Fat loss fundamentals

You must burn more calories than you consume to lose fat.

Calories are not a perfect measurement for the energy you consume…but it’s good enough. Your body will treat sugar differently than chicken breast, but you can lose fat eating either. Eating less calories than you burn is called a caloric deficit and will lead to fat loss over time.

Slow fat loss works best

Your body is a very complex machine whose primary job is to keep you alive. It doesn’t like to lose fat rapidly, because it’s afraid you will starve to death. To avoid this, it will slow your metabolism, which means you have to eat even less to lose weight. Your body will also burn muscle it doesn’t think you need instead of fat. To top it off, your brain will have less energy leaving you foggy and grumpy. The solution to all of this is to lose weight slowly, about 1 lb per week, by being in a small calorie deficit.

Counting calories is the most predictable way to lose fat

You can achieve a calorie deficit in multiple ways, but counting calories gives you the most flexibility in what you eat. Cutting out food groups, like dairy or grains, or cutting out entire macro nutrients like carbs only leads to fat loss if you are in a calorie deficit. These practices might have additional health benefits, but they can also make your life miserable. Counting calories is the most direct way to put you in a calorie deficit, and gives you total flexibility in what you eat.

You want fat loss, not weight loss

Your body will burn both fat and muscle for energy when you are in a caloric deficit. You need to tell it to keep the muscle through resistance training. You also need to provide it with adequate protein to support, and even grow, muscle while you lose fat. Shoot for 0.8-1.0 gram of protein per pound of your target weight.

You don’t need to track carbs and fat

Your body needs protein, carbs and fat to function optimally. You want to make sure you are getting enough protein to support your body’s muscle. But the carb/fat balance is up to you. Play around with more fats, or more carbs and see how you feel. You don’t need to track it.

How much you eat is more important than exercise

It’s really hard to exercise your way out of eating too much. Consider a large order of fries is about 500 calories. The average runner burns about 100 calories per mile running 5 mph. That means on average you will have to run an hour to burn off those fries. Eating only half those fries could save you 30 minutes of running.

Walking beats running for most people

There is nothing wrong with cardio. If you are already doing it, keep it up. But if you aren’t doing cardio, focus on your diet and simply walk 30 minutes per day. It’s a good way to burn extra calories without spiking your hunger. Also, don’t bother trying to figure out how many calories you burn through exercise. There are too many variables.

Calorie targets are hard to predict

There are calculators that estimate how many calories you should eat to lose weight, but this is just a good guess. You just need to track progress and adjust slowly. That typically means if the scale hasn’t moved for 2 weeks, reduce your calories by 100 calories per day.