When it comes to weight and fat loss, body recomposition, muscle gain or improved health, you probably have some idea of what you should be doing … but you struggle to actually do it.
I’ve heard it time and time again, you have tried EVERYTHING!
- You’ve cut out all your favourite foods
- You’ve tried every diet out there
- You’ve spent hours in the gym
- You’ve signed up to several training programmes
- You’ve bought every pill or powder that claims to help you magically burn fat and/or build muscle without lifting a finger.
And every time, you’ve stuck with it for so long but any progress and results were either lacking or short-lived. So you gave up.
You contemplate and debate where you went wrong, wonder what approach you could try next, and end up constantly spinning your wheels without making any real change.
It’s like constantly chasing that carrot (or cake, or doughnut – or whatever you like) dangled in front of you without ever fully being able to get your hands on it.
So why is it so hard?!
Because, more often than not, there is some sort of disconnection between your current situation, where you want to be, and what you know (or maybe don’t know) you are capable of achieving.
And the abundance of conflicting information within the fitness industry just makes the process even harder.
Confused? Frustrated? Perhaps a little overwhelmed with no real idea where to start or go from here right? Yeah I know.
This is where I come in. Hey. Hi. Hello.
I have worked in the fitness industry for the past three years as both a personal trainer and a certified nutritionist. And in that time, I have spent hundreds of hours on the gym floor and worked with hundreds of clients, in person and online, as a nutritional coach to help them achieve their goals.
I have also been where you are. I have gone through my own weight/fat loss journey for the sake of my health, and I know exactly what it takes and how it feels.
So let’s stop you wasting your time shall we?
Here are 12 top tips that I have learnt that will help you to finally make a change, kickstart some real progress and smash your goal.
- The underlying principle of fat/weight loss will ALWAYS be the same: A calorie deficit.
- You cannot out-train a bad diet.
- There is no such thing as the “ultimate” or “best” diet.
- What gets measured – gets managed.
- Calorie counting/tracking WORKS.
- However, no one is as good at tracking as they think they are…
- You do not HAVE to count calories to make progress.
- We should all eat a little more protein.
- What you do on the weekends MATTERS.
- Consistency will always be key!
- A little bit of patience goes a long way…
- … As does some accountability!
#1 – The underlying principle of fat/weight loss will ALWAYS be the same
And without this basic understanding, you are going to struggle. This is why it is important to start with the basics, no matter who you are and how much experience you have.
So here we go.
We all know what a calorie is, right? And as much as we would like, we cannot escape them. A calorie is the unit used to measure energy – and more specifically the energy that is required, used and burnt by our bodies on a daily basis.
So why are calories important? The balance between calories going into your body (via food and drink) and the calories burnt by your body (via your existence and daily activity) will influence your weight and fat mass.
- If one equals another, your weight will stay the same.
- If you consistently consume more calories through your daily diet than the amount burnt by your body (i.e. you are in a calorie surplus), your weight will increase.
- And if you consistently consume less than those burnt (i.e. you are in a calorie deficit), your weight will drop.
So what does this mean for you?
It means that it is as simple as calories in vs calories out and the underlying principle to any weight and fat loss will ALWAYS be the creation of a consistent calorie deficit.
But how do we create that calorie deficit? Move about a little bit more and consume a little bit less. Easy enough, right?
The focus typically starts with the former, rather than latter… but this sets you up for failure almost straight away. So keep reading.
#2 – You cannot out-train a bad diet.
This is perhaps one of the most common mistakes I see people make when starting out on a fitness journey with an aim of achieving weight/fat loss and body recomposition goals.
You understand the concept of a calorie deficit. And you think moving about a bit more should be enough to create that deficit. So you join a gym or start a new training regime, and begin exercising on a regular basis. GREAT.
A week or two passes and nothing changes. You think: “OK, perhaps I’m not moving enough”. You do a few extra classes or training sessions.
Another week or two pass. Still, nothing happens. And you start to think: “This is getting hard. What’s the point?!”.
But you go again. You exercise, you work HARD, you complete ALL your training sessions and then some. Fantastic. But after another week – nothing.
A month of all that hard work and nothing. NOTHING?!
It is at this point that most people give up, wondering where they went wrong and thinking that their efforts are pointless.
So let’s break it down.
I KNOW you are working hard in your training sessions, trying your best and pushing your limits.
BUT the likelihood is that your training session will last anywhere between 30-90 minutes, and this only makes up approximately 2-6% of your ENTIRE DAY (a 24-hour period). That’s it!
And yes, I know you are training multiple times during the week.
However, if you train or exercise 3-5x per week, it only adds up to 1.5-7.5 hours of hard work, compared to the other 160.5-166.5 hours of no exercise.
That’s only 1-5% of your week spent actually exercising compared to the other 95-99% of your week.
Granted, some of those hours will be spent asleep.
But it is safe to say that what you do in those 161-167 hours with your nutrition and daily activity (steps) is going to have a much bigger impact on your progress compared to the 1-7 hours of exercise each week.
It is also much easier and FAR quicker to cut X amount of calories from your diet rather than spending hours attempting to burn off the same amount of calories from exercise. No one has time for that. Trust me.
What does this mean for you?
Fast track your progress. Start by addressing your nutrition (reducing your calorie intake), and increasing your daily activity (steps) first to create that calorie deficit required for some decent weight fat loss.
Then allow your training/exercise regime to further support it, with the priority being strength and resistance training to help your body retain and build lean muscle mass.
*SIDE NOTE – this does not mean exercise and training is pointless. While exercising may not be a good tool for fat loss alone, it provides numerous other benefits and is essential for living a healthy lifestyle, including looking good naked.
#3 There is no such thing as the “best” or “ultimate” diet
I know, I said it. The dreaded word – DIET. But addressing your nutrition and a little bit of work with your daily diet should not leave you feeling like you want to DIE.
As with any goal, the aim should be to make it as easy as possible to achieve it.
The same applies to your weight/fat loss and your nutrition. You understand that it comes down to calories in vs calories out and that a calorie deficit is required.
But creating that calorie deficit is not always that simple or that easy.
That’s why I teach my clients that there is no such thing as one “best” diet – BUT there will be a dietary approach that is best for them as an individual.
And that any successful dietary approach will be the one that firstly helps them create a calorie deficit, but also one that is in-keeping with ALL of the following factors:
- nutritional preferences
- knowledge and experience
- needs (both psychological and physiological).
If your approach is not in line with all of the factors above, it is unlikely that it is going to be successful and return any long-term results.
What does this mean for you?
Low carb? Low-fat? Keto? Palaeo? Intermittent fasting? 5:2 Diet? 16:8 Diet? Vegan? Vegetarian? Calorie-counting? Macro-tracking? Intuitive eating?
Whatever the approach, it will only work IF it helps you create and maintain that calorie deficit AND it is one that you can actually enjoy and stick to consistently.
So stop making it harder for yourself. Identify the approach that you know you can stick to and enjoy, and start putting it into action. Daily. Weekly. Monthly.
#4 What gets measured – gets managed
I’ve spoken a lot about calories – and this is because they will always be the most important factor when it comes to any weight or fat loss.
And if we are going to create a calorie deficit, it is important to be aware of and control your calorie intake. But this is where the problem lies … most people do not realise just how much they are eating because they are either:
- unaware of the caloric value of different foods, and/or
- misjudge appropriate portion sizes.
I mean, who knew that your healthy smashed avocado on toast can contain more calories that a Big Mac? And who actually eats the recommended 30g of their favourite cereal for breakfast? I can tell you now – not many.
What does this mean for you?
If you are not aware of how much you are consuming in the first place, you are going to struggle to create a calorie deficit. So you have to find a way to measure and manage your intake.
#5 Calorie counting/tracking WORKS.
There are a variety of ways that you can measure and manage your nutrition and your intake, and calorie tracking/counting is just one tool, of many, we can use.
Calorie counting/tracking is one of the most precise ways to measure and control your intake yourself. I recommend using an app called MyFitnessPal to my clients who are open and willing to track. The app has one of the biggest nutritional databases within the fitness industry, it is simple and easy to use, and it is free of charge.
I believe that the best place to start is by keeping it simple and getting into the habit of honestly and accurately tracking all food and drink for a period of time.
This allows both my clients and myself to understand what and just how much they are consuming across the week. We can then identify how we can reduce their daily intake and set a realistic calorie target, by adjusting portion sizes and making some simple swaps to their current diet.
And no, tracking does not have to be as time-consuming and laborious as you think. The more you use the app, the quicker it becomes as it builds a historic database based on the food/drink items you regularly consume.
What does this mean for you?
You need to be aware of how much you are consuming, and tracking your calories is going to be the quickest/easiest way to do this.
Through tracking your food, you will understand just how much you should and CAN be eating (including the foods you love and enjoy) and STILL lose weight/fat, which goes a LONG way to help you stick to your diet and achieve decent results.
#6 However, no one is as good at tracking as they think they are…
Not even me! Tracking your calories is certainly not a fool-proof method for weight and fat loss, and this comes down to four main reasons:
- Inconsistent tracking. Just because you did not track that glass of wine, or that share bag of crisps does not mean it did not happen. It is situations like these that slow or stall progress to any weight or fat loss goal, because you are over-shooting your calorie target and simply not admitting it.
- Estimations. Estimating rather than weighing out food quantities again creates room for error. More often than not, quantities of food are under – rather than over – estimated, which again leads to over-shooting a specific calorie target.
- Confusion. Nutritional information on food labels can be confusing as it is often given per 100g, per 100mls, per serving, as prepared, cooked weight or raw weight. This means that sometimes the calorie content of what is tracked vs what is actually eaten can drastically differ.
- Database errors. Food databases are not without their errors and nutritional information for items within the database can vary massively and often be incorrect.
What does this mean for you?
Granted, it is never going to be 100% accurate, but this does not mean calorie tracking is pointless. It has been proven to work time and time again when it comes to weight/fat loss.
So make it as honest and accurate as you can with these top tracking hacks:
- Track it before it happens. Whatever it is, a glass of wine, some chocolate, a pizza… if you know you are going to have it, track it before the day comes around. That way you will remain accountable to yourself, be able to adjust your calorie intake with your other meals, and stick to your daily/weekly calorie target.
- Weigh out a portion size just once. For example, take your favourite cereal and weigh out a recommended portion size using a small cup or container just once. You can then use the same small cup or container to provide the same portion size at breakfast time, and track it correctly without having to repeatedly faff about with the kitchen scales every morning.
- Double check your food labels. Look at the food labels of items you may be eating or cooking with and be sure to track the correct amount based on the nutritional information actually provided, whether that is raw/dry or cooked weight, per serving/portion or per 100g/100mls.
- Use the barcode scanner or “Create a Food”. These are perhaps the most accurate/optimal ways of tracking your food using MyFitnessPal. Failing that, searching the food item and double checking the nutritional information for the entry, tracking the macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates) of the food item, or tracking a similar food item is always a good shout.
#7 You do not HAVE to count calories to make progress.
What if you do not want to track calories? That’s cool. There are plenty of other non-tracking dietary approaches that can be used to manage your intake and successfully facilitate some fat/weight loss.
These include but are not limited to the options below, all of which can be implemented on a daily basis and will work to help reduce your calorie consumption without having to count a single calorie.
- Address portion sizes
And use your hands. No, not to eat with (unless that’s what you like to do!).
But using your hands to eye-ball and work out the appropriate portion size of foods you should be eating is quick and easy and does not require the use of any other equipment.
And it works like this for each main meal:
- 1 x palm-size portion of protein
- 1 x small cupped handful of carbohydrates
- 1 x fist-size portion of salad and veggies
- 1 x thumb-size portion of healthy fats.
(This is based on an average female. Double these amounts for an average male).
As with calorie counting, this is just a starting point. Depending on how your body responds, feelings of hunger and fullness, you can then adjust your portion sizes accordingly to help you continue making progress towards your goals.
2. Use smaller plates and bowls, as well as smaller utensils.
Another easy way to reduce your portion sizes and therefore your calorie consumption is by tricking yourself into it.
By using smaller plates and bowls at meal times, you simply have less space to fill. With less space to fill, you will automatically serve yourself a slightly smaller portion. With a smaller portion, you are consuming fewer calories at each meal.
Easy win right? (This is assuming you do not create a mountain of food on a very small plate!).
What’s more is that using smaller utensils will slow the eating process right down.
Honestly, I’m not suggesting eating with the kids’ utensils just to make you feel silly. There are studies that have shown that people who used smaller utensils at meal times consumed fewer calories throughout the day because they ate slower and most likely felt full sooner at meal times compared to those who used larger utensils.
So rather than inhaling your food, try using a teaspoon when eating your cereal at breakfast or soup at lunch time, and see if you feel full sooner.
3. Make smart and simple swaps.
As mentioned above, all diets work for weight/fat loss as long as they help you create a calorie deficit.
And what matters most is that you choose the dietary approach that is compatible with your preferences and that your chosen approach does not stray too far from the foods you enjoy eating.
Restriction and completely cutting out foods you enjoy goes some way to initiating the red-button syndrome. If I say, don’t push the red button, what do you want to do?
PUSH THE RED BUTTON!
The same applies with your nutrition and diet. By heavily restricting the foods you enjoy eating, you may be more likely to want or crave them… and at some point, you may eventually give in to these cravings and blow it. BIG TIME.
So why make dieting harder than it needs to be? Instead of restricting foods and eating in ways that you do not enjoy, simply swap some of these food/drinks for similar lower calorie alternatives.
- Eat fat-free yoghurt instead of full-fat yoghurt for breakfast in the mornings.
- Opt for a Diet Coke instead of a regular Coke on your lunch break.
- Use 1kcal cooking sprays instead of olive oil when cooking main meals.
- Swap your glass of wine for a gin and Slimline tonic at the weekends.
Swapping some foods/drinks for lower calorie alternatives is a great way to reduce your calorie consumption without having to make any major sacrifices. And by continuing to eat the foods you enjoy, you will find sticking to your diet consistently far easier – which we know is key for success.
4. Set up your environment for success
It is often downplayed how important your environment will be in relation to your progress. If your house is filled with high-calorie, highly palatable foods, there is going to be a good chance that you will either eat them without being hungry – or choose to eat them when you’re hungry even if you have a healthier alternative available.
Remove the risk of temptation. If you are serious about your weight fat loss goals this is one of the simplest things you can do to set yourself up for success. Consider throwing out any leftovers or tasty, high-calorie snacks and foods that you are tempted to overeat instead of leaving them in and around the house.
If you can’t do that, keep these foods out of sight. Put food away in the fridge or the freezer, store foods in opaque Tupperware and jars and keep them in the cupboards or drawers instead of leaving them on the kitchen side, the coffee table or your work desk. Out of sight, out of mind.
Failing that, try removing yourself from the environment. Work, chat, chill or socialise elsewhere instead of the kitchen at work or at home, the local pub or coffee shop.
Whatever you choose to do, implementing one of more of these options on a daily basis will work to remove the constant cue, trigger or habit of picking, snacking and overeating.
So instead of risking the temptation and constantly challenging your willpower, it may be easier to completely avoid it.
What does this mean for you?
Clearly, you do not have to count calories for weight/fat loss. Your dietary habits and environments play a major role in your current lifestyle and situation. Therefore, by tweaking, changing or building better habits, you will be able to change your lifestyle and initiate some progress towards your weight/fat loss goal.
However, it is important to be aware that if you are not willing to count or track your calories, you may have to accept that your rate of progress will be a little slower than you would like.
This is because the more data you track and have available, the less guess work there will be.
Either way, a creation of a consistent calorie deficit is required and a combination of approaches (tracking and non-tracking) is likely to work best.
#8 We should all aim to eat slightly more protein
Okay, so we have got calories sorted. The next important bit is protein.
This is another common area where people fall down when it comes to their nutrition and weight/fat loss – simply not eating enough protein.
Why is it important?
There are several reasons why consuming adequate amounts of protein is important – all of which can be read up on HERE.
But, in short, higher protein diets have been found to successfully help with weight/fat loss, body recomposition and muscle gain because they:
- have a higher satiety effect. Higher protein meals help you stay fuller for longer, which in turn is likely to reduce your snacking or perhaps your portion sizes of other foods at main meal times. This therefore helps to reduce your overall calorie intake and create that deficit.
- preserve lean muscle mass. Your body will begin to burn its own energy stores for fuel during a weight/fat loss phase. Therefore, eating enough protein is essential (alongside resistance training) to stop your body from burning your lean muscle mass when in a calorie deficit and leave you looking strong and sexy, rather than a skinny sack.
So now you’re thinking how much is enough?
Aiming for 0.8-1.2g of protein per lb of bodyweight for those that are tracking – or using the hand-guide mentioned above for those who aren’t – is a good place to start.
Now 100g of chicken does not equal 100g of protein…. but before you panic, eating enough protein is much easier than you think.
Let me show you what you could add to each of your main meals:
- Breakfast – 200g Greek style fat free yoghurt = 15g protein
- Lunch – 100g of tuna = 25g protein
- Dinner – 150g chicken breast = 45g protein
- Snack – 30g whey protein powder = 30g protein OR a protein bar = 20g protein
- Total – 105g-115g protein.
By splitting your intake evenly throughout the day and including a decent source of protein in each main meal, it will be far more manageable to ensure you are consistently eating enough protein.
What does this mean for you?
Perhaps start by identifying where/when your meals lack a decent protein source and think about how/what you could add in. Is it breakfast? Lunch? Dinner?
And if you are struggling for inspiration, I have got you covered with our “How to get more protein into your diet” series, all of which contain loads of ideas of what you could add to hit that protein target:
- Breakfast edition
- Lunch edition
- Snack edition
- Vegetarian/Vegan edition
- Alternatives to protein shakes
#9 What you do on the weekends MATTERS
You’re good Monday to Friday – you’re mindful about your eating and you stick to your chosen diet approach.
Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday then come around – and you eat/drink whatever you want, calling it a “cheat” or “treat” meal, or justifying it with the fact that you nailed it throughout the week and it is deserved.
But did you know that these cheat/treat meals and eating/drinking whatever you want at the weekends can be enough to completely wipe out the calorie deficit you worked so hard to create in the week?
And this leads to that vicious cycle of seeing some sort of progress throughout the week but ending up right back where you started when the following Monday arrives.
So stop the self-sabotage and treat your calories like you would your bank balance. Look at them as an allowance over the week.
Let’s say your calorie target is 1800kcals per day. That equates to 12,600kcals to use across the week.
But you know that you are going to go out with family and friends at the weekend, and you are likely to eat and drink a little more.
So why not try and save X amount of calories per day (Monday through to Thursday) that you can then spend at the weekend?
For example, you could budget your calories so your weekly intake ends up looking something like this:
- Monday – Thursday: 1500kcals/day (Saving 300kcals per day)
- Friday – Sunday: 2200kcals/day (Using the 1200kcals saved across the 4 weekdays)
- Weekly total: 12,600kcals
- Daily average: 1800kcals
Average calorie target nailed. Calorie deficit maintained. Progress not ruined!
So what does this mean for you?
What you do on your weekends matter, and treating your calories as a weekly allowance will provide you with the flexibility to be able enjoy all the things we like to do as part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle, including going out to social events, seeing friends and family, and having a good time.
Yes, you still have to be mindful at the weekends and such occasions. It does not mean you can just go in and eat/drink EVERYTHING in sight because you saved a few calories in the week. It will put you in a surplus and slow down or completely stall your progress.
But being smart and budgeting your calories across the week means you can still have all the foods and drinks you enjoy without repeatedly ruining your progress.
*Side note: I also believe that defining days, meals or foods as “cheats” or “treats” is detrimental to you and your relationship with food because it demonises foods.
Food is just food. It is not smart, it is not bad, it is not good. It did not go to school, nor does it have any form of intelligence, ethical beliefs or morals. It does not have a personality.
So let’s stop the self-sabotage and demonising foods – as you are not cheating anybody but yourself.
#10 Consistency is key!
Amazing, long-term results are a culmination of all the basic tasks you do every day.
Weight/fat doesn’t go on overnight (as hard as it may be to believe), and it won’t come off overnight.
There is no magic pill or powder that is going to get your body burning fat without lifting a finger.
And being “good” for a few days of the week, and doing what the hell you want with the rest is not going to warrant any significant progress or change.
Instead, your progress will be dictated by the accumulation of all the positive decisions you make every day, over an adequate period of time.
And I’m not going to lie, it is going to take some hard work, commitment and focus on the basics and ticking them off. Every. Single. Day. If you want to see progress and reach a goal, you have to accept that there are no shortcuts or easy roads.
By no means do you have to be perfect. No one is! Everyone will have less optimal days of eating, training and moving. Days when they feel unusually unmotivated. Days when they feel like they are constantly messing up and/or failing.
I know that because it happens to me, it happens to my clients and it is more than likely to happen to you.
And it is at times like this that YOU dictate whether you will keep making progress towards your goals. If YOU have the ability or self-discipline to keep going when it gets tough or boring and keep chipping away at it.
What does this mean for you?
Bad days are going to happen. But rather than allowing one bad decision or one bad day ruin everything and throw you completely off track, accept it and play the long game. Make the next decision better than the last and aim to accumulate as many good decisions as you can each and every day.
#11 A little bit of patience goes a long way…
I said it above and I am going to say it again – fat gain doesn’t happen overnight, and it definitely is not lost overnight either.
But it is quite common for people to set severely unrealistic expectations of how long it will take to actually achieve results due to fitness marketers and influencers offering quick fixes and rapid fat loss.
And when the expectation does not quite match the reality, the likelihood of giving up is far higher.
I have seen it time and time again. Clients nailing their nutrition, steps and training for a week or two and complaining that they have seen little to no progress.
And 9 times out of 10, they simply haven’t given themselves or their bodies enough time to respond to their hard work and efforts.
This is why setting yourself realistic goals and time-frames is hugely important, and learning to trust and enjoy the process is even better. Because it is during the process that you learn new skills, employ new strategies and build better habits that stay with you for life.
What does this mean for you?
Be patient! This stuff simply takes TIME … and after all, good things come to those who wait.
#12 As does some accountability!
This is perhaps the most underestimated factor when it comes to successful weight/fat loss.
Changing your nutritional habits and behaviour is going to be one of the most challenging things you will ever do.
Maybe you constantly second guess yourself and tweak things but have no way of knowing if these tweaks are making your situation better or worse.
Perhaps you just lack structure and consistency. You know what you should be doing with your nutrition but you struggle to make it an automated response, a daily habit.
Or perhaps you have some really specific goals that require absolute attention to detail, and those details being spot on.
Either way, you know that you need to connect the dots but connecting them up is proving to be more difficult that you thought.
It is tough, and when things get tough, it becomes very easy and appealing to sack it all off, until next week, next month, next year. And before you know it, you are no better off than where you originally started.
So make this time different. Stop wasting your time and add some accountability into the mix.
What does this mean for you?
Employ a coach. Or ask a friend to hold you accountable. Either way, the simple act of paying someone and/or reporting to someone makes you much more likely to stick to the plan because:
- You are automatically more inclined to do the work, and do it well – otherwise you are wasting your money and your time.
- You do not want to disappoint whoever it is holding you accountable.
And that is about it!
Hopefully, you will be able to go away and implement one or more of these 12 top tips to actually help you facilitate some positive changes and kick-start from real progress towards your goal.
And in short, the best place to start is to just focus on the basics – your nutrition (calories and protein), your daily activity (steps), and your training. Don’t over-complicate it.
Just do them well. Do them consistently. Tick them off every day.
Because if you can do that, again, and again, and again, you can only win. Ticking off those basics over weeks, months and even years is what will lead to amazing, long-term and life-changing results.
Gina is a certified nutritionist and personal trainer. She has worked with many clients over the past three years at Performance Project so her opinions are evidence and experience-based. Gina loves educating her clients to help them help themselves and regularly provides advice and tips about nutrition and weight loss. If you’d like to chat to Gina about any areas of nutrition please get in touch to book a consultation.