Principles Versus Methods For Fat Loss
If there is one thing that the fitness and dieting industry are notorious for, it’s conflicting information. Should I eat a lot of protein or should I go vegetarian? Should I try a, b, c supplement or x, y, z? What about jogging? I heard it’s good for fat loss. What about jogging? I heard it makes you gain fat. What about Paleo…do you think I should try that? And if so, what about beans, are they good for you? I heard calories don’t matter, is that true? I heard it’s all about calories. All I have to do is cut them and I can eat what I want. Is that true?
When I’m answering questions like these, the problem is that I’m answering it for the person standing in front of me and not every single person in the world.
As I hope you know by now, there is no one perfect diet that will work for every single person. Instead there are some basic principles that will work for a majority of people, a majority of the time when the main goal is weight loss. This means if you’re trying to win a marathon or even complete one, than those principles don’t apply. And that is where the conflicting advice comes from.
Most weight loss advice originally comes from one sector of the fitness world such as bodybuilders, athletes, powerlifters, CrossFit, etc., and then that information is extrapolated into blanket advice for everyone. Here’s the thing, each niche then has their own methods that they try to follow. When you take a method that would work for a marathoner and try to make that advice applicable to someone looking to lose weight, the advice usually doesn’t work. A person trying to lift a 1,000 pounds off the ground should not be eating the same as someone trying to run 26.2 miles. Just like someone trying to lose their “spare tire” should not eat the same as someone trying to gain as much muscle as possible. Yet the same blanket advice is given to all groups involved.
In today’s article, I will help you filter through some of the conflicting dietary and training advice you may have heard while recognizing that although there may be thousands of methods to lose weight, there are only a few principles that need to be accounted for. When you account for those principles, then you can figure out which method works best for you.
Methods in Conflict: Different Dietary and Workout Advice for Different Fitness Goals
Below is a chart that highlights 4 major fitness goals: Bodybuilding, losing weight (in the general population), Powerlifting and marathon running. Within each of these major fitness goals there are literally hundreds of different opinions on the “optimal” way to pursue these goals. This chart gives you just a short glimpse into why you may hear conflicting advice when it comes to your fitness goal.
If you look at the chart, you’ll notice that each goal has different methods. Most people looking to “lose weight” though are generally stealing methods from all of the other fitness goals and as such, receive an onslaught of disparate and often divergent information. As such, the question becomes, what should you do? This is where the Principles of Fat Loss come in.
Four Principles of Fat Loss
1 – Burn More Calories than You Consume
By far the principle everyone has heard a million times is, burn more calories than you consume. This phrase makes it “simple” in terms of “what to do” but not in exactly how to do it. The problem and confusion for most people comes from the multitude of methods in trying to make that principle a reality. Most people don’t have a hard time understanding this principle, but have a hard time putting it into action…at least over the long haul.
In other articles, I’ve discussed some reasons why it can be hard to consistently put this principle into action, such as genetic differences for fat and carbs along with differing weight loss rates for people doing the same workout routine and diet. Also, I’ve discussed the Principles of Permanent Weight Loss here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).
Beyond this basic principle of controlling for calories in versus calories out, there are three other principles that need to be accounted for. These 3 other principles start to filter out many methods that don’t align with all 4 principles.
2 – Make Fat Loss the Mission
There is a big difference between weight loss and fat loss. Only accounting for “weight loss” doesn’t take into account lean body mass and as such is something that shouldn’t be confused. You are in the gym trying to lose fat, not muscle, period.
3 – Have it be sustainable
This sounds like a basic concept that most plans should be able to integrate, but usually don’t. For example, when people think fat loss and “sustainability” they think of things they can “tolerate” for years on end. For me, I don’t want to have to “tolerate” suffering for years on end, but instead to be able to thrive going forward. For me, the ability to think clearly is huge. So the question is, “Can I think clearly throughout the day?”
For you, it may be other things, but can include questions such as:
Can you go hours in between a meal or snack while having sustained energy?
Can you eat and be satisfied or are you constantly looking for more food?
Does it allow you to enjoy food with friends and family?
Do you like the foods that you eat?
If these things matter to you (and they should), but you can’t answer them in the affirmative, then you’re setting yourself up for a fall, if not totally failing.
4 – Ensure it gives you the best odds of seeing success
The ability of something to work, despite low odds of it working for a majority of people, is the source of nearly any fad and gimmick in the weight loss industry. Find one thing that works for 5 people and you can turn that into a lot of money. The problem is that the odds of it working for most people are quite low.
This principle of fat loss really comes down to you and your preferences though. An example is when someone asks me an ambiguous question such as, “What do you think about bread?” When I get this question, I could go in a hundred different directions, but it has to be filtered through this principle, of the individual and their preferences.
In general, I think bread has no place on a fat loss diet. You don’t “need it,” it doesn’t provide anything of substance that you couldn’t get from healthier carb sources (think sweet potatoes or brown rice) and typically over-stimulates a person’s appetite. But, if you like bread, and can’t fathom ever giving it up, then it should be included in your eating plan. You will have to account for the calories and carbs from other places, but if it helps you stick to healthier eating over the long haul, then you should include it (including something doesn’t mean over-indulging in it).
In the end, you want something that gives you the best odds of seeing the results you want. If you don’t give yourself the best odds, then you’re really leaving it up to chance. When that happens, it’s like shooting a basketball from a foot away from the rim (best odds) versus shooting it from half court. Sure, the “half-court” shot might work, but is that really what you want to be putting odds on? I would hope not. Yet, this is what I see people doing nearly every day when it comes to trying to “game the system” of fat loss.
How to Filter Through All of the Methods
With those principles of fat loss in mind, everything else is just a method. Should you try every other day fasting? Maybe. What about 16/8 fasting? Or what about taking x, y or z supplement(s)? Should you do the “Subway diet?” Should you go low-carb? Should you do a low-fat diet? Should you walk or do sprints? Should you run for an hour per day or should you do weight training? Should you do hot yoga or Pilates? Should you do heavy resistance training or high reps? These are all methods…and all contingent on what you enjoy, are willing to tolerate and your overall goals. Once you know they’re all methods though, you can filter those methods by focusing on the principles of fat loss.
So the next time you hear someone talk about a “new diet” out there, ask yourself these four questions:
1 – Will it help me burn more calories than I consume?
2 – Will it help me lose fat and not just weight?
3 – Is it something I can see myself sustaining over the long haul?
4 – Will it give me the best odds of achieving the results I want?
If all of these principles aren’t met, then either modify the plan so that it hits all four principles or forget about the plan. It’s just that simple.