tell you, save your money and your frustration.
There is no amount of lemon juice, kale, turmeric, or “super blend” that will do the job of your liver and kidneys.
If both of these organs are functioning properly, then you don’t need to do anything more to “detox or cleanse”. Your liver and kidneys do not store toxins. Period.
What they do is a series of chemical reactions to filter your body of toxic materials for excretion (aka: going to the bathroom). If your liver or kidneys are not functioning properly, you will know and likely be heading to the emergency room.
Furthermore, your cells do a deep body cleanse every single day. It is a process called autophagy. And it is happening all the time in your body.
Autophagy is the body’s way of identifying and removing damaged or malfunctioning cells. Want to know more about the science of autophagy and how it works? Read this article before you even consider buying a detox scam.
You may be wondering about all the weight-loss promises around detoxes and cleanses. This has to do with math, not the juice.
Typically during a detox or cleanse, calories are dramatically reduced. Drinking 800 calories of juice is a big difference from that 3,000 calorie weekend you had. It should be no surprise when the weight comes down. The problem is the weight will come right back if new behaviors have not been established.
Is Any Detox Worth Your Time?
The best way to rid your body of toxins is to let your body do its job, then reduce or eliminate them from the start.
Reduce alcohol intake, processed food intake, added sugars, and trans fats.
It is not incorrect to believe that more fresh fruits and vegetables are beneficial. They provide a lot of nutrients and keep you feeling full when working on a fat loss goal, but they do not have magic detox powers.
The Final Word: How Much Fat Loss Is Too Much?
When losing fat, do not focus on eating as little as humanly possible on a diet.
Restriction not only encourages a bad relationship with food and poor health, but it can make it much harder to lose fat.
When calories are super low for an extended period of time, your body will compensate.
You’ll feel more tired, weaker in your training, a drop in sex drive, and an increase in mood swings increase. Hormones sound the alarm and tell your body to conserve energy, and your metabolic rate will drop to save energy for vital functions.
This is why crash dieting can be so deceiving. After your initial weight loss, your progress will stop and it can be hard to jump-start the process. The only way to get the scale moving again is to drop calories even more. But, if you are already low on calories there isn’t much room to go down and you are backed into a corner.
And, if you do manage to drop more calories, you will get more tired, weaker from muscle loss, and dieting is going to suck. Ultimately, you will yo-yo right back up and be more frustrated than before.
The solution: Eat as much as possible to keep the scale going down, and then make small adjustments when it stalls.
To maximize health, adherence, and performance this is what we suggest:
- Rate: Aim for a weight loss goal 0.5-1.0% of body weight per week. If you are losing more than that you may want to increase your calories slightly to avoid crashing later.
- Length: A diet phase should be between 8-12 weeks. Then give yourself a few days (at least 7-14 days) to take a break before another diet block.
- Limit: No more than 10% of body weight loss per diet block
- After: Increase calories to maintain new bodyweight before the next phase.
Your Next Steps
We’ve provided you with all of the tools to help you lose weight if that’s your goal. Remember, fat loss should be a health goal, but not a means to an end. Obsessing over weight or appearance is a slippery slope that can be mentally draining. So, don’t buy-in to diet obsession. Instead, gain control by making small changes that put you in power of how you feel, exercise, and eat.
Have questions? Share them in the comments below.
Or if you’re looking for more personalization and hands-on support our online coaching program may be right for you. Every client is assigned two coaches — one for nutrition and one for fitness. Find out more here.