To achieve fat loss, a caloric deficit is always required. In other words, one needs to consume fewer calories than one expends in a day. A fat loss diet is not a lifestyle, it is time-bound by a six to twelve week period and should be replaced with a diet in which the caloric intake is equivalent to caloric expenditure after the fat loss target has been achieved. This article then focuses on common mistakes people make while trying to lose fat, and do not apply to lifestyle diets.
The first and most common mistake people make when they want to lose fat is ignoring their food choices for the sake of exercise– they tend to reward themselves with junk food after a workout. While this might apply to a maintenance lifestyle, it is counter-intuitive when attempting fat loss; weight loss is achieved 80% by diet and only 20% by exercise, for while daily exercise is imperative for health, fat loss cannot be achieved without a caloric deficit. For instance, the average person burns 1800-2000 calories in a day, so, for a fat loss diet aiming to lose 1 kg per week, the caloric intake should be around 1200 calories per day. As long as one is eating the right foods, this low-calorie diet is not taxing on the body for a period of a few weeks– a bag of chips has the same number of calories as a whole broccoli and a beetroot, which are not only more filling, but are also more nutritious.
Further, most people do not realise that calories from liquids are less conducive to fat loss than calories from solid food. This is because aerated beverages and drinks are composed of simple sugars that are quickly broken down by the body, and are stored because the body cannot use all the sugar at once. On the other hand, the same number of calories in solid foods take time for the body to break down, so thy are not all stored as fat reserves. Additionally, the satiety provided by drinks is less compared to that provided by solid foods– people tend consume a lot of cold drinks without realizing the amount of calories they contain. Therefore, it is always advisable to have lots of water and no sugary drinks, even when eating a cheat meal.
Another counter-productive habit people adopt sometimes in insufficient protein intake while following a caloric deficit diet. Adequate and consistent protein intake gives stimulus for muscle preservation. Thus, if one’s diet does not consist at least 30% of protein, the body will end up burning muscle tissue instead of fat reserves, as fat reserves are harder to break than soft muscle tissue; if one has low protein content they will lose weight but not fat. Its very important to be aware that the weighing scale is not the real mirror for fat loss, as losing weight and losing fat are not the same thing.
It is also important to select the correct type of cardio to complement this diet, as steady-state cardio and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) cardio help one achieve different fitness goals. Steady cardio refers to maintaining a regulated pace for the entire duration of the exercise, while HIIT refers to any cardiovascular exercise that involves a cyclical pattern of short energy-intensive exercises and a period of recovery. The general rule is that during a fat loss training regimen, HIIT cardio should be incorporated, while for a muscle building plan, steady-state cardio is better. Secondly, though cardiovascular exercises are important, weight training or resistance training is also required. Weight training promotes muscle building, and having more muscle mass per unit area increases the body’s capacity to burn fat. Ideally a fat loss training plan should have cardio four to five times and week and weight training at least three times a week.
The next error is quite intuitive and repetitive– just because ‘health bar’ or ‘protein bar’ is written on a product, does not mean that they are healthy. For instance, there are health drinks in the market that have the same amount of calories as aerated cold drinks, expensive protein chips that have same number of calories as regular potato chips, and several protein bars that have more carbohydrates than protein in them. Reading the nutritional facts while buying products then becomes important. As a general tip, it is best not to buy products with ingredients that are complicated compounds which you can’t understand, because this means the product is highly processed. It is better to stick to raw foods rather than packaged ‘healthy’ foods– even salad dressings should be avoided as they have a lot of calories.
Gluten-intolerance or gluten sensitivity is one of the most common causes of not losing stubborn fat in areas like arms and armpits, that otherwise do not require much fat for functionality. Gluten is a protein present in wheat, barley and rye and an overwhelming number of people have at least a mild sensitivity to gluten, due to which foods like bread are not broken down fully and are stored instead. Other than severe intolerance to gluten which can be diagnosed by a blood test, the easiest way to find out if you are gluten sensitive is to not eat gluten for three to four weeks and see if you feel a difference. Another such common intolerance is lactose-intolerance– nearly fifty percent of the world’s population is lactose intolerant to some degree. If one has hit a fat loss plateau, it is advisable to try quitting milk products and see if one’s body reacts differently.
Another common dietary mistake is not having a filling breakfast, which results in midnight carb-cravings. Eating starch after 7pm is quite unhealthy (unless you workout in the evening and it is your post workout meal) as we need less energy in the night, because of which almost all the calories consumed are stored in the body’s fat deposits. It is advisable to progressively decrease carbohydrate intake as the day progresses: breakfast should be the heaviest meal and dinner should be the lightest meal of the day. Smaller portions with intermittent fruit and nut servings should also be taken.
These were all the technical fat loss tips, but in the end, it is most important to be happy with yourself and love yourself at all stages of the journey. Fat loss is a simple algorithm, and rarely dependent on one’s genetics. However, since the process takes time, it is important to fall in love with the lifestyle of fitness. Showing up at the gym for your body or eating foods your body needs is an act of worship and love– that is the mindset one should take even whilst aiming for a fat loss target.
Picture Courtesy- GOQii