In this final part of The Fat Series I am looking at the part that food plays in fat burn, and how you can eat for fat loss. So much of our weight is controlled by what we eat, and by making a few simple changes you can turn your body from sluggish and full into a fat burning machine. Want to know how? Hell yeah!
Calorie deficit and fat burn
Here’s the simple truth. If you take nothing else away from this blog, take this! In order to lose fat we need to create a calorie deficit. That is, our body needs to be burning more energy than it’s consuming. When we think that it takes around 258 burpees to burn 100 calories (at least it did for me according to my Apple Watch – the burn was real… 15 minutes of burpees!) then cutting back on food sounds like a great place to start! (But never forget exercise. See Part 3 of The Fat Series to read about how exercise can help).
It has long been said that a calorie deficit of around 500 per day, over a week should see you lose about 1lb of fat. I’m not going in to the details of basal metabolic rates and energy expenditure here, but feel free to look that up.
So there you have it. Eat less. BUT, if you are still eating shite, then the results will be anything but good for your body.
“I think that there’s pretty good evidence that food intake in humans, for most people, is the predominant influence on fatness” – Dr. Stephan Guyenet
You are what you eat
A calorie, is in fact, not a calorie! By this I mean that all calories are not created equal. Eat your daily calorie allowance in sugar and it will have a very different effect on your body than eating the same amount of calories in vegetables! I’ve spoken before about blood sugar, and when there is too much sugar in the blood it gets removed and stored (hello fat!). There is no nutritious value. And probably little in the way of fibre with whatever sugar you are eating. With vegetables, the fibre slows down digestion, so there is no big spike in blood sugar, and the food has nutrients and minerals that are helping your body function better. The food has a purpose. It is being used to help maintain cell function and cell structure. You literally ARE WHAT YOU EAT!
The many methods to eat less for fat loss
If you are eating less than you are burning, you will lose fat. It’s science. Science never lies (right?!). There are many ways to eat less, and this is what most diets focus on… We’ve got the ‘no carbs diet’, and by cutting out a food group you’re probably just decreasing calories. The ‘no eating after 7pm diet’ means you’re probably just eating less calories. With the ‘cabbage soup diet’ you’re definitely eating less calories. However you choose to go about it, cutting calories will equal fat loss!
What about when I stop losing weight and my body goes into starvation mode?
Starvation mode and metabolism changes are not something I am going to go into right now, but in short it is not something you need not be concerned about. These effects are minimal and take a long time to have a significant effect. If you are cutting your calories safely (that is you are still eating enough to function effectively) then you will lose weight. People stop losing weight whilst still on the same calorie deficit because they haven’t adapted their eating plan. The weight loss means their basic calorific requirements have changed, and the body’s calorie requirement naturally becomes less. Hence another small calorie reduction is needed! Test and adjust people!
What to eat for fat loss – Eat fat to burn fat
The key here is the right types of fats. Heard of Omega 3 and Omega 6? These Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) cannot be made by the body, so we have to get them from our food. They help build our cells, as well as maintain brain and nerve function. A healthy ratio of Omega 3: Omega 6 would be 1:1. But in our modern diet we are getting more like 1:16! This in an issue because Omega 6 EFAs are pro inflammatory. We need this as inflammation protects our body from infection and injury. But too much can lead to disease. This means we are eating way too much processed seed and vegetable oils, such as Soybean oil.
This chart shows common fats and oils. You want to be avoiding the ones high in Omega 6 (the blue bar).
Sources of Omega 3
In the right proportions, EFAs stimulate metabolism, increase metabolic rate, increase oxygen uptake, and increase energy production. The Omega 3 essential fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The richest food source of ALA is flax seed (check out the orange bar in the chart above – hello Omega 3!). EPA and DHA are found in fish oils such as cod liver oil.
So we know we need fat. But how will it help us lose fat? Ok, so fat has more bang for its buck. It packs a whopping 9 calories per gram (so be aware of portion size!) meaning it gives us heaps loads of energy, it is satiating and it is tasty. The thinking here is that you eat good fats, then feel fuller and more satisfied for longer, so there’s no heading to the cookie jar at 4pm. What’s more, subcutaneous fat stored in your trouble areas can’t be burned efficiently without freshly metabolised fat to help the process, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Dietary fat helps break down existing fat by activating fat-burning pathways through the liver. So a big yes to eating the right fats to burn fat!
How can we combine what we eat with how we workout for the most effective fat burn?
Fasted or not fasted when exercising?
Research suggests that when you do cardio in the morning without eating beforehand, you burn up to 20 percent more fat. A recent study from the UK published in the “British Journal of Nutrition” found that when subjects were fasted during morning cardio they burned 20 percent more fat than when they had a meal beforehand. Several earlier studies show similar results.
Fasted cardio in the morning is effective because as you sleep your body conserves its carb stores and shifts toward mobilizing fat for fuel. Your body also breaks down amino acids into glucose overnight, so fasted morning cardio mobilizes more fat and potentially more amino acids for fuel. Great for fat burn, but not ideal if building muscle is your primary goal. You can attempt to counter act any negative muscle loss by consuming protein after your workout.
Lipid metabolism is the breakdown of fats for energy. The body uses this to replenish glycogen stores after exercise as well. If you want to increase your fat burn after working out, try waiting an hour before eating (in order to try and encourage more fat to be burnt by gluconeogenesis!). Ooooh controversial not to get your post workout recovery in the ‘golden hour’ after working out. But if losing fat, and not building muscle, is your goal, see if it might just work for you!
Try it yourself!
But if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times… every body is different. What works for me might not work for you. I have been training for many years in the early morning on an empty stomach, and I seem to do just fine. But for some others, the lack of fuel equates to a lack of energy, and therefore they perform less well during their workout. If you will only be working to 60% of your max because you’re hungry, then I say fuel your workout properly, work hard and get the calorie burning EPOC for the rest of the day!
Confused? I hope not! Try fasted workouts. Try fueling your workouts. See how you feel eating immediately after. Then next time try eating after an hour. Experiment with what types of food work best for you, be it a banana, an egg or an avocado (or all three!).
Avoid fats before your workout as they take longer to digest and may sit in your stomach and cause discomfort.
Check out these ideas for fueling pre-exercise depensing on what time of day you’re training.
If I need something quick before a workout, then this is my go to snack which has some dates for energy, along with (slow release carbs) oats and protein filled seeds.
Something to eat post workout:
I generally crave carbs after my workout, but head towards slow releasing carbs to avoid a spike in blood sugar. I also like to balance it with some good fats to slow down digestion rate, and some protein to help muscle recovery.
But remember not to overdo it and undo all your hard work. You may be sweating like a trooper, but remember 258 burpees burns just 100 calories! One banana and you’ve gained those calories back.
Even more important than your fueling is rehydration. DRINK DRINK DRINK! In fact, grab a glass of water and drink it NOW! Sooo many people aren’t drinking enough.
Ok, I digress. Try these:
For a little snack if I don’t fancy a full on meal I’ll have one of these home made energy balls.
Or if I want something more substantial I might make this.
If I’m looking for something to digest quickly if I’m on the move, then I’ll make a protein rich green smoothie, like spinach, cucmber and spirulina one here.
For more tips on eating well and fueling your body properly, sign up to join my other subscribers and get my ‘What I eat in a week’ Ebook and access to my FREE resources library.
I hope you’ve enjoyed The Fat Series. Leave any comments or questions you may have below and I’ll be sure to get back to you.
Missed the previous parts to the series? Check out how we burn fat here.