Hey everyone, Derek and Rachel here. Below is Part One of our series on fat loss: The 4 Keys to Achieving AND Maintaining Fat Loss.
It’s a confusing world out there on the internet and the fitness and nutrition scene really is like the Wild West. There is just so much to sort through. For virtually any opinion out there, someone is saying the opposite. What's really required for fat loss? Is it all about calories? Or is it just about eating the right foods and managing your hormones? Who's right? Are either of them right?
In this post we will address what we have come to believe are the 4 key factors that lead to fat loss and maintaining that fat loss. Other things can absolutely be helpful, but these are the 4 key factors that virtually everything else that is useful will stem from.
1. Be in a Caloric Deficit
In order to lose body fat you must expend more energy than you take in. This is called a caloric deficit. Essentially, our fat cells are just an energy storage bank. They are filled up when you over-eat relative to what you expend and are emptied when you under-eat relative to what you expend. This is a somewhat crude oversimplification as there are other things you must consider, but the basic principle holds true in most cases. If you over-eat over a prolonged period of time, you will store body fat and vice-versa.
Armi Legge does a great job explaining possible reasons that you still may not be in caloric deficit while dieting in his post 9 Reasons Fat Loss is Always Slower Than You’d Like. Yes, eating healthy foods can aid in fat loss, (more on that later) but in order to lose that muffin top, beer belly or those ‘last 10 pounds’, your body MUST be in a caloric deficit.
It is the #1 factor required for fat burning. If you eat too many calories, regardless of whether they’re from ‘healthy’ whole food sources, you will not be able to lose body fat.
2. Maintain Hormonal Balance
Although a caloric deficit is the #1 factor required for fat loss, it could be argued that hormonal balance is the #1 factor required for LASTING fat loss.
For the purpose of our blog and website we are going to use the term ‘hormonal balance’ to mean:
You are avoiding getting too far into metabolic compensation. That is, your base level metabolism (basal metabolic rate) is not significantly reduced while dieting.
You are not excessively depleting your adrenals, your thyroid or other hormonal regulators.
In general metabolic compensation will happen from sustained caloric deficit while depletion of adrenals and thyroid will happen as a result of sustained physical and/or emotional stress. (Which includes sustained caloric deficit.)
One need only look at the miserable long term success rate of low calorie diets to see that something is seriously missing in the ‘eat less, exercise more’ model of fat loss. If you push too hard, for too long, you will end up burnt out. In this podcast, Jade Teta of MetabolicEffect.com does a great job describing how to keep your hormones in balance while still achieving fat loss with his ‘Eat Less, Exercise Less’ (ELEL) and ‘Eat More, Exercise More’ (EMEM) approaches to fat loss.
During fat loss, it is almost inevitable that there will be some decrease in hormonal balance. The key is to avoid taking it so far that your body rebels with increased hunger and cravings and decreased energy levels. If you are increasing the stresses you are placing on your body, you must increase your rest and recovery. If you are decreasing your caloric intake, you must decrease it as minimally as possible or strategically include re-feeds and diet breaks.
3. Incorporate Sustainable Systems
Along with keeping hormonal balance, incorporating sustainable systems and habits into your lifestyle is another one of the major keys to maintaining results. If you can get to your goal using sheer will power and determination that’s great, but at some point other priorities will come up and you will be forced to divert your attention and time away from health and fitness.
If you have any intentions of maintaining your results long term, you need to develop habits and systems that decrease the amount of will power and effort required to get to your goals so that you can maintain your fat loss long term. Find ways to increase caloric expenditure that you enjoy and ways to decrease caloric intake that don’t make you go crazy.
Of course there are extra efforts that you will have to make to lose body fat that you will not have to make when you are simply maintaining, but in general your fat loss program and maintenance program should just be scaled versions of each other.
Your fat loss program may include a little more movement and a little less eating, a little more exercise and a little less over-indulging, but it should not be drastically different than what you plan to be doing once you complete your fat loss.
If you do not see yourself keeping a specific food or group of foods out of your diet when you finish your fat loss, don’t eliminate them completely while you are losing body fat. Similarly, if you do not see yourself jogging regularly when you complete your fat loss, don’t use jogging to get to your fat loss goal. Find a way to get there that you can continue to use on a scaled down basis so that you are able to easily maintain your results.
4. Be Consistent
The long-term trend is FAR more important than the occasional slip ups. The key is to avoid having them snowball because you get down on yourself. The "well I ate a chocolate bar so I might as well eat all of this ice cream" all-or-nothing mentality is your worst enemy. The key is to have a balance of healthy determination to eat well balanced with an acceptance of mistakes as part of the journey.
If you give-in to something you didn’t plan on eating, simply account for it by reducing the corresponding macronutrients and/or calories in your following meal. Yes, that’s right…the following meal. Don’t just 'wait until tomorrow'. Delaying action is not conducive to success. Get back on track as soon as possible.
Everyone slips up, even the fitness all-stars. What separates those who are successful and those who fail is the ability to bounce back. Recognize the mistake, learn from it and move on.
It’s great that you read the information we provided, (and even better if you found it valuable!) but now it’s time to apply it.
If you are not losing body fat, and you are otherwise healthy, review the articles linked above to determine if you might be missing something.
If you are losing body fat, make sure that you are doing so in a sustainable way and not burning the wick at both ends. Find ways to make it easier on yourself and put some time into thinking about how you are going to sustain your plan long term. You don’t want to have to go through this process all over again next year.
Lastly, remember that the long-term trend is what matters when it comes to fat loss results. Learn from your mistakes and move on from them. Isolated slip ups mean nothing if the overall trend is positive.
Well, that’s it for this week. Stay tuned next week for tips on how to make achieving and maintaining fat loss easier.
Derek & Rachel
Live For Today Fitness
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, comments, constructive criticism or corrections. If we get enough questions we will do a follow up Q&A blog post or video.
P.s. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!
Check out our other blog posts in this series here: