Yes! Now I've got your attention! The Cheat Code for Weight Loss will be at the bottom of this post so I hope this clears up a few things about the weight loss conundrum. There are a lot of things that come into play when trying to lose weight. On the surface, it seems like an easy equation. It all comes down to energy balance.
Calorie Expenditure, aka what you burn in a day, should be greater than calorie consumption, aka what you eat in a day. If you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. Yes, even if you do not exercise regularly.
If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. If you consume the same number of calories as you burn, you will maintain your weight.
So you're probably thinking to yourself, "Well if it's that easy Kevin, how come people are still struggling?" and that's a great question.
In my experience, I've found that people have tried numerous ways to try and lose weight.
By the way, let's cut to what people really want -- fat loss. People want to lose fat. Weight refers to your entire body as whole, including your bones, muscles, fat, water, etc. What everyone seems to want (myself included) is to lose fat and build muscle. Does that sound like you? If it does, then you are on the correct blog!
The question remains the same. Why is it so hard for people to lose fat? If it really is just eating less calories, then it should be easy! If this were easy, nobody on planet earth would be obese.
There are A LOT of factors that contribute to fat loss. Calories, workouts, cardio, behaviour change, habits that are hard to break, not sleeping enough, etc. For the purposes of today's post, we'll strictly be focusing on some of the common methodologies that I've seen clients, friends, and other people try and still fail. I have also tried some of these methods and I have to say, they made life quite miserable.
Let's start with something simple. Have you ever tried to cut out food groups to try and lose weight? Have you considered the ketogenic diet? For those who don't know, the ketogenic diet consists of not eating a lot of carbohydrates but instead focusing on more fat and protein to make your calories. Yes it works for some, not for others aka me because I love pizza and bread, but is it sustainable? What about paleo? Low-fat diet? Weight Watchers? Jenny Craig or whatever? With all these "diets," there is a common theme to why they work. Can you guess?
If you said caloric deficit, you are right! In fact, in a study done in 2014, researchers observed differences in weight loss data when they compared diets. What they found was eating low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets resulted in the best amount of weight loss. However, when all the data were compared, they also determined that over the big picture, there was not a big difference in overall weight loss across all diet plans, (Johnston et al., 2014). They concluded that subjects who lost the most amount of weight were on "diets" they were able to adhere to, over a long period of time. This means they actually lost weight AND kept it off. Once again, when you take out an entire food group or macronutrient, ultimately you would be in a caloric deficit, which leads to fat loss. It does not matter what "diet" you are on, as long as you are in a calorie deficit.
Cardio, cardio, and more cardio!
Have you also been told or thought to yourself that you just have to do more cardio to lose fat? Or has someone ever told you that high-intensity cardio is better than low-intensity for fat loss? I won't lie to you. I've been there before as well. I thought walking had zero impact on fat loss. I thought I always had to be sprinting or running to burn fat.
While it is true that running burns more calories than walking, this study done in 2017 took their subjects and separated them into a high-intensity group, and a moderate-to-low intensity group. They also gathered a bunch of other data from other studies as well to compare numbers. After the four weeks of intervention, they found that both groups lost some significant amount of fat, but neither group performed better than the other (Keating et al., 2017). Yes, running will burn more calories than walking, but that is the extent of it. Higher activity levels will result in more CALORIES BURNT, which does not necessarily equate to fat loss. So get your steps in every single day! Moreover, were you also told or saw on the internet that "fasted cardio" was going to super charge your fat loss?? Well, think again. This study done in 2011 by Brad Schoenfeld compared individuals who trained early in the morning in a fasted versus non-fasted. What he found was training in a fasted state did not produce superior results. As a matter of fact, training on an empty stomach will much more likely lead to inferior results, and it was no better than training after meal consumption (Schoenfeld, 2011).
Stop doing so much ab and core work
If you are still with me on this, I appreciate you. What I'm about to say here might be contradictory to what you are thinking but it really is not.
Doing endless crunches, planks, side planks, hanging leg raises, etc. WILL NOT, I repeat, WILL NOT help you lose fat around your mid-section. You've probably been told to do more "core" exercises or seen it in a magazine or something to help you get a "flat stomach." I'm here to tell you that is all [insert inappropriate word here]. It's called good marketing at best.
Training the core is not just about your mid-section. I'll write a different post on this, but core training is about much more than that, and I will leave it at that for now.
I'm sure you have heard the phrase "abs are made in the kitchen." To this day, that statement holds true because weight/fat loss is really about your nutrition.
This is proven by Vispute et al. in 2011 when they looked at subjects' waistline measurements and how it changed over a training period. They study concluded that, "abdominal exercise training was effective to increase abdominal strength but was not effective to decrease various measures of abdominal fat... abdominal exercise alone is not sufficient to reduce waistline or subcutaneous abdominal fat" (Vispute et al., 2011). So please, for the love of everyone around you, stop trying to do so much "core" exercises to burn belly fat.
Not enough enough protein
Now let's talk about something that is exponentially important that most people overlook. Protein. Apart from being in a calorie deficit, your number two priority should be consuming a high amount of protein. How much should you be eating? A few studies have shown that on average, consuming 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day (1g/lb of bw/day) has shown to help with fat loss, while preserving or even increasing muscle mass.
One of the ways to lose fat and gain muscle at the SAME time is through a process called body recomposition. This approach takes a bit more time but with persistence and patience, it should pay dividends in the long term. The best part is, it doesn't matter where you are in your fitness/health journey. This is demonstrated by one study in 2020 where they proved that, not just in novice individuals did they see some good body recomposition results, but in trained individuals as well (Barakat et al., 2020). They mentioned that individuals need to be on a resistance training program ALONG WITH a dietary plan with an adequate protein intake in order to achieve results.
Eating more protein also has a satiating effect, causing you to to eat less. Therefore leading to less calories consumed, and more muscle preserved or gained! In this study done by Ribeiro et al., people were separated into a high-protein consumption group and a low-protein consumption group while also being on a resistance training program for 6 months. What they found was, both groups saw some increases in muscle mass but the high-protein group saw much better results and led to a better effect on body recomposition, (Ribeiro et al., 2022). Another study in 2018 looked at the same principles, but this time it was paired with only 8 weeks of training. The takeaway remained the same. The people that were in the higher-protein group saw greater results, especially when measuring their fat-free mass (Campbell et al., 2018).
I'm not touching on your overall nutrition here (that's for a different post), but obviously the quality of the food you eat matters too when it comes to overall health. We are still just talking about fat/weight loss, and again on the surface, the quantity is more important than quality. Yes, you can lose weight eating donuts and hot dogs as long as you are in a calorie deficit. Is it good for you in the long run? Probably not, but you get the idea.
More sleep = more fat loss!
Another very common reason people don't see the results they want is due to poor sleep! Sleep is so important for brain health, general health, disease risk reduction, and most importantly for the purposes of this blog -- for fat loss and weight management! There are multiple studies out there that have found that individuals who do not get enough sleep are more prone to weight and fat GAIN instead of loss.
This study done in 2018 found that even if you are just one hour off from your regular sleep schedule, it led to LESS fat loss compared to regular 7-8 hours of sleep per night, (Wang et al., 2018). In other words, sleep is a monumental part of fat loss so it is important that your body recovers properly. It's during sleep where we make most of our progress because that's when the body can FULLY recover without having to worry about all its other processes.
THE FAT LOSS CHEAT CODE
If you made it this far, thank you so much for your support and I want you to know I appreciate you! Let's make this super clear so you know what actions you need to take in order for your fat loss journey to be successful:
1) Most important of all - you MUST be in a caloric deficit. If you claim you are in a calorie deficit but not losing weight, then you are NOT in a calorie deficit. You might need to start counting calories (for now) or weighing your food so you can TRULY know what a serving size looks like for any given food.
1b) Do NOT cut out entire food groups. You need carbs, protein, and fats to function optimally. The only reason all these "diets" work is because you are in a calorie deficit.
2) Cardio is only PART of the answer. Stop killing yourself with more HIIT workouts. It's good for your heart health. Focus on getting AT LEAST 10,000 steps every single day, and do a fair amount of cardio AFTER a resistance training session and be consistent.
3) Stop doing more "core" exercises. You CANNOT spot-reduce. Doing more core exercises will strengthen your core, but will not lead to lost inches around the waist-line. Abs are made in the kitchen while in a calorie deficit.
4) Get your protein UP! 1g/lb/day is what you should aim for. If you weigh 150 lbs, you should try to eat 150 grams of protein per day, every day. It's a daunting task so if that seems too much, try and eat 80% of your bodyweight in protein per day.
5) Get your rest and sleep. If you can get 7-9 hours per day, every day, while in a calorie deficit, you will see some amazing results in your fat loss journey. This is where we recover the most from our stress, our workouts, etc.
So as you can see, unfortunately there is no cheat code when it comes to fat loss. Usually, the faster you lose weight, the faster you will gain it all back.
By the way, there are so so so many more things associated with weight loss. These are just the most common issues I've seen from a lot of people.
Sustainable fat/weight loss takes time, persistency, patience, sacrifice, and CONSISTENCY. If it were easy, then no one in the world would be obese/overweight.
A lot of these factors are things in YOUR control. Therefore you can PREDICT the outcome of your actions. So take some time, reflect on some of these things, and hopefully you can make some better decisions for your fat loss journey!
See you in the next post!
PS. You have to be in a calorie deficit to lose fat.
PPS. You also have to do it consistently =).
Barakat, C., Pearson, J., Escalante, G., Campbell, B., & De Souza, E. O. (2020). Body recomposition: can trained individuals build muscle and lose fat at the same time?. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 42(5), 7-21. - https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/fulltext/2020/10000/body_recomposition__can_trained_individuals_build.3.aspx
Campbell, B. I., Aguilar, D., Conlin, L., Vargas, A., Schoenfeld, B. J., Corson, A., ... & Couvillion, K. (2018). Effects of high versus low protein intake on body composition and maximal strength in aspiring female physique athletes engaging in an 8-week resistance training program. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 28(6), 580-585. - https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijsnem/28/6/article-p580.xml
Johnston, B. C., Kanters, S., Bandayrel, K., Wu, P., Naji, F., Siemieniuk, R. A., ... & Mills, E. J. (2014). Comparison of weight loss among named diet programs in overweight and obese adults: a meta-analysis. Jama, 312(9), 923-933. - https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1900510
Keating, S. E., Johnson, N. A., Mielke, G. I., & Coombes, J. S. (2017). A systematic review and meta‐analysis of interval training versus moderate‐intensity continuous training on body adiposity. Obesity reviews, 18(8), 943-964. - https://www.fisiologiadelejercicio.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/A-systematic-review-and-meta-analysis-of-interval.pdf
Ribeiro, A. S., Pereira, L. C., Schoenfeld, B. J., Nunes, J. P., Kassiano, W., Nabuco, H. C., ... & Cyrino, E. S. (2022). Moderate and Higher Protein Intakes Promote Superior Body Recomposition in Older Women Performing Resistance Training. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. - https://europepmc.org/article/med/35019903
Schoenfeld, B. (2011). Does cardio after an overnight fast maximize fat loss?. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 33(1), 23-25. - http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.688.8153&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Vispute, S. S., Smith, J. D., LeCheminant, J. D., & Hurley, K. S. (2011). The effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(9), 2559-2564. - https://paulogentil.com/pdf/The%20Effect%20of%20Abdominal%20Exercise%20on%20Abdominal%20Fat.pdf
Wang, X., Sparks, J. R., Bowyer, K. P., & Youngstedt, S. D. (2018). Influence of sleep restriction on weight loss outcomes associated with caloric restriction. Sleep, 41(5), zsy027. - https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/41/5/zsy027/4846324?login=true