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The truth on fat

“Why am I not losing fat or weight?” It’s a simple question when you look at it and so is the answer, but there’s quite a few things to keep in mind when discussing the subject. Let’s have a look at a few of the most common mistakes people make when they’re trying to lose fat and why they feel they’ve hit a plateau.

To understand why you’re not losing fat, or why you’ve stopped losing fat, it helps to have basic knowledge on how the body actually loses fat. This doesn’t need to be complicated, all you need are the fundamentals.

Your body is a machine.

A machine that works day and night. Contrary to popular belief, your body doesn’t shut off while you sleep, it uses energy every day of the week and every second of the day. That’s one of the reasons eating before bedtime is perfectly fine. You don’t just need energy to move around. Your organs need a whole lot of energy. A few good examples would be your heart, liver, kidney, lungs and brains. All those organs work all the time. In any case, a machine needs fuel and the body’s fuel is what we know as calories. Calories give your body the energy to function, plain and simple. Without calories, without energy, you eventually die. Anyone is able to lose weight until death, no one is an exception.

When you consume calories, your body either uses it as energy or it’s stored for later use. When you consistently consume too much, your body stores calories as love handles, a second chin, or other unwanted body fat. What body fat basically is, is energy to be used when the body needs it in the future.

In times where the body isn’t supplied with a sufficient amount of calories from food, it will need to use energy from someplace else. It has to, the body has to function and it can’t use oxygen. What happens next is that fat is going to be broken down, transported through the bloodstream and is eventually burned for energy. Keep doing that, and you eventually lose body fat.

I eat clean, I train mean, but I’m still not losing fat!

It’s extremely important to understand that calories are calories. Ofcourse there are micronutrient dense calories, which are foods that contain a lot of minerals and vitamins and are therefore considered more “healthy”, but they’re still calories.

If you eat too many Snickers, you’ll get fat. But if you eat too much brown rice with chicken, you’ll get fat too. Eating ‘clean’ is fine, but you can still get fat on a clean diet. Believing you can eat as much as you want, just because you consider your food to be healthy, doesn’t mean it can’t make you fat. It can, and it will, if you eat too much of it. Studies also clearly show it doesn’t matter how much of those calories consist of protein, carbohydrates or fat. When you eat less calories than you use on a daily basis, you will lose fat.

While working out and moving are both healthy in general, they don’t add as much value to weight loss as people think. It’s safe to say most people overestimate the amount of calories they burn with training and they underestimate the amount of calories they consume.

I don’t underestimate the calories I consume. I consume a 1000 calories, but I’m not losing weight!

That’s probably not true. I’m not saying you’re a liar, I’m just saying you’re a human being. Most people are guilty of this. Overweight and obese people have the biggest trouble guessing their caloric intake, especially women. But it’s definitely not a gender specific thing. Men, women, young and old, most people underestimate.

It even happens when you give people specific instructions on how to measure their food intake, it happens to dietitians (people who are actually schooled to do it right) and it even happens to people who are paid to track their food intake. All this is supported by studies. We have data on people underestimating their food intake by 47% or even 2.000 calories per day. Those are serious miscalculations.

Either way, it’s safe to assume you are somewhat underestimating your intake, one way or another.

You’re not actually fat

Let’s be honest, there’s plenty of people, especially women, who consider themselves “fat”, while they’re far from it. Saying “I’m fat” can be a fact, but it surely can be just your opinion as well. It’s annoying to people who train and watch their diets to constantly have other people tell them to relax a little, not take it so serious and things like that. But once you start noticing a whole lot of people are telling you not to lose any more weight, because you really don’t need to, it might be a good idea to start listening and ask the opinion of a professional.

Alright, so now what?

The question to that answer is highly dependent on the person asking. In general, there are a few things that you either must do or things that work for most people:

  • Set a caloric deficit. That means that you have to consume less calories than you use. A good way to do so is tracking your food intake for a week or two, write everything If your weight stayed the same, you’ll have to consume less the weeks after.
  • Remove liquid calories from your diet. Liquid calories from drinks don’t satiate. It’s pretty easy to down a liter of chocolate milk without feeling full for a long time. People who drink a lot of calories usually start losing weight already when they drink water or calorie free drinks.
  • People store fat in different places and lose fat at various rates from different body parts. If you want to lose fat from your stomach, crunches or ab exercises are not going to work. You’ll have to go back to setting a caloric deficit and keep losing fat until you start losing fat from the desired body parts.
  • Start doing serious weight training. Bodypump, Bodyrock, Bodyattack and all other sports that start with ‘body’ can be fun, but it’s not weight training. Heavy weight training will either maintain or develop muscle mass, making the end result of your weight loss journey much more impressive. If you don’t have muscle and you don’t have fat, all that’s left is skin over bones. Some people like that look, but most people don’t.
  • Remember that no matter how fast you lose fat, it won’t be fast enough. We’re hardly ever satisfied with the rate of our progress. So what’s important is to find a way of eating and training that keeps things interesting and fun. The best diet is a diet that you can keep doing for the longest period of time. You don’t need miracle supplements, you don’t need secret exercises and you don’t need to avoid the foods that you love. You need patience and insight into how much calories you’re actually consuming and eat less than that. Unless you’re some kind of alien or character from Lord of the Rings, you will lose fat that way.

 

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Comments

  1. Lenneke

    Thanks Guy, I think this is a very clear and informational article. It confronts me with my own slacking and common misunderstandings. Four months ago I ditched my diet and decided to change my lifestyle, focussing on my fat percentage rather than my weight. It’s not easy and it involves more than just watch whatever I put in my mouth but the food diary is really helpful to keep track of what are small hiccups in the progress of getting a strong and lean body. Now I should turn my program around to 80% weight training and only 20% cardio to see results…

    • Guy Droog

      Hi Lenneke,

      Thanks for the kind words.

      When watching your body fat percentage, keep in mind there are no methods available to the consumer to determine a reliable percentage. Unless you have a DXA scan in your living room, you’re going to be stuck with scales in the gym (highly unreliable, 1-10% deviation from the actual number) or someone will have to do a caliper measurement. That’s going to be slightly more accurate, but that highly depends on the person doing the measurement.

      I always suggest to simply look in the mirror. Even if your weight is acceptable to you, even if your body fat percentage is low, if you’re not going to be happy with your reflection in the mirror, none of that matters. The opposite is true too. If you’re happy with a relatively higher body fat percentage of weight, just stay that way. There’s no unwritten rule that you absolutely must have a body fat percentage of 15%. Stick to what makes you happy in the end 😉

  2. Tiziana

    Guy I really love this article. I had a application on my mobile that counted my calories because I too had miscalculations about my cal intake. I also started to consume carbs because I wanted to get in that “Fat burning” or “Ketogene state”. You was talking about the rise of eating disorders. They come in many ways and there was a time I was so afraid of carbs that i was scared to eat them because I was afraid I would get fat instantly! Knowledge about fat is very beneficial in your proces of weightloss and it prevents you to make choices that are bad for you in now or in the future. Do you know a heavy weight plan for women that’s online? I do bodypump all the time, which is not so bad at all, but I’m looking for something healthier.

    Love!
    x

    • Guy Droog

      Hi Tiziana,

      Glad you liked the article!

      The funny thing is the fitness/food industry act like they want to make you healthy and happy, but at the time time portray a ton of food as “dangerous” or “fattening” or whatever. That’s not a psychologically healthy way to look at food. No food is fattening, calories are fattening and all foods contain them. Some more than others, but that’s something else.

      Bodypump, even though it can be fun, is not regarded as weight training. Weight training results in muscle adaptation (muscle growth). Bodypump consists of doing way too many repetitions, so using enough weight to make muscle grow is not going to be possible. That’s why maybe 1 in 10.000 people in Bodypump classes are actually muscular and they didn’t get there from doing Bodypump 😉

      Most people do very well on Lyle McDonald’s basic routine to start weight training. It’s a 4 day routine:

      Mon: Lower
      Squat: 3-4X6-8/3′ (3-4 sets of 6-8 with a 3′ rest)
      SLDL or leg curl: 3-4X6-8/3′
      Leg press: 2-3X10-12/2′
      Another leg curl: 2-3X10-12/2′
      Calf raise: 3-4X6-8/3′
      Seated calf: 2-3X10-12/2′

      Tue: Upper
      Flat bench: 3-4X6-8/3′
      Row: 3-4X6-8/3′
      Incline bench or shoulder press: 2-3X10-12/2′
      Pulldown/chin: 2-3X10-12/2′
      Triceps: 1-2X12-15/1.5′
      Biceps: 1-2X12-15/1.5′

      For the Thu/Fri workouts either repeat the first two or make some slight exercise substitutions. Can do deadlift/leg press combo on Thu, switch incline/pulldown to first exercises on upper body day. A lot depends on volume tolerance, if the above is too much, go to 2-3X6-8 and 1-2X10-12

      Good luck!