By Sayuri Barritt RD, 3/18/23
Are you struggling to lose excess body fat even after changing your diet and lifestyle?
Why is it so hard to lose body fat?
One of the main reasons why losing body fat or weight is so challenging is due to the "get quick fix" mindset that is ingrained in our brains by many unsustainable, restrictive diet programs out there. These programs can lead to nutrient deficiencies, slow metabolism and muscle loss, which are detrimental to your weight loss journey.
Is it possible to lose body fat without restrictive dieting? The answer is yes!
With small tweaks to your mindset, diet, lifestyle, and hormone balance, you will have an easier time losing excess body fat and can keep it off for good. Today, I will explain the basics of how metabolism works and the five most practical tips to lose body fat and maintain a healthy physique at any age.
Focus on your body composition, not your body weight, for successful weight loss.
Let's start with your mindset. Many of you may feel frustrated or discouraged during the weight loss journey because your weight changes often. This is normal. It fluctuates due to many reasons including hydration status, food intake, and stress levels.
Instead of focusing on the fluctuation of your weight, it is better to focus and work on your body composition, meaning keeping your body fat and muscle mass in an ideal range. This strategy keeps your metabolism and motivation high while minimizing the adverse effects of restrictive dieting.
Weight loss can be achieved primarily in two ways - via fat loss or muscle gain. These two methods require opposite eating plans. Thus, it is important for you to determine which method is your priority to health and weight loss.
One way to figure it out is to understand your body composition. You can measure your body composition by getting a DEXA (Dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan, using a BIA (bioelectrical impedance) scale, or measuring your neck and weight circumference.
Your body weight mainly consists of:
Although your body fat plays an important role in vital body functions including energy reservoirs and heat insulation, it is important to keep your fat percentage within an ideal range to prevent an increased risk of inflammation and metabolic conditions such as insulin resistance and diabetes. In particular, the amount of fat that covers your organs, known as visceral fat, needs to be as close to zero as possible since this type of fat is corelated with a risk of metabolic conditions.
What should your ideal body fat percentage be?
It depends on the person's age, sex, and other factors, but keeping your body fat under 30% is considered ideal. If you carry extra body fat especially around organs and the abdominal area, it increases the risk of inflammation, insulin resistance, hormonal disturbances, and chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain a body fat percentage under 30% through dietary and lifestyle changes.
What influences body fat gain or loss?
So how do our bodies determine if they need to store or lose fat? The answer is energy balance. Caloric deficit or surplus dictates fat loss or gain. Simply put, when you consistently eat more calories than the body needs, the surplus will be stored as body fat after the liver and muscle cells reach their maximum amount of glucose storage (glycogen). On the other hand, when you consistently eat less calories than what the body needs, the body will convert the body fat into glucose to feed the cells for vital functions. This in turn leads to fat loss.
Because of this concept, many people try crash dieting by eating too little calories and doing long cardio sessions to create a caloric deficit to achieve fat loss. At first, this approach seems like magic, helping you lose some pounds, however, this leads to muscle loss and slower metabolism. The body will eventually notice the reduced caloric intake and become resistant and inefficient in decreasing excess body fat. In addition, you will need to consistently maintain the reduced calorie intake everyday to maintain your weight, making you feeling hungry, sluggish, and lethargic.
Then, how can you achieve fat loss without crash dieting and reducing metabolism?
The key is to develop a sustainable eating plan that achieves a mild caloric deficit while preserving/increasing your muscle mass. Here are some practical tips to try. By following the tips below, they will help keep you energized, motivated, and active during your weight loss journey.
Tip#1: Increase your protein intake
Your body burns more calories in digesting, absorbing, and using dietary protein compared to carbohydrates and fats. This is known as TEF (thermic effect of food). The higher the TEF, the more the body burns calories to digest the food, which in turn increases your metabolism. Eating a high protein breakfast, for example, can start your day feeling more energized and feeling full longer. In addition, consuming high protein foods will prevent you from craving calorie-dense and unhealthy, processed foods.
Although protein needs are different among individuals, aiming for at least 20 grams of protein per meal is ideal for those who want to lose weight and gain muscle mass. In general, 1.5-2.0 grams of protein per kg is considered ideal for effective fat or weight loss.
Tip#2: Balance your blood sugar and insulin levels
Your blood sugar level increases when carbohydrate-rich food is consumed. Then, the pancreas attempts to lower the blood sugar to a normal range by secreting a hormone called insulin and signaling the cells to use glucose for energy. However, when blood sugar remains elevated (i.e. sugary food intake, constant snacking), it causes insulin spikes leading to excess calories being stored as body fat if you are on a caloric surplus.
Consequently, your body will have trouble using your body fat for energy.
You do not need to go on a low-carb diet. Just balancing your meals with adequate carbs, protein, and fat can help reduce blood sugar spikes, which can speed up weight loss.
Tip#3: Create a mild caloric deficit consistently
A consistent, caloric deficit must happen to lose body fat. In theory, the body needs to burn an additional 500 kcal per day to your daily caloric expenditure in order to lose 1 lb of body fat in 7 days. Does this mean you need to starve yourself? The answer is no! The key is to achieve the caloric deficit in more sustainable ways, so it does not slow your metabolism while losing body fat. Practical strategies include eating more nutrient-dense food rather than calorie-dense food, focusing on mindful eating, and moving more throughout the day. Reducing your calorie intake to less than 100-200 kcal below your specific maintenance calorie need is attainable and sustainable without feeling hungry, sluggish, and lethargic.
Tip#4: Prioritize weight training over cardio workout
It's true that your body burns more calories during cardio sessions vs weight/strength training. However, a prolonged, intense cardio exercise such as running can lead to muscle loss, overeating, and increased stress hormone. This in turn can slow down metabolism, making your weight loss effort inefficient and ineffective. Start incorporating weight and strength training sessions 1-2 times per week, then gradually increase to 3-4 sessions to further preserve/increase your muscle mass.
Tip#5: Adequate sleep and rest are also part of fat loss
Sleep deprivation has a negative affect on your hormones, ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin signals hunger to the brain, which in turn tells the body to eat more food. Leptin, on the other hand, increases after eating food and tells the brain that you are full, so that you stop eating. When these hormones are out of balance due to poor sleep, the brain gets mixed signals and increases appetite and slows down metabolism at the same time, leading to excess caloric intake, poor food choices, and weight gain. Aim for 7-9 hours of good sleep everyday to help balance these hormones for increased metabolism and weight loss.
This blog does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our website.