“I want to lose weight, fast!”
I’ve met more clients than I care to recall, who have turned up to their first session of training panicking about weight loss. It’s truly heartbreaking because these women have invested in getting results and want to transform their bodies. They think they’re doing everything right because they’re following the diets or they’re trying to do what they’ve been told – but they’ve hit rock bottom because they just can’t seem to lose weight. They all tell me they’ve tried everything and they’re coming to see me as a ‘last resort’.
All these women have dieted to get results and then out of desperation, have come to see me to find out what training can do to improve their physique. There is a time and place for dieting but starting with restricting your calories isn’t the way to approach transforming your body. Please, please, please – don’t waste any more time and energy on useless (and even dangerous) fad diets and programs. Be proactive and change your approach to get amazing results.
Fat loss vs. Weight loss
When you first start any diet, you get motivated by the fast results and understandably, you want to keep these going until you reach your goal. But the initial results you see tend to happen before your body realises what you’re doing – losing fat (and water and muscle). It reacts by rewarding your fast weight loss with a sucky plateau – a period you may recognise – you feel like nothing is working so you may as well quit/eat chocolate/start something else.
Your body is super happy when you’re storing fat – not losing it. It’s doing what it can to ‘save’ and protect you from the imminent threat of starvation (dieting). This is why, even when you’ve been super careful with your diet, fat loss comes to a screaming stop after a certain period – even if you’re doing ‘everything’ right. But you can outsmart your body to transform it.
The first problem? Diets don’t work. You’re not working SMARTER to get your results – you’re pouring time, energy and resources into something that’s genuinely one of the hardest things to do for most people – diet. And after all that here’s the kicker: you don’t want to lose weight, you want to lose fat.And the two are entirely different things – and more importantly, dieting doesn’t help you lose fat. You lose tone from muscle, water, fat and a little bone density too.
Your weight includes everything that contributes to your body mass – bones, organs, fat and muscle – plus water, waste matter (yeah, your poo). When you lose weight, you’ve a variety of easy options – dehydration will reduce water weight, laxatives will reduce faecal matter (thanks, diet teas) and calorie restriction will reduce water, muscle and fat over time. None of these suggestions are sustainable, effective or terribly healthy.
What you need to lose weight:
- Patience. Lots of it. Because it’s going to take time to transform your body and build lean muscle.
- Consistency. And accountability. Even when you think you can’t see it on your body, amazing things are happening inside and out! Keep going.
- A plan. Long-term and not just 4 weeks – you’re going to be doing this a long time – hopefully forever.
Fat loss is the process of reducing body fat while maintaining and even gaining lean muscle mass to improve body composition and aesthetics. With that in mind, not any old ‘diet plan’ will do. There are a few key requisites for a safe, effective fat loss program:
- Adequate protein intake
- Strength training including heavier weights (I write about why here).
- A reasonable, sustainable calorie deficit
- A healthy, sensible diet you can enjoy ongoing
What you don’t need:
- Cardio based programs (unless you’re training for a marathon)
- HIIT – I discuss what a waste of time this is here.
- Anything celebrity endorsed. Say no more.
As a beginner, you absolutely do NOT need to lose fat. Disagree? Well, how much shapely, lean muscle do you have now? How is dieting alone going to improve your physique? It just makes you a smaller, weaker version of your current self. Is that your goal? Most of my clients want a fit, defined (or toned – but ugh, I hate that word) body.
The more lean muscle on your body, the better you’re going to look when you diet in the future. Your primary focus when you start out needs to be on building the lean muscle you don’t have – and not on losing weight.
Want to know why you shouldn’t ‘diet’ when you want fat loss? I thought you’d ask that – here goes:
- Muscle loss: the longer you stay in a calorie deficit, the more lean muscle mass you lose. This works against raising your BMR and building a defined physique. I’ll explain more in a bit.
- You set up an unhealthy cycle of disordered eating: Calorie restrictions can only be maintained for so long – your body works against you withholding calories to ensure you eat more. Strict, longer-term calorie deficits lead to binges, guilt, restriction and more binges. Dieting is unsustainable because you cannot adhere to it long term, so your results are fleeting and depending on the diet, even damaging.
- Confidence killers: the neverending cycle of new diets and failing makes you feel like nothing you do succeeds – when in fact, you’ve the right ideas but the wrong execution. Build then burn – and there’s absolutely no need for any kind of extremes.
And focus for the next few months (yes, I said months) on building lean muscle as you learn to eat healthy, nutritious food again.
Is this a quick fix? No, but it is a fix – not a temporary patch to prop up unhealthy habits. Are you freaking out yet? Yeah, it’s ok – this message goes against the flow when it comes to dieting and weight loss. I’m speaking of women building muscle (Mon Dieu!) and not losing fat because I actually want my clients to get amazing, lasting results.
Here’s the big picture for you – if you want fat loss, there are more things to take into account than just CICO (calories in vs. calories out). There are actually four main areas that contribute to fat loss.
1. BMR: I mentioned it above – it’s your basal metabolic rate. Your BMR is the number of calories or kilojoules (or energy) burned when you’re at rest. The truth is, metabolism does have a lot to do with body weight and energy balance. When we refer to your metabolism, we are talking about all the chemical processes inside your body that allow normal day-to-day functioning. Your metabolism is part of a constant process which is always on, 24/7. Metabolic processes include those that break down nutrients from our food and those that build and repair our body. These processes work in tandem and enable the metabolism to run. Your BMR makes up the bulk of your metabolism and accounts for around 60-70% in most people.
2. NEAT: Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
NEAT includes any activity that isn’t structured or intentional exercise. Walking around, standing while you’re on the phone, playing with your children or dog, nervous fidgeting and tapping would all be called NEAT. And this can contribute up to around 30% of your total daily energy expenditure (but the more active your job, the more energy you use so for some people it can be higher).
Think about how dieting affects NEAT – the fewer calories you ingest, the less you feel like moving. Lethargy contributes to a substantial reduction in your daily calories expenditure. But there is a catch (of course). NEAT can increase with weight gain and decrease with weight loss, so you need to set daily activity goals – and hit them consistently to keep your expenditure higher.
3. EAT: Not food related! Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. Deliberate exercise or fitness activities. This is surprising for most clients – your training only accounts for approximately 10-15% of your daily calorie expenditure. Ever heard the saying – ‘You can’t out train a bad diet’? This is why -it only burns a portion of your daily energy. But it’s your EAT, specifically heavier weight training, that contributes to the lean muscle that raises your BMR, so it’s damn important to lift consistently!
4. TEF: Thermic Effect of Food is the number of calories burnt through digestion – and each macro has a slightly different effect. TEF only contributes about 5-10% of the overall burn, but it still factors into energy expenditure.
Where to start now? What do you do to start your transformation?
1. Overhaul what you’re eating. Get back to meal planning and preparation, making sure you include whole grains and fresh foods too. Don’t skip food groups. Understand what a portion size is vs. a serving size. (I can help you with this on LIFT + SHIFT– see below).
This may mean you will see some weight gain on the scales, to begin with. It should only be slight and it will be temporary. You’re fuelling change – and scales haven’t the ability to measure anything but the sum total of all your parts as one mass. You have to get over what you weigh to get beyond the daily weight loss battle with yourself.
2. LIFT. There’s nothing as rewarding as lifting – mentally and physically. Get started – now! And challenge yourself. There are so many programs and trainers available to get you going. Again, results aren’t instant or fast. Your first 4 weeks training is basically a time where your body is adjusting to your new regime and getting coordinated. Once you’re through this period, you’ll start to build. There are no shortcuts so focus on creating a healthy and sustainable regime you can perform with perfect technique before heading into your next phase, lean muscle building.
3. SET ACTIVITY GOALS. This side of weight loss is constantly overlooked. Walk more or walk further. Get out at lunchtime. The ideas are endless and varied – but plan and prepare – then do it. One of the simplest tasks I set clients is a minimum 10 minutes brisk walking to and from their workplaces PLUS a fast 20 minute lunch time walk every day (to see a whopping 700 calorie deficit each week). Track yourself and keep yourself accountable. Every little action counts and contributes to your overall daily expenditure.
4. PROTEIN. Don’t cut it out – you need it to build lean muscle. As a general rule, you burn up to 30 percent of the calories in lean-protein foods processing them. Of the other two macronutrients, carbohydrates require the next highest expenditure of energy to process. Their thermic effect averages between 15 and 20 percent of the calories in those foods. Most easily digested are fats, which have a thermic effect of only 2 to 3 percent. This means that your net caloric gains from fats will be around 97 to 98 percent of the total calories, compared with a net caloric gain of about 70 percent of the calories in lean protein.
Are you ready to give up dieting and start to lift? Let me know below in the comments.
If you’d like some guidance, I’d love to help you get started. I have an amazing program ‘LIFT + SHIFT’ – we spend a week preparing and getting started so you can maximise your results. See below.
Just remember: keep your approach simple and use proven techniques. Get organised. And leave all aspirations to lose weight fast, far behind you!
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Also published on Medium.