***DISCLAIMER: before starting any major dietary changes, make sure you consult with a qualified physician beforehand to avoid any adverse health risks from unknown/unexpected health conditions***
Cutting fat is a drag. Whether you’re trying to lose 10% body fat or get down to 10% (and below), it sucks butts.
I can tell you the smiles on the physique stage are not from feeling skinny, but spawned from the scent of the approaching after-pizza (like an after party, but with… yeh you get it).
All we can do is accept it, get our head down and try our best to enjoy some of it along the way.
Oh, and put these principles into action to make the whole thing a damn sight easier.
1. Prioritise Protein
Our bodies fat stores are made up of excess carbs and fats - it’s a tricky process breaking protein down to make energy, so the body thinks to itself “why go to all the extra effort when there’s easily convertible carbs and fats?”. By including high protein meals and snacks into our diet, there will be less excess energy available to store away - meaning our bodies will have to dive into and start using up our fat stores to get energy to move and exercise throughout the day.
Protein also takes longer to break down and digest, so the extra time it spends in our gut tricks our body into feeling fuller for longer.
Bonus fact: that's one of the reasons our body loves cooked/hot protein foods, the heat has already started to break down some of the chemical bonds, making the food easier to digest. Another reason our bodies love them is because they are crazy tasty.
With these factors in mind, upping your protein intake - by simply including more high protein foods such as meats, dark leafy vegetables and legumes - will help you burn more fat than the standard carb+fat heavy/protein light meal. We still need a good amount of carbs and fats in our diets for energy, but reducing them just a little to fit in more protein is only going to help our fat cut.
2. Sanity Days
Changing your diet can be tough, and leave you longing for a treat or tasty food from before. While I believe no food is truly “bad”, just the quantity in which we consume it, there are still meals that are just too unbalanced to fit into regular diet days.
Say hello to Sanity Days. These are days that I program in a cheat meal, or a whole cheat day if it’s been a while. They work on the basis that one meal isn’t going to destroy your progress - just like one healthy meal isn’t going to turn you into a superhuman. Now that doesn’t mean they get featured in each day of the week - at most I put in one cheat meal every 3 days, or a cheat day every 7 (or once a week). This lets you have a quick break from the monotony, and even have a social life while dieting hard *gasp*.
Now after a cheat meal/day, you might be left a little bloated or holding extra water the next morning. Don’t fret, this’ll pass once your back in the swing of dietary days - continuing on to that lean life.
3. Monitor What You’re Eating
I’m a big fan of macros, but it’s not everyone’s kettle of fish. Noting down all the individual values of each individual foods can be time consuming and straight up boring. There are apps to help, just log what you ate and it’ll do the calculating for you, but there is an even simpler way to get started.
Just keep a food diary, or a note of what you eat throughout the day. Be honest, because whether we like it or not everything adds up in the end. From here, we just need to reduce what we eat during the day a little, and note to ourselves what effect it has. Nothing drastic, just cutting down a little on snacks or juice, or even substituting ingredients/meals for slightly healthier ones.
The principle behind this is that we can’t hope to meaningfully change what we don’t monitor - how would we know anything's changing! Keeping a diary of our food choices also lets us spot patterns or parts of the day we could experiment with. For example, seeing we snack a lot in the afternoons could mean we should try a bigger lunch to carry us through without the snacks; or spotting the meal deals that could have healthier options available.
4. Small Adjustments
One of the quick ways to fall off track is to go too big. Chopping your intake in half or resorting to some kind of starvation style diet is going to be incredibly hard to stick to, and may end up doing you more harm than good. Instead, we can have a much more sustainable and easy to stick to process of reducing our intake a little at a time.
This doesn’t mean you necessarily need to count calories or monitor your macros. Just focus on doing a little better each week. This works best in conjunction with the tip above (monitor what you eat), as you can make small adjustments without going crazy trying to remember it all. I recommend adding one small adjustment each week if you’re just getting started - this lets you experience it and see if it’s really sustainable or just too much.
It would be great to go from takeaways each night to homecooking everything all day every day, but if it’s too big a jump then it’s too big a jump. In this scenario it’s better to swap even just one of the takeaways for a home prepared meal, giving you the best set-up to achieve it. Once you’re comfortable with one meal - maybe increase it to two a week, or have one home prepped meal and add in healthy snacks for one of the days.
It’s all about stringing small victories together, everything adds up in the end.
5. Drink More Water
Drinks are not created equally, and regardless of what advertising tells you water is the best hydrater out there. Simple H2O will help clean out toxins and icky stuff that could be potentially hindering our fat loss efforts. Not to mention, it comes baggage free - foregoing any hidden sugars and calories, unlike those sneaky soft drinks.
Drinking more water can also help you feel more full - while it’s not fooling anyone into thinking it’s a snack or full meal, it is helpful in a pinch when we’re eyeing up the KitKats in the cupboard. While not the most flavourful, we can add our own healthy infusions to give it a wee bit o’ taste without the extra sugars that factory produced flavoured water has (for ingredient inspirations, click here and check out day 9 of 2016’s 12 Days of Liftmas).
Most important of all is to remember that fat loss doesn't happen overnight. It can take a week or two to kick in, but after that it gets easier to see the difference from when you started. This is why it's so important to make sustainable changes and adjustments - suffering through a rough diet for a week before giving up isn't going to have anywhere near as much of a result as small meaningful changes each week for a month or two.
It can be a long game, so making choices you can stick to - and even enjoy - are the key to a healthy and successful fat loss journey. You don't need to go to extremes to cut fat, just do a little more or a little better each week and you'll make it.
Everything adds up in the end.