You've committed to losing weight, so you do what you think is best — you cut calories and get your cardio on. But, as a certified strength and conditioning specialist, Sohee Lee (@soheefit on Instagram), said in a recent post, "This is backwards!"
Instead of living on lettuce and doing endless hours on the treadmill, Sohee posted this pyramid to explain "the hierarchy of fat loss." As an evidence-based fitness coach, she says this is what you need to prioritize, in this order:
- Nutrition: This is the most important factor when it comes to fat loss. Sohee said, "you could be exercising like a fiend, but you'll be spinning your wheels unless your diet is in check." Focus on your total daily calories first and make sure you're creating a caloric deficit. Focus on whole foods, tons of veggies, lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbs, and limit the sugar and processed junk. To preserve muscle, Sohee recommended you "consume approximately 1g protein per 1lb lean body mass [the difference between total body weight and body fat weight]."
- Resistance training: "You should absolutely lift weights to lean out," Sohee suggested. Weight training coupled with eating enough protein will help you maintain (and maybe even build) muscle, so you are losing almost exclusively body fat. Sohee recommended doing variations of squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, bench press, and pull-ups two to five times per week.
- Sleep and stress: "Most individuals don't consider how their sleep and stress could factor into their fat loss efforts, but in fact they can be a huge hindrance if not properly managed," Sohee said. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Aside from helping you rest and recover, getting enough sleep regulates the hormones in charge of hunger and weight loss. If you don't get enough sleep, cravings and appetite will actually increase. Stress also plays a big role in creating a leaner waist because it triggers the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that's linked to an increased appetite and more belly fat. Find ways throughout your day to alleviate stress and do things that make you feel calm and happy.
- Cardio and conditioning: This is the last thing to focus on, Sohee said, "and should ONLY be sprinkled in when all other variables have been accounted for." Many people can get results without doing any cardio, because it burns surprisingly fewer calories than most people think, and can actually increase your appetite, causing you to eat more, which won't help you lose fat. Sohee suggested, "Consider whether it energizes you or drains you and how active you already are throughout the day." She added, "Of course, if you genuinely enjoy cardio, then keep it up."
That's it! Focus your energy on what's most effective in helping you make progress. "A solid diet paired with resistance training, plus proper sleep and stress management will take you far."