The 7 Principles of Fat Loss

Unfortunately, anyone attempting to develop a diet and fitness plan to lose fat and keep it off is swimming against the current these days. There is so much conflicting information about the best way to lose fat that many people are suffering from paralysis through analysis. Do you go low-carb or low-fat? Do you count calories or not? Should you strength train or do cardio -- and what type? Are gluten and wheat really bad for you? What about the Paleo approach? How much protein do you need in a fat-loss phase? It can be exhausting for well-meaning people who want results to sift through all of this information and apply a practical, maintainable and fact-based approach. Read on to learn about the seven foundational fat-loss principles that the world’s leading experts use with their clients to get results.

1. Establish Your Fat-Loss Calorie Requirements, There is a reason this principle is first: If you get this wrong, you can apply the other six principles and experience very little success. Yes, calories do count a great deal. There are different tools and formulas that you can use to track them. To determine your calorie needs for weight loss, simply enter your age, current weight, weight-loss goal, height and gender, and your needs are determined in seconds. The number provided by the tool is your baseline calorie requirement for weight loss. If you’re active or exercise regularly, you can factor in these activities and your calorie needs will increase. Using a qualified tool like MyPlate helps you to lose weight at a healthy rate. Holly Mitchell, an International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness figure professional and nutrition coach with Lean Bodies Consulting, cautions against dropping calories too low too fast. “The goal is to see how much you can eat and still lose fat, not how little. If you start out with too large of a caloric deficit and plateau, you’ll have nowhere to go,” she adds.

2. Consume Adequate Protein, Eating enough protein is a critical component of an effective fat-loss plan. Kelly Plowe, resident registered dietitian at LIVESTRONG.COM, recommends including protein at meals and snacks for increased satiety and preserving muscle when trying to lose weight. “Getting enough protein in your diet is fairly easy to do with a little effort,” says Plowe. “Try incorporating eggs into your breakfast and yogurt and nut butters into your snacks, and aim to include lean proteins like chicken, fish and beans at lunch and dinner.” A 2013 study of 39 adults looked at the impact of a calorie-deficit diet with three different levels of protein intake -- the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), two times the RDA and three times the RDA. While all groups lost weight after 31 days, the loss of fat mass was higher in the two higher-protein diet groups.

3. Don’t Fear Carbohydrates, You need not fear carbohydrates because they can help you get more out of your workouts. Mike Roussell, Ph.D., a private nutrition consultant and Shape magazine’s “Diet Doctor,” feels carbohydrates are essential for hard-training individuals. “Eating carbohydrates before or drinking them during training can help you fight fatigue, work harder and burn more fat,” says Roussell. He also points out the importance of post-workout carb consumption because “carbohydrates eaten after you exercise will be preferentially shuttled towards your muscles so that they are refueled for your next training session.”

4. Don’t Attempt to Out-Train a Bad Diet, When coaching clients at my gym, Live Fit Cincinnati, I tell them that trying to exercise off body fat is analogous to trying to drive a nail into a board with a screwdriver. If you bang away long enough, you might get the nail in a little bit, but it would be far more efficient just to use a hammer. In the case of fat loss, proper nutrition is the hammer. Exercising -- a combination of strength training and cardiovascular exercise -- seven days a week for an hour for the average person will burn about 3,000 calories. That’s less than a pound of fat. That’s a serious time commitment. On the other hand, how much time does it take to not eat those extra 3,000 calories? None. Use a combination of exercise and a good diet to enhance fitness and retain lean muscle mass while losing weight.

5. Prioritize Strength Training, Retaining lean muscle tissue is of paramount importance when in a calorie deficit, and the best way to ensure that happens is by prioritizing strength training. Tony Gentilcore, CSCS, CPT, and co-founder of Cressey Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts, is quick to point out that “what makes muscle keeps muscle.” Gentilcore feels one of the biggest mistakes people make when following a fat-loss plan is underestimating the value of strength training. “The goal should be to maintain as much muscle as possible,” he says. “Adding in more and more training volume, whether it be more cardio or higher-rep resistance training, especially in a caloric deficit, is a great way to lose muscle.” The solution? Gentilcore advises implementing traditional strength work into the mix: heavier loads for five to eight reps per set. “This will not only keep you strong, but it will also provide the stimulus the body needs to keep muscle,” he says.

6. Food Variety Is Not Your Friend, Variety may be the spice of life, but when it comes to fat loss, too much can be counterproductive. Optimal fat loss requires quantification -- particularly regarding calories. Incorporating too many foods into your diet can make this quantification tedious, frustrating, impractical and time-consuming. I encourage clients at my gym to pick four to five sources of protein, fat and starch and build their fat-loss diet around those. This keeps grocery shopping, quantification and meal prep simple. Attempting to incorporate several dozen foods and complex recipes will likely make it difficult to stay on track, and you’ll be spending endless hours in the kitchen. Keep it simple at first. Once you start to develop a routine, you can begin to add in new type of proteins, carbohydrates and fat.

7. Don’t Buy In To Supplement Hype,  As much as we want to believe a magic pill, liquid, herb, plant or potion will melt away our fat, the reality is the vast majority of nutritional supplements marketed as fat-loss supernovas are largely ineffective. How can this be, given all the amazing studies these supplements tout? “Two words: mouse and rat,” says Kamel Patel, M.P.H., M.B.A., Ph.D., director of “Many fat-loss supplements have great evidence in animal models, such as the diabetic-rat model, but don’t do so well in human studies,” says Patel. What’s more, you need to follow the money because “human studies are often poorly designed and funded by the supplement manufacturer,” adds Patel. He also points out that even supplements that have a minor positive effect burn far fewer calories than just a few minutes of exercise, and they can have adverse side effects such as insomnia and jitters. Lastly, the supplement industry is loosely regulated, so often claims are made without sufficient substantiation or regulation of the product’s contents.