OK, I know what you’re thinking – “One way to lose body fat, are you crazy?”
After all, just search Amazon.com for “diet books” and you’ll get over 114,000 results.
That’s four times the number of results you get searching for “quantum physics”.
Which makes fat loss seem like one hell of a mysterious and complex subject, right?
But in reality, it isn’t.
No matter how many diet books are out there, there’s still only one way to lose body fat.
So we’d better find out what it is.
Not Dollars, But Fat
First off, imagine that your bank balance suddenly flashed up on your screen.
Now, here’s the question.
Would this tell you whether you’re managing to save money?
That’s because your bank balance is never constant, it’s always changing – perhaps even daily.
Money comes in when you get paid every week or month or whenever.
Money goes out when you pay the rent or mortgage, credit card and utility bills, and all that other stuff.
In fact, most folks will actually only know if they’re saving money when it comes to the end of the month.
That’s when all the incoming and outgoing funds have been accounted for.
Basic stuff, right?
Well, body fat works the same way.
And we can actually think of fat as the body’s energy bank.
Now, at any one time we can be doing only one of two things: storing body fat or burning body fat.
Here’s how that works.
As we can see, during a 24-hour period our bodies cycle between fat storage and fat burning.
Fat storage happens after meals, while fat burning happens mainly while we’re asleep.
And whether we’re losing, gaining or maintaining body fat really comes down to the net result of all that storage and burning.
So, if we burn more fat than we store over 24 hours, we’ve lost body fat that day.
String enough of those days together, and we’ll lose all the body fat we want.
The bottom line is that it’s the net fat balance over days, weeks and months that matters, not what’s going on over short timescales like a few hours.
Ultimately, this is how every diet works, and how every person who has lost body fat managed to do so.
Not All Foods Are Created Equal
At Super Fit Dads we prefer to think about food as, well… food instead of getting too fixated on its macronutrient content.
Macronutrients being a food’s constituent carbs, fats and protein.
Now each macronutrient has a very different function in the body, takes a different amount of energy to digest, and has a different effect on hormone levels.
That’s why Ironman triathletes consume high-carb energy drinks during a race, not sticks of butter or bottles of olive oil.
And why a 10 oz. steak makes you feel full, while a caramel brulée latte doesn’t.
Incidentally, that’s one of the reasons why eating more protein turbocharges fat loss.
Now it’s also worth keeping in mind that the macronutrients are not stored as body fat with equal efficiency.
Unfortunately, this causes some folks to obsess about what kind of foods they eat, when they eat them, and even how they eat them!
Like they avoid eating carbs and fat at the same meal, don’t eat carbs after 6pm, and they freeze bread before they toast it.
All this is missing the big picture: hitting your goal weight simply comes down to stringing together a sufficient number of days of negative fat balance.
And you can achieve a negative fat balance while consuming pretty much any food you want, regardless of the time of day.
So let’s figure out how to do it.
The Next Best Thing
First the bad news.
We can’t accurately measure how much our fat balance is changing by on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis.
Even if we have unlimited $$$ and access to a state-of-the-art laboratory.
So we can safely say there’s no wearable device, no smartphone app, and no online calculator that’s up to the job either.
Until there is, we need to use the next best thing available.
OK, I know that may sound kind of lame, but stick with me.
The food and drink we consume contains energy, and that energy is measured in Calories.
Now to a Caltech physicist, the energy from 100 Calories of burned fat is the same as 100 Calories of burned protein, carbohydrate, or anything else.
A Calorie is a Calorie, the same way an inch is always an inch – it’s just a unit of measurement.
But to the body, 100 Calories from fat is different to both 100 Calories from protein and 100 Calories from carbohydrate.
After all, they’re processed differently, do different jobs and lead to different hormonal changes.
And while calorie counting takes none of that into account, it’s still the single most important thing anyone can do when they want to lose weight.
Just see it for what it is: an incredibly powerful awareness tool rather than some magical way to precisely calculate fat loss.
Here’s how I like to think about it.
Even if it’s state-of-the-art digital, the speedometer in your car isn’t 100 % accurate.
It isn’t actually measuring vehicle speed anyway, it’s measuring how fast the wheels are turning.
That means things like tire tread depth, pressure, temperature, and even how many passengers you’re carrying introduce significant errors to the number you see on the dial.
But does that mean a speedometer isn’t worth having?
Hell, no! It’s still a fundamental part of keeping control of the car.
Well, counting calories works the same way.
It’s not perfect, but it provides incredibly valuable information nonetheless.
So here’s a good way to start using it.
Counting Calories 101
Let’s assume you’re going to track your calories for a week using a free online resource like myfitnesspal.
Now the day you start, weigh yourself first thing in the morning after using the bathroom.
You then count calories for a full week.
Once you’ve done that, again weigh yourself first thing in the morning after using the bathroom.
Now it’s likely that your bodyweight has remained pretty much the same over the week – it’s probably within a pound or so.
Compare your “before” and “after” weights to be sure.
If these weights are within a pound or so, it’s reasonable to assume that you haven’t gained or lost any body fat that week.
Fat stored that week = fat burned that week
In other words, your net fat balance was zero.
And right here’s where the calorie part comes in.
Tracking calories will have told you that you consumed an average of, say, 3000 Calories per day over the week.
So if you consume fewer than 3,000 Calories per day, you’ll be in negative fat balance territory.
You’ll be losing fat.
And the fewer calories you consume, the bigger the negative fat balance and the greater the weight loss.
Now it almost goes without saying that we can’t pin this down to exact numbers.
As in, consuming 2441 Calories per day will allow me to lose 2.74 pounds in 17 days.
It simply doesn’t work that way – after all, the body is an inherently variable and complex system.
But counting calories is still the best proxy we have for fat balance, and therefore the most powerful tool for weight loss.
While a whole bunch of factors determine how fast you should lose fat, how you lose fat is always the same.
And there really is just one way to do it.
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Many thanks to nutrition expert, Alan Aragon for kindly giving this article a once-over