I promote training for performance as a great way to achieve a healthier, stronger, and leaner physique. I encourage individuals to stop thinking about fat loss, even if that’s their primary goal, and instead focus on getting stronger or improving their performance with their workouts.
Now, I understand that some people just want to know how to achieve fat loss in the simplest, and easiest, way possible. Bottom line – some people just want to lose some excess fat, and want specific guidelines to achieve that goal now. So, if you’re an individual who thinks, “Yes, I know to focus on performance, but I really just want to lose some fat,” then this article is for you.
If you’re going to truly focus on fat loss for a period of time, you might as well follow the KISS principle — Keep It Super Simple (thanks to a reader for suggesting that little tweak!). If something is simple, it’ll be less stressful and you’ll be able to apply the guidelines daily with ease than if you followed something strict, rigid, and overwhelming.
If it ain’t simple, don’t do it. Now let’s dive into The 10 Commandments for Simple Fat Loss.
1. Thou Shall Stop Training for Fat Loss
You didn’t think I’d leave this one out, did you? Your main focus should still be on improving your performance whether you’re lifting weights, running hill sprints, swinging a kettlebell, or any other strength training component you utilize.
When you’re in the gym, or outside sprinting, focus on your performance, not burning calories. You’ll be more motivated if you’re concerned about getting an extra rep or running an extra sprint than about working yourself to complete and utter exhaustion.
Oftentimes when people train for fat loss, they perform grueling workouts that leave them huffing, puffing, and crumbled into a delirious heap of sweat on the floor. Just because you finish a workout exhausted or nauseous does not mean it was an effective or productive workout.
The value of your workout is not determined by how tired you are afterwards, or even how sore you are the next day.
You should follow a sound training program that emphasizes improved performance to achieve your fat loss goals.
2. Thou Shall Master the Basics of Training & Nutrition
All too often people attempt a complete diet and training overhaul in a single day. They drastically change their eating habits and start exercising daily (usually via crazy workouts that leave them exhausted as discussed above).
While this drastic change in diet and exercise may produce some immediate results, most people give up a couple of weeks into such a demanding regimen.
The solution is to focus on, and master, the basics of nutrition and strength training.
Before I elaborate, I have to share one of my all time favorite quotes that I post on occasion.
“I think many of us think this way: If it’s free or simple or easy to understand, it can’t be as good as something that’s expensive, complicated and difficult to figure out on your own”. ~Dan John
So — don’t poo-poo the basics or simple principles.
1. Eat real food at least 90% of the time. Real food = items such as grass fed meats, wild caught fish, free range eggs, fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds.
Yes, I’m well aware that it’s possible to lose fat and improve your health by bending, or breaking, that guideline. However, I recommend following this guideline because most people can get away with not counting calories, weighing their food, etc by doing so.
Seriously. Do it.
2. Eat your protein. This will help with satiety, meaning you’ll feel fuller longer. I go into more detail about this in 3 Steps for Hunger Control and Fat Loss, but somewhere around, at least, .75 grams per pound of bodyweight is a good target.
I’ve seen it numerous times – women will go on a “diet” to lose weight and they cut back on foods they think are not fat loss friendly. Oftentimes their protein intake plummets, and many end up consuming only around 40 grams of protein for an entire day.
This isn’t optimal for fat loss, in my opinion, and these women are usually ravenous. All. The. Time. From just bumping up their protein to approximately .8 grams per pound of bodyweight, they start losing fat easier and aren’t plagued with constant hunger. Who wants to feel like they’re starving all the time? Eat your protein.
I should also mention that the majority of your protein should come from whole, real food sources like meat, eggs, dairy (if you tolerate it) and fish. Protein shakes are fine for convenience and/or post workout, but strive to get most of your protein from real food.
Strength Training Basics — Beginner Strength Training 101
1. Strength train three to four days per week. If you’re going to train three days per week, I highly recommend total body workouts. If you’re going to train four days per week, go with an upper/lower training split.
If you want detailed training programs that range from beginner to more advanced training, then check out Beautiful Badass. That will get you going in the right direction.
2. Focus on compound exercises. If fat loss is your goal, don’t waste your time with isolation exercises like biceps curls and lateral raises. Use compound exercises that recruit the most muscle mass possible and allow you to lift heavy weight. That means squats, deadlifts, push-ups, rows, chin-ups, presses, lunges, or similar alternatives.
3. Thou Shall Adopt Simple, No Nonsense, Stress Free Nutrition Habits
Nutrition is definitely the area where most people struggle, and it’s also the most important factor for losing body fat.
Other than encouraging people to eat real food, first and foremost, I don’t really care what eating pattern they adopt. You should, however, do what you enjoy and what fits easily into your lifestlye.
Some people prefer to implement various methods of intermittent fasting because they’re simple and easy to follow on a daily basis.
Now, as much as I like IF, it’s not some “holy grail”, and it doesn’t work for everyone. Others enjoy eating several small meals throughout the day. Some people prefer to just listen to their bodies and eat when they’re hungry. Some people like tracking calories and macronutrients.
There isn’t really a right or wrong way, in my opinion, as long as you do what works for you.
For more nutrition information, refer to the Beautiful Badass Nutrition Principles.
4. Thou Shall Accept and Learn from Set Backs
Nothing will ever be perfect, and you will have bad days. You may miss a scheduled training session, and you most certainly will have days where you eat some junk food.
Don’t view these instances as the end of the world or a huge detriment to your fat loss goals.
If you miss a workout or end up eating too many cookies, accept it and move on. Don’t dwell on it or be riddled with guilt. That does absolutely no good and doesn’t change a thing.
Also, don’t compound those small set backs. For example, if you miss a training session you were supposed to do on Friday, don’t take the whole weekend off and “start new on Monday”. Get back in the gym the next day and get on track once more.
Likewise, and this is the area most people mess up, when you eat more junk food than you planned, don’t keep eating more junk food! If someone eats a piece of pizza or too many cookies, they usually think, “Well, I blew it already so I might as well keep eating crap” and they go on a binge. Don’t do that!
Accept the situation, but get back on track. It’s really no big deal.
5. Thou Shall Stop Comparing Thyself to Others
Don’t have the goal of looking like the latest airbrushed model on the cover of a magazine or lingerie catalog. Instead, focus on becoming the best you possible and forget about trying to achieve some “ideal image” as dictated by society and the popular media.
Focus on what you can do in the gym and be proud of your abilities. You may not be the strongest deadlifter in the gym, and you may not have the body of a Victoria Secret model, but you do have natural qualities, gifts, and abilities.
Highlight and improve upon your natural abilities and talents. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else.
6. Thou Shall Lift Heavy Weight
High reps (15+) can have their place and be beneficial for fat loss, but too many trainees use them exclusively when training for fat loss. Neglecting heavy lifting (5-8 reps) when training for fat loss is a big mistake for experienced trainees, and it’s even worse for female beginner strength trainees.
If you don’t have a good level of strength, like most beginners, then you’ll be using super light weight for high rep sets. That does very little for increasing strength and taxing your muscles. For example, a beginner would use very little weight for high rep squats, maybe around 45 pounds or so. However, someone who’s been training for years could use 115 pounds or more for high rep squats. That’s a large difference.
Bottom line – don’t neglect heavy weight lifting on your fat loss journey.
7. Thou Shall Not Rely Heavily on Cardio
Flip through a popular magazine and cardio is usually the first topic discussed for fat loss. Most people have visions of people plodding along in zombie-like fashion on treadmills, ellipticals, and stair steppers.
Focus on nutrition first, and put 100% into your strength training sessions; that’s where the majority of your fat loss results will come from. Other than that, feel free to incorporate some brisk walking into the mix a few days of the week. Or, you can also do some higher intensity work like hill sprints.
Don’t fall victim into thinking you’re required to spend hours a week on a machine. It just ain’t true.
8. Thou Shall Not Obsess over the Number on the Scale
That link will lead you to an important article you should read if you’re self-worth is determined by the number you see on the scale.
When it comes to fat loss, I strongly encourage people to train to achieve the look they are after, and not a number on the scale. You may think you want to weigh 125 pounds because that was your high school weight, but you may feel and look better weighing 140 pounds. Go by look — not a number.
This has also been covered in a Case for Staying off the Scale and Not Weighing Yourself.
9. Thou Shall Not be Motivated by Negative Thoughts & Emotions
Training for fat loss should not be fueled by negative thoughts like, “I hate how I look” and other negative, self-loathing comments.
Train to improve yourself, for sure. But train because you want to see how strong you can get. Train because you are proud of what you’re body can do. Train because you want to test your physical and mental capabilities. Train because you want to highlight your unique qualities and abilities.
Always have positive thoughts to fuel your workouts.
10. Thou Shall be Patient and Consistent
No one gained 20 pounds overnight, and so you shouldn’t expect to lose it all overnight either; if you’re on a mission to lose body fat, then acknowledge that fact right now. This isn’t about a quick fix you can’t sustain — it’s about achieving results that you can maintain forever.
Rapid fat loss methods don’t work, so stay the course each day and week and be sure to savor and celebrate the small victories like setting a new personal record in the gym, trying a new recipe or healthy food, eating more protein, and moving around more.
And know this — building a great body is about consistency, not perfection.
Time for Action!
Don’t let this simple list overwhelm you if you’re currently applying just one or two of the “commandments”. Keep things super simple (remember?) and begin by applying a few of the easiest guidelines first. Once those become habits, incorporate a couple more.
It’s more important that you develop habits that are easy to maintain over a longer period of time as opposed to employing a drastic change overnight.
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