What is Fat Loss?
Fat loss is a word that you usually only hear on late night infomercials, commercials for magical supplements designed to help you instantly drop fat, regardless of what you eat and even by people who have no clue what it really means.
So, what does fat loss really mean? While most people think of 'weight loss', which is an extremely overused term for the altering of body composition, fat loss is focused on dropping fat, while attempting to retain any and all muscle within your body.
For instance, you may or may not have heard of BMI (Body Mass Index), which is a decent way of determining a persons overall fat composition (fat percentage). This allows you to get a better understanding of where you are, health-wise. While that may not be the greatest measure of health, it does give us a more generalistic view of where we are, so that we can better understand where we need to go.
While focusing on fat loss we can forget about water weight loss, which is very common with traditional 'diets', known as fad diets, where you start a new program, quickly drop 10 pounds and think you're onto something good. Sorry to burst your bubble, but most of these fad diets are fads because they are not long-term solutions for your diet. They will help you lose water, and then it will be a struggle from there on out when you lose a pound here and there and wonder why you started out so great, but ended up so badly.
In fact, many of these diets do not provide you with the necessary vitamins and minerals you need on a daily basis, requiring you to invest in supplements, which should not be necessary if you eat properly.
I always recommend people to check out Paleo or Precision Nutrition based on the fact that they provide real science in an easy-to-understand system that keeps you from being 'dumbed down' by marketers who provide you with on-the-spot psuedoscience, or even worse, second-hand broscience. These programs (Paleo and Precision Nutrition) are capable of providing you with the answers to most of your questions, which is what could be keeping you from succeeding in your quests to alter your body composition.
How Fat Loss Works
While I won't dig into the study of Bioenergetics (the study of energy in the human body) too deeply, I do want to give you the basics of how we burn fat in our bodies. The human body functions through the use of constant energy, in what's known as energy metabolism. This energy is known as food that we consume on a daily basis; lack of food and/or water is also how our energy is depleted, leading to fatigue, sickness and even death.
This same food is where fat, carbs and protein come from, and this is how it can either be stored or burned. We use this energy to live, move and even recover from our daily activities. We can also gain energy from the sun as well, through photosynthesis. As mentioned previously, our bodies use a process called metabolism, which is basically chemical reactions within the body used to keep itself running correctly. We will explore this more in just a bit.
When we eat food our system helps break down this food into energy, via the digestive system, which become smaller by-products that we refer to as substrates, which are known as Proteins, Fats (lipids) and Carbohydrates, which are then used for cells. While we sometimes think of Carbohydrates as being bad for us, this is mostly incorrect. In fact, Carbohydrates are the main source of energy that fuels us for all of lifes activities. A lack of carbs can actually be a big problem for us, as they are needed for daily functions, from physical to mental.
Your body utilizes glucose, the main end product of carbohydrates, which is absorbed by the digestive tract and blood, then transported and circulated until it's aided by insulin to enter cells. From here it will be used or stored.
Glycogen is the form of carbohydrates that are stored, created by a string of glucose molecules that can be quickly broken down into glucose for use in exercise or other forms of prolonged activiites.
Fat is another source of energy that is used by the body, although this form of fat is known as triglycerides. This chemical form of fat is converted by calories that are consumed but are not needed by tissues or cells, then transported to fat cells where the they can be stored for later use. Most humans have much more fat than they could need, which comes in extremely handy for long bouts of exercise!
Protein is the last substrate that can be used as fuel, but it's not ideal for energy metablism as it doesn't supply the energy we require for daily activities, especially compared to carbohydrates.
So now let's back up to the triglycerides that were discussed just above. When the body is using energy the first source of fuel will always be carbohydrates, then fat, then protein. This is the basics of how we utilize energy sources via metabolism.
During prolonged bouts of exercise our body will use the necessary nutrients to keep the body performing, first utilizing the glucose that was formed after the consumption of carbohydrates, and all glycogen stores are depleted, then the body turns to fat. Now the body is in ketosis, which simply means that body has turned to fat to fuel itself. This isn't a bad thing, and this is what you ultimately need in order to trigger fat loss.
A quick breakdown here: (Carbs) Glucose -> Glycogen stores -> Fat (triglycerides) -> Protein
This is the order that your body uses for energy. So the less amount of carbohydrates your body receives, the quicker it turns to fat for fuel.
While I am by no means stating that you should start a low carbohydrate, high protein diet, this is similar to that. By limiting carbohydrates you are allowing your body to turn to the fat cells in your system to supply your body with the energy required to keep your body moving, whether that's normal life activities or bouts of exercise.
The problem here is that you will still need carbohydrates, so let's now start looking at how you can use the information above.
Losing Fat Through Diet
This section will be pretty simple. You should not run out and start a fad diet that consists of low carbs and high protein, because that's completely wrong.
What you need to focus on now is eating the right sources for fuel, while using what you might already have (fat) as a main source for fuel.
So how do you lose fat through diet?
- Eat smaller, healthier meals more often (4-7 meals per day) to "increase the fire", control hunger and increase energy, as well as regulates blood sugar.
- Eat the right types of carbohydrates, meaning water for liquids and more veggies instead of rice, cereals or grains (and ESPECIALLY sugar)
- Avoid empty calories such as soda, candy, bread and other highly processed foods
- Eat more fruits (although you need to limit these) and vegetables (as much as you want!)
- Drink LOTS of water
- No alcohol, for many reasons. OK, so you may say no to this, but at least limit your intake, especially beer.
That's a pretty simple list, especially since a few parts actually repeat themselves. To simplify it even more:
- Limit Process Foods and Alcohol
- Eat more veggies in meals that provide LEAN protein (low fat, such as 96% or more)
- Drink more water
- Eat healthy fats
- Treat yourself once per week with a small reward. This doesn't mean a gallon of ice cream.
Keeping it simple is the best way to lose fat. Using that list you could easily put together more healthy meals throughout the week, shooting for a 90% compliance ratio, which helps you lose more fat over time, keeping you from struggling.
Supplementing leaner meats than you normally eat is a big step, as long as you do this consistantly. Cutting out soda and other sugary snacks will give you the biggest boost of all, especially after that first 30 day period, when your body really starts to adjust.
Adding healthier fats such as Avocados, Fish (fish oil as well), Coconut (oil is where I consume the most coconut) and Nuts such as Almonds, can be a great long-term change for the better of your health and fat intake. Healthy fat will supplement unhealthy fat and lead to healthier cells.
Losing Fat Through Exercise
Exercise is where fat loss starts (almost) immediately, as it requires energy to assist and complete the movements. I would consult with a physician before starting any type of exercise program!
For most people just moving around more can be a major life change for them, causing more fat loss, more energy (sun) and an overall healthier life. I, personally, walk at least 1 hour per day, no matter what. I feel great after a brisk walk and I don't feel the need to run, jog or sprint, although I do recommend explosive movements for any healthy person who has been cleared by a physician.
As long as you're eating well and moving, you're losing fat. Just make sure that you also don't over do it or start to head into Muscle atrophy, which is the loss of muscle from lack or protein and too much 'cardio'. I suggest that you get ample amounts of protein in your diet and, no matter what, lift weights if your doctor says it's okay.
If you're not active you need to simply increase your current exercise program. This could be walking 20 minutes per day more or just moving around while watching television. Start small and move forward.
DO NOT go out and start doing too much, as you do not want to risk injury or worse. You need to be sure that you're serious about losing fat, which will take some time. Give yourself a goal that's reasonable and slowly work towards that goal.
Recover well. Take time off when you feel your body needs it. Listen to your body and don't tell it to shut up. Those who say things like that are always those who end up injured or worse.
Be honest with yourself. You're not going to drop 30 pounds of fat in 3 months. Sure, it's possible, but it's not healthy and not logical in any way. Give yourself time and slowly work towards it. This isn't some marketed show where they put peoples lives at risk for money. There is nobody that will be there to check on your every move, and we're not looking at 15 pound losses from water each week.
If you can lift weights, I encourage it. Weight training is the best way to lose fat as you will require more energy and build more muscle (which requires more energy, even at rest). The more muscle (with limits, of course) and strength you gain, the better for your life. Be careful and listen to your body.
* Note: I would highly encourage anyone who is healthy to hire a personal trainer (qualified), online or offline, to help you out. I would suggest to at least start working out with a personal trainer at a local gym (or park) to better assist you and guide you. You will definitely get better results and be in a much safer environment, as you will be working with a (hopefully) qualified professional who knows what she/he is doing, and can help you remain injury free during this time. The results will be worth it! (Look for NASM-CPT, CSCS or other certifications, and be sure to check these people out)
Where to Go From Here
Now you should start creating some goals and preparing yourself mentally. Encourage yourself and know that YOU CAN lose fat. Don't get excited about that first 15 pounds. Be happy, but be reasonable. It could be water weight and (for the majority of you) we are looking for more fat loss. Set reasonable goals for each month and track your food. This doesn't have to include every calorie, but it should at least include each meal so that you know where you messed up. Believe me, it's EASY to forget "why" you failed to hit goals when you don't remember those 'other' meals that you forgot about...probably intentionally.
If you feel that you can afford it and you feel that you're in need of it, hire a personal trainer. Seriously, don't feel like this is some type of chore or that it will be embarassing. They've seen it all and they understand what you are going through. Most trainers have been through intense training to get certified. These people are used to working with people of all sizes, in all shapes, and some specialize in specific areas that may be of help to you.
Eat well. Even if you just want to walk more often you will need to eat better to be able to hit your goals.