Why the fat loss plan you’re following isn’t working.
by Alex Cain, PES, CES, FMS
“I want to lose weight.”
It’s the most common goal I’ve heard as a fitness professional and now I was hearing it again. A nice lady we’ll call Susan, was upset that her previous attempts had failed.
She now wanted some professional help.
Susan had tried several popular strategies for losing weight fast but none of them had worked. All were what I call “fake strategies.” Susan had heard about them from TV shows health store employees.
Remember: store employees are there to sell stuff. Your health and fitness is not their first concern. Beyond that, I’ve overheard many incorrect explanations on the effects of supplements.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard “I saw it on Dr. Oz” I’d be writing this from my Alpine mansion (the one with the helicopter pad.)
How do you spot fake fat loss solutions? Several hundred clients later, I would narrow it down the big three:cleanses & detoxes, supplements, and special diets.
Cleanses and Detoxes
Cleanses are pointless. Your liver and kidneys detoxify and remove waste products from your body all day. It’s their primary function. If additional measures were needed to detoxify your system, thousands who failed to do so would die very day. But I haven’t noticed the bodies lying in the streets lately.
Juice cleanses are the same as eating fruit after removing the fiber. Detox teas are regular teas with antioxidants, which eliminate free radicals. You also know these antioxidants as Vitamins A, C, and E, among other sources.
Pretty straight-forward right?
A cleanse or detox can be confused with an elimination diet, which is used to identify possible food allergies or intolerances. A person’s diet is stripped to a few basic foods until intolerance symptoms disappear. Foods are gradually added back in over weeks or months. When the symptoms reappear you’ve identified the intolerance.
This is different from exclusively consuming kale smoothies for 2 weeks in hopes of losing weight.
Cleanses are hard to ignore. Those who try a cleanse or detox lose weight initially. Changing all your foods to liquids and severely limiting what you eat causes a massive drop in the number of overall calories consumed.
According to the second law of thermodynamics, if you expend more calories that you take in, you lose weight. However, when you resume regular eating, all the weight comes back. No lifestyle habits have been changed so the success is temporary.
Fat Loss Supplements
Fat loss supplements are ineffective for most people. That because most people lack mastery of nutrition fundamentals to make them work. Don’t get me wrong. Supplements have their place. Keeping food journal for a week can help identify what’s missing. Asking a physician to do your bloodwork will reveal vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Sometimes, foods you don’t enjoy can be supplemented. I encourage taking necessary supplements to address deficiencies. Then, make changes to your diet to eradicate the need for supplementation.
I’ve seen several forms of fat loss supplementation. Some are pills, often called thermogenic aids. Some are “naturally occurring” like green tea extract or L-Carnitine. Some are aimed at being ketogenic (exclusively using fat for energy) like bulletproof coffee.
Thermogenic aids are stimulants. They cause your body temperature to rise (hence thermo-genic). This burns a marginal number of extra calories while in effect, but not nearly enough to make a noticeable difference.
Natural solutions depend on the large aspects of your diet to be in place. No micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) will produce results without balanced macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats).
That’s just common sense.
High fat drinks like bulletproof coffee don’t work. They are filling and delicious, but if you start adding butter to your coffee and drink the usual amount every morning for the caffeine, you’re just adding calories to your diet. Calorie surplus becomes weight gain.
Paleo, Veganism, Low Carb, Ketogenic: all these diets accomplish the same thing.
Each creates a calorie deficit (consuming less than you expend) a different way.
No processed foods, among other things. Processed foods are high on the glycemic index and therefore have higher calorie contents. Cut them out and drop your total calories. Result: calorie deficit.
I’m talking about the folks who only eat Vegan to lose weight. Not those who are Vegan for ethical reasons.
The broad strokes are: lots of veggies, no animal products. Veggies are low on the glycemic index. Animal products are where you find a lot of dietary fat. By sticking to veggies and nuts both carb and fat values drop drastically regardless of protein consumption. Boom. Result: calorie deficit.
Obvious. Few carbs, fewer calories. Result: calorie deficit.
Low carb on steroids. As close to zero carbs as possible. Fat becomes the primary energy source because there aren’t enough carbs. Result: massive calorie deficit.
Go to the “Diet” or Nutrition” section of your local bookstore. You’ll find a bestselling diet book from every angle. One touts “Zero carbs, just healthy fat!” right next to a book that says “Zero fat, more carbs!”. They’re both right. They arrange them to make a calorie deficit no matter the kind of calorie. Some of these diets offer expensive pre-packaged products to help you stay on course.
Stay away from extreme diets that claim you should eat all one thing and none of another. Those strategies may produce results early on, but are near impossible to sustain.
The Only Solution That Works and Lasts
Mastering nutrition fundamentals is the only answer. Create a calorie deficit and balance your protein, carb, and fat ratios.
Don’t eat things that are obviously unhealthy like ice cream or McDonalds. Try grilled chicken and salad.
Which brings us back to Susan
Susan made a few changes. She lifted weights a few times per week and adjust her macronutrient intake to create a modest calorie deficit. The weight fell off faster than she could buy new clothes. She said she was proud of results — and the hard work behind it.
Don’t buy the hype. There are no shortcuts.
Be like Susan. Put in the work.