The secret you wish you knew when you started getting into fitness
The single question I get asked the most is a variation of this one. People want the quickest solution to fat loss. They want to know how to lose the belly or the love handles; how to drop 10kg for summer. People very rarely want to know the real answer, though. The amount of consultations I’ve had with people convinced that 1,200 calorie-a-day diets and hitting the treadmill seven days a week will give them that fitness-model look is unreal.
“It worked last time,” they tell me. “I lost 10kg before,” they say. And over and over I explain that it didn’t really work last time if you put it all back on six months later. They tell me about the butter they’ve been putting in their coffee and the clingfilm they’ve got wrapped around their waist; about the fancy gadget they got to zap the fat away and how they haven’t eaten carbs in since 1999.
Everyone wants to know the BEST exercise to burn fat. Is it the treadmill or crunches? Everyone does a lot of crunches. Crunches for days. Crunching away the belly that never budges.
The thing is, the answer you’re looking for isn’t as complicated as you might think. Firstly, you don’t need to go on a crazy diet. In fact, crazy generally means temporary and will never give you lasting results. And secondly, nobody gets that ‘toned’ look you’re talking about without picking up a few weights – unless you’ve been genetically gifted by the gods. And thirdly, there’s more to abs than sit ups (see this FREE abs workout).
The main thing to remember is to get your diet in check.
How to lose fat sensibly – and long term
Start by cutting back on the fatty foods. Most of these are pretty obvious: you know that cheeseburger isn’t doing you any favours. Fat has nine calories per gram compared to protein and carbs, which each have four. Fat loss is all about consuming fewer calories than you are burning, to get yourself into a calorie deficit. But not so few calories that your body stops functioning properly (sub 1,200 calorie diets are not your friend).
For help figuring out what sort of figures you should be aiming for, you should really get yourself a reputable coach. There’s no point me telling you to eat X amount of calories, because everyone is different and it would be nonsense. Getting the numbers right for you will make all the difference. And once you’ve worked out how much you should be eating, well then you need to stick to it consistently.
Nobody wants to hear that.
It’s much easier to go to the gym than it is to get your eating on point. Hitting the gym is only an hour a few times a week. Nutrition is everyday, all day. Getting your nutrition right consistently is hard. But the better you get at it, the less brain space it needs to take up. And the better you get at food prep, the less often you’ll find yourself caught out.
Nobody wants to spend all day counting calories and saying no to chocolate brownies, I know; but sometimes you need a bit of discipline and to put the work in. There’s no magic pill, no secret move and no fancy gadget. You simply need to eat less than your body needs to stay the same.
For fat loss, you want to focus on calories and protein. You need to be able to maintain a calorie deficit (there’s no point only doing it for a few days then eating ALL OF THE THINGS on the weekend). As long as you consistently eat less than your body needs to maintain its current weight, you will lose fat.
There are two effective ways of consistently eating in a deficit. One is slightly more fun than the other. (Eating in a deficit sucks.)
The deficit split
The first option is splitting your week into high and low calorie days. You want to ensure the total calorie intake each week is in a deficit. Which means high calorie days aren’t super high!
- Monday: High calorie day
- Tuesday: Low calorie day
- Wednesday: Low calorie day
- Thursday: High calorie day
- Friday: Low calorie day
- Saturday: Low calorie day
- Sunday: High calorie day
I like to have a 3:4 ratio here, which allows you to consistently lose fat without having to eat at a deficit everyday. Don’t go super low on all the days or you’ll burn out and give up before you’ve lost anything.
Work out how many calories you burn on average a day, your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure). There are loads of websites that can do this for you, giving you a pretty decent estimate based on a few questions. Once you know how many you burn a day, take away 500 calories. Workout your high and low days based around this number.
The second option is using a larger block. So instead of each week totalling a deficit using a mix of high and low days, you’ll spend a few weeks at low calorie (TDEE – 500) and a few weeks at maintenance. This method will stop you going crazy if you’re really small (short people have lower TDEEs) and is a bit simpler to manage. The more active you are, the higher your TDEE.
- Weeks 0-4: Low calorie
- Weeks 4-8: Maintenance
- Weeks 8-12: Low calorie
- Weeks 12-16: Maintenance
- Weeks: 16-20: Low calorie
Don’t worry too much about the speed. You’re playing the long game. If you can lose the weight slowly but consistently, it’ll stay off.
Protein helps with fat loss
Be sure to set your protein intake. Don’t worry too much about your fat and carbs, different people work better with different splits, and so long as you’re hitting your calorie limit you’re all good.
There are many reasons getting enough protein when you’re in a deficit is important, but the most obvious is its ability to make you feel fuller for longer. The same amount of calories of fat or carbs will not make you feel the same.
Protein also helps you build muscle. More muscles mean a higher metabolic rate (because bigger muscles require more calories to function), which means you burn more calories at rest. So eat some protein and pick up some weights.