Recently I came across an article by a women's fitness magazine about meal combinations that would "kick start" your metabolism and burn fat. Articles about weight loss are hardly a rarity, but this one got me in the gut because it's exactly the kind of article that for dozens of years I'd seek out and think "Yes!! This is the missing piece! This is why I'm not losing weight. I'm not combining the right foods!" or "I'm eating at the wrong time!" or "I shouldn't be eating this entire food group! That's what I'm doing wrong!"
To be fair, the foods suggested in this article are all super nutritious and the benefits listed were spot on. Buuuut. And this is a BIG but, the idea that these specific food combinations are some kind of special magical fat loss formula is a problem. What if I combine these foods in the suggested manner and eat huge portion sizes? Will I still lose fat? What if I want to eat other foods besides these 16 listed foods sometimes (crazy, I know)? Can I still lose fat?
These kinds of fat loss "secrets" often end up just distracting us from the unsexy, not-at-all secretive actual principles of fat loss. Looking for some bit of weight loss magic personally kept me stuck for years. Lean in close and I'll tell you a secret..... there IS NO SECRET. And that is The. Best. News. Ever.
Why? Because if there's no secret, no hidden formula, trick or tip out there that we need to wait to discover it puts us firmly back in a position to TAKE ACTION. And action is what makes progress happen!
What action? When it comes to weight loss there is one overriding principle. That principle is this: if you consistently eat fewer calories than you need to maintain your current weight you will lose weight. I'm betting you've heard that before, right? I told you, there really IS no secret. Calories matter when it comes to weight loss. And if someone tells you they don't, then you should never ask that person for fitness advice again. Ever:)
Here are 4 actions you can take if you're ready to lose fat and keep it off:
1. Eat in a calorie deficit: A good starting point is to multiply your body weight (in lbs) by 12, That will give you a daiily calorie target. For example, if you weigh 150lbs you would multiply 150x12 to get 1800 calories. Consistently hit that calorie target each day. (If you have 50lbs or more to lose you will need to set that multiplier lower, like at 10X bodyweight.) Use a calorie tracking app such as My Fitness Pal or Lose It to track your calories. Don't get bogged down in all of the information those apps give you (ie how much sugar, carbs, fat, etc. you are consuming.) Just pay attention to the total calories and the grams of protein ( see #2 below)
2. Eat .7-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily. So our 150lb person would eat between .7x150 - 1 x150= 105-150g of protein each day. Getting in enough protein helps to maintain and build muscle. This is important because the more lean muscle you have the more calories you burn even when you're sleeping or just watching TV! Eating sufficient protein also helps to keep you full, which is obviously super key to being able to stick with your plan. Need a few protein ideas? Here ya go:
lean cuts of beef
lean ground beef/chicken/turkey
3. Eat mostly whole, nutrient dense food. Vegetables, meat, fruit. You know what I'm talking about:) If 80ish% of your calories comes from these kinds of foods then you can happily enjoy whatever junk food suits you for the other 20ish% of your calories. The key is to incorporate these foods into your daily calorie target. I'm partial to cake and ice cream, but if you're a chips and dip kinda gal, go for that. Really. Eating "fun" foods in moderation helps us to be able to maintain this way of eating over the long haul. Which brings us to #4...
4. Stick with it! Consistency is the missing piece for a lot of people. Be patient and stick with these couple of action items. I don't mean just for a week or a month. And I definitely don't mean only when it's going well. The people who succeed at fat loss are the ones who keep working even if the scale doesn't seem to be moving. They get right back on track when they get off. And they don't start looking around for the "next thing" to try. Consistency+patience=results. Remember that formula!!
So there you have it. Those are the nutritional "big rocks" you need to get in place to start smashing your fat loss goals. Exercise is also an important piece of the puzzle (one which I'll be addressing soon!) But a person can make serious progress with the nutrition piece alone, while the same can not be said about exercise alone. Most of us would rather spend a few hours a week killing it in the gym rather than paying attention to what we eat day in and day out, but that just doesn't get results.
Let me add in a bonus action item: Do not wait for just the right time to get started. It's never coming!! You think it is, I know. I did too. When the kids are older, when they're back in school, after vacation, blah,blah,blah. The list of a better time to start is never-ending, and always changing. It's not going away. Ever. So what's the answer? Start now, however imperfectly. I know that feels uncomfortable. We want to start out "just right." But doing something will always get better results than doing nothing. Every Single Time.
Let me know if you have any questions about getting started losing fat. I would love to get you answers and help you in any way that I can!
I'm a NASM certified personal trainer who is passionate about helping women transform their bodies through strength training and sustainable nutritional habit changes.