So you’re carrying around more bodyfat than you prefer, and you wanna get rid of it, but you’re confused because you see so much conflicting information and advice out there in the media, and from people who purport to be experts on the subject (maybe trainers, nutritionists, and/or people who have managed to lose weight themselves).
This post is my attempt to clear up this confusion as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Ready? OK here we go…
Fat loss has both physiological and psychological components.
The Physiology Of Fat Loss
Physiologically, fat loss is very straightforward, and it’s been well-understood for decades: the fat you’re carrying around is in essence a fuel tank — your body fat is a source of fuel that can be used for energy is and when you don’t, won’t, or can’t find enough fuel to eat.
When you consume more fuel than you expend, your fuel tank gets bigger. When you expend more fuel than you consume, it gets smaller.
THAT’S IT. That’s the physiological basis of fat loss — you need to create an “energy deficit,” and you need to maintain that deficit long enough to reduce your body fat to levels that you deem acceptable.
There are two takeaways from this realization:
First, you can create this energy deficit by moving more, eating less, or both (spoiler: doing both is the best approach).
Secondly, (looking at just nutrition now), physiologically, what really matters is the caloric value of the food you eat, not when you eat, or how frequently, or how “pure” or “clean” or “natural” that food is. Calories also matter much more than whether or not you’re doing low carb, high carb, low fat, high protein, or whatever other way you’d like to manipulate carbs. protein, and fat. Lastly, supplements matter very little — at least the legal ones.
So wrapping up the physiological part of this discussion, losing unwanted body fat comes down to moving more and/or eating less in order to create an energy deficit, so that your body is forced to burn the bodyfat you’re carrying as a source of fuel.
The Psychology Of Fat Loss
Now on to the psychology — let’s chat about the behavioral factors that either support or subvert the physiological state that you’re attempting to reach.
People’s similarities outweigh their differences, but the differences do exist, and behaviorally, they must be considered.
The first reality we need to confront is that it’s less comfortable — often much less comfortable — to be in an energy deficit than it is to be in an energy surplus. When you eat more than you burn, all of your body’s signals are positive — mother nature is happy because she know’s you’re not gonna starve, so she’s already programmed your body to do whatever it takes so that you’ll continue the behaviors you’re engaging in (moving less and eating more). Sure you’ll be fat and probably die early, but you’ll live long enough to pass on your genes to the next generation, and evolutionarily, that’s all that really matters.
You, on the other hand, have other plans — you wanna look great and feel good about yourself. Problem is, when you do what’s required to accomplish this (i.e., create an energy deficit), nature fights to every step of the way, because when you start burning off your body fat, nature things you’re in a famine and are in imminent danger of starving to death. This is where psychology comes in — the mindsets, habits, and behaviors that you’ll need to fight off the constant signals your body is sending you — things like “What are you doing you idiot? We’re starving over here and you’re one quick phone call away from having pizza in less than half an hour! Are you nuts? C’mon make that call!” Or “Geez, everyone else is having pumpkin pie — what kind of a freak are you — what’s one slice of pie gonna hurt?”
Now, there are all sorts of effective behavioral strategies that can be used to get you to maintain productive habits — thinks like having good social support, not bringing unproductive foods into the house, and so on. If you need more information about this topic, consider Google to be your best friend.
Instead, what I’d like to address is the massive confusion most people have surrounding all the various diets and nutritional approaches out there, and why some diets work for some people, but not for others: one person gets great results from low carb, while another person had a terrible experience with low carb but did great when she became a vegetarian. One person had great results using intermittent fasting, while another person had her best success at Weight Watchers. Why is this, you might wonder?
Here’s what’s going on: all diets that are successful on one level or another “work” because they somehow get you to eat fewer calories over the long term. The mechanisms are slightly different — no/low carb, low fat, vegan, and paleo diets, just to name a few, remove large categories of food sources from the diet, and even though they might state that you can eat all you want, you’re likely to eat less because the monotony of the diet causes you to be less interested in eating. Other diets, such as the various flavors of intermittent fasting, don’t restrict what you eat but when you’re allowed to eat it. The most common variant of IF involved eating all of your food for the day in an 8 hour period — typically from noon to 8pm. And while you’re told you eat whatever you want, what ends up happening is that you’ll typically eat less food than you would ordinarily would, simple because you have less available time to eat.
What’s amusing about all the diets I’ve just mentioned is that their proponents and supporters typically cite various novel mechanisms for their success, such as lowering the levels of certain hormones, or sticking with foods that you’re genetically optimized to eat, when the truth is, the reason they really work because they trick you into eating less. If they just said that from the outset however, it wouldn’t be “sexy”enough to spark your interest, and you’ve move on to some other diet alternative.
A third and (in my opinion) possibly best type of diet sone that allows you to eat whatever types of foods you like, and any times and frequencies you prefer, but that control for the total number of calories you consume. The diets (such as Weight Watchers) are the most “boring,” but they’re also typically the most effective. After all, if you need to ensure that you’re burning more energy than you consume, but you’re not measuring either factor, it’d be like trying to run a business without monitoring income and expenses — it might work, but you’re leaving a lot to chance.
In truth, once you’ve made the decision to monitor energy intake and expenditure (if you’re not sure how to do this, please leave a question in the comment section below), the next most important thing is to become aware of your habits, likes and dislikes, food preferences, social stressors, etc., and make day to day nutritional decisions based on whatever makes it easier to eat less. For me, eating a lot of protein makes me feel full, so that’s one of my strategies personally. Some people never get hungry until noon or even later — if you’re one of those people, why force yourself to eat breakfast when you’re not even hungry? If you don’t have the discipline to control yourself when it comes to food, don’t keep unproductive foods at your house. There are many strategies that work to a greater or lesser degree depending on the person, but here are the essentials:
My Practical Take-Home Strategies:
• Increase activity levels. This can be as simple as walking/cycling/hiking/etc. Measure your daily “steps” with a FitBit or similar device. Make it a personal competition with yourself — if you normally get 6000 steps a day, make a goal to hit 7000 tomorrow. Start early and get them out of the way so you can relax and bask in your accomplishment. Make being active a point of personal pride. Meet and hang out with other people who share your goals.
• Reduce calorie intake, and ideally, measure and monitor your food intake. Find ways to make this as easy as possible. If having a daily treat makes the process more bearable, do it. If that treat triggers an all-out compulsive eating binge, don’t do it. If you like vegetables and you find that they make you full, eat lots of them. If not, don’t. If going a commercial program like Weight Watchers helps you to be accountable, go that route. If yo commonly engage with people and or events that make you likely to eat unproductively, find ways to limit or otherwise manage those interactions.
• Monitor and document the results of your efforts: My fat-loss clients weigh themselves every day, firth thing in the morning, nude, after using the toilet. They also record their weekly average bodyweight, and that’s the number that we use to determine the effectiveness of our approach.
• Finally, realize that there are many methods, but only one mechanism: eat less energy than you expend. Your job is to simply find ways to make that happen with as little discomfort as possible.
If you have any lingering questions or comments about what I’ve written, please post them below!