This is the final article in my three part series on how to lose body fat. Parts one and two covered exercise and diet. I will provide brief summaries below, but it may be useful to review both before reading on.
In the exercise article, I wrote that exercise is less important than diet for losing body fat, but that three forms of exercise can help. The exercise strategies and their effects (relevant to fat loss) are listed below:
I also made the point that endurance training, although useful for the endurance athlete, is overrated as a fat loss strategy for others, particularly because of the potential for injury, catabolism, overtraining, and enhanced appetite.
In the diet article, I explained that creating a negative energy balance by eating less is the single most important fat loss strategy. I also noted that it’s best to use basal metabolic rate (BMR) as a guideline to know how much of a reduction is safe. Finally, I suggested that calorie cycling can help athletes lose body fat and also maintain athletic performance.
That’s my summary of parts one and two. My goal in writing those articles was to demonstrate that “eating less and exercising more” is an incomplete answer to the fat loss question. After reading both articles, you now know the answers to these questions, too:
- What type of exercise?
- How much less should I eat?
- How do I integrate diet and exercise in a fat loss program?
The “big picture” question that remains unanswered is “How can I stay consistent with a fat loss program?” The purpose of this article is to highlight psychological strategies to promote program adherence. Three are particularly important: Know what works, eat for long-term satisfaction, and prepare for success.
1) Know what works
One obstacle to program adherence is limited knowledge. If you don’t know what to do, you’ll waste time and effort trying to figure it out. If you know and follow the most effective practices, you’ll see the impact of your behavior and achieve your goal faster. Instead of doing a little of everything, do more of what’s effective.
Be careful with the “do more” part. Pace yourself and recognize that fat loss takes time. Resistance training and sprinting are hard on the body, particularly with maximal effort training. Performing more work is not the answer. High-intensity training requires recovery time, so allow your body to rest after strenuous exercise. On recovery days, take long walks instead of pushing yourself more. Remember, exercise should be effective and not excessive.
Take a similar approach with your diet. Drastically cutting calories isn’t the answer. Use the concepts of BMR and calorie cycling to make the fat loss process effective AND manageable.
2) Eat for long-term satisfaction
You are more likely to succeed in a fat loss program if you can satisfy your appetite. Satisfaction prevents overeating. These dietary strategies will help you to enjoy your meals, even when you’re eating less.
Get your nutrients
Eat adequate amounts of the three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrate. Include enough protein to support muscle development, enough fat for hormone production, and enough carbohydrate to support intense training and brain activity. A balanced diet like this one will help.
|Carbohydrate||Fruit, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash|
|Protein||Meat, eggs, cottage cheese|
|Fat||Butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds|
|Micronutrients||Vegetables and all foods on this list|
If your meals are nutritious, you’re less likely to have cravings. Pick the foods that allow you to meet your macronutrient and micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) needs. You’ll find nutritional profiles of foods at sites like this one.
Eat natural and whole foods
Whole foods take longer to digest than processed foods, which can impact satisfaction. Meat, sweet potatoes, fruits, and avocados are superior to protein powder, juice, sugar, packaged diet foods, and concentrated oils.
Eat what you like
Eating “diet food” to lose body fat is unnecessary. The potential for long-term satisfaction improves if you eat the foods you enjoy. That said, eating purely for taste is eating for short-term satisfaction. Find a way to eat for taste AND nutrition. Cravings for low-nutrient foods with sweet, salty, sour, or bitter tastes can be met with high-nutrient options.
Don’t enhance your appetite
Some grains enhance appetite, which will only harm fat loss efforts. Vegetarian athletes may also benefit from emphasizing fruit, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and squash as energy sources.
Be careful with fiber
In the quest to lose body fat, many athletes eat whole grains and beans because they believe these high-fiber foods are satisfying. For some, the high levels of insoluble fiber in these foods can be irritating to the gut. If you regularly experience bloating or distention from frequent consumption of these high-fiber foods, you may begin to misinterpret the physical sensation of fullness and end your meals only after eating excessively.
3) Prepare for success
You can improve program adherence by employing some basic principles of psychology. These cognitive and behavioral strategies will have a big impact on your ability to commit to a fat loss program.
Set goals and identify how you intend to meet them
Instead of thinking about your goals, write them down or create a document on your computer. This will give you an opportunity to think seriously about what you truly hope to achieve and what it will take to get there. “Get in shape” is not a goal. Be specific. Refer back to your goals often. Revise as needed.
Create a workout schedule
Enter the scheduled dates in an electronic calendar that’s set up to give you reminders. Make workouts part of your schedule like going to work or having dinner with friends.
Self-monitoring improves compliance
Use your computer, smart phone, or notebook to record information that will help you to monitor your progress. Record your weight and body fat percentage consistently. Record your diet and activities daily. If self-monitoring increases your enthusiasm and helps you to identify obstacles to success, use it. If self-monitoring increases anxiety, it may be best to avoid this strategy.
Rely on social support
Unless you prefer solo workouts, making a commitment to a friend increases adherence, and the presence of a friend increases enjoyment.
Don’t waste time and energy on practices that have a minimal impact
These dietary beliefs and practices contribute more to obsessive thinking than to fat loss:
- Eat 6 meals a day
- Don’t go too long without eating
- Don’t skip breakfast
- Don’t eat after 6 PM
- Follow a low-carbohydrate diet
- Follow a low-fat diet
Adding these “rules” to a fat loss program will only enhance frustration for many people. Challenge the conventional wisdom and restructure your beliefs about fat loss. For example, if you prefer to skip breakfast and it helps with program adherence, then do it. On the other hand, if you skip breakfast and experience problems with cognitive or athletic performance, exaggerated appetite, and fatigue, then eating breakfast may be important for you.
Recognize that individual differences in attitudes, emotional reactivity, and behavior are MUCH GREATER than individual differences in responsiveness to diet and exercise. Employ the fundamentals to change your body, and modify other behaviors only if they improve adherence.
To summarize the program adherence section of this series, for fat loss,
- Know what works and follow the program
- Eat for long-term satisfaction
- Prepare for success by using basic cognitive and behavioral principles of psychology to improve adherence
Thank you for reading my three-part series on fat loss. If you enjoyed the articles, please share them with others, subscribe to my free newsletter, like my Facebook page, or follow me on Twitter. I welcome your comments below.