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First off, let’s define weight loss and fat loss, I think it’s important to distinguish the difference. I want to focus on Fat Loss for my online clients, not just seeing the number on the scale go down. Rather than focusing on weight loss, the real goal should be to preserve as much muscle as possible, while losing as much fat as possible. You can expect, on average, to lose 1% to 3% of your body fat per month, or .25%-.75% per week. This will vary depending on gender and age, and your body composition (the amount of body fat and muscle mass that you currently have.) Hormones will also have a significant role in energy regulation and how we store fat on our bodies

Let’s take a 160 lb woman, it’s realistic to expect fat loss to be anywhere from .4 -1.2 lbs per week or 1.6 – 4.8 lbs. per month. She could go on a very low calorie diet and lose 2 pounds a week but, unfortunately, not all that weight loss is going to be fat. She’d be losing some muscle as well. With that rate of weight loss she’d have to go into a pretty significant deficit, in the long run (or even short term) this isn’t sustainable. This leads to weight gain after the diet, and possibly more than she started with, since she’s lost muscle mass. As she brings more calories on they are being stored as fat and that muscle is gone. This is why it’s so hard to lose weight each time you do another diet, it’s called the yo-yo effect.

Another form of weight loss is water loss. When you first embark on a ketogenic diet you lose a lot of weight at first, predominantly water weight. You are restricting carbs and your body stores carbs as glycogen. For every gram of glycogen stored there is about three grams of stored water, so your body loses its carb stores of glycogen plus the water stored with it. This isn’t actual fat loss. What happens when you go back to eating carbs? If you guessed that you gain the weight right back after your body pulls in the glycogen, refilling it’s stores along with the water, then you guessed right. 

Dieting is a stress on the body, your body wants to preserve it’s fat stores and sees the muscle on your frame as an expensive tissue to keep on it’s body. Muscle burns calories, if you’re under consuming calories well below maintenance, it will start offloading that muscle. Since the goal is fat loss and not weight loss (in the form of fat and muscle), this would not be advantageous to your physique and health in the long run.

Which is more effective for fat loss, diet or exercise?  

When it comes to weight loss, exercise and nutrition complement each other. However, it’s the nutrition part that will always win if you want to see drastic changes.You’ve probably heard you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet and this is absolutely true. Most people assume that to lose weight you need to exercise and, while this is a contributing factor, nutrition is still the 

foundation and the primary factor. Your overall calories and food choices will have the biggest impact on weight loss. 

It’s widely accepted that 1 lb has 3500 calories. To lose 1 pound a week you need to eat 3500 calories less than your maintenance calories. We need to factor in your basal metabolic rate (BMR), and your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). This is easily done by using any online calculator. Let’s take a 160 lb. 5’5”  45 year old woman. Her daily activity is relatively low due to her desk job,  and she goes to the gym or runs 3x a week. we get her maintenance calories to be around 1900. 

We’ll aim for 1 lb. of fat loss a week, so we’ll take away 500 calories each day, bringing it down to 1400 calories a day. This brings total calories to 9800 a week. Eating 500 calories a day under maintenance is pretty doable but you need to be consistent. You can cycle your calories by having lower calories one day and then higher calories the next, however,  it can’t look like 1400 calories 5 days a week (6000) and then 2000 each day on the weekend (4000). You’re right back at maintenance! 

A calorie is a calorie. This is true, you can lose weight by eating 1400 calories of Twinkies (9 Twinkies) but they lack fiber, which will provide satiety over a period of time and they’re loaded with sugar, which will cause you to crash and become tired 15 minutes after you eat one. This is why I have my online clients focus on 80% whole foods. 

Eating nutrient dense foods ensures you are getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs. In addition to that, eating whole foods that are high in fiber and consuming adequate protein leads to higher satiety. You’ll feel full longer and won’t get as hungry even though you’re eating low calories, this is important for adherence. 

A diet is only effective if you can stick to it for a reasonable length of time to get the job done. Diets that leave you hungry or deprived are not sustainable and you’ll throw the towel in pretty quickly. You can still have some less nutritious foods as a treat, just be sure to lean heavily on whole food sources.

Being in a caloric deficit is going to have the biggest impact on fat loss, not what you do for an hour in the gym 3 days a week.

When it comes to fat loss, exercise is beneficial depending on the exercise you do. Those cardio sessions may not be as effective as you think. Melt fat, torch calories, this is what we think of when we exercise and seems to be the ultimate goal, how many calories you can burn on your watch. There are a couple problems with relying on cardio exercise to burn off calories.

First, you’re not burning as many calories as you think. How we measure calories burned is largely an estimate. Whether it’s the number on the treadmill or on your watch, there are factors that go into how many calories you’re actually burning that a device can’t account for. Most devices rely on your age, height and weight to get the formula for your calorie burn, some will factor in heart rate as well. What’s missing is measuring the intensity of your workout. You may have seen someone in the gym leaning on the treadmill or step mill, the calorie estimate is based on the formula, not taking into account that the person is taking away the intensity. Same for someone who is pumping their arms or putting more intensity into their workout, this can’t be measured.

The second factor that leads to burning less calories is metabolic adaptataion. As you embark on an exercise progam you will benefit from higher calorie burns in the beginning. You may know this for yourself, you try a spin class for the first time, getting a huge calorie burn and start to see results in a couple weeks. The problem is that in a relatively short time, your body is adapting to that exercise. It gets easier each time, that’s metabolic adaptation. Your body becomes more efficient, burning less calories.To get the same calorie burn you have to change the intensity, by exercising harder or longer.

When we exercise we have the thought that hey, we just burned 500 calories, I earned that margarita. This is where we get in trouble, relying on that number to offset calories in or overindulgence.

For weight loss, I recommend weight training to get you your best results. No, you don’t “burn” as many calories, what you get is so much more. Metabolic adaptation to weight training is advantageous because that adaptation is in the form of muscle. Your body adapts to the exercise by getting stronger, enabling you to lift heavier over time. This leads to an increase in overall muscle and your metabolism. As your metabolism increases you will burn more calories at rest. This is a win win situation. Burning more calories and improving muscle tone!

Sticking to your calorie goal and not overcompensating for exercise calories is the biggest factor to getting you the results you want. Increase your metabolism to burn more calories instead of relying on a number on your watch and you will see the fat loss results you’re looking for. 

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