Don't Believe All the Fad-Diet Hype — Losing Fat Boils Down to These 7 Basics
It seems like every day there's a new headline on the internet or a new coverline on a magazine promising you can slim down in days, shed belly fat with just one ab move, and completely transform your body with one specific fad diet.
In reality, losing fat (which is really what people want to lose when they lose weight) boils down to these simple basics. We tapped registered dietitians and personal trainers, who explained how to lose body fat and keep it off for good. For starters, you'll want to get rid of that Shake Weight and those weird body-wrap things and actually start eating carbs (yes, carbs!). Scroll through for more expert tips.
Eat in a Healthy Calorie Deficit
Ultimately, losing weight is all about calories in, calories out. In order to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you take in. "You have to create a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose one pound," explained registered dietitian and ACSM-certified personal trainer Jim White, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. "This can be done by burning extra calories through exercise or reducing your intake of calories, but the best way is to use a combination of both methods. This ensures that you're giving your body enough nutrients during periods of weight loss."
However, eating in a 3,500-calorie deficit doesn't guarantee an exact weight loss of one pound. There are a lot of other factors that impact how your body loses weight, including stress, sleep, and hormones.
Although you should eat in a calorie deficit, he doesn't recommend anyone eat fewer than 1,200 calories a day. And since calorie needs are highly individual from person to person, Jim recommends meeting with a registered dietitian if you can to assess your needs and your goals. If that's not a possibility, you can use this formula to calculate your estimated calorie deficit for weight loss.
Focus on Healthy Fats and Lean Proteins
For your diet, you should load up on whole foods, with an emphasis on lean protein and healthy fats. "Focus on healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, seeds, and legumes that will help your body by feeling satiated," explained registered dietitian Shana Spence, MS. She also recommends eating lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, or plant-based proteins like tofu. "These also fill you up and leave you satisfied," she said.
As far as how much of these macronutrients you should eat, Jim recommends a macro breakdown of 40:30:30 — 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat.
Don't Totally Give Up Carbs
Like Jim said, 40 percent of your diet should come from carbs. So even though low- and no-carb diets are wildly popular, to lose fat for good, you'll still want to eat carbs.
"Many people make the mistake of going low-carb or trying to cut carbs altogether; you want to do the exact opposite," Shana recommended. "Our body needs carbs to survive: it's fuel for our body and brain."
As for what type of carbs to eat, she recommends complex carbs that have fiber to fill you up. "These can include healthy grains like quinoa, which is also a protein, whole-wheat bread, oats, barley, or farro."
Be Active Outside the Gym
When people think of activity for fat loss, they usually envision hours on the treadmill or taking an intense Spin class. In reality, to get in more activity and boost fat loss, it's all about just moving more.
Eric Bowling, NASM-certified personal trainer at Ultimate Performance, said he encourages his clients to be more active outside of the gym and increasing their overall steps to 10,000 per day minimum.
"This little addition will increase your daily activity and rapidly boost the total amount of calories burned throughout the day," he said. "This is called nonexercise activity thermogenesis, and it's one of the most effective fat-loss tools most people overlook."
Yes, cardio burns calories. But people often neglect strength training, which can help you lose fat for the long-term. Eric recommends lifting weights three times a week starting out. Weightlifting will help you build lean muscle, which burns more calories at rest. It will also change your body composition, so you'll look more toned and defined.
HIIT, which stands for high-intensity interval training, can help you get in an effective workout in a shorter amount of time. In HIIT, you do a period of all-out exercise followed by an even longer period of rest. You can do HIIT with bodyweight exercises, weightlifting moves, or cardio, such as sprinting on the treadmill.
There is some evidence that HIIT can target belly fat. Eric is a fan of HIIT and recommends people do it one or two times a week to lose fat. HIIT can also help you achieve EPOC, or excess postexercise oxygen consumption, also known as the afterburn effect, during which your body keeps burning calories even after the workout.
To get started, check out some of our favorite HIIT workouts.
Get Enough Sleep
And while diet and exercise are important for fat loss, many people tend to overlook another important lifestyle habit: sleep. A lack of sleep could increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol.
"When you are sleep-deprived and cortisol levels increase to keep the body running, you will likely experience fatigue, increased food cravings, mental fog, and lower 'real' energy," Eric explained. "All of these will impact your effectiveness in the gym and impair your adherence to an eating plan."
Aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night.