Don't make these fat loss mistakes

You want to lose fat?  Awesome.

Do you want to do it in a way that gets the best and most long-term results?  Surprisingly, not everyone does.

We live in a world of near-instant gratification and inundated with standards and role models that set unrealistically high expectations.  The desire to have something NOW paired with the expectation to achieve perfection is a troublesome mix.  I've discussed before how many Instagram fitness models use steroids and heavy editing to portray an extremely lean and well-muscled physique while also selling a diet, supplement or coaching that promises the same results with very little effort.

What happens time and time again is that people avoid the fundamentals that actually provide the backbone for the results you WANT and only focus on aspects that fulfill the desire for instant gratification It's a strange and frustrating place to be and without the knowledge of why you need a solid lesson in fundamentals, most people repeat the same story over and over,

In the world of cooking, we always discuss fundamentals.  From dicing a perfect onion all the way up to executing a dinner for 100 people, the fundamentals allow you to excel at both.  Everything comes down to basic practices and principles that expertise and success is built on.  If a chef can't dice an onion well, it signifies big problems for other more complex tasks.

Having a physique goal is not that different; you can't get to significant and permanent results without the nutrition equivalent of perfect onion dicing.

Mistake #1 - Not Training for Muscle Mass

Not everyone has the ability (or desire) to put on tons of muscle.  However, training should be done with the intent of getting stronger and adding repetitions in an effort to create new muscle tissue. 

It's pretty often assumed that more muscle means more calories burned at rest and yes, that is true but it comes out to about 6 calories a day at rest per pound of new muscle.  We need to look at muscle tissue more as a healthy metabolic way to store and use glucose, rather than simply burning calories to lose weight.

One reason is that you only have a few places to store glycogen (storage form of glucose): primarily liver, fat tissue and muscle tissue. The liver has a finite amount of glycogen it can store, about 100g.  Fat tissue has a near limitless ability to store energy but creating and retaining more fat tissue is metabolically unhealthy.  However, storage in the muscles means we clear the blood of glucose and store the glycogen in a tissue that can readily use it for energy demands.

Using muscle tissue in strength and hypertrophy (muscle growth) training means we're pulling energy through the system via glycolysis in the muscles, disposing of glucose and retaining insulin sensitivity.  More muscle means more of this activity during exercise and more storage outside of exercise.

Mistake #2 - Not being generally active

While getting to the gym and hitting the iron hard is obviously awesome, coming home and flopping on the couch can be a huge detriment.  I recently had a client ask me what I thought she should do first: weight train or get a daily step goal.  I told her I'd rather see her get a daily step goal first.

A major reason for this is daily movement, yes even steps and light activity around the house like cleaning, gardening or walking the dog help use a small amount of energy but more importantly help to retain insulin sensitivity.  A recent paper out of Korea compared weight loss between a diet-only group and a diet-plus exercise group and saw that even low-intensity activity (in this case aerobic) helped maintain insulin sensitivity whereas a calorie deficit from diet alone did not

Dieting without being active can mean that muscle cells do not gain much sensitivity but fat cells do; this can result in a rapid fat regain after the diet ends and a possible loss of muscle mass from low energy output.  Losing muscle means losing glucose disposal and storage and losing muscle insulin sensitivity means easier fat storage in a calorie surplus.

While the study above was done with aerobic cycling, having purposeful daily activity can help. I like to fall in with Dr. Ben House's recommendation for 8,000-10,000 steps per day for general health and energy output. While your RMR (resting metabolic rate) is primarily driven by body weight/size, the next largest factor is N.E.A.T (non-exercise activity thermogensis).  While often thought of simply as fidgeting and tapping, a large part of N.E.A.T can simply be purposeful steps and movement throughout the day. While a minute by minute measure might be a small amount of calories, when you extrapolate that over the course of a day or week, those calories add up.  N.E.A.T can account for a large percentage of daily calorie expenditure, as much as 200-900 calories based on the individual (those numbers obviously are not set in stone).

If you want some more proof that being up and moving around is good for energy expenditure, check out these numbers compiled by Layne Norton.

  • Compared to sitting, lying increases energy expenditure by 4%
  • Fidgeting while seated increases energy expenditure by 54% compared to lying
  • If you stand, your energy expenditure increases by 13% compared to lying
  • Standing and fidgeting increases energy expenditure by 94% compared to lying
  • Walking at 1 mile per hour increases energy expenditure by 154% compared to lying - walking faster increases it more

We can see here simply going from laying on the couch watching TV to sitting increases your metabolic rate.  Standing increases it more and going out for a brisk walk can nearly double that.

So, yeah, I think hitting your steps is important.  Just remember, like all things more sometimes is simple more, not better.  You don't get DOUBLE the calorie burn from hitting 20,000 steps daily but it might make you hungrier or feed into the "I did X so I get to eat X" mentality.  Don't ruin a good thing!

​​​​​​​Mistake #3 - Living either on or off the diet​​​​​​​

Here's what you should do if you mess up and eat something not on plan or you overeat your calories: go right back to the plan after.  Don't do some weird self-flagellation and downward spiral thing.  Just get back on the plan.

If you go off plan mutliple meals or days in a row, then you need to assess whether you are actually prepared enough to execute the plan.  People always want to point their finger at the diet or nutrition plan as the problem when they aren't even following it.  I get it, it's easier to blame than to accept responsibility and I have been there many times.  But if you aren't even cooking, packing meals or having some sort of guideline and plan for what you'll do in less than ideal scenarios, that's on you to work on.

I have had so many clients be successful on their plan while still going out to eat, hitting up birthday parties or having fun on a saturday night. I've also had plenty who went off the rails any time these instances occurred.  Obviously it's not the situation that is unique, we all experience these.  It's the planning, execution and mindset.

Did you check out the menu before hand at the restaurant for good options? Did you eat a small snack or meal before the party to help keep from overeating? Did you choose red wine at the bar or sugar-filled cocktails?  You always have options.

I have this discussion sometimes with people who really want to do something like keto, strict paleo, intermittent fasting or another approach with a lot of restricitions in food choices, "can you do this long-term"?  Most people don't even consider that.  And when inevitably they can't do it at an event or other instance, they spiral downward.  They simply haven't mentally and emotionally prepared themselves for "hmm, I might actually eat a carbohydrate one day - maybe I should prepare myself for that eventuality" rather than hating themselves for having some pineapple.

I've got news for you, nutrition is full of compromises and contingency plans.  There's simply no way to follow a really strict diet and exist like a normal person.  And you want to exist pretty normally because when you come back out into the world after diet-induced seclusion, you know what's going to happen.  Here comes the party. Somehow we still compare ourselves the the idea of the single, male bodybuilder who trains all the time, eats a very strict diet and never goes out or socializes to avoid nutrition traps.  Uh huh, OK but throw a child, pets, demanding job, money issues, marriage, mortgage, injuries etc into that mix and all of a sudden bro has to make some compromises.

I used to live just like that and have friends who did too.  I have a friend who broke up with his girlfriends because they were getting in the way of his training.  If you've got really meaningful relationships or important obligations, you can't make those kinds of choices without hurting a lot of people.

Accept that it won't always go well. Get back on the plan anyway.