Everyone knows that the fitness industry is huge, with global revenues for gyms in the tens of billions of dollars per year. But how big is the fat loss industry, specifically? According to Allied Market Research, that industry was valued at 192 billion dollars in 2019 alone. Simply put, fat loss is a big deal for a lot of people worldwide.
Still, nobody invests their time, effort, or money into fat loss unless they want to see real progress. If that sounds like the situation you’re in, then you’ve come to the right place. Whether you’re looking to shed some holiday weight or you want to completely transform your body, you need to arm yourself with the correct information to do so.
That is precisely what this article is here for. Here, we’ll equip you with all you need to know about fat loss. Sure, the internet is filled to the brim with fat loss advice, and that can lead to information overload for you. That’s why we’ve organised all of this information into four sections:
1. Goal Setting and Progress Tracking
2. Nutrition (Not ‘Diet’!)
3. Physical Training or Exercise
4. Mindset and Motivation
You can call these your ‘Four Pillars for Fat Loss’ if you’d like. Generally, any fat loss advice, tips, or guidance you find will fall into one or more of these categories. So, this framework will be helpful for you even when you gain more information and experience later on.
Now then, without further delay, here’s everything you need to know about fat loss.
Okay, so let’s start with the most fun and easiest-to-manage part of fat loss: setting goals and tracking progress.
In this section of the article, we’re going to talk about four things in particular: keeping it S.M.A.R.T., tracking input and output, tracking regularly (or tracking frequency), and making use of smart devices.
You see, it’s not enough to say “I want to lose fat”. That’s a very vague goal that doesn’t have much power to motivate you or keep you focused. Instead, you should be a bit more systematic about setting your goals.
There are many goal-setting approaches out there, but it’s always best to stick to what’s tried and tested. One of the approaches you’ll see everywhere is the SMART method of setting goals.
It’s pretty straightforward. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based or Time-Bound.
Let’s see how that applies to fat loss specifically.
Like we saw earlier, saying that you want to ‘lose fat’ is not helpful in setting goals. Instead, be more specific. How much weight do you want or need to lose exactly?
Some people set their specific fat loss target by consulting their doctor and finding the ideal weight based on their height and other factors.
Besides aiming for specific fat loss in terms of weight, you can also use body fat percentage as a measurement too.
For example, you can say, “I want to lose 10 pounds” or “I want to lose 15% body fat”. Both of these are perfect examples of goals that are not vague at all. They give you something specific to aim for.
Besides being specific, you’ll also want to make your goals measurable, especially in terms of numbers. For instance, saying that you “want a hot body” isn’t exactly measurable. That’s a very subjective goal, and everyone has different qualities that they’d call ‘hot’.
Instead, let’s use the previous example. Saying that you want to lose 10 pounds or 15% body fat is totally measurable. All you’d have to do is step on a scale to measure those numbers and know exactly where you are in the pursuit of your goals!
This is probably the most crucial aspect of your goal: it must be attainable. This is especially important for fat loss because newcomers are often guilty of setting goals that no human being on the planet can achieve.
Sure, losing all of your excess body fat is entirely possible. But you can’t expect that to happen overnight! Your goal must take into account that the human body works at its own pace and not yours.
Take this, for example. Losing 1 or 2 pounds a week? That’s a totally attainable fat loss goal. Losing 30 pounds by next week? That’s not an attainable goal.
Your fat loss goals must be relevant to you and your life. In other words, your fat loss will be much more successful if you do it for a reason that you genuinely care about.
Some people do it for intrinsic (or internal) reasons. They might do it because they want to enjoy more energy, have better health, or look better in the mirror.
Other people do it for extrinsic (or external) reasons. For instance, some people are perfectly comfortable in their own skin, even though they might carry a few extra pounds. Unfortunately, they feel pressured into losing fat by something external.
Like any other type of goal you might have in life, you’ll be much more successful if the goal is relevant to you and your life, i.e. if it’s something that you want for yourself.
Lastly, your goals must also be time-based or time-bound. In simple terms, there must be some kind of a deadline to it. When people say they’ll do something ‘someday’, it usually doesn’t happen. Instead, you can set a much more effective fat loss goal by saying that you want to lose a certain amount of fat by a specific date.
Common examples include:
Suppose you don’t have a specific occasion to tie your weight loss goals to. If that’s the case, make one up! Some people schedule a photoshoot a few months or a year into the future, and they aim to reach their fat loss goals by then.
The point of a deadline is to give you a sense of urgency, so you don’t procrastinate.
Once you’ve set a systematic goal using the S.M.A.R.T. framework or something similar, you’ll want to regularly track your efforts and progress to make sure you’re still on track.
Regular tracking serves a few important purposes, and they are:
Of course, you’ll want to give your fat loss efforts some time before you start seeing any results. If nothing happens for the first week or so, keep going and don’t worry.
There’s a famous saying when it comes to fat loss about these time frames that goes,
While everyone’s fat loss rate is different, this quote is beneficial for us to manage our expectations. The simple point here is this: give your efforts a couple of weeks to show you some progress.
What exactly do you need to track? Well, this ties back to the “measurable” aspect of the goal that you set. You’ll want to track your input, output, and results when it comes to fat loss. Here’s what that might look like for you:
Earlier, we mentioned that tracking is essential to measure your progress and see if your plan needs any changes.
Well, by tracking your input and output, you’ll also make it much easier to determine precisely where you might need to implement changes.
Goal setting and tracking might seem like a lot of work at first, and it can undoubtedly be a challenge. However, it’s not as difficult as it used to be.
You can still write down your goals and track your progress with nothing more than a pen and a piece of paper.
However, these days most of us carry smartphones and other smart devices in our pockets. These devices (which we already own) can make it effortless to set goals and track our progress.
If you already own a smartwatch, even better! They can help you track your daily movements and measure how many calories you burn per day.
Just download a free or paid weight loss app and use it to track everything mentioned above. If you can’t find one you like, you can try MyFitnesspal or even the Fitbit app that syncs with Fitbit devices.
Now that we’ve set our goals and explored the topic of tracking, let’s move on to one of the most critical pillars of fat loss: nutrition.
You might’ve noticed that we didn’t use the word ‘diet’ for this part of the guide. That’s because the word has several negative or unhelpful meanings to it.
For starters, the word ‘diet’ tends to imply something temporary or short-lived. Suppose you’re interested in losing the fat and keeping it off for good. In that case, you must understand that it’s necessary to make lifestyle changes that last a long time and not just quick solutions or short-term fixes.
Secondly, a lot of people view diets as being restrictive or even as a form of self-punishment. It’s true that some diets, especially the many fad diets which come and go each year, encourage you to deny yourself many different foods. Some also come dangerously close to being a self-induced form of starvation!
But always remember this: you’re probably pursuing fat loss as a way to increase your quality of life, whether it’s through better health or any other goal you might have. Being overly restrictive or punishing yourself through your diet is not going to help you achieve those outcomes.
So, for the purposes of this fat-loss guide, we suggest taking a more balanced approach to nutrition.
Here’s everything you need to know to do that.
You can find a virtually endless number of eating plans to help you lose fat. In fact, your doctor can give you one as well. But which one is the best?
The best eating plan is whichever one you can stick to. That’s right!
Whether it’s Atkins, Keto, Paleo, going vegetarian, going vegan, or just eating a balance of everything with good portion control, the secret to fat loss is to follow whatever eating plan you can do consistently and happily.
If you pick an eating plan that makes you miserable or that forces you to eat the kind of food that you really hate, then you probably won’t stick with it for very long. In the end, you’ll see very little success following this path.
For example, someone who loves meat and doesn’t enjoy sugar or pasta would have absolutely no problems sticking to a Keto eating plan. On the other hand, someone who loves living a vegan lifestyle would love nothing more than to follow a Vegan eating plan.
As long as you’re consuming fewer calories than you’re burning (through your metabolism and physical activity), you will lose fat. It’s that simple.
Bottom line? Try an eating plan you think you’ll like, and if you still like it, stick to it! Just make sure that you’re in a ‘calorie deficit’, which means that the calories you eat are fewer than the ones that you burn.
Generally speaking, the difference between one eating plan and another isn’t just the food you eat but the micronutrients that your body gets from that food. These micronutrients fall into three broad categories, and each of them serves a specific purpose:
As you can see, each of these macronutrients plays a vital role in your body’s wellbeing. Besides creating a calorie deficit (where your intake is lower than your output), fat loss eating plans also involve tweaking the types of food you eat. That will end up controlling how much of each macronutrient you consume.
Here’s what you need to know about macronutrients and fat loss: each macronutrient has a different calorie density. For instance:
By understanding this, you’ll be able to calculate with better accuracy just how many calories you’re consuming. Even the best athletes tend to over- or under-estimate how many calories they consume from time to time, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you’ve made mistakes.
What’s important is that you learn from them and improve how you do things.
In this day and age, it’s impossible to talk about fat loss without the term ‘intermittent fasting’ coming up in the conversation. We’re not going to go into too much detail here because that could fill up a whole other guide in itself.
Instead, we’re going to do an overview of intermittent fasting so that you know what it is and how it might help you with fat loss.
First and foremost, intermittent fasting is not a diet. It’s not even an eating plan that tells you what to eat or not to eat. Instead, it’s a pattern of eating where you refrain from eating for a certain amount of time. Then, you’ll eat all of your day’s meals within a set timeframe.
Typically, most people eat three meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. With intermittent fasting, you might consume all three meals within an 8-hour window. Your first meal at 12 pm, the second at 3 pm, and the third at 8 pm. For the other 16 hours of the day, you’d be ‘intermittently fasting’ by consuming no food.
Why do people do this?
Firstly, people do intermittent fasting for the health benefits. By giving your body more time in the day when it’s not digesting food, your organs have more time to rest and recover. For fat loss in particular, your body uses this time to tap into your fat stores for energy.
Should you do intermittent fasting to lose fat?
Intermittent fasting can be a valuable tool in helping you burn more fat in the long run. However, it’s best not to do that yet if you’ve just begun your fat loss journey.
Starting your fat loss journey is already challenging enough. The extra burden of adding intermittent fasting too soon might stress you out and discourage you.
Instead, wait until you’ve gotten into the rhythm of things and then try adding intermittent fasting into your weight loss plans.
At this point, your goals are already in place and are being measured, so you know what you’re aiming for. Also, you’ve dialled in your nutrition to create a calorie deficit, which will trigger your body to start burning fat. Is there anything else you can do to make that fat-burning process more efficient?
The answer is yes!
This is the part where we start talking about burning more calories, specifically through physical training or exercise. Generally, you can break these physical activities into two categories: strength training and cardio training.
Here’s something important to note: you don’t necessarily have to sign up for a gym membership to do strength or cardio training. As a matter of fact, you can do everything in your bedroom using nothing but your own body weight.
Don’t get us wrong: you can totally sign up for your local gym if you’d like. We’re just reminding you that your fat loss journey can succeed with or without it!
Now, let’s take a little look at how cardio and strength training help with your fat loss journey.
Cardiovascular training, or just ‘cardio’ for short, is any physical activity that increases both your heart and breathing rate for an extended period. In doing so, it places stress on your lungs, your heart, and your cardiovascular system. Over time, your cardiovascular system becomes much stronger overall.
Typical examples of cardio training include jogging, cycling, or even dancing. You’ll generally want to keep cardio training under an hour to avoid over-training unless you’re preparing for some kind of endurance event like a marathon. Still, for fat loss, 30-60 minutes of cardio can be helpful.
How does cardio training help your fat loss? In simple terms, it helps you burn more calories. Cardio training requires a sustained energy supply for anywhere up to an hour or longer, and your body will generate that energy by burning calories.
And remember: when your body uses more energy than it takes in, it’ll start to burn fat.
Strength training is any physical activity that puts your muscles under tension and briefly overloads it. Unlike cardio, strength exercises are not done continuously for an extended period. Instead, they consist of sets of repeated movements (or ‘repetitions’) that tenses the muscles throughout their full range of motion.
As you might already imagine, one example of strength training is lifting weights. However, you can also perform strength training using no equipment at all by simply doing bodyweight exercises.
Strength training requires energy, sure, but its primary benefit isn’t the same as cardio. You see, strength training helps your body to build muscle. The more muscle your body has, the higher your metabolism will be. Simply put, a higher metabolism means that you’ll burn more calories even when you’re at rest.
Your fat loss program should incorporate both cardio and strength training because they complement each other.
Cardio makes your cardiovascular system stronger and burns calories while you do it. Strength training increases your overall strength, and that helps to burn your calories even when you’re not exercising. The end result?
You’ll be burning calories 24/7.
Don’t let gym marketers fool you; gyms aren’t the only places where you can get your cardio and strength training done. If that type of environment is not your cup of tea, but you’d rather not exercise alone at home, then you can try to pick up a sport instead.
Think of sports as an applied form of cardio or strength training. Rather than just do it on a machine, sports encourage you to improve your strength and cardio to perform better and win. It’s a more competitive and social form of exercise, and many people find sports to be more effective for their fat loss.
Sports like basketball and soccer might lean more towards cardio training, even though they require a certain amount of strength. Also quite popular these days are mixed martial arts, which can challenge you both in terms of cardio and strength at the same time.
Throughout your fat loss journey, you will have moments when your motivation is incredibly high. That’s awesome! But no matter how driven you feel, you must always provide your body with enough time to rest and recover.
Cardio and strength training both put a considerable amount of stress on your body, especially your lungs, heart, and muscles. After you’re done training, they need rest to rebuild stronger than before.
Some people feel guilty when they give their body a day off to rest. Don’t! When your body becomes stronger and more efficient, you’ll be able to perform better and burn more calories. In other words, taking some time off to rest contributes to your fat loss efforts.
Other people might feel too motivated to rest. That’s also a bad idea, and here’s why. Continuously pushing your body to burn fat without giving it a break can lead to overtraining and injury. And if you were to injure yourself badly enough, you won’t be able to train at all for a long time, which is even worse.
So, as a rule of thumb, take at least one day off per week where you don’t exercise at all. If you’re a beginner, here are some helpful recovery rules:
What do you think the most challenging part of fat loss is?
Is it getting your nutrition correctly tuned? Well, that’s challenging, but it’s not at the top of the list.
What about exercise or training? Not exactly.
The most challenging part of your fat loss journey will be what goes on in your mind, i.e. your mindset. So, to round off this fat loss guide, let’s talk a little about mindset and motivation.
Firstly, your fat loss journey is a long-term ‘marathon’, not a short-term ‘sprint’. That means you should adjust your perspective to focus on the long term rather than looking one or two weeks ahead.
Many people give up on their fat loss journey after just a few weeks because they mismanaged their expectations. On some level, they assumed that they’d see fat melting off their bodies in just a couple of days or weeks. When that doesn’t happen, they feel discouraged and eventually quit.
You can avoid that by managing your expectations early on. Understand this: with consistent effort, fat loss will undoubtedly happen. It has happened for many people before you, and it’ll work for you as well. You just have to give it time.
Somewhat related to the last point is this famous quote that motivation is what gets you started, but discipline keeps you going. The reality is that you won’t feel motivated about your fat loss journey every single day. Some days, you might even hate it!
But what separates the winners from everyone else? They do the work even on the days when they don’t feel like it.
They eat the way they’re supposed to do the necessary workouts, even on days when they don’t feel like getting out of bed. Motivation will get you started on your fat loss journey, but the discipline that you build day by day, that’s the stuff that’ll get you past the finish line!
Lastly, we all need a support system consisting of other people who will help keep us inspired to continue our fat loss journey. Two examples of that are having a mentor and an accountability buddy:
Human beings are social creatures, which is why it can be very uplifting to have a support system on a fat loss journey full of challenges all along the way.
To conclude this guide, we’ll say just one more thing: fat loss is not a linear process.
Let’s say that again together just to be clear: fat loss is not a linear process.
The scale will tell you that you’ve lost fat on some days and that you’ve gained weight on others.
As discouraging as this might be, always remember to stick to your plan. It’s perfectly normal for weight to jump up and down in the short term. As long as your average weight keeps going down, then you’re still on the right track.