If you’re reading this and expecting a few “how to lose fat super easily!” tips and tricks, I have bad news: you didn’t read the title of this blog post properly.
Douglas Adams said that learning to fly is as simple as “learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss”. Simple, yes, but not easy.
The strategies below are simple. But they’re not easy. Granted, they’re easier than learning to fly, but you’re going to need either effort or discipline or both if you want to succeed.
Notice the photos at the top of this blog post? The one on the left is me 40 pounds of fat ago. When I was trying to figure out how to lose fat, the strategies I lay out in this blog post are the ones I found most effective.
It was, however, brutal. I failed a lot. But every time I was able to resist temptation, I became a little stronger. I was more likely to beat that temptation next time until by sheer force of will I was able to make a good decision 80% of the time.
And if you can make the better choice at least 80% of the time, you’re going to win.
So if you’re prepared to make the effort, practise discipline, and you want to learn how to lose fat efficiently, then read on.
HOW TO LOSE FAT: 19 SIMPLE STRATEGIES
1. Sleep 8 hours or more
The science is clear: if you don’t get enough sleep, fat loss is going to be a lot harder. This is due to the hormonal changes that happen when you don’t get enough sleep. For example:
– Levels of the hormone ghrelin increase. This is bad because ghrelin increases appetite. In other words, you’ll feel hungrier.
– Levels of the hormone leptin decrease. This is bad because leptin tells you you’re full. In other words, you’ll keep eating more than you need to.
– You become more insulin resistant. Insulin’s main role is to transport glucose in the body. Being insulin resistant means that your body has to produce more insulin than usual to get this job done. This is bad because excessively high levels of insulin can stop your body from burning fat and encourages fat storage.
In summary, not sleeping enough makes you hungrier, makes you eat more than you need to, makes it harder to burn body fat, and makes it easier to store calories as body fat.
There’s a reason I’ve made “sleep more” top of the list: because it’s where most people are ruining their efforts to lose fat. Get those 8 hours.
2. Lift weights
If any of my clients are reading this you can skip to the next strategy because you already know this: you have to lift weights if you want to lose fat.
There are a few reasons why lifting weights is beneficial if you want to lose fat:
– Lifting weights helps to maintain (or build) lean muscle mass, and therefore maintains a high metabolism.
– Heavy compound movements (squats, deadlifts, bench press etc.) burn A LOT of calories, especially when you perform them back to back.
– Lifting weights can actually increase your metabolism for 24 hours after the training session.
2-3 hours a week lifting weights should be enough. Hit every body part when you train, focussing on heavy compound movements. 8-12 reps of each exercise is a decent range. How do you know if the weight you’re using is heavy enough? Simple: you’re physically unable to carry on after you’ve done 8-12 reps.
And, just like the first strategy, I placed “lift weights” near the top of this list for a reason: because not lifting weights is the second biggest mistake people make when they’re trying to lose fat. Lots of cardio, but no pumping iron. Too much treadmill, not enough deadlift.
I feel that, in 2018, I shouldn’t have to say that women need to lift weights just as much as men do. But women need to lift weights just as much as men do.
And to address the common fear among women: lifting weights won’t make you bulky. Eating too much crap makes you bulky.
3. Do HIIT for cardio
High-Intensity Interval Training. Short bursts of very intense exercise followed by longer periods of recovery. It’s a more time-efficient way to train compared to lower intensity movements like jogging and cycling, and you’ll actually preserve lean muscle mass while doing it.
I don’t recommend jogging if you’re trying to lose fat. Just consider this study on the effects of a 5-day ultra-marathon on body composition. The competitors had to run 338 kilometres in 5 days. You’d anticipate a pretty decent loss of body fat: according to the calculator here, a 170 lb man averaging an 8-minute kilometre is going to burn 82 calories per kilometre or 27,716 calories over 338 kilometres.
If there are 3,500 calories per lb of body fat, that’s the equivalent of 7.9 lb of body fat. So you’d guess oh, maybe the runners lost 5-8 lb of body fat?
Nope. According to the study, the ultra-marathon lead to “no changes of body mass or body fat mass, but a statistically significant decrease of skeletal muscle mass”.
Read that again: they didn’t lose any fat, but they did lose muscle.
They ran 338 km in 5 days and didn’t lose any body fat! All they had to show for their efforts was less muscle, a decreased metabolic rate, and fewer toenails (probably).
To my clients and Equinox members: the classes at Equinox are excellent examples of HIIT. Pick any one.
To everyone else: just Google “HIIT workouts”.
To all of you: stop the bloody jogging.
EDIT: OK, maybe I was being a little harsh. Although I’m still not a fan of jogging, a couple of 30-minute conversational runs a week will burn little to no muscle. What’s a conversational run? It’s a run where you could easily maintain a conversation throughout.
4. Drink 2-4L of water every day
Drinking water will suppress your appetite, making it less likely you’ll snack.
In fact, consciously drinking more water makes a low-calorie diet even more effective.
Drinking more water is an easy win. Buy a large water bottle (750 ml or higher) and refill it 3 times during your workday.
5. Meditate or take an easy yoga class
If unlike me, you’re a normal person with a real job, you probably feel stress every day.
Which means your cortisol levels are too high, due to chronic stress.
Cortisol is a stress hormone. You produce it when you’re in crisis, kickstarting your fight-or-flight instinct and helping you survive dangerous situations. During our evolution as hunter-gatherers, it was useful: you’d see a lion and cortisol would help you get the hell out of Dodge.
But, let’s face it, most of us live in very safe environments. Even where I live, in downtown Toronto, there are very few dangers.
However, stress is in the perception. You receive an email marked “URGENT” from your boss, a phone call from an irate customer, or you spend an hour in traffic, and you get the same kind of cortisol response as you would coming across a dangerous predator in the wild.
You don’t want elevated levels of cortisol, because we know elevated levels of cortisol are associated with higher levels of belly fat and increased consumption of sugar and fat-filled food.
We also know that cortisol is catabolic for muscle and anabolic for body fat. In normal speak, that means cortisol breaks down your lean muscle mass and increases your body fat levels.
So it’s pretty safe to say that stress is going to get in the way of fat loss.
Obviously, I’m not going to tell you to quit your job and move to a cottage in the countryside. But you do need to decrease your stress levels.
And taking an easy yoga class a couple of times a week is another way of reducing cortisol.
6. Eat until no longer hungry, not until you’re totally full
And now we move on to food.
First of all, you need to understand and accept that, to lose fat, you must consume fewer calories than you burn.
One way to do this is to figure out how many calories you burn in a day, and then start counting the calories in your meals to make sure you’re eating at a deficit.
But tracking calories is a pain in the arse. It’s fine for a couple of days, but then it gets boring real quick.
So the solution is to eat until you’re no longer hungry. NOT until you’re stuffed. During a meal, keep asking yourself if you’re actually hungry right now, or are you just eating for the sake of eating?
If you can’t manage this, you’ll have to count calories.
7. Fix breakfast
Before going into general food strategies, I want to highlight the importance of the first meal of the day.
If you only fix one meal, I want it to be breakfast. Make this your first win of the day.
You probably eat a very carb-rich breakfast: toast, cereal, granola, oatmeal etc. This needs to stop.
Look, I don’t blame you for making this mistake. We’ve been told for years that we should eat carbs in the morning so we have the energy to get through the day.
Consuming carbs in the morning is a bad idea. Starting the day off by spiking your insulin levels is not going to do your fat loss efforts any good. As I mentioned in the first strategy, it becomes almost impossible to lose fat if your insulin levels are too high.
So what should you eat instead? Protein, fat, and, ideally, veggies. Try a vegetable omelette, or, if that’s too complicated, just have a few hard-boiled eggs.
My favourite fat-burning breakfast is eggs and avocado.
The protein/fat/veggies combination keeps insulin levels at a nice low level, which means you’ll more easily burn fat, and your hunger levels should remain stable until lunchtime. If you do get hungry, it means you should have eaten more.
RELATED – 6 Fat Burning Breakfast Ideas
8. Eat protein with every meal
There are two main reasons to eat protein with every meal.
First, it helps maintain your lean muscle mass while losing fat.
Second, protein helps control your appetite. You’ll feel more full after meals and you’ll therefore find it easier to eat at a calorie deficit.
So make sure you’re eating (unprocessed) meat, fish, or eggs with every meal.
9. Modify your carb intake
The evidence is clear that low carb diets are more effective than low-fat diets for fat loss, so you’re going to have to change both the quality and the number of carbs you consume.
Follow these principles:
– No sugar. Candy, soda, putting sugar in coffee etc. has to stop. Cut that crap out.
– No processed/refined carbs. That means no bread, pasta, cereal etc.
– Starchy carbs – potato, rice, squash – should be consumed in small amounts within a couple of hours of exercise.
– Reduce your fruit intake and stick to berries. One portion a day is fine.
– Eat a lot of green, leafy veggies with every meal.
10. Consume healthy fats
Now you’ve reduced your carb intake, you’re going to have to make up some of those calories with healthy fats.
Carbs used to be your main source of energy, but now that’s going to be replaced with fats. And here’s what’s great about using fats for energy: once your body gets used to using dietary fat for energy, it can more easily switch to burning your body fat for energy.
Also, unlike carbs, fat doesn’t spike your insulin levels and cause those extreme hunger pangs.
Here are some good sources of healthy fats:
– Avocado (goes well with eggs at breakfast)
– Olive oil (add to salads)
– Coconut oil (use this for cooking)
– Butter (from grass-fed cows)
– Nuts and seeds (in limited quantities)
11. Cut out sweeteners
It doesn’t matter that they’re advertised as “zero-calorie” sugar replacements; your body still reacts to sweeteners as if you had just eaten actual sugar: by producing insulin.
And spiking your insulin levels like this is a bad idea if you want to lose fat. As I mentioned earlier, excessively high levels of insulin can stop your body from burning fat.
So get rid of that Diet Coke.
12. Print this out and tape it to your fridge
Some advice from Dan John’s Mass Made Simple:
Honestly, seriously, you don’t know what to do about food? Here is an idea: eat like an adult. Stop eating fast food, stop eating kid’s cereal, knock it off with all the sweets and comfort foods whenever your favorite show is not on when you want it on, ease up on the snacking and, don’t act like you don’t know this, eat vegetables and fruits more. Really, how difficult is this? Stop with the whining. Stop with the excuses. Act like an adult and stop eating like a television commercial. Grow up.
13. Follow the Green Face Rule
The Green Face Rule makes food choices simple. Before you eat something, ask yourself the following two questions:
1. Is it green?
2. Did it ever have a face?
You need to be able to answer “yes” to at least one of the questions. Take broccoli: it’s green. Steak: it came from an animal that had a face. So broccoli and steak would make a good meal
But bread? It’s neither green nor did it ever have a face. Peanut butter? Ditto. So a peanut butter sandwich would not make a good meal.
14. Don’t drink calories
We already know that soda is a no-no, even diet soda. But maybe you think sports drinks and fruit juice are fine?
Nope. From a fat loss perspective, drinking that stuff is the same as drinking soda. It’ll spike your insulin levels, preventing the fat-burning process.
But fruit smoothies are OK, right? Wrong! When you blend fruit into a liquid, you break down the fibre and increase the speed at which the calories pass through your digestive system. Again, this is going to spike your insulin levels and make fat loss a lot more difficult than it needs to be.
15. Consume caffeine
Coffee, black tea, green tea, whatever. Drinking a cup of caffeinated liquid before exercise seems to increase fat loss.
Now, although black coffee and tea do contain calories, they contain so few calories that you don’t need to worry about violating the previous strategy.
To be clear: no milk, cream, sugar, sweetener or anything else is allowed. Drink your coffee/tea black, or not at all.
16. No booze (for just a little while)
I know I’ve already said “don’t drink calories” but I want to emphasize that alcoholic drinks still contain calories. Seriously, just take a few weeks off.
Now, if you have one of those jobs that require social drinking, I’ll say this:
– Sorry to hear that.
– Change what you drink. Switch to dry red wine or any clear liquor with club soda. Doing that will keep the calories and the sugar to a minimum. And don’t have more than two drinks.
17. Take a photo of everything you eat and drink
This is one of my favourite strategies. I use it all the time with clients, and it has a super high success rate.
The first reason it’s so successful is that if my client is still learning about eating for fat loss, I can quickly swipe through the photos and identify any changes we need to make.
But what if the client already knows how to eat for fat loss? Should they still take photos?
Absolutely, they should. The second reason that taking photos is so successful is that it makes you more mindful of what you’re eating. It’s easy to “just have one cookie”, but pointing your phone at it first will make you think twice.
Plus, a lot of my clients are very driven, hard-working, Type A personalities. They CANNOT STAND the idea of having photos of crappy food on their phone. I’ve lost count of how many times clients have told me they refused dessert all week because they hated the idea of taking a photo of it.
18. Try Intermittent Fasting
This is a fancy way of saying “skip breakfast”.
The basic idea is you don’t eat breakfast, but you still consume the calories that you would have had at breakfast later in the day. In the morning, while you’re in a fasted state, your body will burn body fat for fuel instead of whatever you would have eaten at breakfast.
I also have to mention insulin again: as I’ve already said, we want insulin levels to be nice and low for efficient fat loss to happen. And there doesn’t seem to be a better way of bringing down insulin levels than fasting.
If you decide to try intermittent fasting, you might have to reframe your relationship with hunger. We usually think of hunger as our cue to eat. But I like to think of hunger as our cue to seek out food. In our hunter-gatherer days, seeking out food would have involved lots of physical activity. So you shouldn’t worry about not having any energy during the morning; our ancestors would have spent hours hunting in a fasted state before they could eat. And all you’ll be doing is driving to work.
The most popular fasting protocol is 16:8, which means fasting for 16 hours, say from 10 pm to 2 pm the next day, followed by an 8-hour “feeding window” from 2 pm to 10 pm.
Some people compress that feeding window to 4 hours (20:4) and a few crazy people eat just one big meal every evening.
There’s strong evidence that intermittent fasting is very effective at enhancing fat loss while maintaining muscle mass. But bear in mind the following:
– Intermittent fasting appears to be easier and more effective if you’re already following a low carb diet.
– You still have to consume fewer calories than you’re burning. Reducing your feeding window just makes this easier.
– Men seem to be more successful than women following this protocol. This is anecdotal and I’m unsure of the reasons why. I’m not trying to set anyone up for failure, but it’s something to consider.
– You can still drink water and black coffee/tea in the morning.
If you find intermittent fasting too difficult, don’t worry. I only find it useful if I’m trying to get below 8% body fat, which is a level that no one really needs to achieve. As long as you eat a decent breakfast (see strategy 7) you’ll still be successful.
RELATED – Intermittent Fasting: The Ultimate Guide
19. Get a standing desk
You want to lose fat, you need to stop sitting so much.
First, standing burns more calories: around 50 calories per hour. If you have a 9-5 job, that’s an extra 400 calories a day. Or 2000 calories per week. Or 8000 calories per month, which is the same as burning more than 2 lb of fat a month.
Before becoming a personal trainer, I taught English in Korea. But before that, I was an office manager, stuck at a desk for 8 hours every day. After leaving that job to go teach, the only time I spent sitting during the day was at lunch.
I visibly leaned out during my first 6 weeks of teaching: I dropped 2 inches around the waist.
I’m not saying that you should quit your job and become a teacher. Nor am I saying you need to start standing all day every day.
But at least ask your boss about the possibility of a standing desk. Adjustable standing desks – that allow you to raise your existing desk to a standing position – don’t cost more than a couple of hundred dollars. And you can alternate between sitting and standing depending on how you’re feeling. One hour of sitting followed by one hour of standing seems to be a pretty good compromise.
There you have it. 19 simple strategies to follow if you’re looking to learn how to lose fat. If you have any other strategies that have worked for you, please leave a comment below.