There’s a million reasons why people fail to lose fat, but somewhere at the top of that list is just a fundamental lack of understanding of the scientifically proven principles of how to lose fat.
To show you exactly what I mean, let’s start this off with a list of things that DON’T cause fat loss.
Things That DO NOT Cause Fat Loss:
- Eating healthy.
- Eating “clean.”
- Eating less carbs.
- Eating less fat.
- Eating less junk food.
- Eating less sugar.
- Eating 6 smaller meals per day/every 3 hours.
- Eating “good” foods instead of “bad” foods.
- Not eating after 7pm.
- Weight training.
- Building muscle and/or getting stronger.
- And MUCH more.
These are all things that can definitely HELP a person lose fat and can definitely assist in the overall fat loss process. But, in and of themselves, not a single thing on that list actually causes fat to be lost.
They never have, and they never will. In fact, not a single one of these things actually needs to be done. You can do the complete opposite of every item on that list and still lose fat just fine so long as one specific thing IS being done.
So, what is this “thing?” What actually causes fat loss? Let’s find out…
How To Lose Fat: The One Absolute Requirement
Simply put… a caloric deficit. That is the scientifically proven “secret” to losing fat. It literally can’t happen any other way.
So just what is a caloric deficit? It’s what happens when you burn more calories than you consume (or consume less calories than you burn… just another way of saying the same thing).
Basically, every single person has a unique calorie maintenance level. This is the amount of calories that your body requires each day to burn for energy to perform all of the tasks it needs to perform. From intense exercise like cardio and weight training, to simple daily tasks like brushing your teeth and getting dressed, to the various physiological functions needed to keep you alive (like digesting and breathing).
Calories are what our bodies use for energy to do all of these things, and we provide these calories via the foods we eat. As a result, 3 things can happen…
The 3 Calorie Intake Scenarios
- If we consume the SAME number of calories that our bodies need to burn each day, we will be at our maintenance level. Our weight will be maintained because all of the calories we needed were provided. No more, no less.
- If we exceed this amount and therefore consume MORE calories than our bodies need, all of the left over calories that weren’t burned will then be stored on our body in some form for later use. And guess what form it’s most often stored in? Yup… body fat! This is known as a caloric surplus, and it is the one and only cause of fat gain.
- But what we’re interested in is the opposite of this… a caloric deficit. This is what happens when we consume LESS than our maintenance level amount. What happens then is that our bodies are forced to find some other source of energy to burn instead. And guess what that source most often is? Yup… your own stored body fat! And this is the one and only cause of fat loss.
So if you maintain your current weight eating 2500 calories per day (just an example), you will gain weight (mostly in the form of body fat) if you consumed 3000 calories per day. However, you would lose weight (mostly in the form of body fat) if you consumed 2000 calories per day.
This all remains true regardless of what the source of those calories are (carbs, fat, protein, healthy, unhealthy, clean, dirty, processed, unprocessed… whatever) or when/how they were consumed (after 7pm, in 3 large meals, in 6 small meals, every 2 hours, every 5 hours, whatever).
Exercise Can Play A Role, Too
See how it works? These are the proven fundamentals of how to lose fat, and that was a simple example of how to create the required caloric deficit via your diet alone (by eating less calories). I mention this because that same deficit could have also been created via exercise (by burning more calories).
Meaning, you could have still eaten 2500 calories for the day in the previous example, but then burned an additional 500 through exercise thus creating the same caloric deficit. Both scenarios would effectively cause fat loss, as would a third scenario where you did a combination of both (diet AND exercise).
But no matter which way you choose to do it, one absolute requirement ALWAYS stands. In order to lose fat, you MUST create a caloric deficit. Nothing else works.
But Then How Do Other Fat Loss Diets Work?
This is the point when various stubborn, misinformed or just annoyingly stupid people like to mention that other diets cause people to lose fat all the time, and those diets have nothing to do with creating a caloric deficit.
I mean, people lose fat on low carb diets, low fat diets, paleo diets, vegan diets, raw food diets, diets that involve eating “clean” instead of “dirty” or not eating after a certain time at night, and countless other types of diets that involve every gimmick, fad and method you can think of except the specific task of creating a caloric deficit. But yet, they have all caused people to successfully lose fat.
What the hell? How can that be? If the only requirement for fat loss is a caloric deficit, and all of these diets have nothing to do with a caloric deficit, then how do they work? Obviously I must be wrong about all this calorie stuff, right?
You see, all of these diets and methods just indirectly cause you to create that caloric deficit.
What I mean is, any diet that actually causes you to lose fat did so because it caused you to create a caloric deficit. That’s a fact. There is literally NOTHING else that could possibly make it happen. This is the most basic proven science of the human body. Calories in vs calories out (aka the law of thermodynamics) is ALWAYS the basis for fat loss (or gain).
These diets and methods might never come right out and admit that or say you just need to eat less calories (partly because it doesn’t fit with their gimmick, partly because people don’t want to hear that they have to [GASP!] count calories or [GASP!] eat less of them, and partly because it’s hard to make money off of something that is simple, obvious and free.)
BUT every successful fat loss diet makes you do it anyway. How? By getting you to do things that just so happen to restrict or reduce your calorie intake. For example…
- Eating less carbs means you’re eating less calories.
- Eating less fat means you’re eating less calories.
- Eating less “dirty” junk food means you’re eating less calories.
- Eating less processed foods means you’re eating less calories.
- Eating less grains means you’re eating less calories.
- Not eating after 7pm causes you to eat less calories.
- A raw food diet, vegan diet, paleo diet or any remotely similar diet eliminates many of the foods you were regularly eating, which means you’re now eating less calories.
Noticing a trend? In every single case, less calories end up being eaten. And like magic, it causes you to lose fat. But what some people incorrectly think is that it was the reduction in carbs, or fat, or grains, or sugar, or junk food, or processed food, or not eating after 7pm or whatever else that made it happen.
It was the reduction in calories that indirectly came as a result of all of these other things. Sure, these “things” are what caused the deficit to be created, but the deficit itself is what actually caused you to lose fat.
And that’s how various fat loss diets/methods work despite not directly making you eat less calories. They just get you to do things that make you eat less calories anyway.
There’s A Ton Of Ways To Create Your Deficit… Pick Your Favorite
Now, if you want to create your caloric deficit by using any of these diets and methods, that is perfectly fine by me. If any of these or other manners of eating appeal to you for whatever reason, then I’m all for you using it to reach your fat loss goals.
But if you’d rather just directly create your ideal caloric deficit and then get the calories you do consume from a nice balance of protein, fat and carbs comprised solely of foods you actually enjoy eating in a format that is actually convenient and preferable for you, then that’s fine by me too.
In fact, it’s what I personally do and most often recommend. I explain exactly how to do it (for FREE) right here: The Best Diet Plan
The point I’m making however is that in every single case with every other diet or method, the reason it works is simply because a caloric deficit was present. And if it didn’t work, then it’s simply because a caloric deficit wasn’t present.
There is no other magic or voodoo involved in the actual cause (or lack thereof) of fat loss. It always comes down to calories in vs calories out.
But wait, what’s that? You think I’m lying? You think I’m making this all up? You think this is just my opinion or gimmick?
If for whatever reason you still aren’t convinced that what I’m saying is true and accurate (likely as a result of years of nutritional brainwashing), then allow me to present some additional proof.
Still Don’t Believe Me? Here’s Some Proof…
There is such an overwhelming (and seemingly infinite) amount of legitimate evidence showing that everything I’ve explained thus far is 100% true and accurate that I honestly don’t even know where to begin.
So, here now is just a SUPER TINY sample of some of the MANY examples that come to mind…
- Metabolic and behavioral effects of a high-sucrose diet during weight loss.
This study took 2 groups of women and put them on similar hypocaloric diets (meaning below maintenance level so that a caloric deficit was present). The only difference between the diets of the two groups is that 43% of one group’s daily calorie intake came from sucrose (aka table sugar), while just 4% of the other group’s daily calorie intake came from sucrose. Guess what happened? Despite one group eating a VERY high sugar diet and the other group eating a VERY low sugar diet, they both lost equal amounts of weight and body fat. Why? Because it’s NOT the source of your calories that causes fat loss, it’s the presence of a caloric deficit.
- Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss […]
This study took 16 overweight men and women and split them into 2 groups. They then had each person in each group create the same sized caloric deficit and then consume that same calorie intake every day for 8 weeks. HOWEVER, they had one group eat 3 meals a day, and the other group eat 6 meals a day. Guess what happened? They all lost the same amount of weight. In fact, the study showed that there was no difference at all in fat loss, appetite control, or anything similar. Why? Because meal frequency doesn’t affect your ability to lose fat or gain fat. Calories do.
- Comparison of isocaloric very low carbohydrate/high saturated fat and high carbohydrate […]
This study took 83 subjects, estimated the daily calorie requirements of each person (aka their maintenance levels), and then created a caloric deficit of 30%. They then divided them up into 3 groups. The first had only 4% of their total daily calorie intake coming from carbs. The second had 50% of their total calorie intake coming from carbs. The third had 70% of their total calorie intake coming from carbs. Guess what happened? Even though some people were eating a VERY LOW carb diet and others were eating a VERY HIGH carb diet… they all lost the same amount of weight and body fat. Why? Because low carb or high carb isn’t what makes us gain or lose fat. Calories are, regardless of how many of them come from carbs.
- Similar weight loss with low-energy food combining or balanced diets.
This study divided 54 obese patients up into 2 groups, both of which were put on lower calorie diets (meaning a caloric deficit was present) and fed similar percentages of protein, fat and carbs. HOWEVER, one group was given a more balanced diet comprised of meals that contained protein, fat and carbs, while the second group had their carb and fat calories separated so they were not eaten together in the same meal. Guess what happened? They all lost the same amount of weight and body fat. Why? Because the manner in which you combine foods, organize your meals and consume your daily calories isn’t what causes fat loss. A caloric deficit is.
- Fat loss depends on energy deficit only, independently of the method for weight loss.
This study divided its subjects up into 2 groups, and had them both create the same sized caloric deficit. HOWEVER, the difference between them was the manner in which this deficit was created. One group did it by eating less total calories (diet alone), but the other group did it by eating less total calories AND burning more calories by doing cardio (a combination of diet AND exercise). But again, the total weekly caloric deficit was the same for both groups. Guess what happened? They all lost the same amount of weight and body fat. Why? Because a deficit of X calories is a deficit of X calories regardless of whether you burned those calories off via cardio or just didn’t eat them in the first place. Fat loss isn’t about how you create the deficit, it’s just about the deficit itself.
- The Twinkie Diet
You know what? This one is so F-ing fantastic that a quick bullet point just doesn’t do it justice. So…
The Twinkie Diet
And finally, here’s the holy grail of proof for anyone that’s still even remotely skeptical that this whole calorie thing (and by “thing” I mean scientifically proven fact) truly is the singular answer to the almighty “how to lose fat” question.
In 2010, Mark Haub (who is a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University) wanted to prove the very same thing I’ve been explaining: that fat loss and fat gain always happen as a result of calories in vs calories out, and that a caloric deficit will ALWAYS cause a person to lose fat no matter what food sources those calories come from.
To do this, Mark took things to a very extreme point-making level that I would never actually recommend, but absolutely love for the purpose of proving that calories are what matter most.
Specifically, Mark went on a 10-week diet comprised primarily of snack foods. Twinkies, Little Debbie cakes, Doritos, Oreos, sugary cereals like Corn Pops and other equally crappy foods that are all highly processed, lacking in nutritional value, loaded with sugar and “bad” carbs, high in “bad” fat, contain trans fat, and possess other similar traits that are common among typical “junk food.”
But, he also created a caloric deficit.
He went from eating 2600 calories per day (his estimated maintenance level) to eating about 1800 calories per day instead. He just so happened to get the majority of those 1800 daily calories from the most junky foods you can think of.
The purpose? To prove that despite his daily diet being loaded with sugar-filled garbage and junk food, he’d still lose fat just fine because a caloric deficit was present.
The result? He lost 27lbs in 2 months and reduced his body fat percentage from 33.4% to 24.9% (source).
The conclusion? A caloric deficit is the sole cause of fat loss. Even if those calories come from the shittiest sources known to mankind, fat will STILL be lost. It’s not the source or the quality of those foods and the calories they provide… it’s the total quantity of it all. (Additional details here: Is Sugar Bad For You? How Much Should You Eat A Day?)
The Opposite Is True, Too
And even though Mark didn’t do a reverse version of this “experiment,” the opposite would be true, too. Meaning, creating a caloric surplus, regardless of the content of those calories, will ALWAYS cause those excess calories to be stored on your body in some form (most often as body fat).
This is equally true whether those calories come from only the healthiest, “cleanest,” most natural and nutritious foods on the planet, or the same type of junky garbage eaten in Mark’s experiment. What matters is the caloric surplus itself, not the form or manner in which that surplus was provided.
Or, to put it another way, eating too many “healthy” and “clean” foods will make you fat just the same as eating too many “unhealthy” and “dirty” foods will. It’s always the “eating too much” part that causes this to happen, not the specific foods that were or were not eaten.
The Example Is Extreme, But Understand Its Point
Yes, what Mark did is a CRAZY extreme example, and NO, I’d never recommend anyone try to actually eat like that. I’m all about getting a sufficient amount of protein, fat and carbs primarily from higher quality, natural, nutrient-dense foods you enjoy, and keeping the typical junkier foods to a sane yet enjoyable and sustainable minimum.
What I want you to do however is look at this example for what it is… clear undeniable proof that fat loss occurs strictly as a result of eating less total calories.
It doesn’t happen as a result of what you eat, when you eat or how you eat. It happens solely as a result of HOW MUCH you eat. And if a dude losing fat while practically eating nothing but Twinkies and Oreos still doesn’t prove this to you… then you are a lost cause.
Feel free to get together with the others who are just like you (of which there are unfortunately and pathetically plenty), and continue to dispense your horrendously bad diet and exercise advice together while quoting various inaccurate sources of information.
Summing Up Fat Loss
So, for anyone who wanted to know how to lose fat… here’s how. Create a caloric deficit. That is ALL that EVER works.
Yes, there are a million other factors and components of your diet and workout that play important roles in successfully, permanently and efficiently getting you to lose fat (while also maintaining lean muscle mass and being healthy), and a million ways to go about creating that deficit in a way that is as easy, enjoyable and sustainable for you as possible.
Once again, I fully explain how to do all of that right here: The Best Diet Plan
However, the big point I’m getting at is that ALL OF IT is completely irrelevant and useless to your goal of losing fat in the absence of that required caloric deficit.
Anyone who disagrees or claims otherwise is often either wrong or just trying to sell you something that is definitely NOT worth buying. In other words, they should be ignored completely 100% of the time.
Oh… and mocked, too.
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