What truly causes fat loss? There are literally 1,000s of different methods to lose weight and many of them have proven to be successful (at least in the short-term). Your best friend is losing weight following a ketogenic diet, your boss is crushing it on paleo, you read an article in Reader’s Digest about something called, The Mediterranean Diet, what gives? How can so many vastly different methods all produce results?
What ALL Fat Loss Protocols Have In Common
Before we go any further, I want to clarify why I chose to use the term “fat loss” instead of “weight loss”.
Weight loss, is just that, the loss of weight. This weight could be in the form of: fat, water, muscle, etc. Fat loss, is specifically the loss of fat (which is what I speculate most readers are interested in). The goal for most people when they begin a diet or set out to adopt new health-promoting habits, is not to lose muscle or a bunch of water, it is to lose actual fat mass and that is who this article is written for.
It’s Simple, And It’s True
Those who have been in the dieting scene for a while have likely heard or read statements like, “Move more, eat less” or “Calories in vs. Calories out”. As simplistic as these statements are, they are true. The key element for fat loss is creating a negative energy balance within your body. Energy balance is:
Energy (Calories) In vs. Energy (Calories) Out
If you want to lose body fat, you need to take in less energy than you are expending. This is the crux of all successful fat loss programs.*
*There is one small caveat to this statement which we will address a bit later.
The Human Body: One System
What I am about to describe is a vastly oversimplified version of something much more complex, however, this description is all you really need to know to understand the above law in action.
Your body is one system that is made up of energy. At any given time, your body contains a certain amount of total energy. When you eat, you add energy to this amount. When you exercise, your heart beats, you breathe, etc., you remove energy.
Over time, if you take in less energy than you expend you will lower the amount of stored energy within your body.
One System, Different Parts
Where things get tricky, is determining which part of the system (your body) is contributing the energy to be “burned” during your fat loss journey. Energy is stored in various parts of your body, this includes: muscle tissue, organ tissue, adipose tissue (fat), etc. The goal of any good fat loss program, is to try to derive as much of the energy that is being “burned” as possible, from fat. This is where physical activity, resistance training, and different dietary approaches come into play.
The small caveat I mentioned earlier relates to this concept of energy contribution. Without getting into the details, because energy is stored in different parts, certain parts can shrink (fat cells) while other parts increase (muscle tissue). This is why you can lose fat without losing weight itself (because you are breaking down stored body fat while simultaneously increasing your amount of muscle tissue). In certain scenarios, with the right exercise program, it is possible (although not nearly as likely) to lose fat without being in an energy deficit.
The goal for this article was not to discuss minute details, it was to look at the core reason behind why so many different dietary strategies work for fat loss. This phenomenon can be summarized as: the dietary approach, in some way, causes the person to take in less energy (calories) than they are expending. Whether it’s low-carb, low-fat, paleo, carb cycling, the Maple Syrup Diet, etc., if the person is losing fat, it is because they are following this fundamental principle in some way (the one caveat being if they fall under the category of someone who is building a significant amount of new muscle tissue).
If you are in the process of trying to decide which approach is best for you, start by asking yourself the question, “What is my outcome for these dietary changes?”. If your outcome is sustainable weight loss, choose an approach which is sustainable for you and ensure you are in an energy (calorie) deficit.
It’s ultimately up to you to decide which approach is best for you, however personal experience and helping countless others achieve their fat loss goals has shown me that most times choosing a moderate approach that supports your long-term health works best.
Did you enjoy this article? You can show your support by sharing it on one of your social media platforms and commenting below. Sign up to receive the latest evidence-based information, tips, and strategies in the areas of: nutrition, fat loss, appetite control, exercise science, psychology, and more from stevetaylorRD.com by clicking the button below:
For information about personalized nutrition/training programming or weekly coaching, fill out the form below or email me at: steve@stevetaylorRD.com.