Nutrition for Fat Loss

Learn nutrition basics for fat loss - lose fat fast while keeping your muscle.

What to Eat & How Much

Learn how to eat healthy and how much to eat.
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How to Design Your Diet

Design a diet that meets your needs.
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Evaluating Dietary Success

Evaluating your diet keeps you on track.
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What to Eat & How Much to Eat

Macronutrient Needs

You should get at least 0.7 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (so if you weigh 130 lbs, you should get at least 0.7×130 = 90 grams of protein). Additionally, you should get at least 50 grams of fats and 120 grams of carbohydrates. You need to ensure that you get enough protein for its muscle sparing ability. I discourage low carbohydrate diets due to the loss of optimal brain function many experience on such diets. For more details on these numbers, see Recommended Nutrient Amounts.

Healthy Food Choices

The concept of using "clean eating" to lose weight faster is highly flawed ( See Healthy Eating). In fact, if all you do is switch to “clean” foods, you may gain fat! Burning more calories than you consume will ensure that you lose weight. There are approximately 3500 calories in a pound of fat, so to lose about 1 pound of fat, you need to burn approximately 3500 calories more than you consume. For example, if you eat 500 calories less than you burn for a week, you will lose 1 pound of fat (500×7=3500). If you think your deficit is 500 calories, but you aren’t losing 1 pound a week of weight (on average, since weight loss doesn’t always track fat loss due to water weight issues), then your estimate of your maintenance calories is too high.

Instead of "clean eating", I ascribe to healthy eating. Some good healthy eating principles are:

  • Consume foods from all food groups in nutrient-dense forms (this is the same as "less-processed").
  • Reduce intake of trans-fats which are found in hydrogenated oils.
  • Replace solid fats with oils (major sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids) when possible. You may wish to avoid corn oil for its high Omega 6 (inflammatory) content.
  • Reduce intake of added sugars.
  • Reduce intake of refined grains (eg. white flour, white rice) and replace some refined grains with whole grains.
  • Reduce intake of sodium (major component of salt).
  • If consumed, limit alcohol intake to moderate levels (one drink a day at most).
  • Increase intake of vegetables and fruits.
  • Increase intake of whole grains.
  • Increase intake of milk and milk products.
  • Increase seafood intake by replacing some meat or poultry with seafood to increase Omega-3 intake.

How Much to Eat

Your daily caloric allotment will depend on two things - the amount of calories you require to maintain your weight, and the deficit you choose to take.

The best way to determine your maintenance calories is by trial and error - ie. find the calorie level that stabilizes your weight. If you have no idea what your maintenance is, use the caloric needs calculator to get an estimate.

For a caloric deficit, I recommend taking a 300 calorie deficit if you are within 10 pounds of your goal weight, which will result in a 2 pound a month weight loss. If you are less than 50 pounds overweight, I recommend a 500 calorie deficit (or a 1 pound a week weight loss). If you are more than 50 pounds overweight, you can take up to a 1000 calorie a week deficit (for a 2 pound a week weight loss).

A word of caution: It is not possible to lose 10 to 50 pounds a week of FAT. On the Biggest Loser, when you see large drops in weight, this is from WATER. Their weekly fat loss would actually be more linear. In fact, water weight is the cause of a large proportion of plateaus. Which is why you should stick to a diet for a few weeks, and not give up on it right away. I highly recommend the following articles about water weight:

How to Design Your Diet

Now that you know how many calories you will be eating, you can design 3 meals and between 0 and 2 mini-meals (snacks). This is easily done using the online diet tracker SparkPeople. If you are having trouble learning how to use SparkPeople, watch this youtube how-to video. If you like, you can start with the meal plan inside sparkpeople and adjust the food quantities to meet your needs. I suggest designing the meal plans weekly as this will aid in grocery shopping and help abate last-minute choices.

In order to tell if your diet is working, you will want to be fairly compliant with your diet. I recommend following your diet at least 90% of the time. If you eat 5 meals per day, that means at most 3 meals per week will be off diet (0.90×(5×7)=3).

When you are following your diet plan, try to measure most things with a food scale and/or measuring cups. Eyeballing is not recommended.

To make it easier to follow your diet, consider premaking meals/snacks on the weekend and freezing (for perishible foods) or storing in baggies (for non-perishible foods). For example, chicken and rice freezes well; and you can put 1 oz servings of almonds and raisins in little snack bags. If soft drinks or juice is your downfall consider diluting juice with club soda. 1 can of club soda can be combined with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of juice to make a lower calorie drink.

Evaluating Dietary Success

During the initial phases of a weight loss diet (the first week especially), there can be drops in weight due to loss of water weight. After caloric reduction, anywhere from 2-5 pounds of loss is expected. If you are on a low carb diet, or have been retaining water from a high sodium diet, it may be much higher (such as the 20 or more pounds people regularly lose the first week on Biggest Loser). For this reason, I suggest waiting 2 weeks to gauge the effectiveness of your diet.

You should be seeing weekly or bi-weekly changes to your scale weight, how you look in the mirror, and/or your measurements (measure your waist, hips and thighs). Typical weight loss for a female is 2 pounds a month, when close to ideal body weight, 4 pounds a month when moderately overweight, and 8 lbs a month when very obese.

If your fat loss is too slow over several weeks, reduce your calories by 100 every 3 days until you see progress. If you are losing too fast, and you are more than 2 weeks into your diet, raise calories 100 every 3 days.

Ending the Diet

If you want to return to a maintenance diet, or a muscle gain diet, raise your calories slowly, 100 calories every 3 days. Note that, because of your decreased body weight, you will need fewer calories.

A small amount of "rebound" weight gain when ending a weight loss diet is normal. There is almost always (even if you don't restrict carbohydrates) going to be a water weight gain of 2-5 pounds when coming off of a diet. For this reason, you may wish to set to stay on your diet until you are 5 pounds below your goal weight.