Updated: Aug 6, 2020
QUOTE TO REMEMBER:
"There is no gizmo, gadget, device, supplement, special beverage, or celebrity that can help you lose weight if you don’t adhere to the scientifically grounded, fundamental principles of weight loss. Leaning out requires dedication and hard work, but it's not rocket science"
Losing weight is not always the same as losing fat
Eat fewer calories than you expend
Prioritize protein in your diet
Resistance training is crucial
Defining Body Composition
The term ‘weight loss’ gets thrown around a lot but few people are able to discern the difference between ‘weight loss’ and ‘fat loss’. That is where this important concept of body composition comes into play. ‘Body composition' is a term that describes the ratio of a person's fat mass to their lean mass. Clinically, "lean mass" includes skeletal muscle, organs, bones, and other internal structures. In the context of weight loss, lean mass is refers specifically to muscle mass.
Healthier bodies are almost always those with a better body composition, meaning they contain a smaller percentage of fat mass compared to lean mass. Having a higher percentage of muscle allows the human body to be more functional and able to handle activities of daily living (ADLs), not to mention burning more calories at rest. When body composition declines, typically so does overall fitness and simple ADLs can become very taxing. It should not be hard to walk up stairs or carry groceries!
Improving your body composition can be done in two ways then: increase your muscle mass (without gaining fat) or decrease your fat mass (without losing muscle). For most people who truly NEED to improve their body composition, fat loss should usually be the higher priority.
A Harsh Truth
There is great deal of confusion in the general public when it comes to fat loss and a lot of that comes from the crazy B.S. that is spewed by the media. It’s easy to want to believe that you can lose weight with 10 minutes of exercise per day and a supplement regimen. But know this, and know this well: there is no gizmo, gadget, device, supplement, special beverage, or celebrity that can help you lose weight if you don’t adhere to the scientifically grounded, fundamental principles of weight loss. Leaning out requires dedication and hard work, but it's not rocket science.
Fundamental Principles of Fat Loss
1. Energy Balance
Energy balance simply refers to the relation between how much energy you consume (calories in) and how much energy you expend (calories out). It’s no secret that if you want to lose fat you need to eat less than your body expends everyday, which is a negative energy balance. When your body is in a state of negative energy balance, it draws on stored tissues (primarily fat) to supply energy. In a state of positive energy balance the body stores the excess energy as, you guessed it, fat.
There are more complex conversations to be had on this topic (stay tuned for the next two parts of this series!) but at a fundamental level it’s really just basic math. One pound of fat loss requires roughly a 3,500 calorie deficit in your diet, so eating 500 calories less than you expend everyday for one week will theoretically lead to 1 pound of fat loss. Use the step-by-step to the left and do your own fat loss math!
Based on the above, it stands to reason that to lose weight you want to increase your energy expenditure (i.e burn more calories) to help create a negative energy balance. This is where exercise comes in. Aerobic exercise, the kind that raises your heart rate for a prolonged period of time, is generally the primary mode of exercise for fat loss. However, sustaining a negative energy balance can lead to small decrements in muscle mass as well. If you’ve been paying attention hopefully an alarm just went off in your head. Losing muscle mass will negatively affect your body composition! That’s where strength training becomes so important for people trying to lose fat. The muscular stimulus from strength training helps retain muscle mass throughout the weight loss process, which is important for daily function as well as increasing your metabolic rate. Furthermore, strength training is just one more activity to help you burn some calories. In next week’s edition of Science Sunday we will cover the role of exercise more thoroughly.
3. Prioritize Protein Intake
Losing weight may be just a numbers game, but losing fat alone requires more attention. The nutrient breakdown of the calories you consume is also extremely important. True, you could theoretically lose weight eating a hypocaloric diet of nothing but Oreos, but that wouldn’t make you healthy or improve your life at all. There are many different recommendations and diets for weight loss, and to get into them all is beyond the scope of this 101 article. However, nearly all have one thing in common: they prioritize protein intake. Eating more protein helps maintain muscle mass/strength and keeps you satiated, staving off hunger longer than if you ate junk food or a high carbohydrate meal.
A good rule of thumb when planning a meal is to prioritize protein, then let the other ingredients fall into place. Think to yourself “where is my protein coming from?” before you just pop something in the microwave. The exact amount of protein you need depends on your bodyweight, but most recommendations for the average person fall in the 0.8 - 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (pounds/2.2). However, keeping your protein on the higher side is a smarter idea. When in doubt, more protein!
So there it is; a very basic overview of the fundamental principles of weight loss. Losing weight doesn’t have to be complex, you just need to stick to the essentials! If you eat well, move more, and stay consistent, you will likely be successful on your weight loss journey.
Results. Made. Simple.