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If there is one area where I have extensively experimented it is with fat loss. In the last 15 years my weight has fluctuated between 85 – 105kgs, sometimes intentionally, often times not.
I tend to be a classic ectomorph, somebody who tends to be overweight if I don’t take care of what I eat. I love food and I will eat all day if I could. But I have never been the lean type and despite many attempts, it is only recently that I have managed to get pretty lean and stay there.
Everyone of course is different. Some people are skinny and want to add mass, and others are fluffier and want to be lean. And usually whichever one you are, you want to be the opposite. I would love to be the skinny guy who gets to eat more food. But let’s be honest, whether you want to get bigger or leaner, both are just as hard as each other. Dieting sucks big time, but then so does eating all the time when you are full.
Based on my experiences over the past few years, and having now come to a place where I can pretty easily control my weight, here are some of things I have learned that work for me.
There is no perfect plan. The best plan is the one you can stick to.
I have tried everything in the past. Paleo, zone, paleo-zone, Atkins, intermittent fasting, low carb, high carb, flexible dieting. You name it, I have tried it.
Pretty much everything I tried worked to a certain extent. But the kicker is that they were not all sustainable for me. I had great success losing fat with intermittent fasting a few years ago, but it was just too hard to do it consistently and once I quit I put it all back on.
Currently I employ a flexible dieting approach and for me it works brilliantly. I can eat whatever foods I like as long as they fit in with a daily calorie and macronutrient target. 95% of the food I eat is “healthy” and 5% is junk (usually Frosties or popcorn).
Please understand that I am not saying this will work for everyone, but for me this is by far the most effective approach I have used.
Food elimination does not work
There is definitely a place for experimenting with some type of food elimination, particularly if you think you may have some kind of allergy or intolerance. Take out dairy, wheat or whatever you think may be an issue for 30 days and slowly reintroduce it. If you feel good, look good and are performing well then you are good to go. If you feel any adverse effect, it may be the food.
However, eliminating foods from your diet due to a general diet prescription is generally unsustainable. Same thing with eliminating certain macronutrients, like carbohydrates. After a few weeks without gluten or carbs, the only thing that will happen is doughnut and bread fantasies. In my case this would usually lead to some kind of breakdown, and after a box of doughnuts feelings of extreme guilt. Not terribly productive
There are no good or bad foods
The world of nutrition is a pretty crazy one. Foods that were bad for us a few years ago are now good. And someone somewhere is always promoting the magical value of some expensive food we have never heard of, which will make you lean, sexy and immune to all disease.
There really are no good, bad or magical foods when it comes to fat loss. Everything has a place within your own personal context. I have lost fat eating cheeseburgers every day. I have also lost fat eating primarily bread, pasta and rice. Context matters.
Most people have to count
One of the most valuable things I ever did for my diet was keep a food log and track how many calories I was eating. I always shied away from this as I was told it is too much hassle, not necessary and will make me paranoid about food.
I really believe the best place to start any nutritional program is with some basic principles like eating protein at every meal and eliminating junk food. If that works then great, no real need to do anything else. However, for the majority of people this will not be enough and some kind of tracking must be implemented.
Now it is true that counting calories is not easy. But every single piece of advice I followed told me that if I wanted to gain or lose weight, I had to eat more or less calories than I needed. But if I didn’t know how many calories I was eating on a daily basis, how could I eat more or less? I could guess, but this never really worked.
One of the things I always preach when it comes to training is measure everything. If you want to squat 200kgs, you need to know how much you squat right now. Then you need an incremental plan based on the numbers to hit your goal. Pretty simple really. Why wouldn’t I use the same approach to food? When I really tried to answer that question, I found that I didn’t have a good answer, so I started to track calories.
It wasn’t too easy, but I found that tracking calories and macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) gave me the ultimate power over my nutrition.
Observe some key principles, the rest are mere details
When it comes to fat loss there are some key principles that you need to observe. If you are reducing calories and eating adequate protein and sleeping enough you will have 90% of your bases covered.
If you want to go the extra mile and go down the rabbit holes of food quality, meal timing, meal frequency, supplementation and other similar details that often come up when nutrition is discussed, then go for it. However, these things will have a much more limited impact on results than the key principles.
Get some education
If you are interested in learning more about nutrition and how to use food to lose bodyfat and optimise your training, check out our fat loss challenge