Low, low calorie
If you want to lose fat you need to be in a caloric deficit, i.e. taking in less calories than you burn. The question is, how much of a caloric deficit is necessary to stimulate fat loss? There are plenty of online tools to help you calculate how many calories you burn per day and what you would need to take in. A good example can be found here. Just remember that they are guides and may not be 100% accurate. You will need to monitor things along the way to see if any adjustments are necessary.
The important thing is that you make an estimation on your own needs and don’t follow a pre-made generic diet plan of 800, 1200 or however many calories. A lot of people want to lose fat as fast as possible so go on extreme, low calorie diets. This is a mistake for a number of reasons, but primarily because it will make you absolutely miserable and be very hard to maintain. It might work for a short period of time, but is not a sustainable approach to fat loss and it is really not necessary. Slow and steady wins the race so make sure you are taking in less than you need, but not so little that you you feel like gnawing on the edge of your desk between meals.
As previously stated in part 1, the goal of a fat loss plan is to lose fat. But how do you know whether the plan is working? This is where you need to have cold, hard and accurate data to assess whether the plan is indeed progressing as it should.
A couple of mistakes people make here is to use the scale and the mirror as objectvive measurements. The scale can tell you if you have lost weight, but it does not tell you whether that weight loss is fat. You may have lost some water weight or even muscle mass if calories and/or protein are too low, neither of which are ideal. The mirror is a very subjective measurement. We all have our favourite mirrors where the right combination of light and angle seems to show us at our best.
The best measurement you can have is bodyfat, but it is hard to get an accurate reading unless you can find a very skilled practicioner to do the testing. Just as effective, and far easier is the humble tape measure. If you want to be comprenehsive, take measurements at the chest, arms, thighs, calves and stomach and re-test every week to see if the numbers are going down. In most cases a simple arm/stomach measurement is enough to indicate progress.
If you want to be really clinical and track progress, photos are great. The camera does not lie and a simple front and side shot will suffice.
Don’t obsess over measurements and take them incessantly – once per week is more than enough. But do make sure that you are using them so you have a good idea of whether your plan is working well or needs some tweaking.
Stay on the bandwagon
Staying on a regimented nutritional program can be hard and life tends to get in the way of even the best laid plans. Work lunches, travel, dinner parties and other scenarios will always happen and it then becomes much harder to stay compliant. Wherever possible try to plan ahead and make good choices whether it be at a restaurant or party. However, there will be times when you will go off the reservation slightly. Don’t be the guy who goes to a friend’s house and refuses to eat the food on offer because it is forbidden. Kick your heels up and enjoy yourself once in a while and it will not have a major impact in the big picture.
However, don’t use a dietary slip up as an excuse to go on a 3 day junk good binge as this will certainly derail any progress. You can still get good results with 95% adherance to a plan, but make sure that if you do fall off the wagon, you get right back on again afterwards.
Rest and relaxation
This is perhaps the hardest factor to control in our busy lives. Nonetheless, 12 hour working days, a boss who constantly bombards you with unreasonable demands, money worries and all the stresses of modern day life take a toll on health and body composition. Taking steps to combat these stresses will go a long way to speeding up fat loss.
Proper rest is important in this regard, particularly sleep. Staying up until the small hours watching TV or surfing the internet and sleeping for 5 hours will not get it done. Instead aim for a minimum of 8 hours sleep per night.
Dealing with the boss from hell is a little more difficult, but at least try to counteract that with as much quality time as possible with friends and family.
Keep things simple
I want to finish off this post on a positive note. Rather than talk about mistakes, the easiest way to improve health and start fat loss is to eat a diet rich in nutrients. It is a well accepted fact that meat, fruit and vegetables are the most nutrient dense foods available to us. It is also very hard to overeat these foods. Think about how many times people say they ate an entire tub of ice cream or several bars of chocolate – quite often. How many people say they ate 2 kilos of steak or a kilo of broccoli? Never! These foods are both palatable and satiating and unlikely to create cravings or trigger overconsumption.