Sick of looking all over the internet for a fat-burning guide that seems credible, and you can follow consistently to get the results you are looking for?
Whether it’s a new year, mid-year, or the months leading up to a big life event like a wedding, the desire to burn fat and get closer to the healthy, toned body you want can pop up at any time. But the desire is the easy part.
Beating ‘Information Overload’
We’ve been led to believe more information is always better. But when it comes to diet, exercise, and burning fat, that’s just not true.
The hard part of burning fat sustainably is sorting through the fire hose of information on the internet, on social media, and from family and friends about what works, what doesn’t, and what you should try.
The advice given from almost every source is flawed in some way. Websites, books, blogs, and segments on TV shows are almost all serving an ulterior motive: profits. When you mix the ability for almost anyone to come up with a ‘new, ultimate fat-burning program/diet/exercise machine’ with the need to stand out from the thousands of other companies and influencers doing the same thing, you have the perfect recipe for information overload.
The symptoms of this problem include exhaustion, which can include giving up trying to sort through the waves of conflicting information and product pitches. It can also include inconsistency, which is a form of self-sabotage since no program that is actually effective will have the chance to work in less than a month.
So, to help with that, what we’re going to do here at Maxine’s Challenge is put together a post that you can save to the home screen of your phone and return to again and again as a source of truth and information. Here’s what it won’t be:
• A ‘quick fix’ or ‘miracle cure’.
• A promise to be the ‘best ever’ guide with ‘groundbreaking information’.
• A long sales pitch for something that gets you results without having to do the work.
Here’s what it will be:
• A clear source of information.
• A reference piece for you to come back to.
• A list of proven, effective methods for losing fat, but also requires you to follow them consistently to see results.
If that sounds like the information you’ve been looking for, then read on.
What is Fat? And is Eating it Bad?
Fat is bad. You should avoid it. Fat is good. You should eat more of it. Some kinds of fat are good, others are terrible.
If you are, you’re not alone. It turns out that the folks who look at diet and nutrition full-time as part of their jobs are, too. By that, we mean that they have changed their minds a few times over the decades. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind when the evidence suggests that a different approach is a good idea; otherwise, smoking indoors or driving without a seatbelt would still be thought of as okay.
And food trends take longer to change than the latest research. That can explain why on the supermarket shelves, there seems to be a real difference between what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in terms of fat. And of course, as consumers, we tend to obtain knowledge but are not likely to challenge it. So if when our food preferences and knowledge were formed (usually in our late teens and early twenties), the common knowledge was something like ‘low-fat = good’ then it’s difficult to change that viewpoint that later on.
The Fat Breakdown
Fat is one of three macronutrients. All three are needed for the body to function and for all of the millions of biochemical reactions that take place in the gut, brain, and blood to take place. The three macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Fats are also known as triglycerides. The ‘tri’, like the ‘tri’ in ‘tricycle’, comes from the fact that triglycerides are formed from three different fatty acids.
Saturated fat is a type of fat that becomes solid at room temperature. It is naturally occurring in a lot of foods, but that doesn’t mean it is a ‘good fat’. Consuming a lot of saturated fat as part of your diet increases your ‘bad’ cholesterol levels. The bad cholesterol type is called LDL cholesterol. Too much of it in your blood means that you have a much-increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Saturated fat in food is found in fatty cuts of beef, butter, soft cheeses, and the skin on chicken, as well as oils such as coconut oil and palm oil.
Unlike saturated fat, unsaturated fats are typically liquid when stored at room temperature. There are two types of unsaturated fat: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Unsaturated fats can be beneficial when eaten in the right quantities as part of a balanced diet.
Remember the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol? Well, it turns out that unsaturated fats can help reduce the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood. Unsaturated fats can also provide the body with the essential fatty acids that don’t naturally occur within the body. These include omega-3 and omega-6, which can have beneficial health properties.
Unsaturated fats can be found in food in fish such as salmon, mackerel, and trout, as well as olive oil, peanut oil, and sesame oil. They can also be found in fruits and legumes, with avocados and peanut butter both representing good sources of unsaturated fats.
If unsaturated fats are generally good and saturated fats are generally bad, then trans fats are always bad. That’s because trans fats are usually produced artificially by food manufacturers because of their ability to last for a long time, and increase the shelf life of a range of foods.
Like overconsuming saturated fats, trans fats can increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. However, they also pack a negative double punch because they will also lower your ‘good’ cholesterol levels. This good cholesterol is called HDL cholesterol. Trans fats concerned health authorities so much that their use as a food additive has either been banned or strictly curtailed in some countries.
We’ve spent a bit of time talking about good and bad cholesterol, so it’s probably worth zooming out a bit and giving a bit of an explanation about this component of your body. Cholesterol doesn’t just come from foods. It’s also actually made naturally by the body in your liver. It plays a supportive role in your digestive processes, so some cholesterol is not only good, it’s essential.
But it’s when diet factors tip the amount of cholesterol in the blood to ‘too high’ that the risks go up. And the risks are a laundry list of the biggest killers (by number) of people in the world, including heart disease.
Fat in Food Facts
The old ‘common knowledge’ about fats were easy to communicate: ‘eat fat makes you fat’. And like with all common knowledge, there was an element of truth in this statement.
Despite the fact we know that fat can be both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ now, fat is still a calorically dense food type. All that means is that per gram, fat has 9 calories (or around 36 kilojoules). In comparison, a gram of protein or carbohydrates has only 4 calories (or 16 kilojoules). That simple difference means that it’s far easier to overeat a portion that contains fat than it is other types of food because you can eat less (by volume) and consume more in total energy.
This leads us to a simple formula that will be repeated a few times from here on in: if more energy is consumed (through food) than is burnt off (through general living activities and exercise), then the result will equal weight gain. The opposite is also true. If less energy is consumed (through food) than is burnt off (through activities and exercise), then weight loss will be the result.
Fat in the Body: An Essential Part of a Healthy Body
Too many health and fitness articles demonise fat. Here, we encourage a more healthy, sustainable outlook. Fat is one of just three essential macronutrients. Your body needs it to survive and thrive. In fact, it is essential to help provide energy when carbohydrates are not available, help absorb fat-soluble vitamins, give a layer of protection for your internal organs against damage, and help produce hormones that your body needs to operate.
Now that you’ve got the background knowledge you need, it’s time to move to the mechanics of losing fat and keeping it off.
Fat Gain and Fat Loss
We mentioned calories briefly earlier. Calories are simply the unit by which the energy of food is measured. Some people prefer to use kilojoules, which is just an alternative unit of measurement. (To convert calories into kilojoules, multiply the number by 4. So a snack with 100 calories contains 400 kilojoules.)
Every human body needs a level of ‘maintenance calories’ to survive. Like a car cruising on the highway, even low-impact activities like sleeping or sitting that would never be classed as ‘exercise’ cause our bodies to burn energy and calories. Higher intensity activities cause higher levels of calorie burn.
When we referred to the simple formula above, we were actually talking about something that modern scientists and physicians call the energy balance equation. It’s an incredibly simple concept that reads like a maths formula.
Weight loss (and fat loss) will occur if a person burns more energy than they store.
Weight gain will occur if a person burns less energy than they store.
And weight maintenance will occur if they burn and store energy in roughly equal amounts, which is the usual state of affairs for most people as our bodies fight pretty hard to maintain a stable weight (so minor changes to diet and exercise don’t cause sudden weight gain or loss).
How and Why do You Gain Fat?
Before you ever see ‘fat’ on a body, a lot of processes have occurred at an invisible level underneath the surface. First of all, the pancreas will offload enzymes to help break fat into its parts for the body to use. Too much fat in the diet means the pancreas gets overloaded.
These fat subparts that are broken down by the body are reassembled in a form that the body can use as energy (fuel). If the energy requirements of the body don’t require that fuel, then the body is very efficient – it stores that fuel in a stockpile for later. But too much stockpiling for later can lead to an overload, and that overloading at a molecular level, repeated over and over, is what leads to weight gain and visible fat.
The majority of these fat stockpiles are under the skin, with a minor amount being redirected to insulate our major organs. For men, this ‘skin deep’ fat typically finds a home around the stomach. For women, fat deposits are far more common on the thighs, hips, and buttocks.
Losing Fat: The Science
Those ‘miracle fat-blasting cures’ that we made fun of at the beginning of this article makes this part sound difficult and hard to wrap your head around. That’s marketing spin. If something sounds complicated and hard to do (for example: ‘take advantage of our cutting edge research into fat thermogenesis by leading European scientists’), then it’s proven that we are willing to pay more for it as consumers.
But it’s not that difficult. To lose weight, and therefore burn the extra fat stockpiles that your body has been storing for later use, you have to consume fewer calories than you burn. And this process has to take place over not just a day or a week, but for an extended period.
Remember, those stockpiles of fat are there to be used as energy on a day that your body needs them. It’s your job to give your body the reason to use those stockpiles of energy consistently.
Your body first will use simple carbohydrates for energy as they are easy to break down and plentiful in many types of food. Only when that fuel source is exhausted will it look to the harder to break down and utilise fat stores. The body is amazing in that it will convert those fat stores into its preferred energy source (glucose, a type of carbohydrate) before burning it as energy.
Calculating Calories for Fat Loss
By now you’ve probably realised that losing fat is less about the latest workout and far more about your diet. Some experts put the split at 80% diet and 20% exercise for any weight loss or fat loss goal. The reason that exercise gets far more focus is that it’s far easier to ‘package’ and sell a product that helps with exercise than it is to sell a product that helps with long term diet changes.
The safe range to lose weight (and fat) is around 1 kilogram a week. If you lose weight faster than this, you risk your body attempting to ‘rebound’ any time you have a lapse in your consistency with your diet or exercise. That will be because the body will attempt to stay at a steady weight, and when presented with an opportunity to store energy for later, it will take it. The end result of that will be putting weight back on. Consistent, smaller levels of weight loss gets around that problem by reducing the potential for rebound weight gain.
The average woman needs around 2000 calories (or 8000 kilojoules) per day to maintain her weight. So for weight loss and fat loss, she needs a calorie deficit of around 500 calories (or 2000 kilojoules). That means the total calories in a day would be 1500 calories (or 6000 kilojoules).
Getting used to keeping track of calorie intake isn’t that difficult. We don’t eat that many different foods over a regular week unless of course, we are on holiday or travelling.
Calorie tracking apps like My Fitness Pal have libraries of hundreds of thousands of foods with nutritional and calorie data preloaded, meaning that logging your calories takes a total of five minutes per day. And after a while, you get very attuned to ‘eyeballing’ your food and making a good estimate of how many calories are in it.
Exercise and Fat Loss
We’ve kept the exercise part to the end, and deliberately so. No one, no matter how hard they work in the gym or what program they follow, will be able to out-train a diet that provides a calorie surplus. Best case in that scenario will be weight maintenance. It’s also a fact that some people have lower calorie sensitivity that others, so they require a greater cut in calories from their baseline levels to actually lose weight.
In terms of exercise, we have a few ‘golden rules’ for the best ways to lose weight and lose fat in a sustainable way.
First of all, the best type of fat-burning workout is the kind that you are happy to do not for a week or a month, but for several months at a time. That means you don’t have to commit to four CrossFit sessions a week. But it does mean planning your workout routine in a way that works for you, and that you’ll stick to. That might mean four gym sessions, or it might mean two sessions in the gym and then alternating swimming and hill sprints near your home the other day.
The second rule is you have to sweat. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are the key to getting your heart rate up and the body into the fat-burning zone. Gentle jogs or a leisurely weights session while checking your social media just isn’t going to cut it. This is where Maxine’s Challenge programs and the community can really help. Tracking yourself and how much more you can do each week is an incredible self-motivator, and can be addictive in a positive way as you create and reinforce good habits.
The third rule is consistency. Boring, mind-numbing, unsexy consistency. Three days of a 500 calorie deficit and working out on two of them can be wiped out by a single night out with a couple of bottles of high-calorie wine. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy your life if a hen’s party or the annual weekend away beckons.
But it’s about being smart. You know now that a calorie deficit is needed to lose weight. You know that consistency is how to get to that goal. So instead of calorie-heavy wine, maybe a vodka, lime, and soda is the best option. Couple that with eating a decent meal before you head out (to avoid the late-night McDonalds or kebab stop) and you’ve already come out in a place that keeps you on track for your long term goals.