• Thomas Whitehead

Fat Loss or Weight Loss? - How To Speficially Target Fat

Why Fat and Not Weight?


First of all, what the hell does this title mean? We’re obviously trying to get slimmer and reduce fat when losing weight. That’s apparent. But do you actually know why losing fat is different to losing weight? What do we mean when we say weight? Well, it’s exactly what it means. Weight. When we’re talking about weight we’re talking about the whole mass of your body; water, bones, muscle, the lot.


Ideally, you want to be as heavy as possible with the least amount of body fat. This means you’re a healthy weight with sufficient muscle mass.


A lot of people think that to be successful when embarking on a ‘weight loss journey’, it’s all about just seeing that number on the scale go down and losing weight. ‘Just lose as much weight as I possibly can.’


There’re a few things wrong with this mindset and approach. Firstly, if your primary goal is to just lose weight and not care if it’s specifically fat, you’ll just end up looking like a Skinny Vinny with no muscle definition, and to be honest, that’s not the look you want to go for. Nothing against skinny people, but this shouldn’t be the aim.


Secondly, there’s a ton of ways to drop weight without it actually mean you’re making progress in regards to fat loss. You can literally lose 4lbs over-night just through water weight, can you believe it? After all, our bodies are comprised of at least 60% water. That’s a significant amount to lose without any of it being fat. Essentially, you haven’t made any progress and it won’t affect the way you look in the slightest.


Thirdly, you’ll end up burning yourself out doing cardio, trying the craziest fad diets, yo-yoing up and down and driving yourself mad. You’re not going to see the number on the scale go down every week and when you don’t, it’s easy to let yourself get disheartened if you have the wrong mindset to begin with. At the same time, you’re actually making it harder for yourself to lose the weight because the more cardio you do, the more efficient your body gets.


Finally, weight loss is not a linear process. The number on the scale won’t go down each week, and there’s better alternatives other than the scales to specifically measure fat loss. Check them out here.


I could name a few more but I think you get the picture. We don’t just want to focus on losing weight from any area of the body. Heck, if you’re that caught up on just losing some weight, go to the toilet and weigh yourself after. Technically you’ve just lost weight.


Now, I know what you’re thinking, I obviously want to lose fat… duh. But when it comes to losing fat, people often end up doing the wrong thing with the best intentions. There’re really only four main components to make sure you specifically lose fat which I’ll highlight now and explain in detail after.


The four main components are:

  • Calorie deficit for a sustained period of time. A good benchmark to aim for is 500kcal less than your TDEE. Work out my TDEE here.

  • Weight/resistance training – Lift heavy, not light! (Less reps, heavier weight).

  • A high protein diet - 1g of protein per lbs of body mass is a good targe to shoot for here.

  • A small amount of cardio, primarily in the form of HIIT only once you hit a plateau.


There’re some other things you can do which will help to facilitate your fat loss progression such as getting good sleep, drinking enough water etc. but these four components are really the engine of the operation, especially the first three.


Everyone loves to overcomplicate the process of losing weight, trying all these crazy concepts which have no relevance or necessity of the goal of trying to lose fat. I always say fat loss is simple, never easy, and the reason it isn’t easy is because it’s hard to do the simple. How about that for a riddle eh! Keeping it simple is actually going to make you love the process so much more, which will ultimately make it much easier to get the results you desire. Trust me on this one.


Calorie Deficit

Yeah, diet’s the bulk of the battle. No two ways about it, you can’t out train a bad diet. You’ve probably heard this sentence more than once before, it’s a sentence that’s hammered in by fitness trainers all around the world (at least all the good ones) and it’s 100% true. If you think working out as hard as you can, running 3 hours of the treadmill everyday is an excuse for you to eat as many burgers, pizza, donuts and milkshakes as you like, forget it, you’re playing the wrong game.


So how do you nail your nutrition? Is it eating salads every day being completely perfect, banning all sugar products and just drinking purified water? Absolutely not. Nailing your diet means to be consistently eating in a calorie deficit for a sustained period of time, either weeks or months on end. If you’re not sure what a calorie deficit is, you can check out my other posts which explain it in good detail, but essentially, it’s just eating less calories than you burn throughout the day. As previously mentioned, a good deficit to aim for is to eat 500kcal less than your maintenance calories (TDEE).

Image to display on a high level how a calorie deficit looks like.
Calorie Deficit

Aim for consistency over perfection as it’s a more enjoyable and sustainable approach, in which you can apply the 80/20 rule here. 80% of your foods from whole, nutritious sources and the remaining 20% from the ‘naughty foods’ like cookies for example. Ideally you want to hit your macronutrient targets which will automatically mean you stay within a calorie deficit if you’ve done them correctly. The wrong thing to do here is to assume you must ban all of your favourite foods immediately. This isn’t how fat loss works and by doing so, you’re only going to cause yourself to crave them so much so, that you end up binging and over-indulging on them when you can’t contain the urge any longer. That’s why it’s okay to allow yourself to source up to 20% of your food intake from the naughty cupboard.


Your diet is the hardest, yet most important component to get right. Without making sure you’re in a calorie deficit, no matter what you do, how hard you try, you cannot lose fat. Don’t go any lower than a 500kcal deficit to begin with because it just means you’ll hit a plateau very quick, and you don’t want to make things hard for yourself. Make the journey as easy and seamless as possible.


Apply Weight Training

Remember when I said you don’t want to look like a Skinny Vinny? That’s because when you’re in a calorie deficit, the body will look to source energy from all areas of the body, which includes your muscle mass. This means very quickly; your muscle can diminish. Your body doesn’t instinctively know that we want to lose fat. Remember how I was saying that weight and fat is different? Being in a calorie deficit means we’ll lose weight, and that could be a combination of fat, muscle, glycogen stores and water weight. We definitely don’t want to lose muscle and the other two won’t impact how we look, so essentially, they’re irrelevant in terms of what you’re trying to achieve. Unfortunately, the body is very stubborn when it comes to parting ways with its fat. Your body loves fat because it thinks it’s essential for its survival. I guess it’s no wonder why it’s so easy to gain it.


So, how do we combat this and force our stubborn body into saying goodbye to its unwanted fat? Apply weight training and lift heavy! This will cause your muscles to become stimulated, activating stress on the muscle and helping to preserve as much muscle mass as possible whilst in a calorie deficit. If you’re a complete beginner, it is possible to see some muscle growth whilst losing fat at the same time.


However, inevitably, if you’re in a calorie deficit for a long duration, you can expect to lose a little bit of muscle, but by applying weight training into your routine it can be greatly limited.


Furthermore, weight training trumps cardio for fat loss any day. It’s more fun, preserves muscle and expends energy through the process of the lift. Compound movements like deadlifts, squats, overhead shoulder press and bench press are some really good exercises to incorporate into your workouts for fat loss. Too much cardio makes the body become more efficient, which in return actually makes it harder to lose fat.


Image to show some of the best compound exercises which are great when you are on a fat loss journey.

When glycogen stores are too depleted, which is what happens with excessive use of cardio, your body will sense this as a good opportunity to tap in to that goldmine of muscle for extra energy. You want to prevent this opportunity as much as possible because it will lead to a lot of muscle deterioration.


Eat a High Protein Diet

Protein the most important macronutrient for fat loss. There’re ample reasons why protein is so great for fat loss, one of which being that that protein increases satiety, which leaves you feeling full for longer periods of the day, making it easier for you stay within your calorie deficit. Protein also happens to use the most amount of energy through the digestion, thus burns the most amount of calories out of all three of the macronutrient groups.


If you want to specifically target fat, a high protein diet (1g of protein per lbs of body mass) is essential to implement alongside heavy weight training. The combination of the two will maintain muscle allowing the body to target fat.


It’s really easy to add extra protein into your diet if you’re struggling to get enough throughout the day. One of the best ways to do this is through protein shakes. The one I use and recommend is Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard Whey as this is very lean in protein with a low amount carbs and fat. It doesn’t have to be the one I use, just look for ones with similar characteristics. Others include The Protein Works, My Protein etc.



By increasing your protein intake you’re telling your body that your intention is to keep your muscle mass, and therefore it will need to go somewhere else to find its energy. When you’re in a calorie deficit you’re deprived of energy, so your body reacts by going looking elsewhere for energy. We want to convince the body not to use anything other than fat to do this.


If you’re on the Keto diet then don’t go above 25% of your total daily calorie intake from protein, because you don’t want to be kicked out of Ketosis. If you want to learn one of the best ways to turn your body into a fat burning machine, click here.


However, if you’re not on the Keto diet, then aim for 1g of protein per lbs of body mass as previously mentioned. That means if you’re a 170lbs male, eat around 170g of protein per day.


Introduce a Small Amount of Cardio in the Form of HIIT Once You’ve Hit a Plateau

HIIT is great for fat loss.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is great for fat loss

At some point, depending on how long you’re into your journey, it’s likely your progress will slow down and you may even hit a plateau. Don’t hit the panic button, this is completely normal. The leaner you become, the harder it is to continuously lose fat. Your body responds to its new environment you’ve introduced it to by adapting. It will sense that things have drastically changed and will do its abosulte best to prohibit that change. Therefore, for a short period of time it can put a halt to proceedings.


If this happens, stay calm and carry on. I would recommend firstly just continue to do what you’ve previously been doing leading up to this. That means following steps one, two and three. Your body might just be trying to readjust temporarily. If this is the case, after two or three weeks it will get back on with its mission of saying bye-bye to your fat.


However, if after a couple weeks go by and there’s still no change, this is the perfect time to introduce a small amount of cardio into your routine. It will kickstart operations back up and again so you can get on with the show. You’re basically playing it at its own game. If your body is going to make it harder for you to lose the fat, you’re going to make it harder for it to keep hold of it. It’s kinda fun when you look at it with this approach. Your brain against your body. There can only be one winner!


Now don’t go all crazy here and do two hours of cardio every day. Again, this is boring and won’t help us to target fat. I recommend doing some HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). Twenty minutes fasted once every three days should suffice. You can play around with this a little bit and see how your body reacts. You don’t have to do it fasted, but I feel like it’s a great way to kickstart the start the day and get it over with.


The reason HIIT is so effective for fat loss is because it increases EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption), which helps to continue burning calories for twenty-four hours after your initial workout. Also, HIIT is really cool because you can blast a quick twenty or thirty minutes sesh, and get great result from it.


Now remember, you only want to introduce HIIT once you’ve hit a plateau because getting the first three components right is the most important ingredient for targeting fat. You can probably go at least eight weeks before notice any decline in momentum. You’ll know when it’s the right time to introduce some cardio so don’t get too caught up thinking it’s a major component. It’s probably the least important out of all four.


Summary

That’s all there is to it really. The more fat you have to begin with, means the longer it’ll take to lose it, but generally speaking you can get some pretty awesome results by applying these principles in roughly twelve to sixteen weeks.


Try to get your head around fat and weight being different, with the primary objective that you want to keep your muscle mass whilst simultaneously burning fat. You do this by applying the four main components; calorie deficit, weight training, 1g of protein per lbs of body weight and introducing a small amount of cardio, primarily in the form of HIIT once your progress has started to stall. This will cause you to get that lean, muscular and athletic look which will be a real eye-catcher for anyone.


Key takeaways to avoid would be to:

  • Don’t try to be super perfect by banning on all your favourite foods and ‘naughty snacks’. Remain in a calorie deficit and apply the 80/20 rule.

  • Don’t jump into a super huge deficit straight away. That sucks, it won’t be fun and you’ll hit that plateau way too quick and then it’s just downhill from there.

  • Don’t prioritise cardio over picking up some weights and eating enough protein. Way too many people make this mistake as they think cardio equals fat loss. It doesn’t. Cardio only burns calories and you can’t out train a bad diet.

  • Don’t get caught up with the number on the scale going down each week as a way to measure fat loss progress. It likely won’t, and focusing too much on this is a demotivator.


There’re many wrong ways to lose fat and really only a couple of right ways to do it successfully. That means once you’ve got the basics nailed you could be in for an easier ride. A lot of it just comes down to people not actually knowing what to do, rather than strategically making the wrong choice. Marketing and misinformation definitely play a role in this, so my advice is to always keep it simple.


Give these four components a go and let me know how you get on in the comments!


Believe in me, believe in you, Believe in Lean.


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