Fat loss is a popular goal for many people and I think that is a fine goal, everyone wants to look good and feel comfortable in their own skin.
I also believe that the way to achieve fat loss is to be in a caloric deficit. Yes I know that is a controversial thing to say these days, so let me explain what I mean by that.
The food we eat provides energy to our body. If we consume more energy than we burn our body will store the excess energy as body fat so it can use it later on when it needs it. This basic mechanism is what has allowed us to survive and become the dominant species on Earth. Therefore if you want to lose body fat you need to consume less energy than your body burns.
On its surface this seems quite simple, but anyone who has tried to lose fat can tell you it’s not!
The energy-out side of the equation is quite complex. Most people think it’s the movement of our body that is the sole influence on how much energy we burn, hence the terrible advice we hear of “eat less, move more”.
Yes, movement will burn energy, but it’s actually a pretty small piece of our total energy output. Far more energy is burnt just keeping us alive. That’s right, even if you didn’t move for an entire day and laid in bed, you would still burn more energy just keeping you alive lying there than if you did 1-2 hours of exercise. How much energy you burn even at rest is influenced by a variety of factors, including things like your hormones, your body fat, your muscle mass, your gut health, sex, genetics, and much, much more.
How much more? Here is a diagram of human metabolism.
There could be any number of changes in any one of these pathways that changes the amount of energy you are burning.
This is why it is so hard to tell someone how much they should eat to lose fat, gain muscle, or just maintain their body composition. Your caloric burn likely fluctuates throughout the day and from day to day as well.
All this to say that yes, we need to eat less energy than we burn to lose fat, but knowing exactly the right amount can be quite difficult to determine.
I do not believe all hope is lost though, I don’t think that fat loss needs to be overly complex, or that if you struggle with it that you should just throw your hands up and give up.
In my opinion, fat loss can be a struggle for a lot of people because something about their lifestyle or health is making it so the energy expenditure part of fat loss is not operating as efficiently as it should be and/or is causing them to be driven to overconsume more energy than they need.
But why would our bodies try to make us burn less energy than we should?
The goal of every human on this planet is to pass along their DNA, to keep the species alive and thriving.
Now obviously for some of us that is not a conscious goal, but our bodies have no idea there are 7 billion of us on this planet. For the majority of our history on this planet the best way to achieve this goal was to make sure we had enough energy. A “sick” body means that we may not be able to get the energy we need to survive, so in order to buffer against that the body will alter our energy expenditure so that we conserve as much energy as possible…again to assure our survival.
This brings me to why I think so many people can struggle with fat loss…they are making it harder than it needs to be by not first making sure they are addressing medical conditions and also addressing any lifestyle mismatches. In my opinion if your body perceives a threat to its survival due to medical issues or lifestyle mismatches it will intentionally slow down your energy expenditure in order to conserve energy and ensure its survival.
Medical conditions are not something I am qualified to help with, so if you have medical conditions you are struggling with you should be working with a practitioner to get them managed as best you can. This includes things like hormones, gut health, blood sugar dysregulation, sleep apnea, anything really. For any client I work with I always make sure any medical conditions are well managed before we start working together…in my opinion this is a non-negotiable.
Now certainly I understand there is a bit of catch 22 here, some medical conditions can be helped greatly with weight loss, so if I am saying you need to address any medical conditions before attempting fat loss what do you do?
As long as the medical condition is managed properly for the moment and you are in the best state you can possibly be given the current circumstances then that is all you can do. I just don’t think you should be struggling with an unmanaged medical condition and not doing anything about it while simultaneously trying to lose fat.
Once any medical conditions are managed we need to address lifestyle. I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but sleep, diet, movement, exercise, stress, and social connection all need to be optimized BEFORE fat loss!
Optimized does not mean perfect either, it means that they are in decent shape.
For example, if you diet is void of any fruits and vegetables, you’re not eating enough protein, and you are putting away a pint of ice cream regularly, in addition you are not sleeping enough, you are working 14 hour days 7 days a week, and sleep 4 hours a night you have no business worrying about fat loss at the moment. In this situation fat loss should be the farthest thing from your mind.
Because with your lifestyle the way it is, it’s going to be 10 times harder to lose fat and nearly impossible to maintain it. In a situation like I describe above, which is extreme for sure but probably not too far off from the average American, I might work for a year with someone just to correct their lifestyle before we even begin to talk about fat loss. In fact I wouldn’t even have them track any kind of body composition metrics at the beginning.
It might seem like a hard thing to accept, you want body composition improvements but you need to wait a year or more to even begin to work on it!
I agree, it’s not the easiest thing to accept, however keep in mind 2 things.
First, by correcting these lifestyle mismatches you will most certainly improve your body composition along the way.
Second, we need to keep in mind the long game here. Anyone can ignore their health and crappy lifestyle and torture themselves to lose the fat with super low calories and a ton of exercise. However your chances of maintaining that and not ending up back where you started or even worse than where you started are pretty good.
Once your health is inline and your lifestyle is solid, fat loss will be much simpler. It’s very likely that everything on that insane diagram above will be working properly and your body will be in a much better spot to let go of some of that weight because it doesn’t feel threatened any longer.
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2 thoughts on “You Must Do This Before Losing Fat!”
“Once your health is inline and your lifestyle is solid, fat loss will be much simpler.”
I couldn’t agree more. Learning about essential keys towards optimal health-like getting enough sleep and reducing stress to help control cortisol levels has helped me as well as the intermittent fasting and keto and eating a clean diet. I feel I’m finally on a firm foundation to really make the progress I’ve been looking for and for the first time in years, several months ago, finally saw the scale budging. This all reminds me of an old saying at a gym I used to work at, “Work out smarter not harder”. A little knowledge can go a long way!
I can’t agree more (obviously). Sometimes I feel like people are making it much harder to get where they want because they are fighting against their body. Show your body some love and it will return the favor!
Thanks for reading!