Our specialty is helping skinny people bulk up. However, over the years we’ve had a lot of friends and family ask us for advice about how to lose weight. Our skinny clients also have friends and family members who are overweight.
I thought I should write a short article about how to lose fat.
My experience helping people lose weight
The first time I helped someone lose weight was with my university roommate, Willem. I put him on a simply fat loss program that involved eating a low-calorie diet made up mostly of chili (lean ground meat + beans) along with some light exercise—mostly cardio. He was able to lose 20 pounds that month. (That’s Willem’s after photo in the featured image.)
A year later another friend, Payam, wanted to accomplish the same thing. I put him on a similar program, and he lost 18 pounds in a month.
Then I helped Jared’s girlfriend lose 9 pounds in a month, again using the same simple system: a low-calorie diet, more protein and whole foods, and more activity (often cardio).
I’ve also lost weight myself. Although, to be fair, I’m naturally quite lean. My biggest struggle has always been gaining muscle, not losing fat. But nonetheless, I’ve successful burned fat:
I’ve also helped clients lose fat:
With all of these photos, I should point out that results may vary. Everyone can lose fat, but everyone will lose fat at different rates, and everyone’s results will look a little different.
How to Lose Fat in a Hurry
Now, to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with jogging. It’s indeed an effective way to burn calories. And it’s true that ketogenic diets, intermittent fasting, and plant-based diets are all associated with weight loss (study, Harvard Review, study).
There are a hell of a lot of approaches to dieting out there, and many of them work, at least in the short term. That’s because any diet that helps you get into a calorie deficit will help you lose fat (study, study).
See, there’s one thing that will always cause your body to lose fat: calorie restriction. So long as a diet involves calorie restriction, your body will turn to your fat stores for energy, you’ll then mobilize and oxidize those pesky fatty acids. Presto—fat loss.
The theory behind dieting, at its root, is pretty simple. You need to burn more calories than you take in. You can accomplish this in two ways: first by reducing the amount of calories you take in, and second by increasing the amount of calories that your body uses. That’s it.
However, just because losing weight is simple doesn’t mean that it’s easy.
Making Fat Loss Easier & More Sustainable
It’s one thing to know that you need to eat less, but that’s not going to help you when your stomach is growling and all you can think about is that chocolate bar hidden at the back of your cupboard. That’s where all of these diets come in. Sometimes it’s easier to eat fewer calories if you’re restricting carbs, fats, animal products, junk food, or whatever else.
Similarly, it’s all well-and-good to know that exercise will help you burn more calories and preserve more muscle mass, but you might still be busy, overwhelmed, and tired. That’s where all of these 15-minute home workouts come in. Bodyweight workouts might not be ideal, but at least they’re quick and easy. And, in fact, some of them are quite good. Here’s a quick home workout that Marco Walker-Ng, BHSc, PTS, PN made over on Outlive. (It’s free, too.)
To make things even harder, even if you can summon up the motivation to lose a bunch of fat now, what’s stopping you from regaining it as soon as you get stressed or busy? We need a longer-term solution. We need a sustainable and enjoyable lifestyle built around habits that help us to naturally be leaner and more muscular.
Furthermore, one one of the biggest problems that people have when they lose weight is that having more fat raises your metabolism. A pound of fat burns around 2 calories per day (study). This means that losing 50 pounds of fat will drop your metabolism by around 100 calories per day. If your appetite stays the same, then you might naturally regain the weight simply because your metabolism has slowed.
There’s one final trouble. When you lose weight, you weigh less, and so you need to carry around less weight. A lighter body takes less energy to move around. So again, your metabolism slows.
There’s some good news, though.
Muscle is a Good Ally in This Fight
The good news is that you have an ally in this fight: muscle. Muscle acts like a calorie furnace. With every pound of muscle that you gain, you’ll burn an extra 6 calories per day (study). That might not sound like much, but if you can gain 20 pounds of muscle, that’s an extra 120 calories burned per day. That’s more than enough to cancel out the metabolism changes that would come from losing 50 pounds of fat. It might even be enough to cancel out the small calorie surplus that caused you to gain fat in the first place.
And, as you can probably guess, having more muscle mass also means that you need to burn more calories to carry it around.
Finally, building muscle is quite costly. It takes 2000–3500 calories to build a pound of muscle. So if you’re actively trying to build muscle, then a bunch of the calories you’re eating are going to be funnelled towards muscle growth. This has nothing to do with weight loss, since those calories will indeed be stored, but it does help with fat loss, since you’ll be building muscle instead of storing fat.
You could say that muscle increases your metabolism and steadily burns away your fat stores throughout the day. It also hogs calories, causing your body to invest in muscle growth instead of fat storage.
How do you maintain your muscle mass while dieting? There are just two things you need to do:
- Lift weights. Lifting weights is going to help you maintain your muscle mass as you lose weight. If you’re new to lifting weights, or if you’re overweight, then you can actually gain muscle while losing weight. (Here’s how to lift weights as a man, and here’s how to lift weights as a woman.)
- Eat a balanced diet that includes a decent amount of protein in it. We recommend getting around 80% of your calories from whole foods, and to get around 1 gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day.
And then, to help you get into a calorie deficit, that’s where the dieting and general exercise comes in:
- Pick a diet that you like. Intermittent fasting can work, so can ketogenic diets, so can vegetarian diets. A simpler way to approach it, though, is to eat filling foods, eat plenty of protein, and avoid processed foods. Basically, do everything in this article but in reverse. Whole grains, legumes, fruits, veggies, potatoes, and lean meat are all examples of foods that are quite filling per calorie, so build your diet around those. Try to avoid liquid calories, too, except, perhaps, milk. Chewing seems to help as well, which can make a steak more filling than ground meat.
- Be more active. You don’t necessarily need to do cardio, although you certainly could. All you need to do is be active. I like to encourage people to get out and walk more. Walk to the grocery store, carry your groceries home. Go on walks with your family. Or go on a walk to listen to your favourite podcasts. You may even want to get a pedometer to track your steps. (Aiming for 10,000 steps at least 5 days per week seems to be a good goal to set, both for weight loss and also for general health.)
Alright, that’s it for now. If you want to know more about losing fat and building muscle, you might like our article for skinny-fat guys.
Feel free to ask questions down below. I’d be happy to try and help.