It's not uncommon for people to lose and regain the same 15-20 pounds of fat. They adopt an unsustainable (often stupid) diet, lose a little bit of weight, revert back to old habits, gain the weight back, and restart the process.
This yo-yo cycle eventually causes them to lose more muscle and gain more fat than if they'd never tried to diet in the first place. This isn't from a lack of effort but the lack of an effective long-term strategy.
If you're tired of losing and regaining, here are a few strategies that'll blast some fat and keep it off.
1 – Calculate Calories (And How Much to Cut)
Start with an equation to "ballpark" the number of calories you should be consuming daily. These equations aren't 100 percent accurate, but they're a good starting point.
The Mifflin-St Jeor equation to calculate resting metabolic rate (RMR) has been reported to be more accurate and is newer than some of the other ones out there (2). And if you don't want to do the math, there are plenty of online calculators that'll do it for you. Here it is:
- Men: (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) - (5 × age in years) + 5
- Women: (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) - (5 × age in years) – 161
Once you have your RMR you need to multiply your result by an activity factor to get a rough idea of how many calories you burn in a day. Here are the defined activity factors for the Mifflin-St Jeor equation:
|RMR x 1.2||Sedentary||Little to no exercise|
|RMR x 1.375||Light Activity||Light exercise/sports 1-3 days per week|
|RMR x 1.55||Moderate Activity||Moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days per week|
|RMR x 1.725||Very Active||Hard exercise/sports 6-7 days per week|
|RMR x 1.9||Extra Active||Very hard exercise/sports and physical job|
After you have an idea of your maintenance calories, calculating your calories for fat loss can be as simple as subtracting 250 for a theoretical half pound of fat loss per week, or subtracting 500 for a theoretical loss of one pound per week.
I say "theoretical" because this equation isn't exact. And as TC Luoma points out, calorie counts on food labels can also be BS. Still, it's a decent place to start.
2 – Track Your Food for Two Weeks
Counting your calories – even if you're not intentionally decreasing them – for a brief period will give you an idea of what you're truly taking in. If you don't know when and what you're overeating, you won't be able to make changes.
So buy a food scale, weigh all your food, and count every calorie you consume for two weeks. Then you'll have an objective measurement of what you'll need to cut to lose fat. Sometimes just tracking what you're eating is enough to make people naturally consume less as they become more mindful.
Use any of the apps that allow you to keep track of your calories. The constant calorie counting will be a pain, but it's worth the time investment. Weighing out your food on a scale will teach you whether you're getting enough protein and what a serving size really is. For most, this will be a rude awakening.
Two weeks is long enough to reveal your current habits but not long enough to make you obsessed. You don't have to (and shouldn't want to) weigh everything you eat for the rest of your life.
Prolonged periods of weighing food can cause compulsive behaviors and kill your social life. Using a food scale as a teaching tool for under a month will give you insights on what you can reasonably change about your current eating without the compulsive habits that can arise long term.
3 – Eat Foods With A Higher Thermic Effect
The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the energy expenditure above the body's resting metabolic rate due to the cost of processing food for use and storage. Basically, your body has to burn calories to break food down. Your system has to work much harder to assimilate nutrients that aren't processed.
The TEF of food accounts for 10% of your total calorie intake. If you consume 2,000 calories per day, your body will burn around 200 of those calories digesting food.
The thermic effect is highest in lean sources of protein, where 20-30% of total calories go to processing it. The second highest TEF is complex carbs (5-15%). The lowest TEF is fats (0-5%). This is why it's so important to eat a lot of protein when dieting. Not only will you maximize muscle retention, but you'll also burn more calories due to a higher thermic effect of your food.
The quality of the food you consume greatly matters. Foods with a higher thermic effect also tend to be pretty satiating. Staying in a caloric deficit will be a heck of a lot easier if what you're eating makes you feel full and satisfied.
If you're eating lean sources of protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats, a caloric deficit won't be as hard to achieve as it would be if you were chowing down on Cosmic Brownies, Twinkies, and doughnuts. Those have a low TEF, a high-calorie content, and they're not satiating.
Not that I'm trying to shit on doughnuts. Who doesn't appreciate a good doughnut?
4 – Get More NEAT (Non-Exercise Thermogenesis)
Most people only train 3-5 hours a week. This means you need to get extra activity outside of your training if your goal is fat loss.
Moving more throughout the day means you'll ultimately be burning more calories, making it much more likely that you'll hit your goal of a caloric deficit. A good target to aim for is the classic 10,000 steps per day, which can be tracked with a step counter or activity tracker.
Sure, the standard of 10,000 is a bit of an arbitrary number, but it's still a reasonable yet challenging goal to aim for even if you don't hit it. For most people, 10,000 steps is roughly equal to 5 miles of walking per day.
If you have a job that requires you to be at a desk, here are some simple ways to help you get there:
- Do a 10-20 minute brisk walk in the morning and evening. For reference, a fast walking pace of 4mph will get you a mile in 15 minutes.
- If you get an hour lunch break, take a 10-20 minute walk during that time.
- Park further away at work and when running errands.
- If you have kids or a dog, go outside and play with them.
5 – Do Incline Walking After You Lift
Incline walking does a great job of strengthening your posterior chain, burns more calories than flat walking, and is easier on your joints than jogging.
You don't need to overdo it after a strength session, though. Adding just 10-15 minutes of incline walking at a 5-15% grade is plenty of extra movement after lifting.
To ensure you burn fat without burning up muscle, keep your incline walking time relatively short and maintain a moderate pace that doesn't leave you gasping. You should be able to maintain a conversation during your walk.