To lose fat, you must cut calories.
No ifs, no buts – it’s just a given.
In order for your body to burn fat, and for you to get leaner, your calorie expenditure has to be greater than your intake. And, unless you decide to go from couch potato to training twice a day, seven days per week, that’s going to mean eating less.
But most people make one big mistake when starting a fat loss diet.
They cut too many calories.
They assume that “low-calorie” will result in faster progress, and get you where you want to be quicker.
This is not the case.
And here’s why …
Isn’t It All Relative?
The degree of your calorie deficit determines your fat loss.
It takes a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound of fat.
A deficit of 7,000 calories to lose 2 pounds. A deficit of 10,500 to lose 3 pounds, and so on.
Therefore, it would make sense that if you had 10 pounds to lose to get to your ideal body composition, you’d need a calorie deficit of 35,000, and so to do this in the quickest time, you’d simply ensure a weekly deficit of 10,000 to 12,000 calories, and get there in 3 to 4 weeks.
Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work like that.
While it would be nice if this progress was linear, that simply isn’t the case, and drastic calorie cuts will very likely lead to worse results long-term.
The Perils of Plateaus
At some stage during a diet, you will plateau.
This comes as a result of two factors –
- A drop in bodyweight
- Metabolic adaptation
The first of these is by far the biggest contributor and essentially refers to the fact that as you lose fat, and your bodyweight drops, you burn fewer calories every day.
Ergo, when weighing 85 kilos, you might have burned 2,800 calories on an average day, and been able to lose fat at a noticeable rate consuming 2,300 calories. Yet drop a few kilos, and your body needs fewer calories to function. Suddenly, that 2,300 calories doesn’t cut it, and you need to drop them to keep seeing progress,
The metabolic adaptation concept is an interesting one.
While phrases such as “starvation mode” and “damage” get thrown around a fair deal, and are often over-used, a degree of adaptation can occur when dieting, due to a decrease in the hormones that regulate your metabolism, such as leptin and T-3.
Once again, both of these mean that you simply burn fewer calories day to day.
Therefore, however smart your diet is, and however aggressive your deficit at the beginning, fat loss plateaus are inevitable, and at this stage, you will have to drop your calories. If you’re already hungry and struggling with a lack of food, how do you think you’ll feel then?
Want to Lose Muscle?
If so, then going low-calorie straight from the off is a mighty fine way to go about it.
You may not lose pounds of lean tissue overnight, but you will experience slight muscle loss, as well as big dips in strength, and energy levels, when pushing your calories down.
This can happen to a degree with any diet but will happen a lot faster, and to a much greater degree the lower your calorie intake.
The Sustainability Factor
By far and away the biggest reason not to go too low with your calories, and restrict yourself too much from the beginning is due to the sustainability factor.
Quick results are all well and good, and no one wants to lose fat slowly, but even if you reach your goal body composition with an ultra-low calorie diet, you’re far more likely to rebound and binge post-diet.
You might manage to hold your condition for a few weeks, but mentally, it’s been such a grind, that you’re primed to binge on all the foods you’ve deprived yourself of, and so can easily add several pounds of fat back on in just a couple of weeks.
Make your diet easier though, make your calorie cuts smaller, and take a bit longer, and this effect is greatly mitigated.
Calorie Cuts – How Much is Too Much?
The amount you should cut your calories by depends on a number of factors.
As a general rule of thumb, however, you first need to find a rough figure for how many calories you need for maintenance.
Men should multiply bodyweight in kilos by 30 to 35, and women multiply bodyweight in kilos by 28 to 32. (The more active you are, the higher your multiplication factor.)
From here, subtract –
– 10-15% for slower, steady, sustainable fat loss, if you want to make progress, but aren’t on a deadline, and want dieting to be “easy”
– 15-25% if you have a show, shoot or holiday coming up (6-12 weeks away) and don’t mind getting a little more aggressive.
– 25-35% if you’re obese, or are on an extremely tight timescale to get lean. (Note: This should ONLY apply to those who make a living from competing, or photo shoots.)
Use these guidelines to make dieting as stress-free as possible, while maintaining maximum strength, muscle mass and energy, and preventing your risks of a post-diet rebound