There’s plenty of advice out there on the subject of how to lose fat. Some of it is helpful and some of it is not so helpful.
Losing fat is not always easy. But the actual steps you need to take are pretty simple. It’s nowhere near as complicated as some people would have you believe.
Rather than give you another “21 tips to lose fat” list, I’m going to tell you about the things that aren’t going to make much difference to your results one way or the other. The “inessentials” that you can quite happily forget about and still make great progress.
So here, in no particular order, is a list of things that don’t matter when it comes to losing fat.
1. Fasted Cardio
I like to start the day with some caffeine, followed by a morning walk with my dog. I used to think that doing so would help with fat loss. But, the research on the subject has changed my mind [1, 2]. Fasted cardio may be useful for certain people in certain situations, but I don’t think it makes a big difference to your rate of fat loss one way or the other.
2. Ketogenic Diets
Very low carbohydrate diets (also known as ketogenic diets) can deliver fast results. But, “fast” and “sustainable” are not always compatible bedfellows. You can lose fat with varying amounts of carbohydrate in your diet, from low to medium to high .
3. Meal Frequency
Most of the research out there shows that an increase in meal frequency has no significant effect on weight loss, metabolic rate or the amount of fat burned over a 24-hour period . One, three or six meals a day can all lead to fat being lost.
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4. Meal Timing
Calories don’t become more fattening if you eat them later in the day. Nor is there any compelling evidence to suggest that eating your largest meal at night delivers vastly superior results. You can drop fat using a wide variety of meal timing patterns, with your ability to stick to the diet being more important than anything else.
Contrary to what the various “celebrity diet experts jumping on the anti-sugar bandwagon” have to say, there is no need to eliminate every last gram of sugar from your diet. Provided you account for it in your daily carbohydrate budget, you can eat sugar and still get lean .
6. Glycemic Index (GI)
There’s nothing wrong with following a diet that contains plenty of low GI foods. But, for most people most of the time, the GI isn’t worth worrying about. If your daily protein and calorie intake are set at the right level, lowering the GI of your diet isn’t going to make a jot of difference to the speed at which you lose fat .
Insulin does have a role to play in fat metabolism. But it’s just one instrument in the hormonal orchestra that’s playing inside in your body, and it’s possible to get ripped with widely varying levels of insulin . Claims that a high level of insulin make you store fat no matter how many calories you eat, or that you can eat as much fat as you want without gaining weight because it doesn’t affect insulin, are grounded more in science fiction than science fact.
I think of cardio like air conditioning in your car. It’s nice to have, especially if you live in a hot county. But it’s not essential for getting where you want to go. Fat can be lost with diet alone, diet plus cardio, diet plus strength training, or a combination of the three.
9. Eating Clean
The fact that you eat only “healthy” or “clean” foods is no guarantee that you’ll lose fat. Some foods that are considered “clean” are also very high in calories. Eat too many of them, and you’ll get fat.
10. Dietary Fat
Diets high or low in fat can both work for fat loss . Some days you might have a little more fat, other days a little less. As long as total calories and protein are set at the right level, it doesn’t matter too much.
Cortisol has firmly established itself as one of the “villains” in the hormonal world of goodies and baddies. Not so. Cortisol, in and of itself, won’t stop fat being lost, nor will it lead to fat being gained in the absence of a calorie surplus.
There is nothing uniquely harmful about fructose. It’s not magically going to make you fat, wreck your liver or give you diabetes. Fructose can lead to weight gain when consumed to excess, but it’s no more likely to do so than excess calories from fat or other types of carbohydrate .
The idea that alcohol automatically turns into fat and goes straight to your waist is mistaken. Alcohol does put the brakes on fat burning while it’s being metabolized by your body . However, it’s no more likely to stop you losing weight than excess calories from carbohydrate or fat.
14. Fat Burning Foods
Various lists of so-called “fat burning foods” appear regularly in various “how to lose fat” articles. They’re usually full of pointless advice about how adding cinnamon to yogurt turns it into a “belly-busting pudding,” or that blueberries can “disrupt the development of fat cells.” Good for a laugh, but not much else.
Some diets advise limiting your intake of fruit, or even cutting it out completely, mainly on the basis that most of the calories come from sugar. However, fruits like strawberries, bananas, or apples contain a relatively small amount of sugar. Most of their weight comes from fiber and water, which can help rather than hurt weight loss . Nature has “packaged” fruit in such a way that makes the passive overconsumption of calories very difficult.
Milk, yogurt and other dairy foods are often condemned as an insulin-spiking menace with no place in the human diet. In fact, most research shows that the effect dairy products have on your weight is broadly neutral . They’re not going to hurt your efforts to get ripped, but they’re not going to help much either.
Skipping breakfast does not automatically increase your risk of weight gain. Nor do people who eat breakfast end up losing weight more quickly than those who don’t. If breakfast isn’t your thing, or you don’t get peckish until the afternoon, there’s nothing wrong with starting the day with a cup of coffee and little else. It’s not something that will make or break your diet.
18. Intermittent Fasting
My results with intermittent fasting have been extremely positive. That said, I don’t think there’s any magic about it. It’s just a simple way to stay within your calorie budget for the day. Most studies show that intermittent fasting doesn’t perform any better (or any worse) than continuous calorie restriction when it comes to weight loss . The main benefit is convenience and simplicity, rather than any massive difference in terms of results.
19. Artificial Sweeteners
Claims that artificial sweeteners mess up your metabolism, as well as making you hungry and fat, aren’t backed by the research . As I explain in my ebook, most controlled trials show that low-calorie sweeteners fail to increase calorie intake or bodyweight, and, in some cases at least, lead to a modest amount of weight loss. None show that sweeteners lead directly to weight gain.
20. Fat Burning Workouts
Workouts that burn more fat don’t always lead to more fat being lost . That’s because your body can respond by adjusting the dials on your appetite, activity levels, and metabolism in such a way that losing fat becomes increasingly difficult [16, 17]. The amount of fat that a given workout burns is not the only or even most important criteria by which to judge its effectiveness.
21. Food Combining
Some say that in order to maximize fat loss, you should avoid eating fat and carbohydrate in the same meal. It’s more nonsense, for the reasons I explain here. You can eat nutrients in any combination (including carbs and fat) and still lose fat.
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