We tend to look for complicated answers to simple questions. Maybe because in many industries, fitness included, people try to sell a more complicated answer in order to justify their existence.
Well, I’m going to help you simplify things. A lot.
I’m going to give you the formula to get you the best fat loss results possible. I’m also going to give you a couple of resources to help you along the way. All you need to do, is put this info into action and remember the final, most important, part of the equation.
The Fat Loss Equation
It is honestly this simple. But remember, that simple doesn’t always equate to easy, you will have to put some work in, assess, and adjust your approach to each section as is appropriate to you. And no matter how simple I can make things, I can’t do the work for you.
So, with that said, are you ready to be blown away?
Here we go.
( Calorie deficit + Lifting heavy things + walking ) x Ruthless Consistency = Awesome Results.
Told you it was simple.
But I’m not going to leave you like that. Let’s dive into each section and look at why each is important and how to build you ideal approach to help with the consistency part.
The calories are King
Without a calorie deficit, regardless of where you create it, fat loss simply is not going to happen. I think (hope?!) that we can agree on that. Therefore creating a consistent calorie deficit is the foundation that your results are built upon.
A good place to start is knowing where maintenance is for you. That is, how many calories do you need in order to maintain where you are right now. You can figure this out by tracking for a couple of weeks and if your weight doesn’t change, then, Yay! you’ve found your maintenance. Now you need to decide on a deficit, somewhere in the region of a 15-25% reduction works for most people. If you want to see results come faster, then tend to the higher deficit. Want more slow and steady, then be closer to the smaller end of the range.
Whichever you choose, remember this: you aren’t stuck with your decision, you can adjust it at any time if you so wish. You might even swap between periods of faster and slower fat loss regularly, depending on what else is going on in your life at any given time. In periods of higher life stresses, such as work, family or study, then you might want to ease up on the fat loss. Everything going wonderfully, then it might be time to push a little harder. The choice is yours to make.
If you don’t want to go through the time and effort of tracking for a couple of weeks to get your starting point, and want to get stuck straight in, then simply multiply your weight (in pounds) by 10 or 12. This will give you a range of numbers to work within. Multiplying by 10 will give you fewer calls, and therefore a more aggressive deficit, and 12 will give a smaller deficit and a slower, more sustainable rate of progress.
And finally, if you don’t want to count calories, you can use something like the Precision Nutrition portion control guide, or another similar strategy for adjusting your calorie intake.
How you choose to work out your deficit is up to you. There is no right or wrong answer here, just do what is right for you, and what you can stick to long term. For a sample of the recipe packs that I send out to online clients each month, you can download a previous months pack here
Lift heavy things
If calories are King, then resistance training is the Queen. The royal partner in the game of fat loss, lifting heavy things makes sure you maintain, or in some cases, gain, more lean mass.
But why is this important?
There are a number of reasons, but I’m going to limit it to just 3.
- By keeping more lean mass, you lose more fat mass for the same total weight loss.
- More lean mass means a more “toned” look. I don’t like toned, but it’s what people ask for and in that context it just means looking tighter.
- More lean mass means you are better at handling carbs and that’s always a good thing.
When we look at training, there are 2 principles we need to consider first and foremost.
- S.A.I.D. Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands, and
- Progressive Overload
The first says that your body and musculature adapt to the demands placed upon it regularly. This tells you that you can’t train for fat loss, only for either strength or hypertrophy. There is also cardiovascular fitness, but we’re talking about lifting heavy things, not running away from things.
Fat loss is not a training adaptation, so we need to quit with the fat loss workouts, and focus on training to improve our performance or with the goal of adding more muscle mass. Or both.
And while we are doing a bit of myth busting, adding muscle is hard and takes a lot of time, so you don’t need to worry about packing on loads of muscle and ending up looking like Arnie. If it was that easy, particularly for women, there would be hordes of muscular folks in every gym, and bodybuilders would be the norm rather than the exception.
So choose your own adventure here. Do you go down the path of most resistance and get stronger and more powerful? Or do you go down the path of more volume to gain more muscle mass? While these are far from mutually exclusive, having one or the other as a goal to aim for will guide your exercise selection and training volumes.
Speaking of training volumes…
Progressive overload, the second principle in our list, is the idea of challenging your body a little harder than it can take in order for the positive adaptations to happen. This has to happen fairly regularly in order to keep making progress, otherwise your body just settles in and gets comfortable. This is why, when you go into the gym and see the regulars, doing the same workouts, with the same loads, as they have done since time began and looking the same or a little worse month on month, year on year.
In order to progress you need progress-ive overload.
You can use this principle in a number of ways.
- Use the same load for more reps.
- Use the same load and reps, but do one more set.
- Aim for the same reps/ sets but using a heavier load.
You can also move to using a more challenging variation of an exercise, for example, static split squat – reverse lunge – rear foot elevated split squat. Each option getting a little harder to do and requiring a little more strength and stability to perform.
Whichever option you choose, your aim should be to move forwards a little every week towards your chosen goal.
The funny thing is, when you start to focus on the performance aspect of training, fat loss gets easier. Calories still count, but training for performance has a few key benefits.
Whatever your training outcome is, you’ll likely add a little more muscle mass. More muscle mass means more calories burned, granted, the increase isn’t massive, but it all adds up in the long run.
More muscle mass also means you handle carbs better due to increase insulin sensitivity.
Training for performance is known to also be a keystone habit, anchoring other positive habits such as getting more sleep, eating more nutritious food to fuel and recover better, and generally being more active.
You can download a free training plan to help you get started here.
Walk your way to success
Walking is the most underrated form of exercise available to most of us. You get outdoors, get some daylight (this massively helps with sleep, especially if you get out early), it’s free and easily accessible, it gets you away from screens and TVs, boosts your mood and creativity, improves aerobic fitness and burns calories as a bonus.
While diet and resistance training are big factors in your fat loss results, walking and general daily movement play a big role is both fitness and maintaining your calorie deficit.
Let me explain.
As you diet, and your calorie intake goes down, your body tries to balance out the energy in vs energy out sides of the equation, reducing your daily activity (N.E.A.T. or Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) to compensate for the drop in calorie intake. Basically, you want to sit around more and do less because you have fewer calories coming in.
So making an effort to go out and stay physically active each day makes sure you help maintain the calories out side of the equation, and are better able to take advantage of the calories out side of the equation.
Remember, anything is better than nothing here, so whether you get 5000 steps, 10000 or 1000 steps each day, make a point of building it into your daily routine.
Consistency > Intensity
We’ve all been there, 2 weeks before a holiday or event and we attack the gym and diet like crazy and wonder why we don’t see any significant change. Or at least, one that lasts more than a couple of days.
The problem is that your body hates change. Change is expensive, metabolically speaking and therefore your body needs a lot of encouragement to make it happen.
The other issue about going hard is sustainability. A severe calorie restriction is hard to maintain for long, and inevitably ends in a blow out to feed yourself on all the things you’ve denied yourself. Add to that, that training hard requires more recovery in terms of both food and time, and you are setting yourself up for failure.
Instead, taking a more moderate approach to your calorie deficit, and a smarter approach to training and your progressions, and you have a sustainable approach that will reap lasting results, albeit over a longer timeframe.
Instead of focussing on short term, unachievable goals, underwritten by extreme diet and training methods, aim for longer term success built on a series of small wins that stack on each other to provide big results. Particularly if each new habit is easy to fit into your day.
This builds a level of consistency that is well nigh impossible to beat, and allows you to monitor progress and adapt anything that isn’t working well.