How to lose fat, not muscle
We live in a challenging time. The availability of the Internet and ‘Doctor Google’ has given us instant access to the whole of human knowledge with the click of a mouse.
Instantly we can get the answer to any of life’s pressing questions, we can learn just about any topic for free, we can settle any dinner-table discussion, and we take more selfies than anyone would ever want to see –And we can do it all with a miniature supercomputer we keep in our pocket.
Today, even our knackered smartphones are a lot more powerful than the computer technology that got Apollo to the moon. Just let that sink in. And yet… We are no more enlightened then before. In fact, on topics like health (nutrition, fitness and stress management), we’re as confused as ever, if not more. Because there’s so much crap to paddle through.
Over the years many trends in fitness and dieting have budded and perished. For about 3 years I did Spinning when it was virtually unknown to anyone but those who did it. Now of course, it is the thing to do. But someday, the bright sparkle of it will wear off and another ‘got-to-do’ will take its place as fitness-flavour-of-the-month and we will be left doing what we always did —follow the trend that seems to work.
Diets are very similar. Atkins, South Beach, Mediterranean, Paleo, all of them have had their 15-mintues of fame. There’s always a celebrity or a person of the hour that endorses it, then people tire of it and jump on the next hip thing to do. Too bad chasing fad diets (and chin-wagging) doesn’t count as expanded calories.
The problem is, that people are constantly looking for the holy grail or as my lovely wife likes to put it: Chasing a leprechaun, riding a unicorn, over a double rainbow with a fairy holding a pot of gold at the end of it. They think that there’s some magic bullet, pill, diet, or exercise plan that has been kept secret from them. The “missing link” that will miraculously transform them into being slim and fit and solve their weight-loss frustration once and for all.
And the media is more than happy to flog this misguided belief… but if you believe everything in the media you might as well scroll up and revisit the idea of the leprechauns. That’s why absurd adverts and claims, the kind most of us look at and chuckle thinking, “No one actually believes that crap right?!” are here to stay. Magic pills. Get rich quick. They all make shiploads of money because so many desperately want to believe there’s a magic potion, so potent, that we don’t need to lift a finger.
Over the years I have learned which information is good, which is nonsense, and which is outright dangerous. The truth is, weight-loss is not complicated. The misconception starts with the fact that it’s not weight that you want to lose, it’s fat that you should be losing. You want to improve body composition which is the ratio of body fat to lean mass. There are a few tips and tricks (let’s call them rules and principles) that you need to know and follow but beyond that, the rest is just a matter of personal preference –whatever diet/fitness programme you can stick to is ultimately the best for you. In other words, there are only a few principles but countless methods to exercise them. It more important to stick to the principles than to keep on swapping the methods.
I wanted to layout the few ground rules which I find to be very important when trying to lose or gain weight, burn fat, have energy, and overall longevity. I think once you know these ground rules you will know when and where they apply them most efficiently. In the words of the Dalai Lama: “Know the rules and follow them well so that you may know how to properly break them effectively”.
So, bearing that in mind, read on to find out which rules really matter when you’re trying to change your body (and which don’t matter). Being aware of these will also help you distinguish which (of the zillions) methods will work best for you. Moving on…
Where does the fat go? CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT
The Myth of Clean Eating
You may have seen or heard this before: “In order to lose weight, you need to go ALL-IN. Unless, you’re super strict consuming only foods like cruciferous greens and lean chicken breast, you won’t lose weight. If you screw up and eat a cupcake (heavens forbid), you’ve lost everything and might as well have half a dozen. Plainly, you lack a back bone and you are pathetic.”
This is a myth that many people been sold and believe in. It is an all or nothing mentality that oscillates between ultra-rigid dieting and stuff your face until I’m disgusted enough to start eating clean again. Fortunately, that is a misconception.
So which rules do I need to know?
Rule 1: You lose weight because your average daily calorie expense is greater than you consume.
(and not because you eat clean.)
It is totally recommended and completely worthwhile to include foods you like eating into a sustainable long-term diet. Restricting certain foods we do as a challenge in order to get traction and achieve momentum towards a goal.
“Clean Eating” is a popular term now days and (although the definition is obscure at best) it refers to foods that are widely considered as nutritious. Organic whole grains, grass-fed meat, fruit, raw vegetables, etc. They have not been processed, packaged and stripped of nutrients (vitamins and minerals).
On the other hand, “Dirty” food or “Junk food” refers to the caloric-dense processed foods we see in supermarkets and restaurants. Burgers, pizza, cakes, cookies, desserts and other tasty but unlikely healthy kinds of food.
Unfortunately, many people believe that if they are not able to follow a clean eating diet then they simply need to give up the idea of losing weight. On the other hand, they think that if they are eating an ultra-clean diet then they are guaranteed to lose weight. Both of these beliefs are gobbledygook.
When you eat, your body needs to gain protein, carbohydrates, and fat. On a molecular level, your body does not distinguish between carbs from a cookie to carbs from a banana. Your body doesn’t judge whether the food is clean or not. It simply utilises the energy it needs and stores any extra as fat.
This is why, theoretically, you can gain weight eating “clean” and lose weight eating “rubbish”.
Wait a minute, are you saying you can eat junk food and lose weight? Are you kidding me?
Exactly, this is what I’m saying… (but don’t click away just yet… there’s a BIG BUT coming)
A big reason why people are confused about losing weight is that they confuse foods that promote long-term health and longevity with what promotes weight-loss. These two are not the same thing.
You lose weight by creating what we call a calorie deficit (consume less than you expend) not because you’re eating clean. However, this doesn’t mean clean eating isn’t vital. It is very very important. Preferably, you should eat clean most of the time because it promotes good health. But it is not intrinsically what causes weight-loss. But hang on a moment…. You might be asking yourself
Why am I losing weight every time I eat clean?
Because clean eating gives you ‘better value for money’. If I eat 2,000 calories a day using only clean foods I can eat three big meals and snacks and feel full. Clean foods give you a lot more volume of food that can fill you up on less food. When you switch to clean eating, often you end up eating less calories than before because it simply takes up a lot more space in your stomach and hence makes you less hungry.
On the other hand, if you go to McDonalds and eat a double Big-mac, French fries and a coke you’ll hit almost 2,000 calories very quickly and very often you’re still hungry and go for the McFlurry or a fried Apple Pie.
Clean eating helps you lose weight because, in comparison, “junk” foods are very dense in calories. You can very easily get more calories than you need when you eat them. Besides that, it’s quite established the junk and processed foods often contain addictive ingredients which promote excess consumption.
So how is that relevant for me and my weight goals?
Basically, what it means is that you can eat foods you love and still burn fat. And as long as that number of calories in what you eat doesn’t exceed the number of calories you require to sustain your metabolism and activity than you won’t gain weight.
We all burn calories at different rates so the challenge is finding out what is necessary for you to maintain your weight and from there you can adjust to losing weight. Tracking your food for a week and dividing by 7 (the days in the week) will give you that. Alternatively, you can take a Body Composition Test which will give you the answer, in scientific accuracy, in 30 seconds.
To order to lose weight you simply need to cut your daily calories (but by no more than 10%-20%).
Don’t overdo it
Avoid severe calorie restriction. You shouldn’t just cut a 1000 calorie just because you’re in a rush to fit into that bikini before June arrives. The type of weight you lose is extremely important. You should lose fat and not muscle.
If you cut too many calories, the weight you lose will be mostly muscle and it will actually cause you to become fatter in the long-run. Nearly every shake-based diet, cleanse or detox that promises fast dramatic results in a very short amount of time is doing exactly that; creating a large caloric deficit at the expense of lean mass to drop a huge number on the scale. But what you’re dropping is mostly muscle, not fat. Your body is using muscle (and sometimes even organs) for fuel and not only fat. And you don’t really want to lose any hard-earned muscle mass. This is called a Catabolic State, when your muscles, your most valuable ally in your quest to stay lean, are used up for fuel. Muscle is a metabolic furnace that burns fuel all day long, and when done correctly, burns fat all day long and in your sleep. It is the most valuable tool you have to burn fat and improve body composition.
Deficits cause weight-loss but your food choices determine what kind of weight loss it will lose. (You want it to be fat not muscle)
When we say we want to lose weight what we really mean is we want to lose the flabby adipose tissue that lines our belly, butt, and thighs. You know, love-handles, double-chins, muffin-tops, flab, keg, saddlebags, spare tyre, beer belly, potbelly, breadbasket etc.
It is very important to understand and make the distinction between fat-loss and weight-loss. They aren’t the same. It is the difference between looking carved from stone or looking like a flesh-bag on a peg.
There are 3 different healthy ways to expend more calories than you consume.
Create a mild dietary deficit (eat 200-500 calories less each day)
Get moving a little more (in other words, do some exercise)
Increase your metabolism by increasing lean mass (join the gym and start lifting weights)
Mixing all three (although not always at the same time) is a killer combination for fat-loss. Sadly, it is not the route most people go… either because of ignorance, laziness or illness.
The formula for Skinny Fat
For many people, extreme calorie cutting and loads of cardio is the go-to method when trying to lose weight. It works short-term but causes constant yo-yo dieting because that kind of weight-loss is terrible for metabolism and makes maintaining sustainable weight-loss highly improbable. It also evaporates your lean mass making for a very soggy deflated kind of figure.
When you seek to lose fat, you need to ensure preservation of muscle mass. This is crucial.
When your body is in calorie deficit it will either tap into your fat stores, or it will feed on your muscle for energy. Your protein intake determines which fuel source will take preference.
I’m sure you’ve seen men with considerable muscle and a big bear belly. When they decide that they want to get in shape, the fat falls off their body. Why? Because once a guy like that decides to eat right the muscle burns through the fat stores on demand.
On the other hand, guys and girls with little or no muscle mass find it more difficult to drop weight because they do not have the same advantage. Ironically many go on severe calorie restriction and further decrease their muscle mass and perpetuate their predicament.
This brings us to our next rule.
Rule 2: For sustainable fat loss you need to maintain (and increase) lean mass by consuming enough protein and lifting weights.
One of the most important yet disregarded aspects of fat-loss is that your body views fat as an asset and muscle as a liability. Its’ just the way we are wired up.
The body’s number one priority is survival. In times of famine, it needs to stay alive and it will do whatever it can to do that. It regards muscle as an expensive liability because it burns calories to maintain even if it’s not doing anything. At first sign of famine (severe calorie restriction), it will get rid of anything it doesn’t need to survive. Fat on the other hand is like a comfortable emergency fund and your body, if it thinks it will need it, will ensure it’s not wasted.
Therefore, you need to trick your body, to think that it has no need for excess fat storage and can therefore burn it. Eating about 1-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram per day (for an active person) is a safeguard for your muscle when on a fat-loss plan. In addition, your intake of carbohydrates and fat will be determined by your performance goals and how physically active you are but contrary to popular belief, none of the macro-nutrients are evil. Each of them plays an important role in your health and fitness.
How to keep a rejuvenated metabolism
We all hear people wishing they had the metabolism of their younger days when they could eat whatever they wanted without it getting parked on their butt of gut. It is a convenient excuse not to make lifestyle changes. I mean, I’m old, it won’t make any difference, right?
As we get older, and if we don’t give our body a reason to maintain it, our lean mass steadily declines. Lifting weights significantly slows down this process. You can maintain and even increase muscle mass as you age, which will in turn, increase your metabolism to a rate comparable to when you were younger.
If you expected many more rules for fat-loss, I’m sorry to disappoint you. This is it.
The Rules for Fat-loss can be summed up as:
The most effective weight loss plan is one that creates a mild caloric deficit while supporting the functions of the body & lean mass.
You should lift weights and eat plenty of healthy and nutritious food but should also allow yourself an occasional indulgence.
Meal frequency is a matter of personal preference.
Some professionals as well as non-professional will try to present it as more complicate than it really is. Or just make it more difficult by complicating it.
When it comes to supplements, they can certainly increase the effectiveness of a plan that is already working. But it’s not a substitute.
Equally, the principles are the same for muscle gain and performance. If you want to gain weight (by adding muscle) rather than fat, than you need to steadily increase your calories.