If you’re an apparently healthy individual, fat loss should be pretty straight forward. Well, maybe not really straight forward but simple enough that you can apply some basic principles over a consistent period of time to sustain fat loss.
Of course us humans love to complicate things, myself included. I admit that when it comes to fitness, I’ve fallen into the trap of holding supplements like protein powder and creatine in reverence when yearning to put on some muscle mass.
And I’m sure there are some of you who’ve fallen victim to the allure of the promises of “fat burners” and “fit tummy tea.” I’m just teasing.
If you love the tea, by all means, drink it. But if you’re going to drink the fit tummy tea, at least follow these principles and use these tools.
I can feel the rage in some of you now. You hate the calories in vs calories out(CICO) model. I get it. We have different views on this. Let’s just agree to disagree.
I know. Counting calories doesn’t work for you so you equate that with a calorie deficit. The misconception lies within mistaking the tool for the physiological process.
For example, there’s some people who say that counting calories didn’t work for them so they simply cut carbohydrate sources from their diet and lost weight that way. Cool!
But by definition, if you’ve held fats and protein constant then eliminated carbs, guess what? You’re in a caloric deficit.
That specific diet, low carb or no carb, is a tool you’re using to lose weight/lose fat. I’m not knocking it.
As far as I’m concerned, if that mode works for you, keep at it.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure(Maintenance Calories)
TDEE is the amount of calories needed to maintain your current bodyweight.
It’s made up a few factors:
- Basal Metabolic Rate(50–60%) — The amount of energy your body needs to perform basic, life-sustaining functions. Breathing, cell activity, nutrient processing, things like that.
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis(10–30%) — This is basic physical non-exercise activity we perform during the day such as: fidgeting, house work, picking up and putting down your toddler, taking out the trash, etc.
- Thermic Effect Of Food(10–15%) — This is the amount of energy needed to digest food.
- Exercise Activity(0–30%) — Energy burned from exercise. Obviously if you don’t exercise this value would be at 0%.
As you can see, each factor accounts for a different rate of energy consumption.
The basic concept of CICO is built around the fact that if you consume more calories than the total amount of calories needed for TDEE, you will gain weight.
On the other hand, if you consume less calories than the total amount of calories needed for TDEE you will lose weight.
Now of course it isn’t this cut and dry. It’s not this simple. Calories in and calories out are dependent on one another. If you influence one, it will change the other.
Calories in is dependent on such things like: appetite, calories absorbed and psychological factors like emotional eating.
Calories out(beyond TDEE) is also dependent on psychological factors such as: stress and mental health. There’s also nuances within the physical activity portion of TDEE such as the tendency to burn more calories when you’re heavier because your movement is less “efficient.” In other words, it takes more energy to move a heavy object than it does to move a light object.
Eventually you’ll get lighter when you lose weight making your movement more “efficient” and your rate of weight loss will decrease causing you to think that the CICO model is broken.
Another reason why there’s a weight loss slow down is because when you reduce energy intake(caloric consumption), BMR and NEAT decreases. But it’s not a substantial drop at first. You’ll still lose weight for a period of time until BMR and NEAT decreases some more and sooner than later you stop losing weight.
By definition, that would mean that you are no longer in caloric deficit.
This is why people get confused and say things like: “I was in a caloric deficit and I didn’t lose weight.” Actually, you were consuming calories that were at one point sufficient to satisfy or aligned with what was once a caloric deficit.
Also, for the people who follow the CICO model and aren’t losing weight while “eating in a caloric deficit” you could be overeating. Maybe you went out to a restaurant and the calories per meal on the menu wasn’t accurate. Or maybe you didn’t count the ketchup or other condiments you’ve added to your food.
It’s similar to people who have trouble gaining weight who tell me: “I eat a lot of food and I don’t gain weight.” No. You think you eat a lot of food but you aren’t eating in a caloric surplus. I was one of these people until I started adhering to the CICO model.
Yes, weight loss/fat loss can be messy. This is why I’m a proponent for systems and models that can help you adhere to and align yourself with the physiological processes of weight loss.
One more important point: the CICO model is built on estimates. But when you apply the CICO model over time you will gradually learn to adjust according to your progression and regression.
So let’s sum it up real quick:
CI > TDEE = Weight Gain
CI < TDEE = Weight Loss
CI = TDEE = Maintenance
Setting Macros For Fat Loss
Now this is an essential part of the fat loss puzzle. The macronutrients composition of your diet dictates your body composition. With all of these calorie counting apps, you don’t need need to stress the specific percentages as they’re already baked into these platforms.
There are three macronutrient options you can choose from:
- 30% Protein, 35% Fats, 35% Carbohydrate
- 40% Protein, 40% Fats, 20% Carbohydrate
- 30% Protein, 20% Fats, 50% Carbohydrate
Each macronutrient per gram contains a certain amount of energy. Each gram of protein has 4 calories, each gram of fat has 9 calories and each gram of carbohydrate has 4 calories. The percentages are going to be of daily caloric intake.
For example, if your caloric intake is 2000 per day and you choose the “30/35/35” break down, your macros will look like this: 150g of Protein, 78g of Fat, 175g of Carbohydrate.
So you’ll take the percentage of your daily caloric intake per macronutrient and divide it by its energy content to get the amount of each macronutrient you need to consume each day.
You can also go the route of assigning 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight and divide the remaining calories up between fats and carbs as you see fit. Just make sure your total calories are adhering to a caloric deficit.
Or you can use the apps/websites below:
Remember, these calculators are estimates and there’s a calibration period that takes place in the beginning. Just stay consistent and you’ll gauge the appropriate caloric values to map to your goals.
Make sure you’re getting sufficient amounts of macronutrients in your diet. You can easily do this by making sure 80–85% of your total daily calories come from nutrient dense whole foods.
Meaning, get fresh fruits and veggies and eat “a lot” of them. It’s up to you to do the research to figure out how much of each micronutrient you need.
The main point here is since you’re eating in a caloric deficit you may or may not fall into the trap of not consuming enough healthy, nutrient dense foods.
You can supplement with a multi-vitamin or micronutrients that come in supplement form. But if you’re familiar with my work, you know I don’t give supplements too much attention.
Just eat real food.
Find A Diet That Helps You Adhere To A Caloric Deficit
It doesn’t matter if you’re a vegan or a pescatarian, if you want to lose weight, you’ll need to eat less food, meaning you’ll have to adhere to a caloric deficit.
If a vegan diet helps you adhere, do that. If a pescatarian diet helps you adhere, do that. Heck. If you’re comfortable with doing one meal a day(OMAD) while intermittent fasting, good for you, do that.
Which ever diet or tool you choose to use, make sure:
- You’re in a caloric deficit
- Adhering to your macros
- You stick with it
In essence, do whatever works for you just so long as you’re adhering to the basic principles.
When it comes down to physical activity, although it can account for 0–30% of your TDEE and you can lose weight/fat without much physical activity, it accomplishes two things.
- It insures you’re in a caloric deficit
- It promotes muscle retention.
There are two types physical activity you need to have built into your diet and exercise routine: cardio and resistance training.
Keep it simple, or not. Personally, I’m not into running. But at the same time I’m not doing box jumps. Recently, I’ve been jumping rope. I do 15 minutes every other day. That’s 5 rounds, 3 minutes each with 1 minute rest in between each round. Jumping rope combined with a caloric deficit has me shedding pounds.
But if you’re into running, go ahead and pound the pavement. Be the next David Goggins for all I care just make sure you’re doing some sort of cardio.
You ever heard of the phrase: “Use it or lose it?” Well that can be applied to muscle mass retention. I’ll put it this way, if you’re not giving your muscles any reason to stick around, they’ll atrophy.
The name of the game with resistance training is muscle development and retention; mostly retention if you’re a bit more advanced in this fitness thing.
Find a form of RT that you like. It can be calisthenics, bodybuilding or powerlifting, doesn’t matter.
Use those muscles!
This wasn’t one of my more comprehensive articles but I figured I’d pop in to remind you of the simple basics of weight loss/fat loss.
My intention is to make weight loss/fat loss accessible to the wide majority of people who aren’t Olympic star athletes but the everyday person who wants to lose 5% of their body weight for medical reasons or someone who just wants to get back in shape.