Firstly, if you want to lose weight, it will largely be down to diet.
No amount of exercise is going to help if you eat cake and pie all day.
Training can facilitate fat loss though helping to increase metabolism, lean muscle mass, improve hormone functioning, burn off a small piece of that cake etc. Also, from a psychological perspective, it can play a big part in controlling what you shove in your mouth. But essentially, there is no way around the fact that getting lean mostly comes down to diet. Mostly.
Here is the course of action:
1) EAT LESS CRAP
Changing just a few things at a time is a good strategy in order to ensure that a plan is sustainable. Any diet can work for the short term while motivation is high but a radical overhaul rarely works if you want to stay on course for any meaningful length of time.
Identify what will have the biggest impact and start there. Going from eating doughnuts every morning, to just eating them on the weekends is progress.
2) EAT EVEN LESS CRAP
Cut out the majority of processed and refined foods; cereals, sugar, basically most things that come out of a box or a bag. Your diet should be based around lean animal proteins and vegetables, with whole fruits, some fats from coconut, olive oil, avocado and nuts, and if you’re active, some starches like potatoes and rice.
That will supply you with all the essential nutrients (amino acids and essential fatty acids) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) for normal metabolic, hormonal and immune system functioning in the ratios nature intended. It will get you to a decent level of health and bodyweight.
SIMPLE, NOT EASY.
3) MAKE SURE YOU ARE IN A CALORIE DEFICIT
If you are adhering strictly to the previous step, it’ll be harder to overshoot your total calorie quota, but throw in a few pizzas, lattes or beers and it’s a lot easier. Total calories count. There is no magical secret to fat loss – reduce energy intake enough to create the calorie deficit necessary to force the body to use an internal reserve fuel source; body fat.
As a starting point, you can try 22-26 calories per kg of bodyweight per day (or lean body mass if overweight), see how that works for a few weeks and then adjust if necessary.
If you’ve got those first three covered, and you have more advanced goals, like wanting to look awesomely lean like the guy in the photo (my man Jay) or have a body like Jessica Alba:
4) MAKE FITNESS A LIFESTYLE HABIT
Train. Properly. Consistently.
Then you can focus on shaping your nutrition to optimise lean muscle gains and burn more fat.
Here is where more detailed calculations and advanced principles like macronutrient distribution (the relative amounts of protein, fat and carbohydrate) come into the equation:
5) EAT THE RIGHT BALANCE OF PROTEINS, FATS AND CARBOHYDRATES
The body needs to be supplied with the essential nutrients and micronutrients that it can’t produce through diet, regardless of your efforts to cut calories for fat loss. We get these from protein and vegetables, so their intake should remain constant.
The remainder of your food intake is simply a source of energy. Carbohydrates are a source of energy and fats are a source of energy. In order to create the calorie deficit necessary for fat loss (see above) you can reduce carbohydrate intake, reduce fat intake, or both.
As for which route to go; that depends on a number of things which includes your current body fat level, how active you are and whether or not you subscribe to the current trend of carb-bashing or 80’s fat-bashing. Broadly speaking; sedentary, insulin resistant and obese populations tend to respond better to lower carb diets and athletes tend to respond better to higher carb diets.
So, if you’re fat and not training or playing sport then you probably don’t need a whole load of starchy carbohydrates. Stick mostly with lean meats, vegetables, some whole fruits and healthy fats. If you’re performing intense exercise, carbohydrates are important, and not including them in your diet could sabotage your efforts.
To give you a starting point:
Try around 1.5g – 2g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day (again, lean body mass if overweight) and a ton of vegetables.
Set dietary fat to make up about 20-30 percent of your daily calories. This is easily enough to meet your essential fatty acid needs, blunt hunger a bit and help make everything taste more delicious.
Fill up the rest of your daily calorie intake with carbohydrates. Or a combination of carbohydrates and more healthy fats. As I mentioned before, how much of each is going to depend on your activity levels, how your body reacts to what you eat and importantly, personal preference. Pick one, see how it works for a few weeks and then adjust if necessary.
Now you know what to eat, and how much to eat.
Let’s leave it at that for now. In PART II we’ll get into meal frequency and timing as well as calorie/carb cycling. How often to eat is key to putting all the above into a structure that’s realistic, practical and sustainable so we’ll address that in the next installment.