Fat loss is a completely different experience for everyone. What works for one person might not work for someone else, and–despite what the diet industry tries to lead us to believe–there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to reducing body fat and getting lean.
The trick is to make use of certain tips and techniques so they work with your body and suit your lifestyle. A fat loss plan that keeps hunger, cravings and energy all balanced, while maintaining a calorie deficit to burn fat is really the key to success.
The following tips can work for almost any healthy adult trying to cut down their body fat, mainly because they’re very open-ended and flexible. You can tweak them however you like to fit your personal tastes, habits and goals.
1. Avoid making changes that are unsustainable.
Before starting a fat loss plan, you have to get realistic. Drastically changing too many bad habits at once is often impossible to maintain for more than a few days, and while your motivation and willpower may be high to start, it certainly won’t stay that way.
Make a few small changes and aim to make them second nature by implementing them every day for a few weeks. Once you have a few good habits that have become a solid part of your routine, you can add a couple more.
2. Set mini goals.
If you’re trying to lose 50 pounds at the rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week, fixating on that one big end result can easily overwhelm and discourage you. Instead, break your big goal up into smaller goals–like losing five pounds by the end of the month.
You can do the same for your eating and exercise habits. For example, set a goal to cut out sugar completely for 30 days, or aim for a weekly increase of 3 to 5 more pushups during your workout.
3. Eat real food.
There are countless beverages, energy bars, supplements and specialized health foods out there that claim to help you torch body fat and improve your overall body composition. But nothing compares to the nutritional value you get from eating real food.
Many supplements and health food products are highly processed, and while they may promise to offer you something that’s great tasting, high in protein or low in calories, your body functions best when it gets its nutrients from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean meats. If you’re going to use supplements, or any other processed food products marketed as “healthy,” make sure you use them in a way that they compliment your current healthy diet.
4. Fill up on fiber.
To achieve fat loss, you need to be burning more calories than you’re taking in, and a diet rich in high-fiber foods is key to helping you stay full when maintaining a calorie deficit. Fiber also improves your digestion and promotes healthy bowel movements.
According to WebMD, women should be aiming to get 25 grams of fiber per day while men should plan to get 38 grams. This shouldn’t be all that difficult to achieve if you’re incorporating lots of healthy fruits, vegetables and whole grains into your meals and snacks.
5. Don’t fear fat.
It sounds counterintuitive, but you have to eat fat to lose fat. Healthy fat, that is!
Some of the best sources of healthy fat include avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds and omega-3 fatty fish, like wild salmon. Just make sure to watch your portion sizes since foods rich in healthy fat are also high in calories.
6. Enjoy complex carbohydrates.
Contrary to popular belief, carbs are not the enemy to fat loss. It’s the simple carbs that you have to watch out for, which consist of sugars that causes surges in insulin and signal your body to stop burning fat.
Complex carbs like whole grain bread or pasta, brown rice, oats, potatoes, corn and beans contain fiber that help regulate your blood sugar. These are also full of vitamins and minerals that many processed simple carbs don’t have.
7. Make sure you’re getting enough protein.
If you’re eating and exercising to maintain a calorie deficit for fat loss, you’ll need to work on maintaining your muscle too, which can also be lost during prolonged periods of calorie restriction. Aiming to eat more protein will help to preserve your muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate.
Protein is also much more filling than fat and carbs, so incorporating a generous helping into every meal can help keep you satisfied and full for hours. Lean sources of protein like chicken breast, egg whites, seafood, lean beef and pork tenderloin are some of the best choices you can make to fill up for long periods while keeping your calories low.
8. Strength train with heavy weights.
In addition to consuming an adequate amount of protein, strength training is another essential strategy to maintain your muscle mass. If you’re new to strength training, you’ll probably even increase your muscle mass in the initial stage of your fat loss journey, which will give your metabolism a nice boost.
By lifting heavy weights, you’re essentially breaking down your muscles so that they have to recover and repair themselves to become even stronger. Continuously challenging your muscles in this way will help them stay strong and prevent your body from switching to burn muscle instead of fat.
9. Try high-intensity interval training instead of steady-state cardio.
If you’ve been exercising for a while already and don’t have any serious health conditions, you may want to try high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which is a form of cardiovascular exercise that involves short bursts of very intense activity followed by brief periods of rest. They’re kept short at about 20 to 30 minutes in total time, and work by pushing you to an anaerobic state that can burn calories and fat more effectively than steady-state cardio.
As an example, a typical HIIT workout might involve a five-minute warm-up followed by eight rounds of hard exercise (burpees, jumping jacks, sumo squats, etc.) that are a minute and a half long. Each round gets a 30-second rest. The workout is finished with a five-minute cool-down and some stretching.
10. Schedule your workout into your day.
If it’s not scheduled, it’s probably not going to happen. Plan a specific time of day to get your workout in. Set a reminder on your phone if you need it.
Better yet, stay consistent with the time of day that you plan your workout to help make it a serious habit. Whether you plan to do it before the sun rises or after a full day of work, it becomes more ingrained in your daily routine when you do it at the same time every day.
11. Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time.
You have to become a master planner if you want to keep your calories in check and your food choices healthy. Pack a healthy lunch for work the night before, do your dinnertime meal planning and grocery shopping for the entire week on Sunday, and consider keeping healthy snacks in your car or in your bag when you’re on the run.
You can make the planning process easier by picking out a few recipes you really love and sticking with them regularly. For example, if you love oatmeal for breakfast, you can cook up a big batch of steel cut oats with a small amount of maple syrup mixed in on the weekend to keep in your refrigerator, which you can warm up in microwave quickly during weekday mornings.
12. Research nutritional information for restaurants when you know you’ll be eating out.
Face it: you’re going to have deal with social events that involve food. If you’re eating out at a restaurant, it’s easy enough to do a quick Google search for the menu and nutritional information for each dish before you head out.
If you can’t find the nutritional information online, you can always look up the menu items, pick out a meal that looks healthy enough and use a tool like MyFitnessPal to estimate the calories. It may not be perfect, but it’s better than going unprepared.
13. Manage stress with calming activities rather than food.
For people who struggle with emotional eating, any stressful situation can easily send them running for the ice cream and potato chips. If you’re someone who turns to food in times of stress, try managing it by engaging in activities that soothe both your mind and your body.
You could go for a walk outside, read a book, take a nap, drink herbal tea, call up a friend to talk, take a warm bath, do some light yoga or practice meditation. These stress-relieving activities also offer the added benefit of being good distractions from wanting to eat.
14. Use “buffer” foods to curb cravings.
“Buffer food” is a term that was coined by the folks at The Metabolic Effect, which is used to describe healthy but slightly more indulgent foods that can be used to ward off cravings. For example, dark chocolate or a small portion of cheese could be used to help combat a sweet tooth.
The point of using buffer foods is to stop craving-induced accidents from happening. It may cost you another 100 calories to eat that chocolate or cheese, but if it keeps you from consuming a 500-calorie glazed donut, then it’s worth it.
15. Replace your scale with a measuring tape.
Scales are great for measuring overall weight loss and weight gain–including fat, muscle and water. For fat loss, however, it’s not the most effective tool.
Instead of stepping on the scale every day and wondering why you keep fluctuating when you’ve been sticking to your plan, get a measuring tape to track the inches you lose every week. The scale may not show it, but if you’re losing inches around your chest, waist, hips and thighs, then you’re definitely losing fat.
16. Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night.
Sleep is extremely important for effective fat loss because it allows the body to work on restoring itself and its functions. Adequate sleep promotes tissue repair, protein synthesis, lower blood pressure, immunity and growth hormone release–all of which play important roles in supporting healthy fat loss.
Another important point to note about sleep’s relation to fat loss is that hunger and cravings tend to be aggravated when you’re sleep deprived. Most healthy adults need 7 to 8 (sometimes up to 9) hours of sleep a night, so focus on the length and quality of your sleep if you want burn fat.
17. Expect to hit plateaus.
You may have been led to believe that you can lose fat at a healthy rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week, but in reality plateaus are a normal part of the process. Even when you’re still eating right and exercising, your body is constantly trying to adapt to your habits–and when it does, fat loss often stalls.
Prepare yourself by expecting them to happen and committing to sticking with it even when progress comes to a halt for days, weeks, or possibly even months. Switch your exercise routine up, try adding more veggies to your diet or plan on taking more time to rest and recover to get things moving again.
18. If you’re going to exercise more, make sure you eat enough.
Exercising a lot while also eating as little as possible is a recipe for disaster over the long run. It wreaks havoc on your body, eventually triggering strong cravings and possibly even doing damage to your metabolism.
Remember that if you’re exercising very intensely 5 to 6 days of the week, you’ll need more calories from healthy foods than you would if you were doing light exercise or no exercise at all. A calorie deficit that’s too large may help you lose a lot of fat very quickly, but it can cause bigger problems for you down the road if you keep it up.
19. If you’re going to exercise less, make sure you don’t eat too much.
You can still lose fat without exercising very much at all, but you need to be laser-focused on maintaining a healthy diet and the right amount of calories. A person who is sedentary for most of the day will have to work on avoiding unnecessary snacking and maintaining appropriate portion sizes.
Exercising less and eating less allows you to focus more on your diet, which is really the number one factor when it comes to fat loss. It’s also great for your stress levels since more frequent exercising can sometimes exaggerate your stress hormones that cause fat loss to stall.
20. Cycle between periods of exercising/eating more and exercising/eating less.
If you keep pushing harder and harder with your exercise routine or keep dropping your caloric intake lower and lower, you’re eventually going to reach a limit. The best way to keep losing fat at a healthy rate without having to kill yourself in the gym or starve yourself of everything you love is by continuously switching things up.
Try a two-week period of exercising more intensely for 5 to 6 days a week and eating 200 to 400 more calories a day. After that, switch to a two-week period of exercising lightly for 2 to 3 days a week and eating 200 to 400 calories less a day. Just when your body starts to get the message to adapt to your habits, it’s time to switch it up again, which is key to keeping your body balanced and progress moving along.
21. Walk every day as much as you can.
If you can aim to walk at a leisurely pace for 1 to 2 hours every day, you could see much better fat loss results than you would if you simply killed yourself for an hour every day in the gym and stayed sedentary for the rest of the day. Leisurely walking is one of the best stress relieving activities you can do that naturally helps balance your hormones needed to maintain good health and keep burning fat.
Lots of hard exercise with no support from stress-relieving activities can disrupt hormonal balance when it’s done for prolonged periods of time. Although walking doesn’t burn as many calories, it can be very powerful in helping fat loss when used alongside a healthy diet and a more intense exercise regime.
22. Allow yourself to have one cheat meal a week.
A cheeseburger or a big piece of chocolate cake doesn’t exactly fall under the category of healthy food for fat loss, but if it keeps you sane, gives you something to look forward to, and offers you motivation to get back on track once you’ve indulged, then it’s worth splurging on once in a while. Increasing your calories every so often is also good for restoring your hunger hormones, which adapt to your lower calorie intake and make it harder to burn fat when you keep it up for so long.
You should give yourself a two-hour window once a week to eat whatever you want. Chances are you may feel a little bloated the next day if it’s a carb-heavy indulgence, but it’s usually just water weight that disappears a day or two after getting back on track with your healthy eating habits.
23. Don’t obsess over calories.
There’s been a lot of mention of calories already in this article, and it’s true–calories are important for fat loss. But they don’t tell the entire story. Your metabolism is unique to you, and depending on the current state of your health, your stress levels, your gut bacteria, your lifestyle choices, your exercise regime and the foods you choose to eat, any calorie calculator could be way off in estimating what you’re really burning.
Calorie counting tools are great for meal planning and gaining a better understanding of nutrition, but they don’t offer a complete solution for effective fat loss. If you’re going to count calories, make sure you also tune into your body and listen to the signals it’s telling you so you can take necessary action to balance out any problems you’re experiencing with hunger, cravings or lack of energy.
24. Take it one day at a time.
It can be far to daunting to imagine how you’re going to stick with your healthy habits months down the road, even through all those family get-togethers, vacation trips and holidays. Instead of worrying about the future, try to stay in the present by focusing on what you have to do now to keep yourself on track.
Planning ahead is still relevant (as explained in point #11), but getting anxious about anything that’s far off and out of your control is not worth any serious attention. Work on making today a good one, plan for social events or stressful situations in the upcoming week, and let the nature of time do its thing.
25. Reward yourself when you hit a goal.
If you follow these tips and tailor them to your personal needs and lifestyle habits, then you’re likely to have success with cutting down your body fat. When you hit one of your mini goals, make sure you acknowledge it. Acknowledging goals motivates you to reach your next one and trains you to stick with healthy habits for the rest of your life.
A nice reward might include getting a massage, getting your hair done, buying a new piece of clothing to compliment your slimmer figure, planning a date night with your partner, getting together with friends you have’t seen in a while, buying a new book, or anything else that isn’t food-related and can bring you a sense of satisfaction. An even better strategy is to take some time at the beginning of your fat loss journey to come up with reward ideas so you can write them on your calendar or put them on a vision board to keep you motivated every day.
There’s an art to losing fat in a healthy and sustainable way. With these tips, you’ll be way ahead of everyone looking for quick results that don’t last. Remember to speak to your doctor before starting a fat loss plan to ensure you’re doing it in the healthiest way possible.
Set a Goal For Yourself
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