6 Ways Dieting Sabotages Fat Loss

'WEIGHT LOSS'  is a growing, multi-billion dollar industry that thrives on misinformation being fed to consumers — targeting women. They don’t want you to know diets don’t work and lasting results aren’t fast.

My clients don’t need ‘weight loss’, they need to make lifestyle changes to get their results. Improving their training and activity levels as they revamp their eating habits will have the desired side-effect - reducing body fat. 

‘Weight loss’ is a concept created to make significant amounts of money for the people selling it. Most of the clients I meet need support to tidy up their eating and put more energy into proactive planning. By incorporating regular, sustainable activity along with healthy eating, they enjoy superior results long term. Ridiculous, hardcore short-term programs lead to burnout and change nothing.

Sustainable training and sensible eating are the cornerstone of results. I want to clarify that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to change your body shape or improve your fitness if that’s what you want to do. Health and fitness are vital. But there is a whole lotta wrong with trying to get skinny to fit in with an unrealistic body image forced on you by an industry interested in making money, not helping you with your health.

It‘s your job to understand how your body works. If you want to change the way your body looks or to improve your base fitness, do it. But do it safely and with your long term health in mind — not to ‘lose weight’. Give yourself plenty of time. Make lifestyle changes, improve your eating and your strength or run times.

There’s no shortage of misinformation on the market. Always check claims — and the first step is to check what the person making the statement is selling. If claims are linked to sales in any manner, whether it’s a book, a program or a product, you need to double check them with an industry expert.

The most common issue I see when people want to ‘lose weight’ is that they don’t know what a calorie or kilojoule is and they think the fewer you eat, the better. You need to eat to lose fat.

1. What is a calorie?

We’re always fed (pardon the pun) information regarding calorie content, so we see this term every day, but what does it mean?

A calorie is a measure of energy: “1 calorie is the amount of energy required to increase the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.”

The official measure of energy is Joule. One calorie equals 4.184 joules. What we usually refer to as “calories” is kilocalories (kcal). One kilocalorie, or one dietary Calorie (with a capital “C”) is the energy required to heat one kilojoule of water by one degree Celsius. One dietary Calorie (kilocalorie) is 4184 joules. When we discuss calories, we are looking at how much energy is being put into your body.

2. What Does ‘Energy’ Mean?

“Energy is the capacity of your system to do work.” The human body requires energy to be capable of life — from basic conscious movements, breathing, thinking through to unconscious requirements like contracting your heart, pumping blood around your body, digesting — everything necessary to keep you alive.

On a molecular level, the body functions with  complex set of chemical reactions that form your metabolism. These chemical reactions require ‘energy,’ which is where calories step in.

Bottom Line: The body uses energy (calories or kilojoules) to drive all the chemical reactions in your body. This is your basal metabolic rate.

3. Calories in VS Calories Out — CICO for weight loss

According to the “Calories In, Calories Out” (CICO) principle, obesity or additional body fat results from eating too many calories. This is true to a certain extent.

Proponents of this method focus on the sum of calories ingested. You’re not taught that the foods you eat are important. The theory is that the caloric contribution of foods is the key.

Even though you will have more body fat if you ingest excess calories and you will have weight loss with a calorie deficit, this is still a drastic oversimplification.

The three macronutrients you body requires are different — protein, carbohydrates, and fats. They each have different functions within your body and go through various metabolic pathways before they’re turned into energy. If you focus only on the calorie content of foods and disregard the metabolic effects, you may end up with some short-term results. But not long term fat loss.

When I see clients dieting, some plans don’t even meet the basic requirements of my clients going about their daily business let alone training and living. By focusing on dieting and relying upon deprivation and reducing calories, a weight loss program that has you cutting down and cutting out foods will set you up for failure.

4. Your body will make a choice when faced with calorie restriction: lose body fat or lose muscle.

Therefore diets don’t work. You body will drop calorie-burning muscle rather than fat when it’s being starved.

Dieting causes an excessive loss of lean muscle mass with no improvement to your body composition or health. And it will leave you frustrated and ever-battling your weight because you’ve just lowered your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This means you use fewer calories every day and your body composition has changed — leaving you with more body fat and less metabolically active lean muscle.

Having a problem controlling your weight? It may not be because you aren’t making good food choices. The reason your weight loss has stagnated could be that you’re not eating enough calories to lose fat.

If you don’t eat enough calories, this causes metabolic changes.

Your body is amazing. It can sense a large decrease in dietary energy. And for a short while, you’ll get away with eating less. But eventually (and you don’t know when), your body wakes up and sounds the alarm it needs to save calories because you’re starving. It needs that energy (specifically fat) to survive and thrive.

Your brain, for example, is 2% of your body weight yet it uses 20% of your total daily energy. When you starve, you affect the basic functioning of many of your vital systems.

Your body responds to too few calories by increasing your appetite and lowering your satiety to prevent starvation. Your body doesn’t know you’re trying to reduce your body fat — it does what it can to save you from hunger.

How realistic is it to diet then? Can you sustain it when you’re feeling hungry and dissatisfied all the time? Cravings are your bodies plan to save you from starving but, in a diet scenario, will cause you to fall into under-eating and over-eating cycles.

So, don’t diet. Instead, create an eating plan to control your calories, meet your basal metabolic demands and to ensure you’re eating a range of balanced meals and snacks. Eating regularly will help to control your energy level, appetite, cravings, blood glucose and insulin levels. Why would you ever diet again?

5. Eat More to Consume Less

People eat the same quantity of food–regardless of calorie density. And this is where it gets tricky. How do you nourish your body with quality foods you can eat more of and still get lean? I get clients to incorporate foods high in volume, but low in calories. I loosely call these High-Nutrient Dense Foods.

High-Nutrient Dense Foods include:

Vegetables and Fruits: A huge variety to choose from here. Remember: how you prepare them matters — so don’t fry, batter or cover with creamy dressings.

Carbohydrates: When selecting starches and carbohydrates with low-calorie density, think airy. Air popped popcorn, and puffed rice or wheat have far fewer calories and fat per cup than nuts for example. Porridge absorbs a lot of water when cooked and makes a high volume, low calorie dense, low fat, and fibre-rich snack or breakfast. It’ll fit you up for a long time too, so you don’t feel deprived.

Proteins: Eating eggs, lean meats like kangaroo or buffalo, shellfish (like prawns or shrimp, white fish) and white meat turkey and chicken provides satisfaction with fewer calories.

By incorporating foods with a low-calorie density, you can eat more food, feel more satisfied and still take in fewer calories. This will help fill your plate and stomach without overdoing the calories. Load half of your plate with colourful vegetables and fruits; one-quarter of your plate with whole grains, starchy veggies or legumes; and the remaining quarter with the correct portion of protein-rich foods — but be careful, they are also higher calorie.

Use this concept to cut calories and create balanced meals. For example:

  • Add minestrone or 1–2 cups of salad to a half chicken sandwich at lunch.
  • Add a sliced apple and plain yoghurt with a teaspoon of honey to your afternoon snack.
  • Add a 1–2 cups of large colourful salad to dinner and eat that first.

Your takeaway

My goal for clients is that they should focus on eating as many calories as possible and to lose fat (not weight).

You always want to start higher with your caloric intake and then come down depending on your body’s requirements. It’s much easier to reduce than increase calories after your weight loss has stalled and you’ve lost all your motivation.

Fat loss requires patience and planning. It takes time and consistency to make it work — but the outcome is great! Imagine 12 months from now — do you want to be doing this again or would you prefer to have a great meal plan that works for you, a regular training pattern and great results? It works. Stay focused on long-term success and creating a healthy lifestyle that supports you- and stop trying to win the ‘overnight’ weight loss war.

6. Losing a maximum 1% of your body mass each week is the most I would recommend that you aim for. And as your fat loss journey progresses, that means the loss you’d see on a scale will decrease also.

At this controlled pace, it will ensure that most your weight loss is coming from stored body fat instead of muscle. You will also give yourself the best chance to build muscle while you lose fat, which is what you should strive to do. It will make weight loss much easier if you can hold onto your muscle, or even put some on.

Eating leads to fat loss! It is crucial to remember to revisit your calorie intake.

If your progress stalls, but you think you’re eating the right foods and training, more than likely your problem is that you’re not eating enough calories to lose weight.

Eat as much as you can, get in as many nutrients as possible, and your weight loss will move forward again.


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