Fat loss is often made out to be a complex process where you have to eat specific food at specific times, train this particular way and count points, syns or make yourself miserable in an all out wars against carbs and happiness. Frankly, any dietary approach that bans particular foods or labels them as bad needs removing from your life.
We tend to like complicated systems for fat loss (or training for that matter) because:
- feeling busy is good, even if it’s not productive, and
- simple approaches are not particularly sexy, we don’t get a cool story of our triumph over a difficult challenge.
The 7 tips below can be thought of as the low hanging fruit of fat loss. Normally, doing these consistently will give you a massive amount of success in your fat loss efforts. Then, once progress from these 7 starts to slow, as it inevitably will, you can move on to higher level habits and practices.
In all honesty, sleep might be the most underappreciated recovery and diet tool we have. Getting enough sleep improves just about everything, from stress levels to how much fat you lose in a calorie deficit.
Research into the effects of sleep and fat loss showed that subjects on the same calorie deficit lost more body fat as a percentage of total weight loss when they had sufficient sleep compared to those on less sleep.
Those getting 8.5 hours of sleep lost more weight and more fat (2.9kg lost, 1.5kgs from fat) vs those on 5.5 hours of sleep (3kg lost, only 0.6kg from fat). The low sleep group also showed higher hunger levels, increased adaptation to lower calorie intake and a shift away from using fat as fuel.
Generally, this suggests that they lose the ability to efficiently burn fat as fuel. You’ll struggle to lose fat if you can’t mobilise fat stores and then use that fuel.
By starting to increase how much sleep you get at night is a major step towards making fat loss easier. You can get tips on getting a better nights sleep here.
Much the same as with sleep, an increase in dietary protein resulted in a higher percentage of weight lost as fat. A study showed that for matched calories, the higher protein group lost more body fat than the low group.
Both groups were on 500kcal dietary restriction for one year. This resulted in around 10% weight loss, and overall weight lost did not differ between the high protein group and the low protein group. However, when measuring only fat mass, the high protein group lost significantly more fat (14.3kg) than did the low protein group (9.3kg) even though calories were kept equal.
Remember that weight loss is always driven by total calorie intake, but by adjusting where those calories come from (higher protein vs lower protein) you can improve your percentage of fat loss.
Track food intake
Keeping a food diary, or tracking food intake via an app such as MyFitnessPal, can be a real eye-opener into habits and just how many calories are sneaking into your diet that you may not even be aware of.
A large study from 2008 showed that keeping a daily food log doubled the amount of weight lost compared to keeping no record at all. The simple act of writing down what you eat could positively impact what you eat. Of course, this only works if you are honest about what you eat.
While I don’t believe you should spend all your time tracking every bite of food you have, it can be a useful exercise to help build calorie awareness and give you an insight into eating habits that you may not be aware of.
We all suffer from a degree of time scarcity, there doesn’t seem to be nearly enough time to do all the things we have to do. Inevitably we end up eating on the run and grabbing whatever is easiest in the supermarket on the way home after a long day.
A French study on the effects of meal planning showed that those who planned at least some of their meals had more variety in their food, lower likelihood of being overweight or obese.
Spending some time once or twice a week to plan your next few days of meals, and do the necessary shopping, can do wonders for your diet. You are more likely to cook your own meals rather than buy ready meals, so the food quality is going to be higher. You’ll also increase the variety of meals you eat, rather than relying on the same old options, which will increase dietary adherence. Planning around meals out and other social events becomes easier so that you can make better choices to help accommodate those events.
Don’t drink your calories
Eating your calories instead of drinking them can impact weight loss as well. Comparing groups that cut 100 calories from liquid versus solid food, more fat loss was achieved by the solid food group. This may be down to food transit times being higher for whole foods, meaning you stay feeling fuller for longer.
Also making simple swaps such as opting for zero sugar soft drinks instead of full sugar ones can make a huge difference. I’ve seen massive fat loss improvements from clients who made this simple swap (and sustained it). Cutting down alcohol consumption can also make a huge difference. Fewer calories, better food choices and better sleep quality can all be found by reducing alcohol intake.
Research into the effect of adding regular walking to diet compared to diet, showed that although there was no difference in total weight loss, much like the sleep and protein research above, more fat was lost by the walking group. The walking group completed a total of 3 ohurs of brisk walking each week and this resulted in 50% more weight lost as fat compared to the diet only group.
Adding in a half hour walk to and /or from work, or getting out at lunch time for a brisk stomp around town can enhance the effects of whatever dietary approach you choose. As an added bonus, you improve cardio fitness and boost creativity and brain function.
Keep it simple
Following a diet can be a whole lot easier when you don’t have to checklists for vetoed foods, eat certain things are certain times and wait for the stars to align before you are allowed a treat.
By building some simple habits you can have more flexibility in what and when you eat.
Have protein at every meal.
Eat a variety of fruit and veg.
Have most of your carbs around training times.
Drink mostly water or zero cal drinks.
Do this 90% of the time and you’ll win.