I think we can all agree that dieting is hard enough and we don’t need to make it harder on ourselves. I want to take a look at 5 fat loss mistakes that I have seen over the years as a trainer and coach and break down the ways to avoid those mistakes. The whole goal of dieting is to get from A to Z systematically yet I see people making mistakes that let them only get to N for example. Fat loss takes a careful well thought-out approach to make it all the way to your goals, letting mistakes shoot your fat loss goals down can be very frustrating. Avoid these 5 mistakes and you will have a more successful fat loss campaign.
- Starting a fat loss diet on low calories.
You wouldn’t believe just how common this really is and there is a reason I listed it number 1- I feel it’s the number one thing that people don’t pay close attention to. One of the toughest parts of my job as a coach is screening potential clients and finding out how much they have been eating so I can make sure I have room to create a deficit. If they aren’t eating enough I won’t work with them because I know deep down and through experience, I won’t be able to get them the results they want before their metabolism tanks. Many people come to me on a weekly basis already eating low calories and expect to be able to lose a significant amount of weight and it just isn’t going to happen. Let me explain why this is so important…
You have to have room in your calorie levels to create a deficit. A normal set up for a male may be 3000 calories, and to create a deficit 2500 calories is the starting point. This is a healthy normal example and one I strive to help my clients achieve before they start to diet. I have seen men come to me trying to lose fat and only eating 1700 calories, and some weigh over 300 lbs. Even a male weighing 200 lbs, this is still very low. Where do you think the calories are going to end up once you are done, 1000 calories a day? This is the reason we see so many dieters messed up with thyroid issues or the inability to lose fat because they aren’t supporting their metabolism with enough calories. The metabolism is a big part of how much fat you can lose, suppress it with low calories before the diet even starts and you won’t get very far before you stall out.
I wrote a whole book on this topic titled “Metabolic Capacity and Reverse Dieting: How to Prime Your Metabolism To Achieve Maximum Fat Loss” and it has received great reviews. It’s all about setting the diet up by making sure calories and metabolism are supported before the diet begins. Make sure you eat enough calories, generally 15x body weight is a good number for most people to start a diet from though that can definitely vary and is not a rule of thumb. I will say however, I don’t like to see lower than that when not dieting off body fat. For a 200 lb male that would be 3000 calories, and for a 150 lb female that would be 2250 calories for example. (I understand each person is unique, this amount will vary per person and their metabolism some more, some less)
- Not Counting Your Macros/Calories.
Another common mistake I see frequently when people come to me for help is when the dieter isn’t counting their macros/calories. Macros refer to Macronutrients: protein, carbs, and fats. Macronutrients make up your total calories for the day. Protein yields 4 calories per gram, carbs 4 calories per gram, and fats yield 9 calories per gram and together they make up your total calories per day. So, if a female is taking in 150 protein, 150 carbs, and 50 fats she is hitting a total calorie level of 1650.
The problem people run into is when they are “eating clean” or just eating off a healthy meal plan focusing on all the “healthy” food choices but not paying attention to how much they put in their bodies. Just because someone is eating clean healthy food doesn’t mean those calories won’t add up and throw off fat loss, or even as discussed in #1 above not add up to enough daily calories to even start the diet. Yes, not paying attention to what you are eating is easier… but let’s not be lazy here because fat loss isn’t an easy process. Putting the time in to look at food labels and log your food intake tells us what our daily intakes look like and if we need to adjust them it’s easier when you want to take off 15 carbs from the diet for example. Plus, you can be very detailed with your plan and adjust it in these tiny increments and still keep making progress.
One other mistake I do see people make even when they do start counting their macros is they fail to count all the macros in a food. For example, oatmeal has mostly carbs as we know but also has a good amount of protein and fat in it as well. The dieter should always count the pro/carbs/fats in the foods they are eating as they can add up in a big way. Remember, these are calories after all and play a role in fat loss.
The next time you diet, if you seem to not be making any progress, take the time to track your food for a few weeks. Adding up just how many protein carbs and fat grams you are getting a day and adjust accordingly if you hit a sticking point. If you need any help here … please never hesitate to reach out to us!
- Doing too much cardio from the start of the diet.
Cardiovascular exercise is a tool to use in the process of losing fat and using too much too fast not only leaves little room to make adjustments when fat loss stalls, it can also work against losing fat by slowing the metabolism and stripping hard earned muscle.
First, let’s look at how to start a cut phase with cardio. If you are going to do steady state or H.I.I.T. (high-intensity interval training) you only want to do enough to get fat loss started and leave room to add more as fat loss plateaus. Jumping into a diet by trying to lose a ton of fat right off the bat isn’t an ideal approach, I have seen people start off with an hour of cardio a day plus weight training- where do you think cardio is going to end up by the end of the dieting phase? Yup, 2 hours or more to be effective. Start low, maybe 15 minutes of steady state cardio 3x a week or a couple of H.I.I.T. sessions a week of 5 intervals each time, that should be enough to kick off your fat loss journey. And honestly, if you can get by without using cardio at first that’s even better.
If too much steady state cardio is done it has been shown to promote elevated cortisol levels, muscle loss, and a slowed metabolism. That’s a cocktail for ending fat loss prematurely so use it wisely and in increments as fat loss stalls out.
- Cutting calories too low to start the dieting phase.
There are a number of trainers out there who will just put someone on a 1200 calorie diet if they are a female or a 1700 calorie diet if they are a male and just tell them to run with it for 12 weeks. I can assure you this is one of the worst things a dieter can do.
Making harsh cuts in the diet and calorie levels can lead to stalling out very quickly, and can also lead to a good amount of muscle loss if the restriction is too severe and lasts a long time, such as 12 weeks or more. A good diet is one that is slowly adjusted down as the body plateaus, maybe 60-80 calories taken out at a time depending on the person (that could be 15-20 carbs adjusted out of the diet for example). Starting from 3000 cals and going straight to 1700 cal for a male is way too much, way too fast. Sure fat loss will happen for a couple of weeks, then get ready for the dreaded plateau. Then where do you think cals are going to go? Yup, even lower, and usually with quite a bit of time left to diet.
- Trying to lose too much too fast.
Fat loss is like eating an elephant, it’s going to take a while and you aren’t going to eat a whole elephant in one sitting. You have to pace yourself and be diligent and patient, and the longer time goes on the more you notice changes taking place. Too many people try and eat the whole elephant at once and it’s not going to work.
When a fat loss plan starts, it’s not wise to start it off trying to lose a rapid amount of fat in a short amount of time. Sure the first week can yield quite a bit of weight loss which is usually due to cleaning up the diet and losing some bloat from all the pizza and beer that was being consumed, but after the first week a rate of 1-2 lbs lost a week is a good goal to set. If you are very heavy and overweight and need to lose 100 lbs or more, 3 lbs a week is okay.
Here’s the thing most people don’t realize- if too much weight is being lost each week it’s more than likely going to be fat but also muscle and that means metabolism is going to slow down and cause a plateau sooner than later. The more muscle we keep when dieting the better our metabolism will be and the more fat loss we experience over time.
Be patient and consistent, don’t try and lose it all too fast. As the good old saying in our industry goes, “It didn’t come on overnight, it’s not going to come off overnight”.
– John Gorman, MA, CPT, is a well-respected contest prep coach/nutritionist and the owner of Team Gorman LLC. John is also a published author, public speaker, co-owner of The Physique Summit Conference, and proud member of the 1st Phorm Phamily. His work centers on helping athletes achieve their maximum potential in various sports such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, crossfit, along with high school and college level athletics. You can follow him on Instagram @team_gorman , on Periscope @teamgorman , or facebook.com/teamgorman .
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