Today I want to talk to you about weight loss.
Nah, screw that. I want to do a lot more than talk to you about it.
I want to help you fully understand it and then successfully make it happen. To do this, I’m going to provide answers to three of the most common (and important) questions…
- What is the best way to lose weight?
- What is the fastest way to do it?
- What is the best way to permanently keep it off after you’ve lost it?
Let the games begin.
But First… The Clarification
In order to properly answer these questions, we need to make sure we understand what it is we’re trying to answer. You see, we might be talking about “weight loss,” but what we’re really interested in is “fat loss.” That’s what we want this lost “weight” to be.
Now that may seem like an annoying nitpick of semantics, but it’s not. There is a very important distinction that needs to be made here.
As I almost always mention in every article I write about this subject (seriously, if you’re a regular reader, you’ve seen me say this approximately 80 billion times before), you could lose fat, muscle, water, glycogen, poop and more, and the scale will tell you that you lost weight. However, out of everything on that list, the one you’re truly seeking to lose here is fat.
This point is important for two reasons:
- To help you avoid losing muscle, or avoid seeking weight loss at the expense of muscle loss. Basically, the secondary goal of everyone trying to lose weight should be to preserve as much lean muscle as possible while that weight is lost, thus ensuring it’s primarily body fat. This is a topic I’ve covered in detail before: How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle
- To help you avoid useless nonsense that will cause some temporary weight loss, but won’t do dick in terms of causing any actual fat loss. This would be stuff like cleanses, detoxes, fasts and other similarly pointless garbage marketed as miracles to people who don’t understand the difference between fat loss and weight loss… in the hope that they’ll be so easily fooled by the fast initial decrease in body weight that takes place that they won’t actually notice there was no body fat lost… or that any weight (water) they do lose is instantly regained right after. Yes, that was a really long sentence.
So while people use these phrases interchangeably all the time (and I’ll probably do it a few dozen times in this article), and we know what most people truly mean when they use them, it’s still worth noting the very important difference between them. It matters. You’ll see why in a few minutes.
With me so far? Cool. Now let’s start answering the first question…
What’s The Best Way To Lose Weight?
I’ve spent a whole lot of time trying to answer this one, and what I’ve discovered is that it takes a combination of three things:
- A fact.
- A method for implementing that fact.
- An approach to implementing that method.
Let me show you exactly what I mean…
Step 1: The Fact
So what’s the best way to lose weight? That’s easy: create a caloric deficit.
Not only is this the “best” way, but the bonus here is that it’s literally the only way. Literally literally. There is no other (non-surgical) way of losing body fat. A caloric deficit is a requirement and every single smart, sane, evidence-based person agrees. That’s my nice way of saying that everyone who disagrees is either misinformed, stupid or crazy. Or all of the above. Or maybe just trying to sell you something useless (so misinformed, stupid, crazy or an asshole).
So what is a caloric deficit, you ask? It’s what happens when you consume less calories than your body needs to burn for energy, thus requiring it to find some alternative fuel source to burn instead. That alternative fuel source is your stored body fat. I explain all of this in detail right here: How To Lose Fat
Wait… what’s that you say?
“But calories in vs calories out is too simplistic and doesn’t apply to humans and blah blah blah!!”
No. Just no. (Details: The Energy Balance Equation)
“This is just your preference and you’re trying to pass it off onto everyone else!!”
Sure, if by “preference” you mean “proven fact,” you’re right. As I’ve said before, there’s a reason it’s called the law of thermodynamics and not the opinion of thermodynamics.
“But I tried creating a caloric deficit and it didn’t work for me?!?!”
The key word there is “tried.” If you successfully did it for a reasonable period of time, it would have worked. 100% of the time, in fact. So if it didn’t, there was simply no deficit present. Yes, even if you undeniably believe that there was. I promise you, there still wasn’t. Details here: Why Am I Not Losing Weight?
“But I’m losing weight right now and I’m not paying any attention to calories!! My diet allows me to eat as many calories as I want!!”
That’s fantastic. Please let me be the first to congratulate you on unintentionally creating the required caloric deficit you needed. Or, slightly more bluntly, for being too stupid to realize your often pointlessly restrictive “calories-don’t-matter” diet has tricked you into eating less calories. More about that right here.
“But [insert someone/something widely regarded as a terrible source of information] says…”
Sorry kids, but the answer is still no. Calories in vs calories out is, was and always will be the key. If you want to lose weight (and by “weight” again we’re really talking about fat), there must be a caloric deficit. This is a fact.
Always has been, always will be.
And please note that this isn’t me saying that nothing else matters besides calories. That’s not true at all and I’m definitely not saying that. PLENTY of other stuff matters. What I AM saying is that the deficit is always what matters most. Take that away and no fat will ever be lost regardless of everything else. On the other hand, put the deficit in place and completely screw up the rest and guess what? Fat will still be lost 100% of the time.
Yes, even if most of your daily calories come from:
The one thing each of these extreme examples have in common is the presence of a caloric deficit. And for that reason alone, fat was lost just fine in all three cases. (And no, I don’t actually recommend these “diets” or anything similar to them. They are however perfect examples of real world evidence that support my point.)
So what’s the best way to lose weight? By creating a caloric deficit. This is not an opinion, or a concept, or a method, or even just my personal favorite way. It’s the required way. If you still want to argue against it, feel free. Just understand that when you argue against a fact, you’re guaranteed to be wrong. That’s just how facts work.
Step 2: The Method
Now let’s move on to part 2 of determining the best way to lose weight. And that is by coming up with the best method of implementing our one required fact.
Or to put that another way, what’s the best way to create a caloric deficit?
There are really only three possible options…
- Diet: Eating Fewer Calories
So if you maintain your current weight eating 2500 calories per day (which is just a random example), eating 2000 calories per day would put you into a 500 calorie deficit (which is just a random example deficit) and cause weight loss to happen.
- Exercise: Burning More Calories Through Cardio And/Or Metabolic Training
So using this same example, if you eat 2500 calories per day but then burn an additional 500 calories through exercise such as cardio (e.g. steady state or HIIT) or metabolic training (which is essentially turning more strength-focused weight training into a form of high intensity cardio), that same 500 calorie deficit would exist and you would lose weight.
- Diet + Exercise: A Combination Of Both
Again using this same example, if you eat 250 fewer calories and burn 250 more calories, this same 500 calorie deficit would exist yet again, thus causing weight loss to occur.
So the question now is, which of these three methods is the best of them all?
Well, strictly in terms of fat loss and with all else being equal, a deficit is a deficit. So whether it’s created by eating less, burning more or a combination of the two, you’ll lose virtually the same amount of fat at virtually the same rate.
So then which method is best? Simple: whichever one best suits your personal needs and preferences, is most convenient, efficient and sustainable for you, and will make you most likely to consistently be in the required deficit you need to be in.
Meaning… how would you like go about creating your deficit? Which method would you prefer to use? Different people will give different answers, which is why you’re honestly the only person who can answer this question.
Here are my best attempts at helping you:
But wait, there’s more!
You may have noticed that I purposely went out of my way to name cardio and metabolic training as the types of exercise being used for the “exercise” method. That’s because in terms of exercising for the explicit purpose of burning calories and losing fat, cardio and metabolic training are the two most efficient choices.
There is however one other form of exercise I didn’t mention, and that is strength-focused weight training. You know, the kind of weight training you’d use primarily to gain muscle and/or increase strength rather than burn calories and create a deficit like these other two are much better suited for.
Now, sure, this style of training burns some calories as well which means it will certainly help a bit in that regard. But, it’s just not what it’s best used for in this context. Rather, this style of training is best used as a method of maintaining muscle and strength while losing fat (and in certain cases, building muscle while losing fat).
Remember our little weight vs fat clarification from before?
Well, in terms of losing weight, all forms of exercise are completely optional. Seriously. Your deficit can very easily be created through diet alone and not a second of cardio, metabolic training, strength training or anything else ever needs to be done at all. (Which, by the way, is a point I wish all of the “I want to lose weight so badly but I just don’t have any time to exercise” people would realize.)
But in terms of improving the composition of the weight being lost (fat or muscle), the cardio and/or metabolic stuff still remains completely optional (yes, seriously… and I personally rarely do any myself). HOWEVER, heavy, intelligent, strength-focused weight training now becomes a requirement.
Why? Because some form of heavy, intelligent, strength-focused weight training is what signals your body to preserve muscle mass in a deficit, thus helping to ensure the “weight” being lost is primarily body fat.
Now if all you care about is just losing weight, seeing the number on the scale go down, fitting into smaller clothes and being skinnier, you’ll be fine without it. If, however, you want to maintain whatever muscle and strength you currently have or potentially gain more muscle and strength while you lose this fat, or you simply want to look strong/lean/toned/muscular/other-similar-words instead of skinny/thin… then you will NOT be fine without it. For this purpose, heavy, intelligent, strength-focused weight training is required.
Additional details here: How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle
So what does all of this mean for the “method” portion of weight loss? It’s pretty simple.
Decide how you want to create your deficit. You can do it through diet, a typical calorie-burning form of exercise (e.g. cardio), or some combination of both. And make this decision based solely on your own personal preferences and needs because that’s really the only part of this decision that actually matters. Pick the most convenient, efficient and sustainable option for YOU.
Then, assuming you don’t want to lose muscle/strength while you’re in this deficit (or that you’d like to gain some while you’re in this deficit), combine that deficit method with the type of heavy, intelligent, strength-focused weight training needed to ensure this second goal is taken care of, too. (Superior Muscle Growth contains workouts that fit this description.)
If you care what I think, my default advice is to use your diet to cause fat loss (meaning set the deficit by eating a little less than you currently do), and use weight training to maintain (or increase) muscle and strength. Cardio and/or metabolic training are completely optional.
I prefer using them only if I ever reach a point where I’d rather start burning a little more rather than eating a little less. Which is rare as hell. But that’s just me. You should do whatever is best for you.
Step 3: The Approach
Okay, quick recap.
We know that losing weight requires a caloric deficit (the fact), and we know this deficit can come to exist via diet, exercise or a combination of both (the method).
The final part of this equation is the approach. As in, what type of diet and/or workout should you use to create this deficit?
Well, in terms of exercise, we kinda already just covered the majority of what you need to know. Additional details you might be seeking are covered here: What’s The Best Cardio Exercise?
What I really want to focus on now is how you should approach your diet. Because, in case you haven’t noticed, there are about 150 billion dietary methods out there aimed at allowing a person to lose weight. The only question is, which one is the best of them all?
In order to answer this, we need to come up with some kind of classification system to narrow things down a bit. And if you ask me, there’s really only one form of diet classification worth mentioning…
The Direct Deficit vs The Indirect Deficit
Basically, we can put every diet designed for weight loss into one of two groups:
- Diets built around directly creating a caloric deficit.
- Diets built around doing other things that indirectly cause you to create a calorie deficit (all typically while claiming/pretending/assuming it’s these other things that are making weight loss occur when in reality it’s still always the deficit these other things indirectly caused).
With all else being equal (e.g. adherence), every diet in the first group is guaranteed to work. Always. Every time.
The diets in the second group? With all else being equal, most of them CAN work. And many DO work. No doubt about that at all. The problem however is that in this case, it’s less of a guarantee and more of a lucky side effect.
What I mean is, the diets in Group 1 are all about figuring out how many calories you need to consume in order for your deficit to exist, and then simply putting everything else together with that calorie intake as the foundation of your diet.
The diets in Group 2 don’t do this. What they do instead is ignore calories while placing various rules and restrictions on the way that you eat (e.g. special foods/food groups you can eat, special foods/food groups you must avoid, special times you can eat, special times you must avoid eating, special combinations of foods must eat or avoid, and on and on and on), thus indirectly causing you to eat less… thus indirectly causing a deficit to exist.
So think of the low carb diet. Or the low fat diet. Or a diet that eliminates all sugar, or wheat, or grains or gluten or whatever else. Or the paleo diet, or a vegan diet, or a raw food diet, or an organic diet. Or a diet built around only eating “clean” foods. Or any diet that puts some non-calorie-based limit on when, how or what you can eat. Or 800 other similar examples.
These are all Group 2 diets. Can they cause weight loss? Sure. It happens all the time. However, it’s never because of any of the specific rules and restrictions they entail (even though they will all claim that it is). It’s always because those rules and restrictions indirectly caused you to eat less total calories, which caused the required deficit to exist.
Or at least… HOPEFULLY caused that deficit to exist.
And therein lies the problem (well, one of the problems) with all Group 2 diets. You’re doing stuff you don’t truly NEED to be doing for the purpose of causing the one and only thing you NEED to be doing. And those non-essential things are not always guaranteed to be enough to make it happen.
Meaning, regardless of what kind of rules/restrictions a diet employs, it’s always going to be possible for a person to out-eat them. So while limiting this, this and that should hypothetically make it harder for someone to eat more calories than they should be, it certainly doesn’t make it impossible.
Which is a fact many people on these types of diets unintentionally prove on a regular basis.
And that, combined with the fact that these various unnecessary rules and restrictions often force you to eat in a manner that doesn’t fit your personal preferences or just flat out annoys the crap out of you (thus often leading to problems with adherence and long term sustainability… more about that later), is the main difference between Group 1 diets and Group 2 diets.
Let me make this extra clear:
- If you want to do a bunch of unproven, gimmicky, fad-ish, non-evidence-based, non-science-based, sometimes unhealthy, largely-if-not-entirely-unnecessary things with your dietary approach for the purpose of maybe indirectly causing the one proven, non-gimmicky, non-fad-ish, evidence-based, science-based, healthy and necessary thing (a caloric deficit) to happen… then a Group 2 diet is perfect for you.
- If however you’d rather just directly set your calorie intake to an amount that causes fat loss to occur, and then get all of those calories from a good balance of protein, fat and carbs, and then get those nutrients from a variety of foods you truly enjoy eating, and then put it all together in whatever the hell way best suits your personal preferences and is completely free from all of the stupid rules and restrictions that make weight loss a lot harder than it needs to be… then a Group 1 diet is perfect for you.
I don’t know about you, but my vote goes to Group 1.
For the full step-by-step details on exactly how to set up a diet fitting this description, check out my free guide to doing just that: The Best Diet Plan
What’s The Best Way To Lose Weight… FAST!!
Alright, so now we’ve fully answered the first of our three questions. We learned the required fact, figured out a method for implementing that fact, and came up with an approach for implementing that method.
Which brings us to question #2, which tends to be the one everyone cares about the most: how do we do it all as FAST as possible?!?!
As in, how do you lose weight fast?
Well, the way I see it, there are really only three “options” to consider:
1. Silly Temporary Water Loss
So what’s the fastest way to lose weight? Simple. By losing something that ISN’T body fat.
The most common example is water. To quote myself from the beginning of this article…
This would be stuff like cleanses, detoxes, fasts and other similarly pointless garbage marketed as miracles to people who don’t understand the difference between fat loss and weight loss… in the hope that they’ll be so easily fooled by the fast initial decrease in body weight that takes place that they won’t actually notice there was no body fat lost… or that any weight (water) they do lose is instantly regained right after.
So sure, if you wanna waste some time doing silly (often unhealthy) nonsense that will make it temporarily appear as though “fast weight loss” has taken place, this is how it is done (and no, I definitely don’t recommend it… at all… even a little). You’ll basically just lose a bunch of water weight and then regain it soon after all while having no effect whatsoever on the body fat you’re actually trying to lose.
Then again, you can also cut off one of your legs and achieve a similar “fast weight loss” effect. Although, in this case, the results will be waaaay less temporary.
(Disclaimer: please don’t cut your fucking leg off.)
2. Unrealistic Expectations
Then we have what can best be described as the insane, unrealistic expectations people have about weight loss that exist primarily as a result of being lied to by the weight loss industry for the purpose of getting you to buy a bunch of useless crap.
You know… magic pills, powders, equipment, diets, workouts, programs or whatever else that will supposedly allow you to “get the six pack of your dreams in just 4 weeks!” Or “torch 30lbs of belly fat in just 1 month!” Or “melt away 20lbs of fat every week!”
And so on.
It all sounds nice. And it all panders to our universal desire for getting the fastest results possible. And it all does a pretty good job of convincing millions of people to buy a lot of shit that does nothing.
But unfortunately, it’s just not how weight loss actually works in the really real world. Or how it could ever come close to working outside of our unrealistic hopes and dreams.
3. The Size Of The Deficit
Now for the big secret behind legitimate fast weight loss.
Although honestly, this “big secret” isn’t a secret at all. It’s just common sense. And math.
Basically, if a caloric deficit is the sole cause of fat loss, the sole determinant of what makes it happen slower or faster is the size of that deficit.
- A larger deficit (let’s say 30% or more below maintenance) will cause faster weight loss.
- A smaller deficit (let’s say 10% or less below maintenance) will cause slower weight loss.
- A moderate deficit (let’s say 20% below maintenance) will cause weight loss to occur at a rate somewhere in between.
So if you maintain your current weight eating 3000 calories per day (just an example), ending up some degree below 3000 calories would put you into a deficit. As I explained before, you can do this by either eating less, burning more, or some combination of both. For the purpose of showing examples, I’m going to pretend it’s done by eating less.
So, if 3000 calories is some example person’s maintenance level, they could eat 2100 calories per day, 2700 calories per day, or 2400 calories per day… respectively.
What would the difference be between these 3 scenarios? Well, in terms of the speed at which weight loss takes place, the bigger deficit will cause the fastest weight loss. And vice-versa.
Now if this was the only factor worth considering, aiming for the largest deficit possible (something even bigger than the 30% example) would make all of the sense in the world, right?
Unfortunately, speed is NOT the only factor to consider here.
Health (both physical and mental… my breakdown of “starvation mode” covers some of the lovely effects of very low calorie diets), the potential for nutrient deficiencies, the potential for disordered eating habits to develop, the potential for food and body image issues to develop, strength, performance, recovery, muscle maintenance, hunger, mood, metabolic issues, etc. etc. etc. and just your overall ability to consistently stick to your diet in the short term and then sustain it in the long term are all factors that need to be taken into consideration as well.
And, generally speaking, while a larger deficit will always cause the fastest weight loss (good!), it’s also the most likely to be problematic in terms of these other factors (bad!). A smaller deficit is the opposite of this… the least problematic in this regard (yay!) but also the slowest rate of weight loss (boo!).
For this reason, a moderate deficit tends to be the sweet spot for most of the people, most of the time. You’ll get a lot of the good while avoiding a lot of the bad.
An additional factor that should also be taken into consideration is the amount of weight that needs to be lost. For example, someone with 100lbs to lose will be able to use a larger deficit with a much lower risk of any potential downsides (and the more fat you have to lose… the faster you can and arguably should lose it), whereas someone who is already lean and looking to get REALLY lean will often do best with a smaller deficit (and thus a slower rate of progress).
So exactly how realistically fast should you expect things to go? Typically between 0.5-2lbs lost per week in most cases (or potentially more in the case of someone with a very significant amount of fat to lose).
…And Keep It Off?
Okay, so by now you know how to lose weight, and you know the most relevant aspects of the “losing it fast” part.
Which brings us to the third and final question: what’s the best way to keep the weight off (permanently) after you lose it?
Ready to have your mind blown?
I’ve already answered this question throughout this article.
Almost… kinda… subliminally.
You know the answer to this question right now.
Think about it.
See it yet?
How about now?
Just in case you don’t, I’ll lay it out for you.
The best way to keep the weight off after you lose it is by losing it in a manner that is sustainable in the long term.
- No quick fixes.
- No silly gimmicks.
- No stupid fads.
- No bullshit products.
- No unrealistic expectations.
- No unnecessary rules.
- No annoying restrictions.
- No unhealthy methods.
- No excessively large deficits.
- No very low calorie diets.
- No extreme amounts of exercise.
- No forcing yourself to eat in a manner that goes against your personal dietary needs and preferences.
- Just… no.
Because while all of this sort of stuff certainly has the potential to cause weight loss to occur, research, common sense and an infinite amount of real world experience shows us that people are much more likely to regain the weight when it is initially lost in a manner fitting any or all of this description.
Why? Because THIS is the type of stuff that is LEAST sustainable in the long term.
Which means at best, trying to do so will make your life miserable while simultaneously making it much harder than it needs to be to keep the weight off after you have lost it. And at worst (and more commonly), you’ll just fail and eventually gain the weight back.
That’s a losing scenario either way.
So how do you avoid it? Simple. You avoid all of the unsustainable stuff in favor of things that make your results as sustainable as possible.
Because let’s face it, losing fat sucks. It’s not fun. Most of us would love to just sit around and eat whatever the hell we want whenever the hell we want with no regard for calories, macronutrients or the quality of that food. For proof of this, look no further than the fact that this is what most people actually do (and of course why most people are fatter than they want to be).
Which means, by default, doing anything besides this is always going to suck to some extent. To make it work, your goal is to make it suck the least amount possible. How do you do that? By approaching weight loss in a manner that is as efficient, convenient, preferable, enjoyable and sustainable for you as realistically possible.
Not only will this greatly increase the potential of your weight loss progress remaining permanent in the long term, but it will also greatly increase the potential of you successfully losing that weight in the first place.
And that, right there, is the winning scenario you want.