When it comes to weight loss, there is no end to all the half-truths that could actually do more harm than good to our fitness goals and health. The best thing to do? Stick to evidence-based facts! Here are 5 facts about weight loss that are rooted in science and can’t be argued against. Knowing these is the first step in the path that leads to our ideal weight goals – without compromising on nutrition.
1] Extreme Diets = Temporary Results
All food is made up of carbs, fats and proteins. These food groups are called macronutrients, because you need them in your diet in large quantities. Micronutrients, on the other hand, are nutrients like vitamins and minerals that are needed in very small quantities. Fats and carbohydrates have been demonised in the past (and even today) mainly because they are often found in calorie-dense junk foods. But here’s something that most people who cut them out of their diet completely aren’t aware of: they’re found in healthy food, too!
The truth is, fats serve several functions in our body: they help build the structures of cells, maintain our body temperature, absorb certain nutrients and mediate the immune system, to name a few. So you can see how having too little fat can affect every aspect of our body.
Similarly, carbs provide energy to the body. Without them, the body has to make do with using amino acids (which are the building blocks of proteins in our body) and fats for energy. This takes away from the other functions of the two food groups. For instance, if you’ve noticed anyone who is on an extreme low-carb diet complaining about the quality of their hair and skin, that’s because the little protein that remains is being sent to organs and other tissue that are more important for survival.1 Furthermore, during intense workouts, our body can only derive energy from glucose – and our reserves of glucose in muscles run out quickly. Since it’s the carbs from our diet that are broken down into glucose, avoiding them while following a strict exercise routine can result in low blood sugar, light-headedness and fatigue.2 To top it all off, studies have even proven that extreme diets that are very low in carbs and fats aren’t effective in the long-term; the weight that is lost during those diets is eventually regained.3
2] Body Weight: A Meaningless Number
When you consume more calories than you burn, there is a ‘caloric excess’. Our body is designed to store this excess energy as body fat, for times when there may be no food. That’s why you put on body fat, and thereby weight. Body weight is a futile number when it comes to measuring fat loss, because when you lose body weight, you lose muscle mass too. Muscles give your body strength and tone, and, as you will soon see why, also help you burn more calories. At its crux, losing body fat requires a caloric deficit, where you burn more calories than you consume. That makes the difference – not losing body weight.
3] Weight Training: More Effective Than Cardio (for Fat Loss)!
How quickly you lose fat is largely determined by your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is the amount of calories you would burn even if you laid in bed all day, to perform functions like breathing, keeping your heart beating and maintaining body functionality.
Some people inherently have a higher BMR. However, it can be built up by building muscle mass. This is because muscles are so active that they burn a lot of calories. So the more lean muscle mass you have, the higher your BMR, and the more calories will be burnt. That’s why weight training is more effective for fat loss than cardio. Protein helps with fat loss, too, since amino acids are required to build muscle. Moreover, it increases our body’s secretion of satiety hormones (the ones that make us feel full) and reduces the quantity of a hormone that makes us hungry.
3] Healthy Food Can Also Lead to Fat Gain!
Junk food and healthy food, both, are made from a combination of macronutrients and micronutrients. The difference is that healthy foods are dense in nutrients that help our body, while junk foods may have an imbalance of macronutrients, inadequate micronutrients, or even harmful forms of nutrients (like trans fats).
A good and bad diet, both, can lead to a caloric excess or a caloric deficit, depending on how many calories you consume versus the amount you burn.
That said, a bad diet can make it more difficult to create a caloric deficit, by possibly affecting our BMR.
That probably explains why studies show that people eventually gain back the weight they lose in extreme diets (Fact #1).3 What fat loss ultimately comes down to is maintaining a caloric deficit, while keeping up a high BMR with the right proportions of the right food i.e. a balanced diet.
4] Wholesome Meals + Fat Loss? It’s Possible!
Given the importance of fats, carbs and proteins in our diet, it almost seems impossible to cut down on any of these macronutrients without compromising on nutrition. But we can maintain a balance whilst keeping a calorie deficit.
Having protein in your diet is very important, in order to keep up your BMR, since it is required to build muscle. An intake of about 0.8-1.2?g/kg body weight per day is sufficient for sustaining muscle mass and energy loss.4 If you don’t get this through your diet, you can supplement with protein powders.
About 20 to 35% of your calories should come from the good kind of fats. Since fat contains 9 calories per gram, this would translate to getting 44 to 78 grams of fat in a 2000-calories-per-day diet.5
The rest of your calories should come from carbohydrates.5 Opt for fruits, vegetables and whole grains for a good amount of fibre in your diet.
That covers the balance. Now, how do you maintain a caloric deficit?
Cut down unnecessary calories in your diet from cookies, desserts and other high-calorie, low-nutrient foods as well. You can also reduce the size of your meals to a point where you’re satisfied, but not stuffed.
5] Losing Body Fat is Simpler than it Seems
When you’re stretching yourself too thin (pun unintended) trying to keep up an extreme diet, losing fat may seem like a task. When we don’t get enough calories, our BMR can slow down by about 30%, making fat loss more difficult. Our BMR also reduces as we age, or if we don’t sleep enough.6, 7 That’s why some of us may feel like we are unable to maintain a thin waistline as easily as we once could. You can offset this decrease in BMR by doing strength training as part of your exercise routine. Strength training, in combination with sufficient protein in your diet, will allow you to build on muscle mass and boost your BMR.
All in all, if you burn off 250 calories while exercising and avoid a 250-calorie candy bar (for instance), that’s a 500-calorie deficit. Over 7 days, this will add up to 3500 calories, which is equivalent to one pound of fat lost in a week. This is how you can lose body fat in a healthy manner.
So don’t approach fat loss with a “dieting” mindset. Instead, think of it as restoring balance.
1. Finner AM. Dermatologic Clinics 2013, 31(1): 167-172.
2. Whitney E, Rolfes SR. Understanding Nutrition. Cengage Learning, 2015.
3. Curioni C, Lourenco P. International journal of obesity 2005, 29(10): 1168-1174.
4. Martens EA, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2014, 17(1): 75-79.
5. Pesta DH, Samuel VT. Nutrition & Metabolism 2014, 11: 53.
6. Shimokata H, Kuzuya F. Nihon Ronen Igakkai Zasshi 1993, 30(7): 572-576.
7. Elliot DL, et al. The American journal of clinical nutrition 1989, 49(1): 93-96.