Fat Loss……It Happens!
While many of my clients are athletes looking to get stronger and move better, I also get my fair share of fat loss clients. Fat loss programming can be some of the most rewarding, and on the other hand, some of the most frustrating to work with. Here’s the hard truth, nutrition is the most important aspect of fat loss. Ultimately, I am in control of the workout plan, but the client is in charge of their nutrition for the other 23 hours in a day. If they are off track with their nutrition, there is no magic workout that I can create that will counteract poor food choices. However, food choices should not be something that a person beats themselves up over. A person is not good or bad based on the food they choose to eat. The key word here is choice. We can choose to eat in a way that will support our goals, or we can eat foods that will bring us further from those goals. I just read “Fat Loss Happens On Mondays” by Josh Hillis with Dan John, and it is clearly one of the best books I have read on fat loss.
Josh Hillis, the author, is a personal trainer/kettlebell instructor, blogger at losestubbornfat.com with 32,000 readers, and an author of several e-books. He has been quoted in many major publications, including the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He encourages a habit based approach to fat loss, instead of diets. It is clear from reading his book, that Hillis has a lot of experience in fat loss programming for clients. His positive, habits based approach is very refreshing, and I appreciate the simplicity in his method. Dan John contributes a few chapters to this project, sharing his timeless wisdom and humor.
Here are a couple of key concepts from the book, that really made an impression upon me.
- Quantity (calories) equals scale weight.
- Quality equals your leanness and tightness.
- Ratios (carbs, fat, and protein) equal feeling full.
A 1993 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that obese patients on a moderate caloric restricted diet (1200 kcal/d) combined with behavior modification, lost 8.5 kg (18.7 lbs) in 20 weeks. Obese patients on a severe caloric restricted diet (400-800 kcal/d) with medical supervision, lost 20 kg (44 lbs) in 12 to 16 weeks. Both of the dietary strategies were associated with increasing weight regain over time. The patients with the best long term outcomes were those that participated in a formal weight loss maintenance program and exercised on a regular basis. Numerous studies and common sense tells us, if we reduce our calorie intake, we will lose weight. Although, in itself, calorie restriction doesn’t appear to be a solid long term strategy because of the tendency to regain weight in the long run. So looking at the scale weight is just one piece to the puzzle. If people don’t exercise and eat enough protein, they can lose weight on a calorie restricted diet, but they may have a lackluster body composition. These are people who look skinny, but have a high percentage of body fat, which can be labeled as “skinny fat.” Just because a person is skinny, doesn’t mean they are the representation of great health. Also, I have seen some real world cases where calorie restriction does not appear to work well on it’s own. I have had a couple of clients that were overweight and their calorie intake was low (1100-1200 kcal/d), but the scale didn’t seem to budge. However, it is quite possible that they underestimated their calorie intake, which can be quite common, and is mentioned in the book. That’s why we look at body composition.
We can keep our calories reduced, but if our daily allotment of calories is reserved for twinkies and donuts, we probably aren’t going to get the results we hoped for. As I mentioned above, we can be skinny, but still lack muscle and have a high level of body fat. We need to be aware of the quality of calories that we are taking in. I know in the past I have mentioned certain foods it would be best to avoid on a regular basis, but Denise Minger lays it out so nicely in her book, Death by Food Pyramid, that it seems worth repeating. It would be wise to avoid the following:
- Refined Flour
- Refined Sugar
- Industrially Processed Vegetable Oils
- Chemical Preservatives and Lab Produced Anythings
- Any creation in a crinkly tinfoil package, microwaveable tray, or fast food takeout bag
The quality will determine whether you are lean and tight, or soft and jiggly. One of my clients that I mentioned earlier, took it upon themselves to meticulously measure their calorie intake. They focused on calorie reduction with a low fat diet, and saw very minimal weight loss over the course of many months. During this time, they were also exercising on a regular basis. The scale just wasn’t budging, their body fat remained high, and their frustration level went off the charts. It wasn’t until they manipulated the third variable, that they started to get the results they yearned for.
Ratios of macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) is the third variable that can be manipulated, and it can be connected to your feeling of fullness, according to Hillis. He claims that some people will feel more full eating a high carb/low fat diet, some will thrive from balance, and others do better with a high fat/low carb approach. For example, I spent a good portion of my life eating a high carb/low fat diet, and I remained lean. However, due to digestion issues, I switched to a low carb approach, and my digestive health improved greatly. With my change in nutrition because of health issues, I also saw a pleasant decrease in body fat around my midsection. My client that I mentioned in the paragraph above, did not see any weight loss and body composition improvement until they changed to a low carb diet. This is just my personal opinion, but since the Standard American Diet is generally high carb and low fat, I think most obese individuals would do well to reduce their carb intake. Here is a New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) study that showed obese individuals had better results from a low carb diet than calorie restriction or a low fat diet. This is another NEJM study that showed low carb and Mediterranean diets had better results for moderately obese participants than a low fat diet. However, there are people who still do get results from a low fat approach, and I can’t deny that. Increasing protein intake appears to be helpful for long term success in weight loss. An NEJM study from 2010 that looked at people who had reduced their body weight by 8% after following a calorie restricted diet (800 kcal/d), did best when they increased their protein modestly and followed a modest reduction in the glycemic index.
The key to tracking all these variables, is the food journal. Hillis highly recommends that a person utilizes a food journal. It’s the only way we will be able to have a clear picture of how many calories we take in, the quality of the food, and the ratio of macronutrients. If you are looking to lose fat, one of the most important things you can start doing today, is to keep a food journal. The food journal can be kept online with a program like My Fitness Pal, or you can keep a handwritten journal. Whatever will work best for you. Figure it out and start keeping that journal immediately. For some clients who are really resistant to keeping a journal, I told them to at least document their food intake with a photo (since most everyone has camera on their phones these days), and we can discuss the details of the meals at the beginning of a session. I like the following passage from the book by Josh Hillis, “If you have more fat than you want, you need to look at what you’re doing to maintain the fat and stop doing that.” Keep a journal.
Josh Hillis continues on in the book to cover the 11 habits that are useful in fat loss. He also touches upon more advanced food programs, which are only to be followed once you have mastered the basics. There are also workout programs, ones that could potentially be done at home, and only require a kettlbell or two. This book is packed full of information and I hope I have done it justice. I want to reiterate what I said at the beginning, Josh Hillis and Dan John have put together one of the best books I have read on fat loss. If you’re looking to lose fat, I highly recommend you get this book!