Success is the sum of small efforts—repeated day-in and day-out.
“Eat less and move more.”
“Abs are made in the kitchen.”
“If you want to lose weight, you need to do HIIT.”
These are only some of the claims I have seen on the internet about exercise and nutrition for weight loss.
The question is: Who can you trust?
What’s the best way to lose weight for good?
Do you need exercise or can you just diet? Do you need to watch what you eat or can you just train?
In this article, I’m going to cover three different weight loss methods:
I will do my best to explain potential benefits and downsides to all three.
But first, let’s consider what weight loss is.
What are we trying to achieve? We all call it “weight loss,” but “weight” can be a number of things.
You could stop drinking water and lose weight. You could drop muscle and lose weight. You could cut off an arm and lose weight.
What we actually want when we are pursuing weight loss is to remove body fat.
What’s fat? The fat in our body is of two types: essential fat and storage fat.
Located in our internal organs, essential fat is necessary for normal functioning, hence the name. Biological females have a higher percentage of essential fat than biological males because of gender-specific fat deposits in the chest and pelvis areas.
Storage fat can be either subcutaneous or visceral. Subcutaneous fat accumulates in adipose tissue under the skin, while visceral fat surrounds internal organs.
This is the type of fat we want to lose and tend to think of as “bad,” but some storage fat is actually helpful: it serves as an energy source for rest and exercise, like carbs; it provides insulation; it transports some key vitamins; and acts as a “cushion” to protect our organs from physical trauma.
Does dietary fat make you fat? Not exactly. An excess of dietary fat will be stored as adipose tissue. So will an excess of carbs or protein. Ultimately, adipose tissue is the result of eating too many calories over a long period of time.
How do you lose it? In order to lose body fat, we need to achieve a state of energy imbalance, whereby the energy getting in our body is less than the energy our body utilises for daily activity and essential functions.
An insufficient amount of calories consumed compared to calories burnt is known as a calorie deficit. To lose 1 lb of fat, this calorie deficit would have to equal about 3,500 kcals.
A healthy rate of weekly weight loss is 1 to 2 lbs per week, or a weekly deficit of 3,500 to 7,000 kcals. Spread over seven days, this would be a 500 or 1,000 kcals daily deficit.
We get energy from food, but how do we use it? You might think you only utilise (or “burn”) energy during everyday activities and structured exercise.
In fact, total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), or the amount of energy we consume over 24 hours, includes a number of different components:
Besides increasing our number of daily steps to affect NEAT, physical activity is the factor we can influence the most to elicit a meaningful effect.
So should you just exercise to create a calorie deficit? Should you only diet? Or should you do both?
#1 – Weight Loss Through Exercise Only
In theory, you can increase your physical activity until you’re burning more calories than you eat without changing your diet. In practice, though, it would be quite a feat.
For example, if you want to lose 1 lb per week, you need to burn 500 kcals through exercise every day, assuming you are currently eating at maintenance calories. If your weight is going up every week or month, you are eating a surplus of calories, so you will need to burn 500 kcals plus an additional amount to make up for the excess you get from food.
Is that enough math to convince you that this would be extremely fatiguing and time-consuming?
So, unless you have hours to dedicate to exercise every day, this may not be the most practical way to go about it.
#2 – Weight Loss Through Diet Only
As above, you can achieve a calorie deficit through diet only.
There is only one problem: you have to consume a lot less food to compensate for the physical activity you aren’t undertaking.
While ridiculous amounts of exercise can take up too much time, impair your recovery, and increase your risk of injury, an extremely low-calorie diet may make you hate what you’re doing, reduce your energy levels, and even compromise metabolic rate, immune function, sleep, concentration, mood, and other significant aspects of your life and health.
Moreover, the weight you lose on this type of diet will include quite a bit of muscle mass as well as body fat. So, although you get weight loss, you don’t necessarily get fat loss.
Lastly, as you lose more and more weight, you adapt to the decrease in energy intake in various ways. For example, your metabolic rate goes down, meaning your body is now using fewer calories to perform the same activities as before.
These adaptations are the body’s smart way of keeping us alive during a famine, but it also makes it harder to keep losing weight, unless you further reduce your food intake.
Are the results worth sacrificing all that food?
I say thee nay.
#3 – Weight Loss Through Exercise and Diet Combined
Having eliminated two potential weight loss strategies out of three, it goes without saying that combining exercise and diet might be the most sound approach.
First, it’s easier to be in a negative energy balance if you burn some calories through exercise as well as eating less food.
For example, if you need a daily 500-calorie deficit to lose 1 lb per week, you may set your calorie deficit at 250 calories and expend the remaining 250 exercising or engaging in everyday activities like walking, climbing stairs, gardening, and so on. Much more achievable than burning 500 kcals through exercise or cutting 500 kcals out of your diet, right?
Secondly, you get to enjoy the benefits of both worlds. For instance, if you are dieting with a view to improve your nutrition, you are likely to eat fewer high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods, like ice-cream and cookies, in favour of fruit, vegetables, and lean protein.
On the other hand, exercise will strengthen your cardiovascular system, help you build muscle, and improve mood and stress levels, in addition to a host of long-term health benefits, such as reducing the risk of developing life-threatening diseases.
Furthermore, a balance between activity and dieting will help you maintain a positive mindset, stay motivated, and, most importantly, stick with the program until you reach your target weight.
Beyond fat loss
Finding the most efficient way to lose fat is certainly important for your success, but no weight loss program lasts forever. After that comes the rest of your life.
The true best way to lose weight is the way that lets you keep the results.
For that reason, enjoying exercise and your way of eating is one of the most important factors to consider when you’re planning your weight loss approach.
If you hate your workouts or you have boring “diet foods” and miss all of your “non-diet foods,” you might suck it up until the end of the diet, then return to your previous lifestyle and lose your hard-earned results.
The truth is, if you stop exercising and eating well, you will regain weight and lose your fitness gains. After a weight loss program, you can shift the focus from achieving more to maintaining your current results, but you will still have to do the work.
Good health can’t be maintained on the couch.
So my top tip to pick an optimal weight loss program is:
Choose a way of eating and moving that you think you can keep for the rest of your life.
In Future Episodes:
Beyond weight loss: what are the additional benefits of exercise?
Are you trying to lose weight? What are you struggling with the most? Let me know and I’ll do my best to help!
A personal trainer who likes superheroes, bread, lifting weights, and studying “fitness stuff”.
Want to work with me? Check out my services!