Something that has been left untouched for quite some time now at pro health blog is the subject of Weight Loss. With over half of the US population overweight and just about a gazillion different diets available on the market, I'm sure this is something some of you might be interested in.
But before continuing, let me just correct myself and all the others out there using the term Weight Loss. A lot more accurate would be to use the term Fat Loss. Why is that, you ask? Our body weight consists of muscle, organs, water and fat. From those four things you can lose muscle, fat and water. When it comes to losing weight, all we really want to lose is fat. Muscles give us that healthy look, while water plays an important role in several of our bodily functions.
There are many different goals you can set when considering a fat loss plan. Some people still see themselves with a long road ahead of them, while others have already reached a healthy fat percentage but don't mind losing a little more. Whatever your fat loss goal is at this moment, I'm sure there are several lessons still left to be learned.
I'm not going to suggest a certain quick fix diet, neither am I laying out a 16 rules do-not-break-or-fail program. The concepts I'm about to suggest work mostly by themselves. They can be incorporated step by step while still learning more and more each day about a healthy lifestyle. Some of the lessons are very basic guidelines, while others are more advanced and are aimed for those trying to reach fat percentages within the single digit area. It's important to experiment and see what works for YOU and stick to that. If something does not work, evaluate and change. As you'll soon learn, everybody responds differently to different things.
1. Don't Let Genetics Limit Your Results
There are different body types out there. You got the skinny (ectomorph), athletic (mesomorph) and the dreaded endomorphic body type that stores fat easily. Many people blame being overweight on their genetics. They make a valid point, yet are wrong in so many ways as well. Having an endomorphic body type does not mean you should be overweight for the rest of your life!
Most of the time we see these genetically disadvantaged people point to the mesomorphic body types and say: "Look! He eats junk food all day long, yet stays so thin! It's all genetics!". At the same time, though, these endormophs continue eating their cheeseburgers and milkshakes as well.
Being genetically disadvantaged does not mean you should give up on a healthy lifestyle. It only means you have to work a little harder. With the proper mindset and dedication, just about anything is possible. Chances are you just don't have a clue where to start. If that's the case, definitely don't stop reading now!
2. Do Not Underestimate the Power Of Goal Setting
Chances are you have already been on a fat loss diet at some point in your life. Odds are even greater you did not reach your final goal. Either the diet program was no good or you lost motivation and gave up. Very often though, both were probably true.
If your ultimate goal is to lose more than 30 pounds then you’ll need more than a one time motivational rush. The road could be long, hard and filled with disappointing results and setbacks. Without long term and short term goals, it’s very likely you’ll give up at some point in time, leaving you with nothing but a bruised ego. You will need to learn a completely new lifestyle, learn what healthy foods are and spend quite some time exercising.
When you’ve made the life changing commitment to really learn a healthy lifestyle, start by setting some long term and short term goals. These goals are important to keep you motivated during moments of weakness. At those times you can look back to your goals and pump yourself back up. Writing down your goals and reading them out loud will dramatically increase your mental strength, which in turn will enable you to finish what you started.
First of all you need to pick a long term goal which can really be unlimited in time. This could be just about anything. For example, if you’re a skinny ectomorph type, your goal will most likely be to gain more muscles mass. On the other hand, if you’re the endomorphic type, chances are you may want to lose some of that excess belly fat.
Just as important as long term goals are the short term goals which should be set on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. These short term goals are not only important to keep you motivated, they also allow you to adjust your diet and exercise routine at regular intervals if the results are not there.
3. Do Not Starve Yourself
The most ridiculous weight loss myth goes something like this: “The less you eat, the more fat you will lose". Sounds about right, but there's a lot more to it than just that.
If you cut too many calories from your diet your body will trigger a “starvation response”. As a result your body thinks it can't expect anymore food intake soon. Consequently the body will slow down its metabolism and burn less fat. A slower metabolism also means that the occasional binge eating (also a result of the extreme calorie restriction) will result in a major weight gain, because this one time calorie overload is perceived by the body as a rare opportunity to store energy.
Your body does this as a way to survive in times of hunger and famine. The starvation response is also the reason why people can survive for weeks and even months without any food. You’d think this is quite a nifty body feature and really, it is! Unless you’re living in a society where food supply is abundant and excess fat storage is merely a cosmetic anomaly.
To determine how many calories your body requires, calculate your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) or Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). A decent calculator can be found at Calories Per Hour. This calculator does not consider muscle mass or body fat percentages, but it will do just fine.
4. Create a Caloric Deficit
To lose fat you should create a caloric deficit. The calories you burn should be higher than the calories you eat. This is a simple formula that looks something like this:
Calories eaten - calories burned (through exercise & metabolism) = caloric deficit
There are two ways to achieve a caloric deficit. First you could eat fewer calories than your body requires (according to your Resting Metabolic Rate). Secondly, you can burn more calories than you eat. This can be achieved through cardio and weight lifting exercises. Because you can't starve yourself and because exercise requires a lot of time and energy, you'll need to combine both techniques for optimal fat loss.
To calculate how many calories you can safely cut out every day, just subtract about 15 - 20 % of your Resting Metabolic Rate (this is generally about 400 to 500 calories). For example, if your daily caloric requirement (RMR) is 2000 calories, multiply this by 20% and you'll get 400 calories. 2000 - 400 is 1600 calories. Consuming 1600 calories will result in fat loss while still keeping your metabolism somewhat intact.
To limit the negative effects of calorie restriction on your metabolism you can incorporate cheat meals, which allow you to have some extra calories once every week. This gives your metabolism a boost, limits the cravings and keeps energy levels up during the coming week.
By burning an additional amount of calories through exercise you come very close to your maximum fat burning potential. If you limit yourself to just calorie restriction or just exercise, your fat loss progress will not be optimal. When you combine both methods, 1 + 1 will equal 4. With this synergetic effect your fat loss process will not double, but triple and possibly even quadruple!
Just on a side note I would like to say It is possible to lose fat without counting calories. This is how I did it and it worked like a charm. It did take me plenty of hard work and dedication, though. Figure out for yourself how much time you are willing to put into your program and go from there.
5. Eat Several Meals a Day
When your goal is to lose fat, eating several meals a day is extremely important. Every meal requires digestion, a process which requires energy and thus increases your metabolism. If you restrict yourself to 3 meals a day or less, you won’t be reaching your metabolism’s full potential. We don't want that to happen, do we?
This may sound strange when you've always had the idea that eating more will result in weight gain. What you should do is not eat more, just eat more frequently. The calories do not change, just the amount of meals in which you have those calories changes. The whole idea of eating more frequently fits perfectly into the concept of Eating in Moderation.
In order to get a lightning fast metabolism that burns food like crazy, eat approximately 5 or 6 balanced meals a day. Just make sure you’re meals are not all the same size as when you only had 2 or 3 meals a day. That would just be silly!
6. Never Skip Breakfast
Skipping breakfast is such a huge mistake in fat loss land. Overnight your metabolism has gone into resting mode and burns little energy. To rev your engine back up you should eat something first thing in the morning. By doing this you not only load up energy for the day, you also restart the fat burning process again.
To think how badly some people organize their daily food intake is scary. If your last meal of the day is at 8 pm and you only eat again at 12 pm the next day, this means your metabolism has been idle for over 16 hours or two thirds of the day! Don't be surprised when your body savors this moment and stores some extra energy as fat. It may never know when the next meal is due.
A healthy guideline is to have your biggest meal of the day in the morning and lower the portion sizes as the day progresses (e.g. breakfast of about 400 calories and a dinner of about 300 calories, depending on your RMR). Also, try to get more carbohydrates in the morning and less in the evening. Carbohydrates are a quick energy source that should be used up during the day. Carbing up when you're about to go sleep will only boost your fat percentage to a new record high. Well, that may be a bit exaggerated, but you know what I mean.
7. Burn Fat through Cardio
If you want to burn fat, you have to do cardio. You can't just lower calories and expect to lose all your excessive fat this way. Even though you can lose some fat through calorie restriction, you should use other methods as well. Using just calorie restriction as a way to lose fat would take a very long time, hurt your metabolism, lower your energy levels and decrease your muscle mass.
The alternative way to reach a caloric deficit is by burning a certain amount of calories through exercise. This way you won't just burn fat, you will also increase your metabolism, keep your energy balance up and preserve your muscle mass.
Again, depending on your body type you should vary the amount of cardio you do. If you are an ectomorph (skinny) body type that has no problems losing fat, try focusing more on anaerobic exercises that focus on building muscles. In other words, lift some weights! On the other hand, if you're the body type that has belly fat issues (endomorph), then cardio definitely is your holy grail.
8. Increase Your Metabolism by Lifting Weights
One way to burn more calories than you eat is by burning them through cardio. Another very effective way is by increasing your natural metabolism. If you could increase your Resting Metabolic Rate from 1800 to 2000, then that's 200 calories extra burned everyday. Multiply this by 365 days and you've burned 20 pounds more fat in one year.
How can you increase your metabolism or RMR? By getting more muscle mass of course! Muscle tissue requires a lot of energy to function and maintain. And how do you increase muscle mass? Indeed. By lifting weights at the gym. Just about everybody can benefit from a weight lifting routine. Even if your goal is to lose only a small amount of fat, I strongly suggest you consider incorporating an anaerobic exercise routine.
One last side note. Do not limit yourself to isolation exercises such as sit ups and crunches. They are probably the most overrated exercise ever in fat loss land. If you want to increase your muscle mass you should be doing compound exercises. Compound exercises are lifts that target several muscles at the same time and increase your muscle mass the most. Try squats, bench presses, deadlifts and many more. Don't be afraid of getting too big. Rest assured that won't happen. Getting huge biceps and big pecs takes a dedicated exercise routine, so you won't get those to magically appear overnight. If only it did...
9. Decide What First: Build Muscle or Lose Fat?
Many people who've decided to take a turn for the best with their lifestyle start doing cardio and weight lifting at the same time. This combo method might work at first, because you start from a zero activity level. But if you've been quite active for several months already, a combo program will only hurt your progress in so many ways.
It is a proven fact that you can't build muscles and lose fat at the same time. You need a caloric surplus when building muscle mass and a caloric deficit when losing fat. So what's the alternative? You can alternate your fitness schedule in muscle building phases (called "bulking") and fat loss phases (called "cutting").
update: this part is not completely accurate. Even though it is very difficult to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, it isn't impossible. Thanks to Dardekeas for pointing this out in the comments.
A good idea would be to focus on building muscles during the winter for about 6 months a year. You'd need to consume about 500 calories more than your Resting Metabolic Rate requires. This will make sure your muscles get all the nutrients needed for optimal growth. You could still occasionally do some cardio, just to make sure you don't pack on more fat than muscles. (Which is unlikely if you make smart food choices).
Then, when spring's at the door and you've got some muscles built up it's time to a cardio routine. By now your metabolism is spinning like crazy and your fat will melt off during your cardio workouts. Don't completely stop your weight lifting exercises, though. By occasionaly lifting some weights you can preserve as many of your muscle tissue as possible.
10. Eat About 20% Essential Fats
So what’s the deal with fat? Some say you should avoid it at all cost, while others, such as Atkins, say replacing carbs with protein and fat is the key for long term weight loss. With all these different opinions, you might think it’s nearly impossible to know what’s true.
Like with most things, that you should eat fat in moderation, yet not completely remove it from your diet. Even in a fat loss phase you should continue consuming essential fats. Why you ask? Because fats can help fat loss. Indeed, you heard me right. Essential fats play an important role in the fat loss process and there are several reasons for this:
- Essential fats keep insulin spikes and blood sugar under control.
- Eating enough essential fats will help regulate your hormonal balance and control hunger cravings.
- Essential fatty acids are important for an optimal functioning of several different bodily functions.
Of course you should not go overboard with the fats. First of all, it’s important you limit your fat intake to the healthy unsaturated kinds. As you might already know, no good can come of too many saturated fat and Trans fat. Stick to the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated kinds for optimal health and fat loss benefits. For optimal fat loss result you should get about 15 to 20% of your daily calories from fat. Just enough to keep your bodily functions working and not to much to lose fat at the same time.
11. Pick Complex Carbohydrate Sources
Just as fats come in good and bad kinds, so do carbohydrates come in different forms. You probably have already heard of complex carbs, glucose, sucrose, glycemic index, lactose and so on. All these kinds of carbohydrates have left plenty room for confusion and boy is there any! Chances are you believe carbohydrates to be the source of all evil. Just as with fats, there are good kinds and bad kinds of carbohydrates.
Fact is, you can lose fat with a very low carb diet, but it's not the best way. Carbohydrates are an energy source which is readily available to our body when it needs it the most. Our body needs carbohydrates especially during exercises. By avoiding carbohydrates from your fat loss program, your cardio and weight lifting performance will go down considerably, leaving you with diminished results in this area.
Yet, on the other hand,... to many carbohydrates can spike your insulin and raise blood sugar levels. Next in line are the insane cravings and absolute mayhem as you rush to your refrigerator for more of those unhealthy snacks.
This is why you should try keep your insulin levels balanced by choosing healthy carbohydrate sources. Good sources of carbohydrates are the complex kinds which keep your sugar and insulin balance under control. There are two important types of complex carbohydrates: starchy carbohydrates (oatmeal, brown rice, whole pasta,...) and fibrous carbohydrates (just about all vegetables). Not only do complex carbohydrates supply you with energy throughout the whole day, they also make you feel full and satisfied. Now if that's not something that makes fat loss easier, then I don't know what does.
12. Include Protein in Every Meal
Protein is probably the most important energy source in the fat loss game. By including plenty of proteins in every meal you preserve your muscle mass, lower insulin spikes and increase metabolism. Indeed, proteins tend to increase metabolism because our body takes a long time to digest them (they have a high thermic effect). Because protein doesn't stay long in our blood stream, it is important you frequently have some new protein. This way you prevent your body from breaking down muscles as an energy source.
I do wish to point out the fact that to much protein can be unhealthy if you have kidney problems. Be sure to consult your doctor before going overboard on the egg whites. For more information I will refer you to another website where you can also calculate your daily protein requirements.
13. Balance your Macronutrient Ratios
You may eat the right amount of calories, do a lot of exercise and lift weights from time to time and still see little progress. You eat breakfast everyday, you limit your carbohydrates to the complex kinds, yet, little change! What’s going on here?
Chances are your macronutrient ratios are not in balance. Like I said earlier, you shouldn’t avoid fat or carbohydrates because they are important. Yet, too much of these can hurt your fat loss program as well. This is why you should try find out what works best for you and stick with what works.
Your calorie % from fat should stay pretty much the same at all times, which is about 15 – 20% for optimal results. By experimenting with different ratios of carbohydrates and proteins you can try to break a fat loss plateau. Very often you’ll be having to many carbohydrates and to little proteins. What you should do then is lower the carbohydrates and increase the proteins. Don’t remove carbohydrates completely! They are still a very important nutrient. Just increase proteins a little bit and see what happens. A basic macronutrient balance for fat loss suggested by Tom Venuto in his Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle (aff) goes as follows:
50% carbohydrates – 30% proteins – 20% fat
If you’re the endomorphic body type who responds very quickly to carbohydrates, try a 45 – 35 – 20 ratio instead. If you’re metabolism is doing overtime, try adding some extra carbohydrates. Everybody responds differently to different kinds of ratios. This is why you should experiment to see what works. When you’re getting results, make sure you don’t change anything until you hit another fat loss plateau. Evaluate, analyze and experiment!
14. Vary, Change and Alternate!
Variation is essential when you're trying to break a fat loss plateau. If you do the same thing day in and day out your body will adapt and the effect of your efforts will go down significantly over time.
This variation concept is applicable to just about anything in your fat loss journey. Not only can you vary your weight lifting and cardio routine, you can also benefit from a thing called Cycling Your Carbohydrates (this is the same as "cheat meals"). This technique says that when in a fat loss diet low on carbs, you should have one day every week in which you eat more carbs. This way you can keep your metabolism balanced and increase your energy levels during the week. A nifty trick, though you really shouldn't start considering cycling your carbohydrates until you've reached a certain fat percentage. This technique is designed to burn that stubborn fat when reaching a fat percentage in the single digit area.
Just like you could vary a diet, you can also alternate your weight lifting routine. As your body adapts to a certain lift, the growth of your muscle mass will slow down considerably because your body has adapted. For example, if you've been training your biceps every Thursday for four weeks now doing bench dips, try something else for a change, like a cable incline pushdown or a close grip Bench Press. Really, there are hundreds of possibilities you can chose from, so don't stick with just one exercise.
The same really goes for cardio exercise. If you've been running 5 miles every day for several weeks, chances are you're burning fat very slowly. Your body has been there and done that. This is the time to try something new. Go swimming, ride a bike, incorporate interval trainings in your current cardio routine. Yes, the sky is the limit when it comes to cardio.
One last cardio fat burning tip: try those rowing machines you see in the gym. They are mean lean fat burning machines that will wear you down like crazy! They mainly focus on the upper body, so they're also a welcome change to the old running and cycling routine.
15. Try Higher Intensity Cardio
It is said you should keep your cardio in the 160 bpm (heartbeats per minute) range, because that's the "fat burning zone". While it is true you burn a higher percentage energy from fat instead of carbohydrates, you won't burn more fat in total compared to a higher intensity cardio workout. There's a huge difference between percentage fat and total fat.
What matters during your cardio session is the duration and intensity. If you can run for 45 minutes at a 175 bpm heart rate or 45 minutes at a 155 heart rate, don't even think for a second you have burned more fat in total doing less effort. Not only do you burn more calories with higher intensity cardio, you will also increase your post - workout metabolism.
If you're in a fat loss plateau and you want to try something new, consult your doctor first and then try incorporating some high intensity cardio. Do not limit yourself to high intensity cardio, though; combine it with your regular exercise routines. Variation is key!
If you want to take your cardio to an even higher level, try High Intensity Interval Training. These are short workouts of about 2 to max 10 minutes during which you give all you got. By raising your heart rate up to 190 bpm your metabolism will get a tremendous boost.
If you want to learn more about HIIT, watch this HIIT instruction video on YouTube. Just remember you should have a basic level of cardio fitness before attempting HIIT. Don't forget to consult your doctor before trying anything similar like this either. Your heart rate WILL be doing some serious overtime. Normally, when doing HIIT right, you're not supposed to be able to talk during your HIIT exercise, as opposed to the guy in the YouTube video.
16. Learn More About Living a Healthy Lifestyle
Knowledge is power. It doesn't matter if your goal is to learn a healthy lifestyle or get chiseled six pack abs, you should know what you are doing. Do not take my word for everything I'm saying, but find out yourself what's plausible and what's not. Read books from well respected authors who have years of experience. Personally, I recommend Eat, Drink and Be Healthy (aff) by Walter Willett for a basic introduction to healthy nutrition. For more in depth instructions on the subject of fat loss itself I suggest Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle (aff) By Tom Venuto.
Both these authors are very highly respected in their own field of expertise. Walter Willett is the second most cited scientist in the field of Clinical Medicine, which is quite an accomplishment for an epidemiologist. Tom Venuto is a veteran body builder and personal fitness coach. As you may know, these people know a thing or two about losing fat.