Admittedly, as a health and fitness professional, it boggles my mind how people can be so literate in diet culture yet remain so illiterate on the basic principles of nutrition and how they govern fat loss. One person says, “I’m doing keto.” The next says, “I’m doing the 8/16 intermittent fasting protocol.” Yet another says, “I’m combining the two strategies and doing keto and intermittent fasting simultaneously.” Because, you know, two “superior” diet strategies stacked on top of one another makes for the ultimate diet strategy. Except that it doesn’t.
Equally fascinating is how one person can learn these basic principles we are going to talk about in a moment, apply them, find success, and then get lured away by the next “shiny thing” trending in diet culture. Why is this? Is it humanity’s quest for faster, easier, or to never die perhaps? Together, let’s make sure you first understand what governs fat loss in the first place and perhaps we can help you sift through what really drives fat loss, and what doesn’t.
CICO stands for (Calories In Calories Out). This means that in order to lose weight, and we’ll talk more specifically about fat in a moment, a human must burn more calories than they consume consistently in order to lose weight. To lose a pound per week, one must expend 3500 calories more than they consume in that week. This can be accomplished with a 500 calorie deficit over the course of a 7 day week.
In nerd terms this is essentially the first law of thermodynamics as it applies to metabolism. Heat transferred out of the body and work done by the body remove internal energy, while food intake replaces it. The human metabolism is the conversion of food into heat transfer, work, and stored fat. So, in basic terms, at the end of the day if the human’s metabolism burned more calories and than was consumed in food calories, the body loses weight.
Crystal clear? Another way to put it is if you are on any diet, go ahead and name yours, and if you’re still consuming more calories than you’re burning, you will still gain weight. Lots of people still gain weight on keto because they consume more calories than they burn. Lots of people still gain weight doing intermittent fasting because they consume more calories than they burn. There’s no secret sauce here folks, many times, in fact all of the time, the main reason any diet works is simply because it puts you in caloric deficit.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the term macronutrient, perhaps you’re familiar with the term “macros.” They are one in the same. Macronutrients are the 3 food types that calories in our food consist of. Protein, carbohydrates, and fats are the three macronutrients in our food source, and in some shape or fashion each has been demonized at one point or another in diet culture leading many to people at least one of the macronutrients are “unhealthy” for you. This is simply untrue, all 3 are very good for you, it just depends on the sources of them and how much of each you’re getting. I have a saying that I teach to people “Calories are King, but Macros Matter.” In other words, you must be in a calorie deficit to lose weight, but the macros play a part in what kind of weight you’re losing and what kind of weight you’re retaining.
When you think about the human body and it’s metabolism, it’s largely impacted by the amount of lean muscle tissue it possesses, and in order to retain lean muscle or even promote the growth of lean muscle we must understand what the building blocks are muscle is. Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle, and those only come from the breakdown of complete protein sources in our diet. Are you beginning to see how macronutrients matter when it comes to losing not just weight, but fat? Because anyone can lose weight by just cutting calories, but not everyone can lose fat, while maintaining or even gaining lean muscle mass. It is for this reason that one of the golden rules is to eat 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. This means if you’re 150lbs shoot for 150 grams of protein. Is this an exact science? No it isn’t, but it rarely fails to retain/gain muscle the most amount of muscle while also losing body fat.
Let’s the play the “would you rather” game for a quick second.
Would you rather lose 20lbs of weight, 10 coming from fat and 10lb from muscle, or lose 10lbs of weight, 9 coming from fat and 1 coming from muscle?
I’ll keep my own biases at bay as to which form of resistance training I find to be the best, but the point is that all humans need to be participating in some form of progressive resistance training. Resistance training stimulates lean muscle tissue, microscopically damages it, and forces the body to rebuild itself up stronger, provided it has the right materials to rebuild (see #2 above). Aerobic exercise does not do this for you. I had a cyclist tell me one time how strong his legs were, I told him that they weren’t strong, but they likely have good endurance. This angered him for some reason because that’s what truth does nowadays. He was a doctor of psychology, so apparently he was smarter than I in his own eyes, but the man had weak legs. I asked if he’d like to demonstrate just how strong with legs were in the weight room. He did not want to demonstrate, you know, cuz of feelings and stuff.
The same goes for a marathon runner, cross country runner, etc….. This isn’t to poo poo aerobic exercise, as it promotes some excellent physiological benefits, just not as much as progressive resistance training does, especially when it comes to the retention and promotion of lean muscle tissue, which in turn creates a healthier metabolism. Progressive resistance training can start as bodyweight and progress in movement complexity, it can be kettlebells (wink, wink), or it can be done via band resistance. The key is that there must be progressive resistance applied.
So, let’s summarize our beginner’s guide to fat loss in 3 simple steps: