The Truth about Fat Loss
We are living in 2023… it’s time we get real about fat loss!
Gone are the days that we can fool ourselves into thinking that a crash diet or a juice cleanse is the answer to shed lbs fast before the summer arrives - when we can no longer hide under layers of wooly jumpers and cozy coats. We know it’s not possible to run off a bad diet. Eating junk all weekend convincing ourselves we’ll run it off at the gym on Monday just doesn’t work.
There is so much information available to us about how our body processes the food we eat, the importance of exercise and the impact of sedentary lifestyles. There is no getting away from it - we need to change the way we approach our diets and the way we look after our bodies.
If you are serious about losing fat and keeping it off, you need to build sustainable habits that you will be able to keep up 10, 20, 30 years from now. Essentially you need to plan for your health into your retirement years now, because as we age it only gets harder to stay fit and healthy. If you are carrying too much fat, particularly in the wrong places you’re opening yourself up for health issues later in life.
Fat loss versus weight loss
Hands up who gets addicted to their scales when they’re dieting?
When you step on the scales, the number you see on that little square screen can really have an impact on your motivation and how we feel about ourselves, especially if you want to lose weight or are currently dieting.
In reality it is just a number, and whilst it can be one factor to look at when losing weight, it should not be the be all and end all.
It doesn't actually tell you that much apart from your overall collective weight - and remember that number is not just made up of fat, it is made up of many things such as muscle, bones and water. If you are strength training and have more muscle density, you will weigh more. If you’re retaining water from eating lots of salty foods the day before, you will weigh more. At certain times of the month, if you’re hormonal, you’ll be holding on to more water. The time of day will also affect that number when you weigh yourself! The list goes on…
Try tracking your weight every day for 4 weeks, you will see a fluctuation up and down, more than what you could have actually put on or lost in a day, even if you’ve eaten way too much the day before!
The weight on the scales is a really personal thing too, and we should stop comparing ourselves to others. If two people are the same height, but totally different body compositions, i.e one has a petite slim frame, but the other has a larger bone structure, curvy frame, it’s unlikely these two people will ever weigh the same.
So the question is, why are we all so concerned with our weight?
It’s a factor to consider but in reality the goal should be fat loss, not weight loss. The less body fat you have, you’ll benefits in ways such as:
Less pressure on your joints
Prevention of getting diabetes
Improvement in blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol
Reduced risk of some cancers
Better sleep quality
Inflammation reduction (particularly if you can lose fat around the belly)
Boost in energy levels
The only way to lose fat
You cannot drink or eat anything that will ‘burn fat’. The ONLY way to burn off fat is to be in a calorie deficit.
When we move (or even when we don’t move via NEAT) our bodies burn fat using up energy (kJ/kcal). This means eating less calories than you burn off in a day, is the only way to lose fat.
There are some good calculators out there that work out roughly how many calories per day you can eat to be in maintenance or deficit. Like this one - TDEE Calculator - Enter in your statistics and what's great is, it provides your BMI, the ideal weight for your height/age. It shows you your Basal Metabolic Rate calorie volume, as well as the calories you can eat if you’re sedentary versus exercising different levels each week and lots of other interesting, helpful information.
Whilst it is debatably an accurate science, there are ways to measure body fat at home to get an idea of body fat percentage, such as measuring different parts of the body regularly, monitoring BMI and using calipers. Here are some other suggestions from the British Heart Foundation.
The good news is that you can increase the amount of energy you use up naturally each day by increasing your muscle mass. Muscle burns energy - fat does not. Therefore, the more muscle you have, the more energy you burn whilst in a NEAT state. This is why strength training is one of the most important parts of your exercising regime.
Cardio is good for your health, particularly heart health and walking is great to aid recovery and reduce stress but to reduce the amount of muscle loss as you age, you need to strength train.
Nutrition is main component to fat loss
With the above said, you could strength train every day of the week and build muscle, but if you continue to eat over the amount of calories you burn every day and eat the wrong food, you will still not lose fat.
You could in theory eat fried chicken every day of your life and still lose weight - as long as you are in a calorie deficit.
Whilst that sounds great (who doesn’t love fried chicken?) you will likely get bored and that kind of diet will not provide you with any of the important nutrients you really need for long term health.
Track calories, but don't obsess - aim for nutritious foods 80% of the time.
Allowing yourself 20% of less healthy food, the stuff we all really enjoy, this will keep you on track and you won’t feel like you are missing out, making it less likely you will cave and over eat junk foods.
Introduce yourself to more healthy foods, choose the fruit and veg you like (don't force yourself to eat foods you hate), learn to cook and as you start to enjoy eating better you will slowly ‘crowd out’ the junk food and it will become second nature to eat healthy the majority of time.
The Key is Consistency
If you truly want to be successful in your health journey and keep your body running at its peak no matter what age you are, you have to think long term and develop a sustainable approach to your diet and exercise regime.
Having the right mindset and not giving up is the answer to staying on track. Don’t get hung up on the days you eat badly, the missed workouts. Forget them and try again the next day, the next meal. Be consistent and don’t overthink it! In a year, or two/three years time, you’ll look back, see how far you have come and be grateful you didn't quit.
Shifting your focus to achieving fitness goals and optimising your diet to eating healthy foods that will give you the most energy, you’ll become a fit and healthy person long into autumn and winter seasons of your life.
Side note: Weight loss blockers
It’s good to point out that there are reasons why you might be struggling to lose weight that have nothing to do with diet or exercise. Such alternative reasons you might be struggling to lose weight are things like hormone imbalance, gut health issues and thyroid issues, just to name a few. We encourage you, if you feel these issues could be affecting you, to do your research and speak to a doctor or health care practitioner before making any changes to your diet or exercise program.
Success with losing fat
To sum up, for success in losing fat and keeping it off, the focus has to be on long term health. Step away from the scale and obsessing over this number. Set yourself sustainable long term goals with what you eat, and in your exercise program (this must include strength training to build muscle). Strive to hit those goals 80% of the time and if you fail, write it off and move on. Keep trying. Do not buy into anything that labels itself ‘fat burning’. Have in your mind a picture of yourself in your late 70’s or 80’s still feeling energetic and healthy, knowing you did everything you could to be the best, healthiest version of yourself!