This is a seven part series called How to Lose Fat like a Nutritionist. It was initially meant to be a one part article but things got a bit out of hand, so here we are, seven parts later.
Apologies in advance for the extensive amount of reading you now have to do. That being said, a comprehensive summary of all facets of fat loss was never going to be a quick undertaking. Read on if you dare.
Before we start
You do not NEED to lose fat.
If you are reading this because you feel like ‘need’ to lose fat and are feeling in any way bad about it, STOP NOW. If you are feeling guilty, shameful or feel like you aren’t good enough, then read no further.
Society has made us feel shameful about having fat on our bodies. Being called ‘fat’ has been turned into an insult. You are meant to feel embarrassed. You are meant to hide your body. You are meant to crawl into a cave, lose fat, then only emerge when your body is now at an acceptable level of body fat and pleasing to everyone else’s eye.
If you are here because you feel like this, then please know that we support you wherever you currently are. You should not feel in any way ashamed of yourself or that you need to change.
If however, for your OWN reasons that haven’t arisen out of guilt or shame, you feel like you would like to lose some fat, then we can support you in doing that in a safe way and with a healthy mindset.
Here’s the truth. In general in today’s Western society, it takes effort to stay in shape.
We are moving less than previous generations because we own more cars, we have Uber, we have great bus and train systems and we live in bigger cities with longer commutes. We have less physical jobs than we used to and we generally work longer hours.
We are surrounded by food everywhere we go. We are constantly bombarded with ads, there are McDonalds on every street corner. Then there are the morning teas, brunch, shared lunch, afternoon tea, after work nibbles, Friday night drinks, drive thru on the way home then after dinner snack.
As well as this constant exposure, the foods we have dangled in front of us are often extremely calorie dense. This means that for the amount of food that there is (total weight or volume of the food), there are a lot of total calories in it. Think any classic fast food chains, fizzy drinks and most snacks. We are unknowingly consuming a lot more calories than we think.
The fitness and nutrition industry that is supposed to be helping us is in many cases doing the opposite. It is rife with misinformation and deliberate confusion, usually in an attempt to sell you the ‘solution’ to your fat loss problems. Spoiler alert - there’s no magic bullet.
In summary, there’s obvious reasons why we are increasingly overweight as a society, and why so many individuals struggle to achieve lasting, sustainable fat loss.
Now that we’ve acknowledged that a) you don’t need to lose fat to conform to a social ideal and b) it’s okay if you have tried and failed in the past through very little fault of your own, then let’s get into it.
Step 1 - choose your stopping point
Why do you want to lose fat?
Start by asking yourself why you are wanting to lose fat in the first place (if you are still reading then we are assuming that you are not feeling shameful and are in a good head space).
Think about what your ideal outcome is and how it would feel to achieve that. What does your day to day life look like once you have achieved it?
Having a clear ‘why am I doing this’ keeps you focused rather than just floating along hoping that someday you will be ‘happy’.
Aside from “because I feel like I should”, there’s a few other reasons to be wary of:-
"Because it’s January"
You don’t need to wait until the New Year or until any other date comes around. You can change your eating habits starting from your next meal. Don’t wait. (Also there are always so many great social gatherings in January so what a terrible time to start anything).
"So I can be happy"
Alarm bells. The amount of fat you have or your fitness level shouldn’t determine how ‘happy’ you are. As we will explore more below, once you have lost some fat, you will inevitably reach a point where you are no longer ‘happy’ with that and will want to lose more.
You will feel like you never quite arrive at this magical end destination where everything is perfect. Be aware of our tendency as humans to do this so you can recognise it when it comes up. Be prepared and remind yourself that physical change without the accompanying mental and emotional growth rarely equates to the happiness you think it will.
"To make X find me attractive"
Even more alarm bells. Don’t do this for someone else!
Working on yourself for YOURSELF is a different story. If you are not feeling confident and want to change this then absolutely make this your why. Just make sure it is for YOU and not for someone else.
What are some good ‘why’s?
Some suggestions to help you find yours:-
“To reclaim my quality of life”
‘Quality of life’ means the way that you move through your day to day life. Do you feel healthy most days? Are you comfortable moving around? Can you participate in most events? What are you not able to do at the moment that you want to be able to do? Think of this not just in terms of here and now, but in five, ten or even twenty years time.
“To regain my confidence and be comfortable in my own skin”
As above, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having an aesthetic goal, just make sure it is coming from a healthy place. Feeling confident at the beach or in that singlet can be a great ‘why’, provided it comes from that aforementioned healthy place of doing it for YOU.
“To improve my health for my kids (or dogs)”
Being able to keep up with your kids whether 4-legged or 2-legged is an aspiration for any parent.. Running around together, playing in the garden, bouncing on the trampoline, playing sports and generally letting your own inner child loose.
When will you stop?
Once you have drilled down on exactly why you want to lose fat, both the tangible reason and mentally where it’s originating from, then it’s time to decide when is ‘enough’.
This fat loss effort may only be one part of your overall journey toward a healthier you, and may occur in multiple phases. It’s important to be able to define this.
You need to put a cap on when you will STOP. This will prevent you moving the goalposts on yourself. It is in our nature as humans to keep striving for the ‘next thing’, to never quite be content with what we have.
We need to make sure that once you have achieved what you set out to do, you don’t then create yet another goal that is ‘better’ than your first one. At some point there needs to be an end.
With fitness this is often compounded by the fact that once we start going to the gym for example, we are now surrounded by other people who also go to the gym. Where before we were just seeing other family members and friends who were most likely at a similar fitness level to us, we are now exposed to people who are fitter than us.
This is called the social comparison theory. Research shows that we feel ‘happy’ when we think we are in the top third of a peer group, whether that is for fitness or other aspects of our lives like our careers.
But now you are seeing other people in the gym, personal trainers and athletes. You might start following some fitness people on social media. All of a sudden you are exposed to people who have their abs on display, and you start thinking hmmm maybe I could have some abs too. You are no longer satisfied with the fat that you initially lost. You are no longer in the top third of your group and you want more.
This is dangerous and will leave you feeling like you never quite get to where you want to be, often leaving you dissatisfied with the end result and more likely to regress back to old behaviours. That’s why defining what ‘enough’ is to you is essential. Remember that comparison is the thief of joy.
Be realistic with the amount of fat you can lose
Before you lock in your stopping point, make sure that the stopping point you have chosen is actually achievable.
Losing a huge amount of fat in a short space of time is both unrealistic and damaging to your body. The aim is to lose fat consistently at a very slow rate.
The faster you lose fat, the more likely that in a few months time you are going to put that fat back on plus more. Anything that promises a short term solution to a long term problem that sounds too good to be true...that’s because it is.
Shakes and meal replacements, strict meal plans, products or people that promise to ‘hack’, ‘reset’ or ‘fix’ your body should be avoided like the plague.
You didn’t gain this fat in six weeks, so you cannot lose it in six weeks.
A healthy amount of fat to lose is around 200g - 500g a week or even a fortnight.
The less fat you have to lose, the slower your progress will be. Also the more fat you have already lost, the slower your progress will be. Aside from in the first few weeks, you should not be losing any more than 200g - 500g a week. If you are, you need to slow down. More is not better.
Now you might think that 500g a week doesn’t sound like much, but 500g a week is nearly 2kg a month. That’s 10kgs in 5 months (it should be noted that fat loss is never this linear, but it does make for easy math).
We will look more at how to track your fat loss progress later on in Step 6. Important note - it isn’t all about scale weight but a combination of objective measures like weight and measurements, and more importantly subjective measures like photos, performance and how you feel.
Then seriously, you WILL need to stop
You cannot lose fat forever.
It’s a fat loss intake for a reason, it’s less than your body needs. Staying there for an extended period of time means that either a) your body eventually adapts to this and it becomes your new normal or b) you’re unable to sustain it for an extended amount of time and start to regress. a) means that in the future your base calories will be lower, making it harder to lose fat and/or easier to put it back on whilst b) is fat regain, obviously a common pitfall that we want to avoid.
At some point, your body will decide that enough is enough. Here are the sneaky tricks that it will start trying to pull on you:-
Less non-deliberate movement
Hunger hormones increase
Satiety (fullness) hormones decrease
Increased likelihood of muscle loss, libido dropping and sleep quality being negatively affected
How to know when to stop fat loss:-
You’re being consistent but not making progress over consecutive weeks
Your tiredness, hunger, fatigue or compliance is starting to suffer
You’ve already lost a significant amount of fat or are getting quite lean
You’re just really mentally struggling and getting ‘over it’
It can be hard to give a concrete time frame as this will vary hugely depending on each person, but a general rule is that you shouldn’t be in a fat loss phase for longer than 8-16 weeks.
At this point, you should be switching over to a maintenance period. This is increasing how much you eat (calorie intake) back up to a level that would maintain your current weight. It is basically a ‘pause’ button during fat loss. More on this in Step 7.
Bonus - set a performance goal
A performance goal means a goal that is solely based on something athletic or movement based. Some examples of good performance goals to start with:-
Bodyweight based exercise goals, like press ups, inverted rows, chin ups, dips, planks etc.
Completing a certain number of reps at a given weight on a certain exercise(s)
Completing a specific run/walk/bike time, duration or track
Competing in a particular event or sport
At NTS we love bodyweight-based exercise goals, as they are directly related to the amount of fat:muscle and make great indicators of progress toward both goals. They are clear, simple and rewarding; for example you will know when you can do a push up and it will feel amazing. As you both lose fat AND get stronger, your performance across these exercises will naturally improve.
Is there anything that you have always wanted to be able to do?
Run 5km? Play a game of tennis with your kids? Do a bike trail near your house? Be able to lift a certain weight on a certain exercise?
Find that thing and make it your performance goal to work towards. They give you another focus rather than solely fat loss and body composition, and are something that you can continue to work towards even when fat loss is no longer an immediate priority.
An example - why James wants to lose fat
Reason 1 - to get proper abs again
Having abs and a tan makes me feel great. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look better if it’s FOR YOURSELF.
I think it becomes vanity when you are doing it for the sole purpose of flaunting it to other people.
Reason 2 - to create breathing room
Because I don’t like to be super restrictive and because I eat for strength / muscle gain for most of the year, it means that I slowly put on fat throughout the year.
Doing a wee fat loss sprint for 6-8 weeks once a year keeps this in check, rather than having to do a marathon every 3 years to get rid of the fat gained over those 3 years.
Fat gain is totally normal, and I’d rather do the sprint more frequently than be overly strict with my eating and/or jeopardise my training results by undereating.
Reason 3 - to set up for building muscle
When you are leaner, your body is more sensitive to shuttling extra calories towards muscle growth (within reason obviously e.g. if I eat everything in sight I’ll just put the fat back on again).
If I’m smart about it, losing a bit of fat will set me up well to build some muscle afterwards.
STEP 1 CHECKLIST
🗹 Why do you want to lose fat?
🗹 At what point will you stop trying to lose fat e.g. what is your enough?
🗹 What is your performance goal?
Once you have ticked off these three things you are ready to move to Step 2, which is all about having the basics down pat.