Yo-yo dieting isn’t wise nutrition management, but it turned out to have a major benefit. Doing it for more than a decade made me an expert at losing body fat (unfortunately it didn’t teach me how to keep it off—that came later).
All fat loss requires is that you burn more energy than you take in. It’s a simple concept, but there is a lot of room for error in how you choose to do it.
The principles listed here form the basis of an extremely effective fat loss program. They also help prevent the bad outcomes that so many diets result in, such as rebounds from excessive metabolic adaptation.
6 Fat Loss Fundamentals
From my research and personal experience, these are the best practices of fat loss:
1. Minimal food reduction
Calorie reduction should be no more than is required to induce desired fat loss.
There are a few reasons for this, one of which is enjoyment—very low calorie diets are miserable—but also for plateaus, which are inevitable and require further energy reduction to overcome. The less you’re eating, the less you have to take from to get past these plateaus.
2. Ways to Measure Progress
Gauging progress is critical, otherwise it’s guesswork. The best, most easily-accessible tools are scales, the mirror, limb and waist circumference measurements, skinfold calipers, a camera, and food tracking software.
3. Plenty of Protein
On a diet you really want to strip fat and hold onto lean mass, which is everything on our bodies except fat tissue. Lean mass helps burn energy, and the muscle part of it is what makes you look impressive with no clothes on.
Dietary protein is critical for maintaining lean mass, and it has the added bonus of helping curb hunger. Plus it’s the macronutrient least likely to be stored as body fat.
Exercise is normally considered a way to burn fat. It does help, but it’s much more efficient to create an energy deficit by reducing food intake. The average workout doesn’t expend as much energy as most people think (see here for more on that).
Therefore, its benefits are less direct. Exercise, and resistance training in particular, is best used as a way to build and maintain muscle that in turn supports metabolic rate.
5. Not Too Fast
Coaxing fat loss is generally better than forcing. Crash diets and sudden decreases in weight provoke a strong physiological response in which the body does its best to slow down, hang on tightly to remaining body fat, and increase the likelihood of gaining it back.
This reaction is reduced with a more gradual approach.
1-2 lb fat loss per week is a fair guideline, however, it’s not one-size-fits-all. For instance, if you have a lot of fat to lose, you can get away with a faster rate.
This is one of the hardest parts of fat loss, and easier said than done—when your mind’s made up to get in shape, you naturally want instant results. Even so, hasty decisions can be problematic.
When it seems like you’ve hit a plateau, it’s wise to wait at least a week before further reducing food intake. Body weight can fluctuate a lot, and isn’t always indicative of fat loss or gain.
Often after a few days there will be another drop in weight, and further changes can be saved for when they’re really needed. Every calorie reduction you make limits your future options, and that’s why patience is so important here.
The Approach I Normally Take
A weight loss plan should be customized based on time-frames, health, and preferences, but to give an example, here’s how I do it.
To create an energy deficit, I mostly reduce my intake of fat and carbohydrate.
The amount of protein I eat remains constant at a level of about 1 gram per pound of body weight as an easy general guideline.
This is above the minimum amount necessary to maintain lean body mass. However, there’s no evidence that a high protein intake is harmful in healthy people, and I’d rather err on the side of too much than too little, plus I just like high protein foods.
I typically start with a drop of 500 calories beneath what it takes to maintain my body weight at a given time. It produces substantial results quickly, which is good for motivation, but subsequent reductions are much smaller.
When weight loss stalls, I further reduce calories by 100. If I’m towards the end of a diet and calories are already low, I might only reduce them by 50. These cuts are small, but are normally sufficient to get progress going again.
This is all supported by regular weight training. I workout all the time anyway, and I make no special changes for fat loss.
Incidentally, I never do cardio anymore. I used to, but I always hated it, and I’ve since learned it’s just not necessary. You can save time and decrease the misery of fat loss by letting your diet do most of the energy-balance work. That said, low-grade activity can actually make a big difference (more about that here).
Years of Fat Loss Experience in a Nutshell
Based on many years of experimenting and reading, those are what I think are the 6 best practices of fat loss. Quite simple, but powerful and a great way to set yourself up for permanent change.
Thanks so much for reading.
If you enjoyed this, there’s more on fat loss here.
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