Are you one of those people who wants to shed some fat? I totally get it! Who doesn’t want to rock a healthy body?
The question is, what should you do? Where should you start? I mean, there are so many aspects to fat loss, right? And there’s a lot of conflicting advice out there. Not to mention all those scammy products just waiting to snatch your hard-earned cash.
That’s why I decided to write this article. I aimed to help you grasp the fat loss fundamentals. Once you grasp these fat loss fundamentals, you won’t be easily swayed or confused by all the (mis)information floating around.
Table of Contents
- What Exactly Is Body Fat?
- Fat Loss Fundamentals: Calorie Deficit
- How to Reduce Your Calorie Intake
- How to Increase Your Calorie Expenditure
- Closing Remarks
What Exactly Is Body Fat?
Fat is a type of body tissue. The technical term for it is adipose tissue. There are two types of it: White Adipose Tissue (WAT) and Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT). Most of your body fat is WAT; humans only have very little BAT.
The main job of fat is to store energy from the food we eat. We measure that energy in kilocalories or Calories (with a capital C). One kilocalorie is equal to 1000 calories (with a lowercase c).
In scientific literature, they distinguish between the two. But, in everyday language, people tend to use “calorie” with a lowercase c to refer to what’s actually a kilocalorie. So, in this article, I’ll stick to that common usage.
Now, 1 gram of pure fat contains 9 calories. So, 1 pound (454 grams) of pure fat contains 4,086 calories. However, the fat cells in our bodies also contain a bit of water and other stuff. Nowadays, it’s widely accepted that 1 pound of body fat contains roughly 3,500 calories.
Fat has a much greater energy-storing capacity than carbohydrates or protein. One gram of carbs or protein only gives us 4 calories. So, a pound of carbs or protein would be only about 1,816 calories.
Fat has some other important functions too. It helps protect our vital organs, like the heart and liver. Plus, fat acts as insulation to keep our bodies warm when it gets chilly. Fat also plays a role in producing and regulating various hormones in our bodies.
Fat Loss Fundamentals: Calorie Deficit
The amount of fat in your body depends on the number and size of your fat cells. Fat cell number and size can vary across individuals. But, your fat cell number is pretty much set and tough to change.
A study by Kirsty Spalding et al., published in Nature in 2008, found that the number of fat cells stays constant throughout adulthood. Every year, about 10 percent of your fat cells die, but they get replaced by an equal number of new ones.
Spalding went even further and examined people who underwent bariatric surgery. It’s a procedure that shrinks the stomach to control food intake and nutrient absorption. Two years after surgery, these individuals experienced a drastic decrease in Body Mass Index (BMI), but their fat cell number stayed the same. The only change was in the size of their fat cells.
Now, you may have heard of fat cell-killing weight loss methods, like liposuction, cryolipolysis (freezing the cells to death), or taking CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) or resveratrol. But, what’s the point of killing off fat cells if they’ll just get replaced by new ones? Not to mention, these methods can be quite risky.
The key to losing fat lies in reducing the size of your fat cells. These cells can release the fat they store, which then travels throughout your body to be burned off as energy. We often refer to this process as “burning fat.”
But, your fat cells can also store new fat from the excess calories you consume. If you want to shrink those fat cells, you’ve got to create a calorie deficit. That means either burning more calories than you eat or eating fewer calories than you burn. It’s the focal point of the fat loss fundamentals.
The best approach is to combine both ways: reducing your calorie intake and increasing your calorie expenditure. Don’t rely on just one of them, give both a shot for optimal results.
How to Reduce Your Calorie Intake
Let’s first talk about how to cut down on calories. If you want to lose fat, you’ve got to eat calories below your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). Your TDEE is the total number of calories you burn every day. This is where diet comes into play. It helps bring down your calorie intake below your TDEE―check out my other article to learn how to calculate your TDEE.
For instance, let’s say your TDEE is 2000 calories per day. And you want to create a calorie deficit of 20 percent. That means 20% of 2000, which equals 400 calories per day. So, you’ll need to consume 2000 – 400, which is 1600 calories per day. In just 9 days, you’ll have created a deficit of 3600 calories, which is equal to losing over 1 pound of fat.
Now, different foods have different effects even if they contain the same amount of calories. Let’s take protein and carbs as an example. The thermic effect of protein is 20-35 percent, while the thermic effect of carbs is 5-15 percent. The thermic effect of food is its caloric cost of digestion and processing.
So, eating 100 calories of protein and eating 100 calories of carbohydrates will yield different effects. When you eat 100 protein calories, your body uses 20-35 for digestion, leaving you with 80-65 calories. When you eat 100 carb calories, only 5-15 are used for digestion, leaving you with 95-85 calories.
Different foods also have varying calorie densities. Calorie density refers to the number of calories per volume or weight of food. By choosing low-calorie-density foods, you can lose fat without feeling hungry and miserable all the time.
So, reducing your calorie intake isn’t just about eating less in terms of quantity. You’ve got to pay attention to the types of food you’re eating. You can even eat more food and still cut calories if you go for low-calorie-density options.
Lastly, remember that your TDEE isn’t fixed. After dieting for a while, your metabolism may slow down and your weight may be lighter, resulting in a smaller TDEE. If your TDEE matches your calorie intake, you won’t create a calorie deficit anymore. That’s when you hit a plateau. If that happens, you might need to adjust your diet.
How to Increase Your Calorie Expenditure
Now let’s talk about how to boost your calorie burn. Basically, it all comes down to exercising. But other factors also play a role in how many calories you burn. Knowing these factors can help you maximize your calorie burn. So, here are the things that affect your calorie burn:
1. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
BMR is the number of calories your body burns to keep functioning. You know, things like breathing, digesting, circulation, and all those essential bodily functions. It’s also known as the number of calories you burn at rest.
BMR makes up the biggest chunk (around 60-75%) of your TDEE. It can vary based on various factors, like your weight, size, age, and how much muscle you have. Having more muscle could increase your BMR.
2. Your Body Weight
As mentioned above, your weight affects your BMR. But the effect of body weight on your total energy expenditure goes beyond that.
When you have more weight to move around, it takes more calories to do everyday stuff. That’s why when people are overweight, they usually see some quick fat loss in the beginning. But as they start shedding pounds, it gets tougher to keep losing fat.
3. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) is the number of calories you burn doing everyday activities that aren’t exercise. Stuff like walking, shopping, doing housework, you name it.
You can tweak your daily activities to boost your TDEE. For example, next time you’re in a building with multiple floors, skip the elevator and take the stairs instead. When you park your car, choose a spot that’s a bit farther from your destination, so you have to walk a bit more.
It may seem like small changes, but if you make them a daily habit, they can add up and help you burn more calories in the long run.
4. Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC)
When you finish a kickass workout, your oxygen intake stays high for a while. So, you’re still torching calories above your resting level even when you’re chilling on the couch. It’s called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). Or as some like to call it, the “afterburn effect.”
The duration and number of calories you burn through EPOC can vary depending on a bunch of factors. Things like how long and how intense your workout was. For instance, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is known to be a boss at triggering EPOC because of its intensity.
5. Your Training
Your training is key when it comes to revving up your calorie burn. How many calories you torch during your workouts depends on the duration, intensity, and type of training.
Different types of training could also have different post-exercise caloric effects. For example, cardio is great for blasting fat during your workout, but weight training could increase your BMR in the long run.
When creating a workout routine, you want something that not only helps you lose fat but also suits your lifestyle, schedule, and physical condition. It’s all about finding what works best for you. And if you hit a plateau, switch things up to keep challenging your body.
This article doesn’t dive into all the nitty-gritty details of fat loss. There’s just too much to cover in one article. The goal here is to give you the fat loss fundamentals.
I’ve mentioned earlier the benefit of grasping the fat loss fundamentals. It’s to keep you from getting overwhelmed and confused by the crazy amount of (mis)information out there. Another benefit I haven’t mentioned is that it allows you to create a personalized fat loss plan.
If you’re serious about losing fat, you should apply your knowledge with a plan. A plan provides direction and keeps you focused, so you don’t stray off course on your fat loss journey. Plus, it makes you more efficient and effective.
A good fat loss plan should be doable and simple enough to follow in the long run. Losing fat takes time and patience, so you’ve got to have that long-term mindset. Even when you’ve reached your fat loss goals, you still have to adopt a healthy lifestyle that helps you maintain your weight and keep that fat off.
Sasha Lizaveta is a fitness enthusiast and content manager at BadassBodyProject.com. She advocates a conservative yet effective approach to fitness. She believes in the power of gradual changes to achieve long-lasting results. When not working out or creating content, she can often be found engrossed in books, playing with her cats, or travelling.