7 Common Mistakes People Make with Fat Loss
Fat loss is a bit of a minefield with all of the conflicting information, some of it trustworthy (and much of it not!).
Here’s 7 common mistakes people make regarding fat loss.
This post has been spawned by a recent series of posts I did on Instagram (follow me here!). I thought all of the captions would make for a good blog post, so i’ve compiled them all here!
Fat Loss Mistake Number 1 – Starving Yourself:
Have you ever done this?
I get what you’re trying to do. Eat as little as possible so you lose fat faster and to be sure it’s actually going to work!
The problem with starving yourself, is there’s absolutely no way it’s sustainable.
You just simply CANNOT eat like that forever.
And what happens in 99.9% of cases?
You end up “snapping”, going on a complete binge, where you gain whatever weight you lost straight back!
How does fat loss actually work?
It’s a calorie deficit. That’s the key. I know people INSIST it’s not, but they’re wrong. Simple as that.
There are many ways to achieve a calorie deficit – which can include whatever magical diet or timing of meals they insist is the true key, but the one constant amongst all fat loss is a calorie deficit.
You need a calorie deficit of around 20% below your TDEE – how many calories it takes to maintain your weight (Google TDEE calculator to get a ballpark of yours).
When you starve yourself, you may be doing something crazy like eating 50% below your TDEE, or perhaps an even bigger calorie deficit than that.
This DOES result in faster weight loss – but it’s impossible to maintain & there are some very undesirable side effects.
Leptin production will decrease & your body will slow down all of its functions in an attempt to conserve energy & keep you alive. You’ll be very food focused & crave everything under the sun.
Cortisol (stress hormone) rises & your body will enter a catabolic state & start getting energy from wherever it can – including your muscles – calorically expensive tissue your body sees as expendable when food is in short supply. Now when you eat normally again it is easier to get fat as you burn fewer calories at rest (less muscle).
- Track your food and stay in a calorie deficit
- Stay around a 20% calorie deficit
- Prioritise protein to maintain lean mass and because its more filling (higher thermic effect too)
- Don’t be reckless.
- Give it time.
Number 2 – Not eating enough protein.
As you (hopefully) know, you need a calorie deficit to lose fat.
You can just eat less of the foods you already eat and it will work for fat loss provided you get into that calorie deficit.
However, if your diet is high in processed foods and low in protein, you’ll have a harder time of it vs. a higher protein diet based around whole foods.
That’s because protein and unprocessed foods have a higher thermic effect than other foods (how many calories your body has to burn to digest the foods)
Studies suggest the thermic effect of protein is even 25-35%, meaning you effectively get this much of a discount on those calories from protein. For carbs it’s 5-15% and for fat it’s 0-5%.
Processing foods makes it easier for your body to digest them too, so whole foods require your body to burn more calories through digestion.
In addition, think about food volume. Foods which take up more space for the amount of calories they contain. (Lean) Protein scores well here – chicken breast, tuna, steak, lean ground beef etc. Fibrous vegetables also score well. These foods are “energy sparse” not “energy dense”. You can eat more of them while keeping your calories low, so you’ll feel more full and not have constant hunger.
Focus on your calories and get into that deficit, but eat more protein. 1g per lb of your lean mass (or your goal weight) will work fine.
Number 3 – Not being honest with yourself.
A great way of ensuring you’re in a (sustainable) calorie deficit is to track everything you’re eating in myfitnesspal and make it fit within your deficit calories whilst hitting about 1g of protein per lb of your lean mass.
If you record everything accurately, this will work (provided you’re tracking to the right number).
But if you’re not tracking 20% of the calories you eat, it won’t work.
It’s easily done. You finish your kids dinner. Accept a bite of your partner’s brownie. Sneak a slice of pizza. Don’t bother trying to account for difficult things to track, like cooking oil, butter and mayonnaise.
If you eat it standing over the kitchen sink and no one saw, it doesn’t count, right?
These “BLTs” (bites, licks and tastes) all add up. It can be enough to make a difference and really slow down or prevent your progress.
Just be honest with yourself.
Number 4. Thinking healthy foods can be eaten with no limits.
Avocado, nuts, peanut butter, olive oil, salmon, orange juice, smoothies etc.
You can really add up a lot of calories if you don’t keep an eye on your serving sizes!
“But it’s good calories!”
“But I read X was a ‘fat burning food'”
Nope. Those don’t exist.
Look, it doesn’t matter how healthy your individual foods are.
If you eat too many calories, more than you need for your unique bodyweight and for how active you are, you will put on weight.
Try this calorie and macronutrient calculator to get a rough estimate of how much you need.
Get that number, then start tracking your intake and watch what happens to your weight.
Promise it works.
Number 5 – Trying to work the fat off in the gym.
Burpees. Battle ropes. Sleds. Sprints. HIIT!
“These all ramp up fat burning and stoke your metabolism for hours, right?”
Nah, not really.
You’ve got to burn more calories than you eat to lose fat, BUT you burn a ton just by EXISTING, and your daily activity outside the gym probably burns more than what you do in the gym.
There’s really not that much point to staying there for an extra 10 minutes to do some more Kettlebell swings and sprints on the spot. It’s not going to burn hundreds more calories.
If you want to burn more calories, walk more. Take the stairs. Make dinner in the kitchen. Do some work in the garden. Get a standing desk.
All of this is non exercise activity and it also burns calories. This are miniscule amounts in isolation, but over the 16-18 hours you’re awake can actually add up quite a lot.
Having said all that, the real battle is won or lost with your diet.
Track your calories in (accurately) and make smarter choices there. That’s how you can really find hundreds of calories in 10 minutes.
Number 6 – Ruining the week with a cheat weekend!
I know loads of people have done this.
I did it every once in a while, but some people are stuck in a cycle of doing it week after week, and getting nowhere in the long term.
DO NOT “be really good” all week, track your calories, be in a calorie deficit Monday-Friday, and then undo it all over the weekend!
This will absolutely stop your progress long term.
Think about your calorie deficit as a weekly rolling number rather than individual days.
Instead of aiming to build up 500 kcal deficits on each individual day, aim for 3500 over every 7 days.
With the first approach, you might get a big green ✅ next to 5 out of 7 days. 71% compliance. Not bad, right?
Well it could be meaningless if during the weekend you eat and drink back ALL the calories you banked between Monday and Friday.
Instead of being 71% on track, you’re actually back at square one!
Monday to Friday – “Good behaviour” – 500 calorie deficit each day for a 2500 calorie total.
Saturday & Sunday 1250 calories over maintenance on EACH day thanks to beers, crisps, chocolates, monster BBQs, desserts and takeaway pizzas.
Net result = 2500 calorie deficit erased, making the work from Monday to Friday utterly pointless.
Just because you do something all on one day and call it a “cheat day” doesn’t somehow make it count less.
Number 7 – Thinking rep ranges you lift in make a difference for fat loss.
I’ll keep this one short and sweet.
This myth refuses to die.
Lifting light weights for more reps does not make you burn fat or “shred”.
You actually want to keep lifting heavy weights because your body needs a reminder that your muscle is needed right now, and should not be an option to make up the shortfall in energy that it’s getting from eating less food.
Because that’s how you lose fat. You eat less food.
I really like this handy macronutrient and calorie calculator. This will give you a good indication of what you should be eating.