Losing weight can be a daunting task if you’re inexperienced. You may have nothing to lose, but you do not want to lose muscle alongside your fats. If you’re not sure how to do so, then count yourself lucky. Ultimate Performance has provided us with 8 steps to follow for a successful weight loss diet, so that you can burn off that Chinese New Year weight easily.
Fat Loss Diet Step #1: Establish Your Starting Point
The first step to make when setting up a fat loss diet is to get a clear idea of your starting point. The best way to do this is conducting a full assessment of your current body composition.
- Recording your body weight (do this when you first wake up, with no clothes, after using the bathroom and before consuming any food or drink).
- Measuring the circumferences of your navel and hips.
- Taking your starting ‘progress pictures’ (pictures of your body from the front, back and side).
- Estimating your starting body fat percentage (google ‘Navy body fat calculator’ and follow the simple steps).
Ensure this first crucial step is completed, because this is data you will need when creating your meal plan.
Fat Loss Diet Step #2: Establish your Goal and Plan Your Fat Loss Transformation
We work with hundreds of body transformation clients at Ultimate Performance whose goal is fat loss. We always recommend setting aside 12 full weeks to complete your fat loss transformation. Why 12 weeks? This is often the longest time people can commit to 100 per cent before needing a ‘diet break’. Achieving the best possible results from your fat loss program requires a strong degree of discipline, consistency and attention to detail.
A highly-focussed approach can be sustained for a period of 12 weeks or so, but certainly not indefinitely – nobody is a robot. Always set a clear start and end date to your fat loss transformation which gives you a deadline to work towards. It really helps give added motivation to align this end date with specific occasions where you want to look great like a birthday, wedding or holiday.
When scheduling your transformation, we strongly recommend aligning your start and end dates with a specific occasion where you want to look your best. Once you have defined your start and end dates, check your diary and identify any key events (like travel, work assignments, social events, etc.) where it might affect your ability to adhere to your training and meal plans. You can then plan how best to work around these without going way off track.
Fat Loss Diet Step #3: Recruit a Diet Partner
One key ingredient to the success of any body transformation at Ultimate Performance is the accountability created from regular check-ins and daily contact with the dedicated personal trainer.
This accountability is invaluable for staying on track and achieving your fat loss goals. You can easily recreate this by asking a friend or member of your family to be your ‘diet partner’. It might be someone who wants to diet alongside you and has a similar fat loss or fitness goals, or someone who is willing to keep you accountable.
It simply involves sending a short text message or email to your diet partner at the end of each day with the following four things:
- Your morning bodyweight e.g. 80kg
- Your daily step count e.g. 12,000 steps
- Your training summary e.g. full body workout
- Your itemised food diary e.g. Screenshots from MyFitnessPal
Fat Loss Diet Step #4: Factor in Physical Activity and Workouts to Your Week
While this article is about setting up a fat loss plan, it’s important to underline the key part that training and regular daily activity play in losing weight and changing your body composition.
So you should factor in the following three elements:
A huge risk when doing a fat loss diet is that you might also lose muscle – this is referred to as ‘low-quality weight loss’ by researchers, as we want to preserve muscle while losing fat for optimal body composition change. However, research shows that resistance training (lifting weights) while following a high-protein diet will maintain or even increase muscle mass during periods of calorie restriction.
We recommend to every one of our clients at Ultimate Performance to lift weights 3-4 times a week with a progressive and well-structured training program.
Be Active Every Day
If we are thinking about pure calorie-burning, the degree to which you are physically active outside of the gym for the other 23 hours of the day can have a huge impact on your fat loss efforts. The scientific term for the number of calories you burn outside of the gym with daily activity like shopping, playing with the children and walking around is called ‘non-exercise activity thermogenesis’ (NEAT).
It is predominantly walking that makes up most people’s daily NEAT, and you can track your steps using apps on your phone, a fitness watch or a simple pedometer. We recommend a minimum daily step count of 10,000 steps. Try walking to work, walking to the shops or getting off the train or bus a few stops earlier to get more steps into your day.
Add in Cardio
When you are weight training 3-4 times a week, and hitting your minimum daily NEAT target, formal cardio, like running, swimming or cycling, doesn’t need to be included in your training program. However, many people enjoy ‘getting a sweat on’, and formal cardio can be a great way to increase your work capacity and boost your daily activity levels.
We recommend performing 1-2 interval-based cardio sessions per week which will not impact on your resistance training.
Fat Loss Diet Step #5: Calculate Your Daily Nutrition Targets
The next key step in setting up your fat loss diet is to calculate the nutrition targets you will then use to design your meal plan.
In our book, Body Transformation Meal Plan Design, we break this down into three simple steps.
Step 1: Estimate Your ‘Maintenance’
You might have heard the phrase ‘maintenance calories’ before – this refers to the number of calories you need to eat to maintain your bodyweight. The reason to work out a maintenance calorie intake estimate is that you ultimately need to set your daily calorie target below this to begin losing body fat. This creates what’s called a ‘calorie deficit’ – meaning your body has to use stored energy in the form of body fat to meet your daily energy needs (fat burning).
In order to work out an estimate of your maintenance calorie intake, do the following:
- Estimate your resting metabolic rate (RMR) which is how many calories your body burns at rest. This is detailed step-by-step in the book, but a quick way to do this is to multiply your body weight in pounds by 10. So, 200lbs x 10 = 2,000.
- Then, multiply your RMR estimate by ‘x 1.5’ – this factors in the energy you expend doing any physical activity during the day. So, 2,000 x 1.5 = 3,000.
Step 2: Set Your Calorie Target
The simple truth of fat loss is that you need to be in a calorie deficit to succeed – so expend more calories than you consume. But how big should your deficit be? To calculate this, we use the ‘3,500 calorie rule’ which based on the premise that 1lb (0.45kg) of body fat contains approximately 3,500kcal.
So, doing the maths, if you create a 500kcal calorie deficit each day, you should lose 1lb [0.45kg] of body fat per week. The book explains how to work out an optimal calorie deficit for your own bodyweight, but we can keep it simple and say deduct 500kcal from your estimated maintenance calories. So, 3,000kcal – 500kcal = 2,500kcal. While this is an estimate, it gives you an informed starting point which you can then make adjustments to depending on your body responds over the course of your diet.
Step 3: Set Your Macronutrient Targets
Macronutrients, or ‘macros’, are simply the nutrients your body requires in large amount – the main three types being protein, fat and carbohydrate.
You should always set your daily protein target first as it is widely considered the most important macronutrient for body composition. This is because it helps suppress hunger and build muscle.
A solid starting point is to aim to consume 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. So, if you weigh 170lbs [77kg], aim for 170g of protein per day.
Fat and Carbohydrate Targets
Protein targets are set relative to bodyweight. However, we prescribe fat and carb intake recommendations as a percentage of your total calories. Fat and carbs are primarily used to provide energy, so it is better to scale them to your total calorie intake.
Contrary to a lot of dietary dogma, research has repeatedly demonstrated that any ratio of fat to carbohydrates will work for fat loss, so long as a calorie deficit is created. This means that the ratio of carbs and fats you choose to factor into your meal plan purely comes down to personal preference and what is most sustainable in the long term.
The way we recommend working it out is by setting your fat intake target between 25 to 45 per cent of your total daily calories, then allotting the remaining calories to carbohydrates.
Fat Loss Diet Step #6: Write Your Shopping List
There are no such things as ‘fat loss foods’ or foods that are ‘fattening’. That being said, favouring certain types of foods over others will make sticking to your transformation diet a lot easier. A simple rule of thumb to follow is to ‘eat from the land’, so if it has walked, flown, swam or grown from the ground it is good to eat.
- Aim to get most of your daily protein intake from animal-origin sources like meat (e.g. beef and lamb), fish (e.g. cod and salmon), poultry (e.g. chicken and turkey), eggs and dairy.
- Include a mix of different fat sources in your diet, such as nuts, butters and oils, dairy and fatty protein sources like salmon and red meat.
- For carbohydrates, prioritise including non-starchy vegetables (e.g. broccoli and spinach) in your meal plan, followed by whole fruit (makes a great snack!) and then starchy vegetables and grains (e.g. sweet potato and rice).
BONUS TIP: Before starting your transformation diet, perform an inventory of your fridge and kitchen cupboards and ditch any non-diet friendly foods. You are more likely to make bad food decisions if you have tempting foods in your kitchen.
Fat Loss Diet Step #7: Creating Your Fat Loss Meal Plan
Creating a meal plan gives you a plan of action for how you will approach your fat loss diet, most often over a week. Having a meal plan in place that you can consistently follow will help avoid scenarios like travelling, eating out, or being left ravenously hungry, where your food choices will likely be less than optimal and the chances of derailing your progress are higher.
These are the key steps to writing your meal plan.
- Use digital scales to help measure serving sizes and download the MyFitnessPal app to keep a record of your food intake.
- Choose a meal frequency that works for you (3-4 per day works best for most) then schedule regular meal times.
- Look to get 20 to 50g of protein per meal
- There are no specific timings for dietary fats, so add them to your meal plan based on your personal preference.
- Try and fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables (like broccoli, spinach or sprouts) at every meal. Include 1-2 servings of fruit per day, if you like.
- Finally, include grains or starchy vegetables to meet the rest of your carbohydrate intake targets
- Consume at least 2 litres of water per day. You can include green tea, fruit tea and black coffee too.
Fat Loss Diet Step #8: Track Your Progress and Make Changes (If Needed)
Now you have set up your nutrition targets and created your meal plan, you are ready to get started. It is, however, important to remember that all these calculations come from estimations based on research and theory that are not specific to the individual. Therefore you may need to tweak your nutrition targets in the first stages of your fat loss diet to start seeing progress or increase the rate of progress.
There may be no need to alter your starting meal plan, but over time you can expect to see the rate of progress to slow down with your starting calorie targets as your body adapts to the diet. So, always aim to evaluate your progress at the end of each week and see if any tweaks are needed. The main way to measure progress is to look at bodyweight changes. You should aim to lose between 0.5% to 1% of your total body weight per week, on average.
There is a whole chapter dedicated to this in the book, but in summary, consider the following:
- If you are below the target where your average bodyweight drops are less than 0.5 per cent, but were above or on target the week before, don’t make any changes
- If this continues for two consecutive weeks, reduce your overall daily calorie intake by 10% then continue to reassess week to week.
Text: Ultimate Performance