Once upon a time, I would have glossed over articles with titles like this one. Back then I could eat a whole twelve-inch pizza with no increase to my waistline. But all that changed in college. Forget the freshman fifteen – for me, it was the freshman 25, and all in the first semester. Suddenly, I understood.

 

Let’s be clear: fat, in and of itself, is not bad. But out-of-control fat is bad and even dangerous. On top of that, fat loss is one of the most common fitness goals for gym-goers. So let’s talk about why and how to lose fat safely and effectively.

 

 

Why Lose Fat?

The motivation to lose fat is personal and subjective. For myself, more fat made me feel more sluggish and less up to daily tasks. Others might want to feel better in their skin or cut weight for an athletic event.

 

But regardless of your reasons, there are several negative health effects that can arise from excess fat. As Dr. Dozie Onunkwo noted, most of them stem from the fact that fat gain causes an unhealthy inflammatory response:

 

While the exact mechanism is unclear, studies suggest that excessive adipose tissue can initiate an acute inflammatory response. Bone-marrow derived immune cells respond by infiltrating adipose tissue, and releasing certain molecules that can induce changes in fat cell activity and lead to chronic inflammation. This immune and fat cell activity cause downstream effects that can significantly affect your health when excessive adipose tissue exists in your body. 

 

This inflammatory response causes cells to release inflammatory molecules, which leads to excessive plaque formation. Further, Onunkwo noted the relation between fat and “sick,” stressed-out cells:

 

…a constant influx of excess calories into fat cells can induce stress to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), which is responsible for synthesizing lipids for storage. This stress triggers ER stress sensors, which activate various pathways in the body to alleviate stress.

 

To read more about the body’s reaction to excessive fat, read Onunkwo’s article, 4 Ways Excess Fat Makes You a Ticking Time Bomb.

 

How Not to Do It

But there’s a lot of bad information circulating about how to lose fat. According to nutrition expert Kevin Cann, one of the biggest sources of misinformation is a show many of us have probably watched: The Biggest Loser. In case you’ve never seen it, here’s a clip:

 

 

Unfortunately, the “change forever” mantra doesn’t hold up with most people who lose weight in The Biggest Loser way, as Cann noted:

 

A more recent research article published in Obesity looked specifically at the Biggest Loser protocol and put it to the test against bariatric surgery. The Biggest Loser contestants lost relatively the same amount of weight as the bariatric surgery patients, but did spare more lean muscle tissue. However, the metabolic rates of the contestants plummeted even greater than the bariatric surgery group. The Biggest Loser contestants also had lower circulating levels of leptin.

 

The lower leptin levels are a big deal. This is a sign that the body is increasing our hunger response. When we eat enough food, leptin levels rise, telling us we are full. As leptin levels fall, our hunger increases. This is how our body works through our eating schedule. Thus, a Biggest Loser-type exercise program and calorie-restricted diet will crush you psychologically, lower your metabolic rate, and increase your hunger. This does not seem like it is worth the grueling punishment to me.

 

For more on this topic, read Cann's article, "The Biggest Loser: The Most Damaging Show on TV?"

 

Sustainable, Safe Methods

So, what’s a more sustainable approach? In his article, The 3 Pillars of Fat Loss, coach Andrew Read summarized a recent study. The researchers found the following three protocols effective for both short-term and long-term weight loss:

 

  • 150-250 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity will help protect against initial weight gain.
  • More than 250 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity can result in a “clinically significant” weight loss.
  • For improved maintenance of weight loss, 250-300 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity is recommended (amounting to approximately 2,000 cals/ week).

 

But sustainable isn’t easy. In fact, it’s usually harder than the short-term option. You’re going to have to work if you want to get rid of stubborn fat that’s weighing you down. And the work probably won't look like this:

           

 

Coach Tom Kelso sums up what advice should have made an appearance in that video, in his no-nonsense way:

 

  • If you eat like crap and don't exercise, expect to accumulate body fat and possess a sub-par physique. 
  • A demonstration of effective calorie-burning and muscle-building exercises without the perpetuation of the mid-section spot-reduction myth.
  • Tips for making small, yet positive changes in food intake and increasing activity level. Believe it or not, eating better and initiating some type of activity is a huge step for many.

 

Read more of Kelso's tips for fat loss in his article, "The Fat Loss 'Secret' - You're Just Not Working Hard Enough."

 

Take the First Steps

As Kelso noted, exercise is only part of the equation. If you’re not sure where to start in the kitchen, read Kalli Youngstrom’s article, A Step-by-Step Approach to Successful Fat Loss. In it, Youngstrom details four food-related steps to take to begin your fat-loss journey:

 

  • Cut the crap. Make the transition to whole, non-processed, natural foods.
  • Decrease calories in a step-by-step manner.
  • Change your macronutrient ratios. For most, this is a transition from carbs to fats.
  • Consider the timing of your meals and your specific macronutrients.

 

Begin there, then add in some of the exercise ideas from Kelso’s article, 16 Ways to Work Harder and Burn Stored Body Fat. Start simple, be consistent, and the results will follow.

 

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