So, it’s time to talk about weight-loss. Considering many - if not most - people join the gym wanting to lose weight, drop belly fat and get fitter, this week we want to tackle the topic and give some healthy advice.
First and foremost, weight loss is influenced by a huge number of factors - we can’t possibly cover them all in one blog! But we can certainly highlight the core reasons for weight loss or gain and offer some advice to help you achieve your goals.
3 Central Influencing Factors of Weight-Loss or Gain
- Total Calories
- Physical Activity Level
Total Calories represents the total calories in versus calories out across a day, week or month, i.e. your overall energy balance. Being in an energy surplus causes us to gain weight. Whether that surplus be from carbs, fat or protein doesn’t make much difference. If instead you are eating just under your energy needs, you will lose body weight. Ideally, this will be body fat you’re shedding, rather than muscle mass. To promote muscle maintenance and fat loss when in a calorie deficit, it’s key to eat a diet with sufficient protein and exercise regularly.
Diet: this covers dietary habits, understanding of nutrition and other factors in the surrounding environment. The quality of food will have a major impact on body weight, satiety and energy levels, which will also affect the intensity of your workouts.
Physical Activity Level: exercise will increase the number of calories burned per day and will increase resting metabolic rate (how efficient your body is at processing food into energy and subsequently burning calories).
These are just three important factors to consider when embarking on a mission to drop some body fat.
Other things to consider are: NEAT (Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, aka non structured activity such as walking to work, cleaning the house, washing the dishes, and so on), sleep, stress, alcohol consumption, use of medicines, physiology, social and individual psychology, physical activity environment, economic factors (such as cost of food), surrounding living environment, genetic predispositions, child growth, food literacy and so on.
So, you may be wondering, how do I tackle all of that?! Well, actually (and luckily!), there are some very simple ways of changing your habits that will yield visible, long-lasting results. Here’s how...
5 Tips for Effective Weight Loss
- Eat more protein: increasing your protein intake will reduce hunger and maintain muscle mass during weight loss. Choose protein sources that are nutrient-rich and lower in saturated fat and calories, such as lean meats, seafood (rich in omega-3s), lentils or beans (provide fiber), tofu, low-fat dairy (greek yogurt, feta and cottage cheese), eggs and some nuts and seeds.
- Make healthy swaps: especially white carbs for whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables (we love sweet potatoes, beetroot and squash), brown rice, quinoa, beans and legumes (the latter two are also quite high in protein - win-win).
- Reduce alcohol consumption: drinking alcohol is one habit that stops many people from achieving their weight loss goals. Alcohol is higher in calories than almost all food and people don’t tend to stop at one glass! Alcohol affects many other things such as sleep, coordination and concentration, which in turn affect food choices and the intensity of exercise. Ideally, we should aim for one drink per week or less for both optimal weight loss results and overall health.
- Commit to consistent, regular exercise: three weight-training sessions and one cardio session per week, if done consistently and at medium- to high-intensity, will help you to achieve your weight loss goal.
- Get enough sleep: lack of sleep has been found in some studies to compromise the efficacy of typical dietary interventions for weight loss and related metabolic risk reduction. One study found that subjects on 5.5 hours sleep lost 55% less body fat than subjects on 8.5 hours over 14 days of moderate caloric restriction.
Some people will find intermittent fasting helpful for sticking to their set calorie target. Without getting into the huge topic of intermittent fasting, quite simply, one way of tackling overall calorie intake across a day could be to set a cut-off point. For example, having a so-called “feeding window” between 12PM and 8PM can help limit late night meals and snacking.
The key points to take away from this are that making small changes to your current diet, such as swapping foods high in calories, saturated fat and sugar for healthier options, will add up and make a big overall difference to your diet.
Consistency is key to seeing results, as it is impossible to change the body overnight. Small, but long-term changes is the healthiest and most achievable way to lose weight.
Finally, sticking to an overall target of calories per day, week and month will be the one most important thing you can do.
Tracking calories will help you control how much you are eating and avoid products high in calories, saturated fats and sugar. The aim is to learn which meals provide your body with the best balance of calories and macronutrients that it needs to function efficiently. And, if one meal ends up being high in calories (for example, this typically happens when eating out), you are able to understand this and adjust the next meal to balance this out across the day, week or month.
Counting calories doesn’t have to be forever, but it can be an extremely helpful tool for understanding what each meal is made up of and what food items are causing you to exceed your calorie needs!
- BBC, 2003, "Eat Less Processed Food", URL: news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2814253.stm.
- DrinkAware, 2018, "Health Effects of Alcohol", URL: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/
- Nedeltcheva, AV; Kilkus, JM; Imperial, J; Schoeller, DA; Penev, PD, 2010, "Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity". Annals of Internal Medicine. 153 (7): 435–41. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-153-7-201010050-00006. PMC 2951287 Freely accessible. PMID 20921542.
- NHS, 2015, “Healthy Food Swaps”, URL: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/healthy-food-swaps/
- WebMD, 2016, "High-Protein Diet for Weight Loss", URL: https://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/high-protein-diet-weight-loss