The main fitness goal I hear from my clients is “fat loss”. Reducing body fat and looking leaner is a common goal for both serious athletes and the general fitness enthusiast. Because of this, fat loss has become a huge industry in North America, with new fad diets, weight loss plans, abdominal toning products, and fat burning supplements popping up on the market every day!

Unfortunately, despite all of the interest, attention, investment, and energy directed at this subject, obesity is still on the rise. In fact, if you are a lean, fit and healthy individual in the U.S. you are a minority!

Because weight loss is such big business some marketers are willing to tell you anything to sell you their product or service. On top of that, there is so much information out there on this subject (much of it conflicting), that it’s hard to know what to believe or where to start. The purpose of this article is to outline some basic and effective principles for attaining permanent “fat loss” and a transformation of your physical appearance.

To get lean and stay that way, you need to identify and correct the causes of excess body fat, including:

•Excessive calorie intake
•Poor nutrition
•Unhealthy lifestyle habits

Most of you understand how important exercise and smart eating habits are in order to maintain healthy body weight, but we are inundated with so many different diet and exercise programs and there are so many weight loss myths floating around that it becomes difficult to know what to believe.

Let me assure you that proper nutrition and exercise (along with certain lifestyle changes) are STILL the solution to losing fat permanently and reclaiming your physique. The following three basic tips will help you achieve your “Fat Loss” goals.

Tip #1: Reduce calories but don't starve yourself!

The primary consideration for reducing body fat and losing weight is to consume fewer calories than you are using. This is called a caloric deficit. However, cutting too many calories, particularly protein calories, pushes the body to conserve calories rather than burn them. It may also force your body to break down muscle tissue to fuel its vital operations. But muscle tissue is the key to your metabolism (the speed at which you burn calories). More muscle means a faster metabolism and less body fat.

When you go on an extremely low calorie diet (including most liquid diets) for an extended period, your body goes into a sort of “starvation mode”. This leads to several negative consequences, including fewer fat-burning enzymes in your body, lower levels of fat burning hormones, muscle wasting, greater appetite, and low energy. The bottom line is that it’s very difficult to achieve permanent fat loss on a “starvation” type diet.

In the short term very low calorie programs may get you some results, but in the long run they can actually make you fatter. You will almost certainly regain additional body fat once your diet ends! Alternatively, you can lose body fat and keep it off by only reducing your calories slightly – about 15% to 20% below maintenance.

That being said, don’t believe the diet books that claim “calories don’t count” or say you “can eat as much as you want and still lose weight.” You still need to control your portion size and learn to balance your calories in versus calories out. A good start is to simply cut out pop, sugary snacks, and junk food. Make sure to adjust your calorie intake based on your activity level, age, and gender as well. Don’t trust a diet plan that recommends the same calories for everyone. Needs will vary depending on height, weight, gender, activity level, resting metabolism, etc.

Tip #2: Metabolize More Fat by Exercising

This ties in nicely with the first principle. The key to long term fat loss is to focus on burning the fat, not just starving the fat. To metabolize more body fat while reducing calories slightly below maintenance, you will need to burn more calories by increasing your activity level and elevating your resting metabolism.

Resistance Training

Your physical activity plan for fat loss should focus primarily on resistance training with weights. This may be different from what you had previously assumed, as many people still believe that cardiovascular exercise is the best way to shed unwanted pounds.

Some of you reading this might be saying “I don’t want to gain any muscle; I just need to lose fat”, as if the two goals were mutually exclusive.

Although you will burn fat as a fuel source during low intensity cardiovascular exercise, resistance training (high intensity strength training exercise) will not only metabolize body fat during your workout, but it will stimulate your body to continue eating up your fat stores after exercise as well.

This is sometimes referred to as the after-burn effect. This effect is caused by raising your basal metabolic rate: essentially, weight training boosts your metabolism! If your goal is permanent fat loss, then the key is to raise your metabolism so you are “burning” more calories and fat even while you rest.

Muscle Equals Metabolism

The more lean tissue you have on your body, and the more active your muscle tissue becomes, the higher your metabolism is. This is because muscles consume energy all day long in order to maintain themselves. Therefore, you need lean muscle tissue in order to burn fat. This is why I say it’s a mistake to focus only on losing weight, rather than reducing body fat.

Muscle weighs much more than fat, but because it is also much denser it takes up less space on your body. Given two people of the same size, a lean, toned physique will actually weigh more than a soft, flabby body.

So think about “reshaping” your body, rather than shrinking it. Be more concerned with the way you look in the mirror and your waist size rather than with your total body weight on the scale. Body weight measurement does not distinguish between the amount of fat and muscle that you have. Stop obsessing about your weight. Get off the scale and starting using a tape measure and looking at how your clothes fit.

Circuit Training

First of all, let’s look at a great way to incorporate resistance (strength) training in your exercise routine. Circuit training involves a single set of each exercise one after another, with minimal rest between sets. An effective way to increase your metabolism in a circuit training workout is to perform a series of exercises alternating between lower body, upper body, and core movements. This can be accomplished using minimal equipment, or by performing bodyweight exercises such as squats, lunges, pushups, dips, and abdominal exercise variations.

The key is to use compound exercises involving several muscle groups working together in big pushing and pulling movements. These movements will stimulate more muscle tissue and use more calories. Your entire workout should take less than 40 minutes and be performed 3 times per week, on alternate days. Check out my Get Lean ebook for more information on effective resistance training program design.

Cardiovascular exercise still has a role in a complete exercise routine, but excess cardio may actually cause wasting of muscle tissue! I will describe an effective way to incorporate cardiovascular endurance training in your program.

Interval Training

Interval training involves alternating periods of low intensity cardiovascular activity with higher intensity sprint intervals. This not only burns more calories in a shorter amount of time, but it will help to stimulate and preserve your hard-earned lean muscle tissue. An example of an interval training workout could be alternating periods of jogging for 2 minutes and running hard for 30 seconds, repeating these intervals for a 20 minute workout.

Exercise Early

It may be favorable to perform cardiovascular exercise early in the day for a greater fat burning effect, and preferably on a relatively empty stomach (or drink a cup of green tea before). This will get your metabolism started early and energize you for the rest of the day. Also, if you exercise before breakfast your body will tend to metabolize more body fat as a fuel source, because you have less glycogen (carbohydrates) available to burn for energy.

It doesn’t need to be a long workout; 20 minutes of intense aerobic activity is adequate. A "good-morning" routine is a good habit, however, the most important thing is to get the exercise done whenever it works best for you! Again, try to do three interval training workouts each week.

There are many other reasons why the combination of exercise and ‘smart’ nutrition is superior to “dieting” alone for losing body fat, including the numerous health benefits of regular physical activity. Exercise needs to be a solid part of your plan to get true results; don’t buy into the quick-fix solutions.

Tip #3: Avoid “Quick-Fix” Solutions

Another way people sabotage their own fat loss results is by searching for quick fixes or instant solutions to problems that have taken months or years to develop. It’s healthy to search for a more efficient way to reach your goal, but I’m talking about those who try to achieve their goal without investing any real effort on their part, and without consideration of what is healthy, safe, or lasting.

These people want “something for nothing”, expect results without changing their lifestyle, and want better health while drinking, smoking, and eating anything they like. They are more likely to fall prey to the latest fad diets, miracle pills, magic weight loss schemes, and exercise gimmicks. Conversely, reaching your goals through discipline, determination, and hard work makes you a stronger, better person in every way.

There are other problems with trying to lose weight too quickly. You need to be careful not to lose muscle as well as fat. This can cause issues with your metabolism and result in you putting the weight back on, plus some! The real objective is not just losing the fat; it’s keeping the fat off. This is one of many reasons why it is so important to include resistance training in your program.

Gradual weight loss is much healthier and more likely to be permanent. About two pounds per week is a good goal to set. Unless you are extremely over-weight, if you are losing more than this it is likely that some of the weight lost is from lean tissue, intestinal bulk, and loss of water.

Don’t be fooled by the initial water weight loss that occurs during many “lose weight fast” diets. Water loss is not fat loss. Don’t use the scale as your only reference; body composition testing (skinfold calipers, bio-impedence, or hydrostatic testing) and girth measurements are better ways to evaluate whether your weight loss is due to FAT loss.

Lack of patience will hold you back from losing body fat and keeping it off. Ignore the rapid weight loss TV shows, media stories, and infomercials… the long term consequences are NOT worth it.

Author's Bio: 

Josh Hewett, BA Kin, is a certified trainer, public speaker, and the author of “Get Lean” ( He is the owner of Top-Form-Fitness and the founder of Team Barbarian Strength Athletics (OPA affiliated).

Josh has been working in the fitness and physical conditioning industry for over 20 years, and has helped hundreds of people reach their fitness and performance goals using his proven training system.

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