Losing weight can be tough. No one’s denying that, but keeping it off can seem almost impossible?
How many times have you tried to lose weight and been reasonably successful, only to find the weight slowly creeps back on over the following months?
Well, today I’m going to talk about exactly why that happens and how you can finally keep that waistline exactly where you want it for the rest of your days.
Let me introduce ‘The Fat Loss Syntax’.
The syntax is a set of principles that need to be followed in order for individuals to see long term fat loss results.
This is the same system I’ve used with hundreds of successful fat loss clients.
Over there past 13-years, the one thing I’ve noticed when talking to people about their experience with keeping the weight off is those that were successful always ticked the boxes of each step of the fat loss syntax.
Those that hadn’t been successful (often yo-yo dieters), had missed at least few steps to the syntax.
Here’s what ‘The Fat Loss Syntax’ looks like:
The syntax contains five steps, with the most important being at the top.
Let’s run through each step in more detail.
Principle One: Sustainability
Sustainability is all about lifestyle.
When we talk about sustainability we are not only talking about nutritional choices, but we’re also talking about exercise, sleep and social factors to name a few.
Sustainability is the most important factor as the research is clear; if you cannot sustain the methods you used to lose weight, then the question is not “if” but “how fast” you’ll put back on the weight after you lose it.
The trouble is, what makes a diet sustainable to one person, may be very different to the next. This is often why following a one size approach fails for almost everyone.
It doesn’t take into account your lifestyle factors, your nutritional likes, your daily schedule.
Now I’m not saying that keeping the weight off is easy by any means, but if you have a diet and training plan that works in with your current likes and needs, it makes things a hell of a lot easier.
What I’ve found working with weight loss clients over the years is, it’s not when life is easy that people struggle with diet and training adherence. It’s when they find themselves under high levels of stress be it from work or other factors.
When we create a diet and training plan that works in with our wants and needs, adherence is so much higher in times of stress.
If you find yourself trying to stick to a diet plan that’s hard to follow when times are good, you’re all but setting yourself up for failure when times get bad.
Principle Two: Calorie Deficit
For those new to fat loss, a calorie deficit is simply a term used to show that our body is burning more energy than we are currently consuming though food.
The word calorie itself is a term used to describe energy found in food.
Without getting to “science-y” on you, for our body to lose body fat, we have to be in a calorie deficit. This is a cold hard fact.
Any diet that has worked for you in the past has simply found a way to elicit a calorie deficit. Let me explain.
Heard of a keto diet? It’s all the rage right now. The keto diet is essentially a high fat diet.
The way people have success on a keto diet is by consuming less energy than they require to maintain their body weight (calorie deficit).
Because fats are quite satiating (they fill us up), we tend to eat less food. Plus, if we find we can only eat higher fat foods, we typically avoid foods we would generally binge on, like breads, pastas, crisps and sweets. This also helps to keep our energy intake lower than usual.
End result is we put ourselves in a calorie deficit.
Same with Paleo. The Paleo diet is simply a diet that removes any foods that weren’t around in a Palaeolithic era.
This pretty much wipes out all processed foods (when done right). The removal of these processed foods means we typically eat more whole foods which are full of vitamins and minerals, and they in turn, keep us full.
Again, the end result is we find ourselves in a calorie deficit.
When we bring these two principles together of sustainability and a calorie deficit, we need to create a diet that we can follow long term, but also gives us a shot of staying in a calorie deficit.
This typically means replacing some processed foods with more filling whole foods like meat, vegetables, fruits and seafood.
Principle Three: Self Tracking
Self tacking or self monitoring is generally one of the principles not followed by those who have struggled to keep the weight off long term.
More often than not, when asked why they didn’t track what they were eating or how often they were training, the answer was something like “well that’s a little bit obsessive”.
This has always confused me.
Not that people think it’s obsessive, but more that people think it’s not necessary.
Imagine trying to save money for an overseas holiday.
Now imagine getting to the day of the trip and realising you have no money!
Now imagine me showing up to the gym and seeing your face and saying “what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be overseas?”
You’ll reply “yeah I actually didn’t save any money for it so I couldn’t go”.
I’d reply, “shouldn’t you have been tracking how much you were spending and saving so that didn’t happen?”
Here’s your reply….. wait for it…… “well that’s a little bit obsessive isn’t it”.
Yeah, that’s because it is.
There’s nothing stupid about tracking your food and calorie intake. After all, you’re trying to make a long term change here.
That requires new habits, and this is one of them.
Another objection to tracking is the fact that your friends will think you are weird.
Thats fine, if their opinion means more than your health, so be it, don’t change!
When we boil it down, the true reason we don’t track is because it’s often easier to put our head in the sand than admit what’s truely going on. (I know because I do it for other areas of my life like cleaning - just throw it in a room you don't look at).
This is why those that start tracking, often stop when they stop a diet. They don’t want something to remind them they’re no longer on track. They’d prefer to ignore it until all the weights come back.
I’m actually a big fan of individuals using the scale daily. Now although it’s not going to tell us the full story, it’s a good mental reminder to know that you’re in a fight here. You’re looking to change your body and that requires effort.
The best way to use the scale is check your weight daily, then average out those numbers at the end of the week to see if you’re making progress.
On a caveat, daily scale checking isn’t for everyone.
If you’re someone who is neurotic by nature, maybe it’s best to get a partner or friend to track your weight without you looking and then giving you the average number at the end of the week.
All in all, tracking is an incredible accountability tool as well as an excellent way for you to start to better understand the amount of energy in different types of foods.
Principle Four: Exercise
This is a principle people tend to stick at number one in their own personal fat loss syntax.
The truth is, exercise isn’t the greatest tool in terms of using it to burn energy.
The amount of work it takes to burn 300 calories on a treadmill compared to how easy it is to slip 300 calories of extra food into your diet doesn’t compare.
It’s more the hidden benefits that people don’t know about that makes exercise essential to any long term fat loss success.
Studies have show exercise sensitises the body to hunger signally.
Not only that it’s been shown that people who exercise regularly, naturally consume less food daily. That sounds like a win win result if you ask me. Not only do you burn energy during exercise, but you also eat less throughout thew day.
Can anyone say ‘calorie deficit’?
In my time working with people one on one, I’ve personally found that exercise is a great discipline teacher.
It teaches people to adhere to goals. It teaches people to think differently. It teaches people to prioritise health.
It’s all these small psychological factors that make exercise a must.
Now this doesn’t mean you need to be a freak in the gym, training every day of the week.
Again, as stated at the start, sustainability is key.
To a hard working executive, that may mean a bike ride to work two days a week with a weights session early Saturday morning.
To someone with more time on their hands, it may mean a few boxing classes in the morning followed by a number of weight training sessions at night.
The point is, you need to make exercise easy for your lifestyle.
If you’re reading this thinking “I honestly don’t have the time”.
In my experience, it’s never a time challenge, it’s a priority challenge.
Right now, there’s a good chance you are prioritising other unimportant activities ahead of exercise, or on the contrary, you’re extremely time poor, meaning you do not manage your time well.
The best way I’ve found to deal with this for client is to start tracking a few days on paper. Every 30-minutes, write down what you spent that 30-minutes doing.
Before you know it, you’ll realise that there’s at least two hours of wasted time (more like five) that could have been better spent fitting in some form of exercise.
Principle Five: Protein Intake
If you workout already, you’ll know protein is a word talked about a lot in the health and fitness industry.
Thats because it's highly effective at helping people build muscle and achieve fat loss goals.
Again without getting into the science, a plethora of studies have demonstrated increased weight/fat loss and energy expenditure with diets that are higher in protein.
This isn’t really unexpected given the thermic effect of food (TEF).
Protein has a thermic effect of about 20%-30%.
What this means is if you eat 100-calories of protein, about 20 - 30 calories of that 100-calories will be used in the digestion process. Compare this to 5% - 10% in carbohydrates and just 0% - 3% with fat.
This essentially means you get a 20% - 30% energy discount on high protein foods.
On top of that, protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients.
So along with your TEF discount, you also stay fuller for longer.
You know what that means….. calorie deficit.
But wait, there’s more.
Protein helps to repair and build muscle.
When we are in a calorie deficit, the body will preferentially pulls energy either from fat stores or converts muscle into energy (it’s more complicated than this but for the sake of this article just take my word).
If we consume adequate amounts of protein when we are in a calorie deficit, the body will tend to stay away from muscle mass and use our unwanted fat stores for energy.
This gives us a net win because we lose body fat, but more importantly retain muscle.
This is why people that go on diets that severely restrict calories often lose a lot of muscle mass leaving them in a horrible position of regaining the weight once they go back to consuming adequate amounts of calories (only now they have no muscle and a slower metabolism).
Foods high in protein are meats, seafood, eggs & dairy products.
So now after reading through the fat loss syntax, can you see why maybe you’ve had trouble keeping the weight off?
I hope this gives you more clarity around what’s needed for long term success moving forward.
Here's to your long term fat-loss success.