The first rule of fat loss

There are a lot of dietary approaches you could choose to follow for fat loss. From Paleo to IF, Weight Watchers to Keto, and all stops in between, they all work, with one caveat:

Total calories count.

Not necessarily from 1 meal, or even 1 day, but over the long term, calorie balance is the driver of weight loss or gain. You are really unlikely to make a significant difference to your weight or waistline in a single day. That’s not a challenge!

Where most people who struggle to lose weight go wrong can vary, but there are 5 ways that I most commonly see outlined below, and what you can do to avoid falling into their trap.

Not being aware of how much food they are eating.

Portion sizes, mindless snacking and custard creams can all derail your progress if you aren’t aware of them. If you are following a particular way of eating, and not making any progress you need to look at how much of that food you are eating. Even the “cleanest” of foods will add weight if eaten to excess.


Track calories for a week or 2. Do it consistently and honestly. This gives you an idea of how much food you consume on a daily basis, which can then be used to adjust your portion sizes, cut out needless snacking and get you on the progress path once again.

Not being aware of what foods they are eating.

This usually happens when people try to “wing it” with their diet. Invariably they go with what they like most/ what is easiest, which almost always means higher carbs, higher fats and lower protein. And while total calories still absolutely count, this combo is usually a recipe for disaster.

The problem can also lie with food marketed as being healthy alternatives. With “High Protein!!” stamped on everything from chocolate bars to cereal, if you don’t know any better, you might be fooled into believing these foods were great sources of protein and therefore healthier in other ways too. The problem is that they still have high sugar and fat content and they only have slightly more than average protein content.


Find a plan that you think would be a long-term sustainable one, then follow it for at least 6 weeks to assess how well you progress.

Eating their way out of an exercise driven deficit.

Calorie tracking watches and apps can be a great tool for monitoring food intake, calories burned, activity levels and more, but when you get that notification after exercise saying “350kcals burned🔥🔥” the temptation/ understanding is that it means you now have to make up that caloric deficit by eating more.

The total calorie burn you have on any given day is made up of (in order of importance/ magnitude):

  • Your basic metabolic rate – ie the calories you need just to be alive
  • NEAT – ie all the non-exercise movement and activity you do
  • The thermic effect of food – ie the calories burned chewing and digesting your food.
  • Exercise – ie exercise.

Eating your way out of the relatively small deficit created by your exercise activities undoes the calorie burn created. And while training hard rewards you in many other ways, if fat loss is your goal, don’t eat your successes.


Ignore the calorie burn notifications from your devices.

Letting it all hang out at the weekend.

Sunday night through to Friday morning (Thursday morning for some) everything is peachy. Meals are planned, food is prepped and food logs/ calorie trackers are kept up to date, honestly, accurately and consistently. But you’re still not seeing any progress. What the hell gives??

That short, but vital period of 2-3 days and nights of takeaway food eaten in, restaurant food eaten out and other stuff that finds its way to your face while your myfitnesspal is shut down for the weekend.

Unfortunately, calories still count at the weekend and it’s not unusual to see all your efforts in creating a calorie deficit in the first half of the week get blown out of the water within a few hours of Friday night kicking off.

The solution:

If you know that your weekend holds a night out, brunch with friends or takeaway and a few beers in front of the TV, you have to account for this in your approach to the week. Eating 100kcals less for 5 days gives you a 500kcal allowance for your Friday night blowout.

Eating a little less earlier in the day gives you the flexibility to indulge later if you need to.

Either way, some kind of tracking, whether by app or handwritten food log, needs to be done. (See point 1)

Plan hopping too quickly.

I know that when you start a new diet strategy that you have high expectations and you’re positive that results will be visible by the end of the first week. Then that point comes and there’s no change. Frustration sets in that the plan doesn’t work, so onto the next one.

The issue here is that your expectations far outweigh the reality of fat loss.

Literally every eating approach works assuming you are in a long-term moderate calorie deficit. The key is “long-term”. Your body loves a stable balanced existence. It prefers and encourages a steady body weight, which is why fat loss is so hard. You have to stay the course for longer than you might expect in order to see the result you want.

If you cut calories too dramatically, your brain and body will do what they can to make you eat more food. This is why slow and steady always wins the fat loss race. Allowing your body to adapt to lower food intake, get comfortable and then you make another small cut as necessary to move your progress onwards.

The solution:

Have some patience. Abs aren’t revealed in 2 weeks. You need to give yourself 8-12 weeks of solid, consistent effort in order to see significant results. Pick a sustainable approach and stick with it.

Stay strong,


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