If your goal is to lose fat and uncover that glorious six-pack, you’re not alone. In fact, there are countless options out there. Doing a web-search for fat loss methods will bring you thousands of different ideas, theories, and rules for losing fat. (You’ll find just as many articles if you search for fat loss mistakes.)
Now, a lot of those methods may work for you – there is no right or wrong way to go about it. If you can stick to a plan, and that plan allows you to safely reach your goals, then it’s the right one for you.
However, there are several very common practices that can actually slow you down. Many old-school methods have been tested in clinical studies and by people everywhere over the years, and shown to be detrimental to fat loss.
Even if you aren’t the type to buy into the science and research, if you’re the bro-scientist who only listens to jacked and tan people, just browse around popular fitness icons of today’s generation, and you’ll see all kinds of people getting fantastic results with new methods.
I’m going to very briefly break down five common mistakes you may be making. Practices, rules, and habits, that while not necessarily bad, may not be optimal for maximizing your results. Here we go.
1. Doing too much cardio.
When I say doing too much cardio, I’m talking mainly about low-intensity, long-duration cardio, such as walking on a treadmill, using an elliptical, or jogging. This type of cardio burns calories, sure. However, the more you do it, the more your body adapts to it, so you burn less and less calories as your body becomes more efficient at specific exercises (Norton, Trexler, Smith-Ryan, 2014).
Doing a forty-five minute incline walk three months into your diet probably won’t have the same effect as the first time you did it, you’ll just be much more adapted to the activity. If you think about marathon runners, there is no way they should be able to eat enough calories to sustain their bodies for such long durations, but they do, and they are fine. This is because their bodies adapt to the endurance training on regular basis, and learn to function on much less food intake. Not what you want.
2. Not eating enough.
This is similar to the first point. The body is incredibly complex, and quickly adapts. If you go from a diet filled with light beer, dollar pizza slices, and hangover breakfasts, to suddenly eating 1,200 calories a day of celery and chicken, you’ll lose weight very quickly. Until you don’t.
To lose fat, you need to be eating fewer calories than you are using throughout the day, plain and simple. If your body uses 3,000 calories daily, and you eat 2,400 a day, guess what, you’ll lose fat. However, if you slash your food intake too low from the beginning, your body will figure it out very quickly, and learn to function on such low food intake.
If this happens, what do you do next? Drop food even lower? Add in hours of daily cardio? You’re stuck in a downward spiral from here. It’s much better to just eat as much as you can while still losing fat, and make small adjustments as you go.
3. Eliminating entire food groups.
Yeah I know, sugar is horrible for you. So is saturated fat. Also, consuming too much protein is worse for you than smoking, and will slowly kill you from the inside.
Look, there’s bad hype about everything, but going to any extreme is a bad idea. You should never eliminate an entire food group. The main culprit here, especially in the fitness crowd, is carbohydrates (unless it’s brown rice or sweet potatoes).
We’ve all heard somewhere that carbs are bad, and that we need to eliminate them if we don’t want to blow up to the size of an NFL lineman. But what typically happens when someone cuts out carbs? They fill in the gaps with all sorts of “healthy” alternatives for their energy – avocados, almonds, olive oil, peanut butter, and all other so-called good fats.
Well guess what, fats have more than twice the amount of calories per gram as carbs do. So if you cut out bread, that’s one thing, but if you replace it by munching on high-fat snacks, your caloric intake has a very good chance of going through the roof. The only thing I’d ever recommend completely eliminating, if you must, is alcohol. But I don’t recommend that, because let’s be honest – no one wants to do that. Everything in moderation.
4. Not tracking your food or following a meal plan.
This will be brief. As mentioned above, to lose weight, you need to stay in a caloric deficit. Burn more than you eat. Easy right? Well, sort of.
If you go from eating junk foods, to trying to eat whole, unprocessed food sources, you’ll probably lose some weight. But when it stalls, what do you do? At worst, nothing. At best, you take a wild guess, and try to eliminate something else. Both not optimal.
If you’re tracking your food intake, however, or at least following a meal plan, it’s much easier to make adjustments. You can shave off 20g of carbs here, or reduce a meal size if following a plan, but if you’re guessing, you really can have no idea how to precisely adjust things.
5. Going way too far with cheat meals.
Cheat meals can be great, if used properly. If you need a break, or feel you’ve “earned” it somehow, then go for it, but please keep it small.
I’m all for eating until I can’t move from time to time, but you have to realize how this is affecting you. Let’s say you track your food, your workouts, have the perfect meal plan, and eat 500 calories under your needed intake all week, a common recommendation.
Even if your cheat meal is just one meal out of the whole week, you can easily hit 3-4K calories in one sitting. Easily. I say this because I’ve done it. At this point, you’ve undone your entire week of dieting, congratulations.
Sadly, with many people I work with, and talk to, it’s not just one meal. You may slip up and have a meal, and then just give up and binge eat all day since the day is ruined anyway. This can turn into a whole weekend, and so on.
The same thing can also happen with snacking, by the way. Having a few fries at lunch, or a cookie at work, won’t seem like much at the time, but over the course of a few days, those little indulgences can add up.
You get the point here, just be sure to be very careful with your indulgences. If you’re going to have a cheat meal, eat slowly, and eat until your satisfied – don’t stuff yourself like it’s your death row meal. There will be more food in your life, just man up and have some self-control.
Norton, L., Trexler, E., & Smith-Ryan, A. Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: implications for the athlete. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Retrieved June 6, 2014.