Losing fat is far from easy and very often it feels you are swimming against the current. Your progress comes to a halt completely, you lose fat slower than you should, life just gets in the way, you do cardio but it doesn’t seem to help, you feel your metabolism has just slowed down, and so on.
Very often the stuff that gets in the way is out of your control. But most of the time, the frustration is caused by yourself because you don’t understand how the human body operates. You can’t just force your body to lose fat, you must know what works and what doesn’t work.
Those facts about fat loss are often unpleasant. As said by Carl Sagan, “Better the hard truth than a comforting fantasy.” Learning the truth about the inconvenient facts about fat loss is one thing, the other part is accepting these facts.
In this blog post, you will learn 10 inconvenient facts about fat loss you might not want to hear but need to hear. Hopefully, these truths will finally help you get the results you have been looking for.
1. You can get fat from eating too much healthy food
For fat loss do happen, you need to be in a calorie deficit. Some diets are not based on counting calories but are based on the premise that you can burn fat by eating certain types of foods. These foods are namely nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods, while avoiding nutrient-sparse and processed foods.
These types of diets are well-intentioned because unprocessed foods are healthier and processed foods also tend to be more calorie-dense, as well as hyper-palatable. So eating healthier foods, for the most part, is good advice, because they help you control calories better, which in turn helps to lose fat.
This however does not mean that all dieters, eating healthy unprocessed foods, will successfully lose fat. The issue is that you still need a calorie deficit to lose fat and healthy foods are not void of calories. All excess calories, even those from healthy foods, will be stored as fat. Just because you eat healthy, nutritious foods does not mean you can eat as much as you want whenever you want.
Some of the healthy foods, such as avocados, olive oil, or natural peanut butter, are full of calories and are very easy to overeat. Foods that are high in fat are very calorically dense and overeating just a little bit, can make a big difference.
Eating healthy foods does not get you lean by itself. Eating healthy foods, while being in a calorie deficit will get you lean, as well as healthy.
2. You can lose fat and stay lean eating only junk food
Everyone has a family member or friend, who seems to eat everything they want and still stay lean, which drives other “normal” people insane. It does not seem fair that they can eat pizza, ice cream, chocolate, and cookies, while not carrying an ounce of body fat. It seems they were born with extra fast metabolism, unlike most people.
It is easy to think that way but people often fail to take into account, is how their total calorie intake adds up at the end of the day or end of the week, compared to their maintenance level. What it all comes down to is math – if you are not in a calorie surplus, you will not gain fat.
There are several diet experiments that have proven this fact many times, such as the Twinkie diet experiment by Mark Haub. This Kansas City professor ate nothing but Twinkies but still lost weight because he carefully tracked all his calories and made sure he was in a calorie deficit. The same type of experiments have been done eating nothing but McDonald’s.
Certainly, it is not advisable to eat a fast food or junk food diet for the long term, even if you manage to lose some weight. Such diet experiments do a great job at proving that fat loss and health can overlap but are separate goals. If your goal is to achieve bot better health and fat loss, then you need to understand the concepts of calorie quality and calorie quantity.
3. You do not have a shitty metabolism
When you diet and lose weight, the metabolism does slow down a little for sure. It is called metabolic adaption or more precisely adaptive thermogenesis. It is a general response that everyone has to diet and weight loss.
This can mean that your rate of fat loss slows down a little and it might make you a little frustrated but it certainly does not prevent or stop fat loss. A metabolism that has slowed down somewhat, due to metabolic adaption, is not a reason why you are not losing fat.
It is a myth that obese individuals have a slower metabolism, on the contrary. People with more mass, whether it is fat or muscle, burn more calories because total body mass is directly linked to metabolic rate.
The fact is that smaller and lighter people burn fewer calories than bigger and heavier people. This is why obese individuals can lose more weight each week when compared to smaller individuals – creating a calorie deficit is much easier for them. In addition, moving around a heavier body has a higher caloric cost.
If slow metabolism was true, then why are there so many overweight people unable to lose weight, although they reportedly eat very little? It all comes down to the next inconvenient truth about fat loss.
4. You consume more calories than you think you do
The fact is that nearly everyone eats more than they think they do. The reason is that nearly all of us are not very good at estimating the calories in our food and drink. It takes a lot of experience to accurately eyeball portion sizes and in restaurants, it is almost impossible.
For some individuals, it is possible to control their weight and manage food portions by mastering mindfulness skills and intuitive eating. But for most people, the only sure-fire way to accurately assess calorie intake is to count calories, measure, and weigh food.
In one study of people who claimed to have a slow metabolism, it turned out that these people underestimated their caloric intake by 47%. This is not a small error but a massive mistake that can easily make you gain fat, instead of losing fat.
Certainly, there are some clinical explanations for diet resistance in some people. It is known that untreated thyroid disease does cause difficulties in losing weight. Some medications can also decrease calorie burning or stimulate appetite. But in most cases, it is the inability to accurately assess calories consumed versus calories burned, that is the culprit.
5. You burn less calories than you actually do
Just as big of a problem, as is the inability of people to accurately assess their caloric intake, is their inability to accurately assess calories burned. In the same study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, not only did people under-estimated their caloric intake by 47% but they also over-estimated their energy expenditure by 51%. If you put these together then the impact is massive.
Another similar study from York University in Toronto, had a group of subjects exercise at moderate to high intensity on a treadmill for 25 minutes. After the exercise was over, they were asked to guess the number of calories they burned during the workout and create a meal containing this calorie amount.
This study did not just include people who wanted to lose fat but other types of people as well.
- Normal weight
- Not trying to lose weight
- Trying to lose weight
Everyone of those test subjects did a poor job at estimating the amount of calories they burned, especially one group, (overweight, not trying to lose weight) who overestimated the amount of calories they burned by 72%.
Test subjects who tried to lose weight did a marginally better job but were still inaccurate in their estimation. The estimation error for all of the 4 groups ranged from 280 calories to 702 calories.
6. You most likely eat back some (or all) the calories you burn
There are lots of false statements made by many diet “gurus” and diet book authors, such as “Cardio is a waste of time,” Aerobics makes you fat” or “You adapt to cardio so eventually it stops working.”
There is a very specific reason why cardio doesn’t work for some people and why it works for others. These authors and many so-called “experts” can’t seem to figure this out. Some people can do hours of cardio a day but not lose any weight at all. It is not because these people are somehow exercise-resistant or because calories don’t count.
The main reason why different people get very different results, from doing the same amount of cardio, is because they may do cardio inconsistently, but compliance to diet greatly varies from person to person.
What very often happens is that people, who increase the amount of cardio they do, also unconsciously increase their caloric intake. Basically, they exercise more but eat more as well, which cancels out the potential benefit for fat loss that cardio might have had. These people are known as “compensators.”
It could be that exercise increases appetite for some individuals, although for many others exercise does not increase appetite. In general, exercise actually decreases appetite, according to many studies.
Even if your appetite increases after exercise, and in response to that you eat more, it does not mean that cardio exercise does not work. What it means is that you made a mistake in your diet by overeating. When your goal is fat loss, you should not always eat when you are hungry, but follow a set diet plan.
Overeating after exercise is a common mistake also because it is more of mental response, rather than a physical one. Humans have the tendency of doing something bad for themselves, in response to doing something good for themselves. This is known as moral licensing in psychology. Eating junk food after doing exercise is a common example of this.
It is also common for people to go through a conscious process of rationalization, where they feel they have “earned” something good to eat after exercising. This problem could be compounded because as we know, people tend to underestimate the calories they burn and overestimate the calories they consume.
Another big problem is the use of fitness trackers for monitoring calories burned and then adjusting their caloric intake accordingly. But fitness trackers are notoriously inaccurate and you end up sabotaging yourself unknowingly.
7. Don’t rely too much on fitness trackers and apps
Tracking the calories, you burn from the workouts you do is very important for fat loss purposes. You are supposed to know how many calories you burn after a 45-minute workout on the treadmill or 60-minute bike ride.
Knowing how many calories you burn each day matters because it is part of the energy balance equation – calories in versus calories out. The more calories you are able to burn, the easier it is to lose fat and maintain a lean physique.
The problem of trying to use the information about calories burned from exercise to adjust how much you can or cannot eat during the day puts you at a big risk of making huge errors.
The reason why most people really want to know how many calories they burned after working out, is because they believe they can reconcile calories in vs calories out, adjust their calorie intake accordingly, and try to make sure they are in a caloric deficit during the day.
They also believe if they burn more today, they can eat more tomorrow, and if they eat more today, they simply burn more calories tomorrow. People often rationalize that since a really epic workout burns a huge amount of calories, they can easily squeeze in an extra snack or cheat meal, and still be in a calorie deficit.
There is certainly plenty of logic behind these rationalizations and might work very well for some people. If you eat 4000 calories today and burn 3000 calories, but the next day you eat 2000 calories and burn 4000 calories, then you would still be in a 1000 calorie deficit for those two days and all is good.
The problem is that all these fitness trackers are very inaccurate, as are people’s own calculations. Actually, you don’t have to know how many calories a certain activity burns.
When setting up a nutrition plan for yourself, at the beginning of your diet, it is strongly recommended to use a calorie calculator formula to estimate your BMR (basal metabolic rate). It is the number of calories your body burns, excluding physical activity.
The other thing you estimate is the level of your activity. This includes daily activities, such as walking and housework, as well as your formal workouts. This allows you to estimate your average daily exercise calories burned.
So when you multiply your BMR with your activity factor, you will find out your estimated total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) or maintenance level. This is the total amount of calories you burn throughout the day.
These types of calculations can easily be done by using the Harris-Benedict or Katch-McArdle caloric formulas.
When your goal is to lose fat, you simply reduce your caloric intake just below your TDEE. This can be 15-30% under maintenance. Fat loss comes from this deficit.
Using this formula is immensely useful, because you don’t have to calculate the calories you burned from exercise separately.
It doesn’t really matter how many calories you burn during a specific workout. What matters is the number of calories you burn at the end of the day from all of your activities and adjusting your caloric intake accordingly.
Fitness trackers and apps are great tools for reminding you to move more but they should not be used for adjusting your food intake. They are just too unreliable for this purpose. If you eat back the calories you burned, you have sabotaged your diet.
8. You can cancel an entire week of training and dieting by overeating on the weekend
Weekends are very tough for staying on our diet plan and exercise program. There is a saying, “you can’t out-train a lousy diet.” It is true and a lousy weekend diet can make a big impact.
For example, a study was carried out by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, to find out whether weight loss failure was partially caused by lousy weekend diets.
Before this study came out, the only evidence that weight gain and fat loss plateaus were caused by overeating on weekends, came from the NWCR (National Weight Control Registry). They found an association between weight loss relapse and lower weekday to weekend diet consistency. The people who were able to maintain a consistent eating pattern from weekdays to weekends were more likely to maintain their weight throughout the year.
This more recent study, by the Washington University School of Medicine, was a randomized control trial, it ran the entire year and had a large sample size. This study measured compliance to exercise and diet during weekends, as compared to the rest of the week. They also took into account factors, such as body weight changes during the week, as compared to the end of the week.
Over the full year, it was discovered that both test groups – the exercise group and calorie-restricted group – were able to stick to the calorie deficit on weekdays. However, on the weekends, the participants that restricted calories were unable to lose more weight, and the exercise group actually gained weight back.
This study, as well as the observational reports by the NWCR, confirmed that during weekends there is significantly more weight gain when compared to weekdays. This is mainly due to the increased intake of calories during the weekend. The big problem is that the habit patterns and eating schedules are different on weekends than on weekdays.
The study found that during Saturdays, the calorie intake was 236 calories higher, as on weekdays. The extra calories came mostly from fatty foods. This does not seem much, because it is normal to eat more on some days and less on other days and remain in a weekly calorie deficit.
The problem is that these excess calories consumed during the weekends, were not part of a weekly plan or controlled refeeds, while maintaining an overall calorie deficit. Those excess calories add up weekend after weekend.
This seemingly small increase in calories during the weekends could cause a 9-pound weight gain if left unchecked for the entire year. Of course, there are people who eat and drink a lot more calories, than the average 236 calories in this study.
It is well-known that people tend to overeat during Christmas, Thanksgiving, and birthdays. But these events happen a few times a year, while there are 52 weekends every year.
9. Women can’t eat as much as men or they would get fat
There is a common misconception among some women, that the reason they are unable to lose weight is because of hormones. Although hormones, can and do play a role to a degree, it is mainly another overlooked factor that is the problem. The fact is that women, in general, are smaller than men, yet they mistakenly set up their goals, calorie intake, and expectations like men or bigger women.
The smaller your body, the lower your caloric needs are. This means that your relative calorie needs also give you a smaller absolute calorie deficit. A bigger person can great a larger calorie deficit and lose fat quicker than a smaller person.
Lets take a man who is 6’ 2” tall and weighs around 230 pounds and is very active.
- His daily caloric maintenance level is 3730 calories.
- If you take a 20% deficit from 3730 it would be 746 calories.
- So the optimal caloric intake for fat loss would be 2982 calories a day
- The predicted fat loss on paper would be about 1.5 pounds.
That person can easily reduce his daily calorie intake or activity even more and lose 2 pounds of fat a week without much struggle.
For shorter and lighter women this type of equation is totally different.
A 115 pound woman who is just 5 feet tall and is 40 years old, the numbers would be much smaller.
- The daily caloric maintenance level would be just 1930 calories.
- A 20% deficit from 1930 would be 386 calories.
- The optimal caloric intake for fat loss would be just 1544 calories per day.
- The predicted fat loss on paper would be 8/10th of a pound.
If the person wanted to lose fat quicker and took a more severe 30% calorie deficit, then the overall caloric intake would fall to 1351 calories a day.
This does not mean women can’t get very lean, it only means women lose fat at a slower rate than men do.
Even tiny errors in calculating calories can mean a big difference, which is why it is essential to meticulously track your calories and be patient. The calorie deficit can easily go away by just eating a little bit of peanut butter, an extra cookie, or snacks.
10. Short workouts, no matter how intense, don’t burn many calories
HIIT-type workouts are very popular amongst many people and they believe that they can burn tons of calories from just a 5-minute workout. The belief is that you can burn more fat with a very intense 5-minute workout than you can with a 30-40-minute steady-state cardio workout.
The common mistake that people make, is mistaking the calories being burned off in a single workout per minute with pounds of fat being burned off the body from week to week.
Let’s say you decided to do a 5-minute high-intensity training session and burned off 20 calories per minute on average. So in just 5 minutes, you would burn off 100 calories, which is a very impressive number for just 5 minutes. Not only that but your aerobic capacity would also improve. But is the number of calories burned, enough to impact your body fat being burned off? Clearly not!
HIIT-type workouts, such as the famous Tabata protocol, are legitimate ways to improve your fitness level, especially if you are involved in a sport that requires short and intense physical efforts. But if your goal is to burn off body fat then it would not be enough to make a real difference.
If you really wanted to make a real impact then you would need to do 40-45 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio or 20-30 minutes of high-intensity interval training workouts. Any workout that is less than 10 minutes, no matter how intense, is not going to be enough.
The amount of calories you burn during exercise depends on your body size (the bigger you are the more calories you burn) and the type of workout you choose.
A bigger person burns more calories when resting and doing nothing, as well as exercising. If you decide to do a HIIT-type workout and choose bodyweight exercises, then there is no way you will burn 20 calories a minute or achieve a significant afterburn effect.
The truth is that most people have no idea what true high-intensity means. If they actually tried a true HIIT workout they would become nauseous, physically exhausted and they would hate it. If you want consistent long-term results you need to stick with something you can tolerate and do consistently.
The only benefit that intense cardio has is efficiency, but you can burn just as many calories with low-intensity cardio, it just takes a little longer. If you don’t have much time then you must work harder and if you don’t want to work harder, you must work longer.