For a large proportion of gym goers\exercisers, fat loss is the primary goal, and like any successful process undertaken, this will take time and must be undertaken in the correct way.
If we relate the process of fat loss to that of building a house (building a new body perhaps!), then it becomes essential that certain stages are completed prior to moving on to the next; for example, it is pretty pointless constructing the roof before the walls, and the foundations should be completed before we call in the brick layers. The same can be said when putting together a fat loss plan where once again there are stages involved, and for best results it is best to complete one before moving onto the next. That is not to say that all levels cannot be worked on at one time, but for lasting results it is important to have mastered the previous level before moving onto the next.
Most people realise that in order to lose weight (or fat) that they should be burning more calories than they consume, so massively reduce consumption whilst increasing cardiovascular exercise in the hope that this excessive calorie deficit will result in rapid weight loss. Other than being unsustainable, this method ignores many other factors involved in the process and in fact only addresses the base and tip of the fat loss pyramid. If we gloss over certain medical or hormonal reasons for fat storage, the importance of protein in the diet, resistance exercise and sleep cannot be ignored if a successful and sustainable result is to be achieved.
First and foremost we must be in a calorie deficit for fat to be lost (fact!) and once this has been achieved, often by means of trial and error following basic calorie calculations, then we can venture up to the next stage. It should be noted that a deficit of only in the region of -300 daily is recommended as once again this achievable long term and will have minimal adverse effect on the hormone balance of the body.
Next we should look to keep our protein consumption relatively high in order to maintain muscle mass as it is fat we are looking to lose, not just weight, and muscle not only makes us look better, but is also metabolically active and so can help to keep the weight at bay whilst fat is lost. It also has a greater satiating effect than the other macros (fat and carbohydrate) and so may help us feel full for longer and has the greatest calorie burn during metabolism (thermic effect of food), though the fat loss effects of this will be minimal.
We are getting there and moving up the stages now, and next comes the importance of resistance training. Whilst the actual process of lifting weights is not a huge calorie burn in itself, the development of muscle has both aesthetic and physiological benefits as mentioned and so should not be overlooked. This is a stage often feared by the ladies who associate lifting weights with huge muscles and male traits, but this could not be further from the truth and a good personal trainer can provide a safe and enjoyable resistance programme to follow and aid weight loss.
Next comes sleep, and whilst this may seem to be both surprising and ‘easy’, it is something that is often missing in the busy lives that people have and their general inability to switch off. The body requires sleep to rest and repair, and without the recommended 7-9 hours a night weight loss becomes more difficult. Just one bad night’s sleep has been proven to cause hunger, cravings, an increase in chocolate consumption and comfort eating and an increase in portion sizes, certainly not what you need when trying to lose fat!
And finally, we get to the roof, the cardiovascular exercise, hours of pounding the treadmill in the belief that this will burn all the calories that the pizza you ate lost night put on. Whilst it is true that cardiovascular exercise will indeed burn calories and is a piece of the weight loss plan, its importance is often exaggerated. Whilst a 30 minute jog/row/cycle may indeed burn 300-400 calories we must be aware that it will also increase hunger as we look to replace spent energy, and may even cause burn out if overindulged in the hope that it will cause the fat to melt away. Remember that fat is only one of the body’s sources of energy and only fully utilised on longer runs, so be aware that cardio is not the holy grail for losing those love handles. It is of course a valuable method of training and I am in no way suggesting that it should not be performed, just that its importance for fat burning is perhaps not what is expected, but instead the roof on a building that has been constructed stage by stage over time.
As a final point, remember, that despite what we might wish, weight loss does not occur in a linear manner, and will fluctuate from day to day, even hour to hour, but in the long term, if the plan has been put together correctly and all the stages addressed then fat loss WILL occur.