It is no great secret that the majority of people that go to the gym do so because they want to lose weight. Obesity is becoming a significant health problem across the globe, and although not a major problem in Switzerland (11.2% of the population in 2010 compared to 27.7% in the USA according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) there are still plenty of people who feel like they have a couple of kilos to lose.
Losing fat is really a rather simple process. You do some exercise, eat well, consume less calories than you burn and it works. Every time. However, just because it is simple does not mean it is easy.
Here are a few of the classic mistakes people make that hinders fat loss and how to avoid them.
Too much focus on calories
While calories count when it comes to fat loss, they are not the only metric that will result in a successful plan. The quality of those calories is paramount.
If two people decided to go on a fat loss protocol consisting of 2,000 calories per day and one ate 2,000 calories of chocolate and the other 2,0000 calories of meat and vegetables, the results would clearly not be the same, despite the fact that they would eat the same number of calories.
This is why the quality of the calories you take in is important and those calories should consist of nothing but real food. If your food comes in a package with more than one ingredient, contains anything you either cannot pronounce or identify (think things like cyclamat, aspartame or anything begining with an E like E338), the chances are it is not real food. The food you eat should have at some point run free, swam in the sea or a river or been grown in the ground or on a tree – not hatched in a laboratory.
Focus on eating real foods like meat, fish, fruit and vegetables and the calories tend to take care of themselves.
Too little protein
Expanding on the above point, a big mistake people make is reducing calories too much, particularly protein. Protein is key for a couple of reasons, primarily because it is the most satiating of the macronutrients. There is no need to starve yourself if you want to lose fat and protein keeps you feeling fuller for longer than fat or carbohydrates.
Secondly, protein helps to preserve muscle mass whilst losing fat. This is absolutely vital in terms of body composition. As obvious as it may sound, fat loss is about losing fat, not total bodyweight. However, many people seem to lose sight of this point.
If we take our comparison again of 2 people on a diet and one loses 10kgs of weight (i.e. muscle, fat, bone) and the other 10kgs of fat, they will end up looking very different. The person that loses fat will look leaner and more “toned” (a word I hate, but that is a story for another time) than the person that lost weight, who will probably just look smaller but without any muscle definition.
A good guideline is to shoot for 2 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight to ensure that you maintain your muscle mass while losing fat.
No resistance exercise
This is a classic mistake that people make when wanting to lose fat. Many people seem to think that cardio is the only way to get lean and end up doing hours and hours on the treadmill. As with the above point, body recomposition should be about retaining (or even gaining) muscle and losing fat. Cardio may be good for burning calories, but resistance exercise will build/preserve muscle and burn calories at the same time.
Resistance training can be bodyweight exercise (push ups, pull ups, squats, lunges etc) or using external loads like free weights or machines. Just make sure to include it in your training if you want to both retain muscle and lose fat.
Too many hidden or empty calories
If you are on a fat loss diet it is imperative to make sure that you are not taking in any extra calories that you might not be aware of. Drinks are a major culprit here. Obviously any soft drinks are out as they are packed with sugar. Fruit juices are also a bad idea as they usually have a high sugar content and are clearly not satiating in any way.
The other two killers I often see are nuts and dried fruit. Both are great in certain situations, but fat loss is not one of them. Nuts are packed with fat which make them calorifically very dense. It is easy to eat several handfuls of almonds or any type of nut and take in a large number of calories. The same goes for dried fruit, which due to the dehydrating process, ends up being far more calorific than fresh fruit. Again, eating handfuls of raisins is easy, but you wouldn’t eat 3 or 4 bunches of grapes.
That’s all for part one. Part two will look at too little calories, focusing on the wrong measurements and staying on the bandwagon.