Fat Loss: Two Truths and a Lie (Part 1)

This post is Part 1 of a 3-part series.

You may be reading this while it is snowing outside and wondering to yourself why you should be worrying about getting your summer beach body ready right now. If you still have to wear two of those sweaters your grandma got you to avoid freezing to death some days, you’ve got plenty of time to lose some of those extra pounds, right? Well… not necessarily. If you start now, you’ll be in the clear. If you wait until May to get ready for that vacation in June, you might find yourself in a bit of a pickle, regardless of whether or not said pickle fits your macros, bro. All of this brings me to my first point:

Truth #1: Fat Loss Takes Time
I know, that juice cleanse ad probably said the opposite. But realistically, anything that claims you’ll “lose lots of fat and keep it off” in two weeks is total bologna, to keep it PG. Will you lose some fat in the first couple weeks of a cut/diet/whatever-people-call-it? Yes. Will you notice a difference in how you look? Possibly. Is some of that difference going to be due to losing water weight, a reduction in inflammation/bloating due to healthier eating choices, and maybe even less glycogen being stored if your carbs are lower? The answer to all of that is “probably,” but with a lean towards “certainly.”

At this point, I probably sound like the Grinch who Stole Jenny Craig, but I promise I’m not saying all of this to be a Little Debbie Downer (although you should put down those Little Debbie snacks for this). I want people to be aware that an all-out two week diet is not the solution. If you can lose 5 or 6 pounds in two weeks, wouldn’t you think you’d be able to put that weight back on in a matter of weeks? Short term diets don’t provide enough fat loss to keep the fat off for more than a month if you just go back to eating like the average American right after. Along with that, the body adapts quickly. If you borderline starve yourself for two weeks while doing an hour of cardio every day, your body will adjust to the conditions (or, put bluntly, you’ll be causing metabolic damage to your body). If you go back to eating whatever you want after those two weeks, your body (which will now be used to the previous conditions) will be prone to storing those calories as fat.
So, if your body keeps adapting to new conditions, how can you consistently lose weight? Well, that’s why I recommend taking some time (I would recommend 8 weeks, at least) to approach your fat loss goals. If your weight is constant when taking in 3000 calories per day, why lower that to 1800 calories per day right away? Start by going to 2700 calories, monitoring your progress, and adjusting from there. Without tilting too far one way in favor of bro-science or technical jargon, implementing frequent, smaller changes will make sure your body does not adapt to a lower caloric intake right away.

Example of estimations from a TDEE calculator

What do I do first when I want to lose some fat? I start by estimating my maintenance calories; you can find several TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) calculators for this online, but I recommend this one since I feel it is the most precise. Basically, it finds how much your body burns just by being alive, and then multiplies that by a factor based on how active you are. What’s nice about this one is that you can enter in your BF% if you know it (but I recommend not guessing if you aren’t sure since body fat percentage can be tough to estimate) and you can take the average of different TDEE calculations. Along with that, if you feel like you’re in between activity levels, you can just select “1.0” and then multiply the TDEE it gives you by what you think your activity level factor should be. Just remember that these are all estimations and may not be exactly accurate, so you might have to test it out some on your own. However, in my own experience, they tend to be good enough and are a solid starting point.

So, for example, I need to consume around 3,400 calories to maintain my current weight. For the cut that I started on February 26, I started by aiming for 3,000 calories per day. As long as I keep losing about a pound and a half per week (which I am as of writing this), I’ll probably keep it there. Usually after about 3-4 weeks, that will slow down a bit, and I’ll lower my calorie target by around 100-150 calories again. Why do I do this? My maintenance level is going to drop a bit as I lose fat, so I need to account for that if I want it to continue. That is the issue with extreme, short term dieting-- it often has such a huge calorie drop right away that there is nowhere to go once you plateau. Along with that, there is no way that the 5 pound loss in two weeks will give you the lasting benefits to insulin sensitivity and fat storage that the 20 pound loss over 12-14 weeks would give you.

While keeping track of your calories is important if you want to cut down, calories aren’t the whole story. You can theoretically lose weight while eating Twinkies if you keep your calories low enough, but that would be a terrible idea. You would be starving the whole time and you won’t look the way you want to at the end of it. I’m going to guess the way you want to look involves losing fat, and not just losing weight. What’s the difference? Find out in Part 2 of this article series!

Read Part 2 here!

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