This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard this, but it might be the first time you’ve heard it said this way. Fat loss starts by eating less energy than you burn. Simple?
If that’s all it takes, why even bother continuing to research other diets?
Because it’s easier said than done. . There are multiple ways your biology plays tricks on you to eat more and move less (despite your best efforts)
I want to stop the non-sense, gimmicky fat loss info. I’m going to show you the methods we use to help our clients just like you with fat loss that lasts.
First, a short explanation of the factors at play.
It’s important to understand the energy balance equation, which is
“Energy Balance = Energy In – Energy Out.”
To lose mass, we must create a deficit. This means energy in is less than energy out- you eat less than you burn.
Energy in is simple. It’s the energy you get from the foods and supplements you consume.
Energy out is more complex and includes:
- Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)- The energy burned when you’re doing nothing.
- Exercise- the energy burned when you train .
- Non-exercise Energy Thermogenesis (NEAT)- the energy burned from daily activities. For example, standing or walking.
- Thermic Effect of Feeding (TEF)- the energy used to digest and absorb the food you eat. Yes, food costs energy!
If you exercise an hour per day, work a desk job, and spend a period of time chasing kids- your daily energy expenditure will mostly be made up of RMR, Exercise, some from NEAT and TEF.
If you are a competitive athlete with an active job, like coaching, you might burn the same or more than your RMR during exercise and in NEAT during work.
The Fat Loss Wildcard
Now here’s the wildcard.
Energy In affects Energy Out. Energy Out can also affect Energy In. They are not independent variables by any means, but both sides affect your metabolism.
For example, increasing your energy expenditure (even by a little) may cause your body to crave excess calories to store it for next time.
- Remember how hungry you got after the nausea subsided from your first CrossFit classes?
- Ever go for a swim and have an insatiable appetite for the rest of the day?
On the other side of the equation by decreasing your energy in, your body is going to fight for ways to decrease energy out.
- This might take the form of a lower RMR via decreased metabolism for non-essential bodily functions (for example, less energy to make testosterone or growth hormone).
- You can’t push hard during training because your body is holding back on how much energy it wants to release.
- You may just move less outside of exercise and not even notice it. You might be glued to your desk a little longer, choose to walk less, or sit more.
- Since you are eating less food, it takes less energy to process and use the food you are eating and TEF drops.
Oh, and since our bodies are extremely adaptive systems. . The longer you eat less, than you burn, your body will match the energy levels you’re giving it putting your fat loss at a plateau.
So what are you to do?
How do you maintain the energy deficit long enough to see noticeable fat loss without ruining your metabolism and experiencing the yo-yo effect of dieting?
The Recipe For Fat Loss That Lasts
In our experience, finding the correct calorie balance can take experimentation. It also helps to find your maintenance level of calories and then drop into a deficit from there.
We’ve outlined how to do this in our Complete Guide to Calculating and Counting Your Macros, so we won’t repeat how to do the calculations in this article.
One tough situation we encounter are clients who overtrain, they’re stressed, and/or not sleeping well. In these scenarios, it becomes challenging as we need to address these factors first.
In a perfect world, all of our fat loss clients would do the following to lose fat optimally while maintaining their lean body mass:
- Eating at a calorie deficit eating nutrient dense foods.
- Weight training 3-4 days per week, and doing roughly 3-4 intense metabolic conditioning sessions for exercise.
- Focusing on increasing their NEAT (10,000 steps a day is super-sound advice!) vs. a bunch of cardio.
- Eating lots of protein, which has the highest TEF.
- Sleeping like a teenager (babies apparently don’t sleep).
Since it is the Beyond Macros way to focus on habits over rigid plans, I’m not going to give you a fat loss recipe here. Instead, I’m going to give you some priorities to consider.
First, focus on finding a calorie deficit. Men can lose between .75-1.25lbs (.35-.55kg) per week and women between .5-1lbs (.23-.45kg) per week on a 20% deficit.
If you aren’t losing at this rate, or at all on a deficit, you might have some other issues to address.
From a pure energy balance perspective, the next habit you can start to form (assuming you’re already training adequately, as most of our clients are) is to increase NEAT.
A recent study found that intermittently standing every 15-minutes after a meal decreases the post-meal rise in glucose. So, one easy habit you can anchor to your meals is to set a 15-minute timer on your phone for sitting/standing intervals.
Another easy habit that you can anchor to meals is to go “walk it off”, or start getting in the habit of taking calls on a walk at work!
If increasing NEAT doesn’t help, don’t get on the cardio hamster wheel. It’s time to take a look at sleep.
For an in-depth look at the importance of sleep, listen to our podcast episode with Dr. Kirk Parsley.
Some actionable habits you can do today will depend on what you need to improve. Sleep quantity or sleep quality? ,
If you get less than 7 hours of sleep, your best bet is to start planning to go to sleep 15-minutes earlier each night. The best way I’ve found this is to create a night-time routine first. Lights low, no more tech, write in a journal, and pick up a book within an hour to 30-minutes of bedtime.
After you get the nightly routine in place, just start it 15-minutes earlier each night!
Another really easy way to get to sleep earlier, as Jocko Willinck outlines in Discipline Equals freedom is to wake up early, and make yourself tired during the day…by moving. The adequate exercise and additional NEAT will help with this!
If you sleep 7 or more hours per night, then you can address poor sleep quality by tracking your sleep or keeping a journal and identifying what leads to a poor night’s sleep. I use the sleep cycle app, I have clients who use a Whoop band, Doc Parsley recommends either the Oura Ring or a physical notebook. You might learn:
- Drinking coffee after 2pm hurts your sleep, start forming the coffee curfew habit cutting it off at 2pm!
- Working out late hurts your sleep, get in the habit of morning work outs, or go to work earlier so you can get out earlier and work out on time.
- That screens before bed hurt, and create a technology curfew.
Where To Start When You Have Multiple Fat-loss Roads?
So as you see, it is going to take a multi-pronged approach to properly lose fat in a way that is sustainable. Luckily, you don’t necessarily have to have your exercise, nutrition, NEAT, and sleep 100% in order to see progress.
You can focus on one habit at a time which leads to lasting change.
When you create a “new normal” set of eating, exercising, and recovery habits by taking it one-step at a time, you will build a foundation for long-term success.
Doing this and adding a proper recovery phase after fat loss are the keys in how Beyond Macros clients keep fat off and stop yo-yo dieting.
Think about it this way- when you focus on your health and improving nutrition, movement, and sleep you are giving yourself a high chance of a long-life. So, that means you can be patient. You can probably change a dozen habits per year, and that’s massive if you plan to live at least another decade.
Think about the net effect of 120 improved habits!