First things first, it’s vitally important to distinguish between eating to maintain your body weight and eating to lose fat.
If you’re fuelling a healthy weight maintenance, eat around 2,000 calories a day, with a healthy balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
However, if you’re looking to lose fat, you need to maintain a calorie deficit—in simpler terms, expend more energy than you consume.
If you are looking to lose fat, you might feel a little overwhelmed by the 101 diet plans circulating the Internet, various different workouts for fat loss promoted online, plus deluge of contrasting advice which protein powders to use, and when.
Don’t panic—you’re not alone.
57 per cent of women say they have tried to lose fat in the last year – ‘tried’ being the optimum word.
But with contrasting fat loss tips and whacky, unrealistic and sometimes extreme strategies, it’s easy to see why so many women struggle.
While every body is different, and it is vital to work out what works for you and your body, there are 23 simple and universal tips experts all agree on.
1. Ditch your trigger foods
It could be grab bags of Monster Munch, homemade flapjacks or that extra spoonful (or seven) of mac and cheese; whatever your poison, it pays to park it, particularly any food you have a tendency to overeat or eat mindlessly.
Rearranging your fridge may sound way too simple to work, but nutritionists assure us it does.
For instance, move the foods that you know fuel you and make you feel good to the most visible shelves, and shift the unhealthy stuff towards the back.
Research by Cornell University found that people who displayed junk food on the counter (like biscuits in a glass jar) weighed an average 12kg more than people who stored food away.
Out of sight, out of mind.
2. Sweat closer to home
Working out in your own space doesn’t just save time, it’s also easier to fit in if you find yourself with a spare five minutes.
Remember – a few minutes is better than no minutes at all.
Do a bit of Tabata and up physical activity by climbing the stairs at work, or standing up in the office for 10 minutes every hour.
It all adds up – and research shows that just 15 minutes a day can add years to your life.
3. Hit your step count
Walking can be one of the easiest ways to lose fat.
It may sound simple, but various studies have found that enhancing your daily NEAT—that’s non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or the amount of calories you burn without actually working out—can be key to dropping fat the easy way.
Aim for between 10,000 and 12,000 steps a day.
4. Up your fibre intake
Fibre expands in your stomach and also takes time to digest, which means you feel fuller for longer, so focus food choices on fibre-packed whole grains, vegetables and whole fruits (not juiced).
In terms of carbohydrates, pulses, legumes and lentils are your best choice, but aim to include starchy carbs like rice, potatoes and rye bread in around six meals per week.
5. Rethink your portions
Studies have shown that most dieters underestimate how much they eat.
Tools and gadgets can help but the most useful hack is far simpler.
Aim for a portion of protein the size of your palm, a pile of vegetables the size of your fist, a cupped hand of carbs and a thumb-sized amount of fat.
6. Be mindful of your alcohol consumption
One you likely already know, but a simple premise: whatever alcohol you drink adds to your diet in the form of added calories, and when you’re trying to maintain a calorie deficit for fat loss, a couple of large roses can quickly tip you over the edge.
Experts advise enjoying a drink here and there in moderation—it’s about finding a balance that works for you, after all—and if you are going to drink more regularly, opting for lower calorie drinks such as:
- Slimline gin and tonic
- Vodka and soda
- Small glass of prosecco
- Rum and coke
7. Eat three square meals
Endless grazing: good for cows, not so much for humans.
Stick to traditional meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner – supplemented with a small morning and afternoon snack if you’re feeling particularly peckish – to ensure that your hormones remain balanced and avoid grazing turning into overeating.
Despite all the advice about eating five or six smaller meals throughout the day rather than sitting down to three main meals, some research has shown this strategy isn’t the most effective for fat loss—however, it’s vital that you practice a little trial and error to decide what works best for you and your body.
8. Keep a record
Keep a fitness and food diary and make a note of how you train and what you eat so you can see where your goals are at.
Research in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine shows that food journals can double a dieter’s fat loss efforts.
Sitting down and thinking about what you’re going to eat and why you intend to eat it means you’re not acting on immediacy and impulse, but controlled thought and positive intentions.
And you’ll be mindful to enjoy every mouthful of your favourite meals.
9. Add weights to cardio
To drop serious kilos, you’ll likely need the one-two punch of aerobic exercise plus strength training.
Regular resistance training can boost your basal metabolic rate by 15% but it’s key to target multiple muscles. We’re talking squats, lunges, pull-ups and deadlifts.
10. Have a veggie starter
If you’re eating out, check the menu in advance and you’re more likely to make a smart, considered choice when you order.
Opt for a vegetable-based starter.
You’ll be feeding your healthy gut microbes and filling up with fibre, meaning you’ll absorb fewer calories from starch and fat as a result.
11. Drink in the outdoors
Research says that placing yourself in the context of a wider ecosystem, simply by stepping outside, can improve body confidence and help you make healthier choices.
It comes down to a human need to maintain your place in nature, which, over time, will lead to you feeling healthier and happier.
12. Stick up pics
If you have a fat loss goal, have pictures on hand that motivate you to stay on track.
When it comes to setting goals, visualisation is important. It could be a picture of you at a healthier weight, fitspo from your favourite athlete or an outfit you want to wear when you reach your goal.
13. Say yes to smart swaps
Fact: small treats keep you from feeling deprived, so allow yourself a little bit of something you love every day (aim for it to be around 150 calories). The reason?
This kind of moderation is the difference between a ‘diet’ and a lifestyle you can stick with forever.
14. Ditch the extras
Milk in your coffee, sauce on the side, extra alcoholic drinks, those mindless nibbles when food appears in front of you – it all adds up.
Added sugar and sweeteners affect your gut microbes in ways that make you more prone to put on fat (or less prone to lose it).
15. Make sure you’re getting the right amount of protein
1.5 is the magic number to aim for when it comes to protein – which helps build muscle and fuel fat loss – if you’re a regular in the weights room.
To hit the right amount, multiply your weight in kilos by 1.5 – eat at least that many grams per day, spread evenly over meals and snacks.
That could be in the form of protein powders or high protein foods, such as eggs, chicken, red meat, fish, tofu, feta cheese and some legumes.
16. Eat enough to balance fat loss and energy
There’s a fine line between eating for energy and muscle recovery, and eating to drop body fat.
Fat loss will be a by-product if you’re burning energy at the gym but shouldn’t necessarily be your goal over fitness, strength or endurance.
People think if they exercise more they’ll lose more fat.
But its effect on fat loss is minimal as humans have a variety of adaptive and compensatory mechanisms to make up for the energy burnt in the gym.
Your exercise recovery goals should include a good night’s sleep, a balanced meal consisting of all three macronutrients and rehydration.
17. Don’t get caught up in fads
Clear confusion by taking a step back and looking at a wellness approach that suits your body type, goals and lifestyle. A nutritionist or dietitian can help you figure this out.
It’s important that changes you make are realistic and sustainable rather than short-term fixes or fad diets.
The key to a healthy lifestyle lies in individuality – what’s healthy for a celebrity or friend isn’t necessarily right for you. Make a note of how your body reacts after foods that you eat.
18. Don’t fall off the wagon
People need support and accountability in reaching goals.
Whether that’s from a nutrition expert, a support group or a friend, locking in regular update sessions will provide vital support and encouragement while keeping you on track.
Going it alone? Have a clear vision of yourself looking fit and healthy.
Imagine yourself feeling the way you’d feel and appreciating your healthy body. Do this every time you falter and your willpower will become stronger.
19. Don’t be scared of healthy fats
You may think to lose fat, you need to cut down on fat.
But in reality, healthy fats like olive and nut oils – in moderation – can boost the flavour of your meals, add energy and help your body absorb nutrients.
20. Keep stress levels down
Before you scroll past, this one’s important: when was the last time you grabbed a cake or sugar-full snack to counter your rising cortisol levels, or dug in to a tub of Ben & Jerry’s because you were feeling a little low?
Stress and emotional eating are fairly common, and nothing to worry about if you’re maintaining your weight, however if you’re looking to lose fat, it’s worth identifying and pin-pointing your triggers.
High levels of cortisol, aka the stress hormone, causes higher levels of insulin in the body, which in turn makes you crave sugar-y and fatty foods, making it more difficult to lose fat. You were warned.
21. Get in those zzz’s
You’ve heard the experts harking on about getting enough shut eye—between seven and nine hours, in an ideal world—but how many of you actually make sure to get eight hours of solid rest each night?
If your answer was ‘not me’, it’s time you checked in on your sleep hygiene habits.
Various studies have compared those who get more and less shut eye, and those who get eight hours plus generally avoid snacking and feel less hungry, promoting a more successful fat loss rate.
22. Start your day the right way
In other words, make yourself a breakfast that’s a healthy balance of protein, carbs and fats to make sure you’re not so hungry come 11 o’clock you’ll eat anything and everything in sight.
23. Educate yourself on quality calories
In other words, as sad as it is, accept that 300g in the form of a Yorkie bar probably isn’t going to fill you up or do you quite as much good as lean protein chicken.
Eating for fat loss is all about filling yourself up with lean protein sources, slow release carbs, healthy fats and nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, so it’s worth being mindful of foods that don’t fit into this category that may just waste calories on foods lacking in adequate nutrition.