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Fat loss, not Weight loss is the Mantra

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

Eating is essential to life. Many of us look to eating as not only a necessity, but also as pleasure. Unfortunately, the reason we eat is increasingly becoming more about convenience and taste and less to do with sustenance. Moreover, our daily food choices are influenced by a variety of other factors including the social situations, celebrity endorsements, peer influence, our budget, sleep schedules, stress levels, as well as the amount of time we have to prepare and eat a meal.

Psychology of eating

Since food is necessary for survival, eating, especially when hungry, is inherently reinforcing and it gives us a sense of pleasure. Pleasure is an intrinsic motivator to repeat a process, which in turn reinforces the feeling. But, sadly pleasure has certain limitations. You need a bigger hit to derive the same amount of pleasure. This is why we continue to eat past the point of satiation and eat highly palatable foods. Our body drives us to overeat in an attempt to find pleasure. When our body gets in this pleasure-seeking mode, various hormones (Ghrelin, Endocannabinoids etc) are released that perpetuate these feelings. So, there are physiological changes happening in our body driving us to eat more.

But what does this all mean to our body and the physiological processes it carries out each day? The main objective of food is to supply our body with energy. This energy is measured in calories.

What is a Calorie – Think Energy not Calorie

A calorie is the amount of energy required to heat 1 litre of water 1 degree centigrade. Our body expends approximately 5 calories of energy to consume 1 litre of oxygen (~500 litres/day on avg). Calories derived from fat is not the same as other macromolecules like carbs or protein. Our body responds very differently to 100 calories from a cookie, for example, verses 100 calories from broccoli or 100 calories from butter. Nevertheless all our body cares about when it comes to food is energy. It doesn’t care much for where it is getting it from as long as there is enough supply of it.

As you can see, Fats are calorie dense, so our body tries to hold onto it whenever possible to save (for energy) it for a rainy day. Fats used to be our body's preferred energy system until modern diets took over and carbs became the primary source.

So what does all of this has to do with energy and Fat loss?

Our body is constantly burning calories every second of every day, whether we are sleeping, watching television, just lazing around or surfing the net or the very act of breathing itself. Our body requires a certain number of calories daily to maintain our bodily functions The term we use to keep our body going is called ‘Metabolism’, which is the chemical processes going on continuously inside our body that allows these activities to take place using the energy derived from the food we eat. So, metabolism is the process which enables the conversion of the food we eat into energy. We need a certain amount of energy just to survive. To keep our heart beating, brain ticking, blood flowing, lungs breathing, regulating body temperature etc. This is called ‘Base Metabolism’ and is measured by ‘Base Metabolic Rate’ or BMR, which is the estimated rate our body burns calories while resting.

* These numbers vary depending on the size, activity levels, hormones, age etc

So, if you take in more than 1800/2300 calories in a 24 hour period. You’re not going to be in a calorie deficit, and this will put you at risk of gaining fat, not losing it. Your body will store those excess calories that aren’t used for energy as body fat. On the flip side if you under-eat or over-burn then your body does not have enough resources to meet its base metabolic energy needs and it slows you metabolism to conserve energy. So it’s a fine balancing process indeed!

Please check out this blog on Thyroid Hormones to get a better understanding how metabolism works as it is super important in making any progress when it comes to Fat loss!!

Thermic effect

Our BMR rises after we eat because we use energy to eat, digest and metabolize the food we have just eaten. The rise occurs soon after we start eating, and peaks two to three hours later. This rise in the BMR can range between two percent (eating fats) and 30 percent (proteins), depending on the size of the meal and the types of foods eaten (significantly more for spicy food).

Time to dispel some Myths

What you eat doesn’t make you fat – Well not exactly

Fat and Carbs don’t make you fat, but they can be stored as fat. What determines if they are stored as fat is the energy needs of your body around the time those macronutrients are consumed. In general, when we are in caloric excess (i.e., we consume more than our energy needs of our body, to maintain its base metabolic functions at any given time), we will tend to store them as fat for later use. Whether carbs or fat will be stored as fat, depends on the content of your diet.

As an example, if you were to eat absolutely no carbs at all, yet consume so much fat that you were in a caloric excess, then you would store that fat as, ' fat'. The fat didn’t make you fat, your excess energy intake did. The same holds true if you were to eat a ridiculous amount of carbs and no fat at all. Those carbs would eventually be stored as fat, not because carbs are a fattening macronutrient, but because being in a caloric excess is literally fattening.

Fat’s not the enemy - Neither is Cholesterol (but that's for another blog)

Throughout evolution, humans and animals have evolved redundant mechanisms promoting the accumulation of fat during periods of feast to survive during periods of famine. However, what was an asset during evolution has become a liability in the current ‘obesogenic’ environment. Unlike Carbs and to some extent Proteins, we have virtually unlimited stores of fuel in the form of fats. The average lean man has about 15% of his body weight as fat, whereas the average lean women has about 25% of her body weight as fat. Depending on energy supply and demand, our fat cells can take up and store fat from the blood or release fat back to the blood.

You can lose almost 3 times more fat on ‘low-carb’ diet than on a ‘low-fat diet’

Control Insulin - Control Fat loss

The amount of glucose and insulin in our bloodstream depends on what (fats hardly spike insulin), when and how much we eat. Insulin is a hormone made by beta cells in the pancreas. Beta cells are very sensitive to the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. Normally beta cells check the blood's glucose level every few seconds and sense when they need to speed up or slow down the amount of insulin they're making and releasing. The concentration of glucose in our blood is critical and this is controlled by the amount of insulin, which decides if our body should be in a “fat-storing” or “fat-burning” state. So more glucose, then more insulin. More insulin then no Fat loss and if your energy needs are already met, then straight to fat storage.

Eating a wide range of whole foods including a good mix of complex carbs, complete proteins, healthy essential fats and keeping simple sugars to a minimum should complement your physical activity and achieving your end goal, which is FAT Loss! This sends a signal and encourages the body to turn to stored fat deposits for energy, muscle repair and normal cellular activity.

Exercise and Fat loss

When it comes to fat loss, its not just about calories in, it is also about calories out and when it comes to burning calories, exercise can make a lot of difference. Energy used during exercise is the only form of energy expenditure that we really have any control over. Our energy expenditure during a workout can increase significantly while and after the workouts. Exercise burns energy stored in glycogen (glucose storage) and fat, which helps your body regulate blood-sugar levels and overall energy metabolism. One way exercise can aid in fat loss is by increasing fatty acid transportation into the muscle and mitochondria for energy and it also increases the number of capillaries within the muscle itself to enable better oxygen availability.

Mix it up

For fat loss (and also for putting on muscle), confusing and challenging the body in different ways is crucial. You simply cannot train the same exact way day in and day out and then expect to see results. It just won’t work. Our body is really good at adapting and it builds a threshold after a while. To get the most of your workouts and elicit the best results a workout routine should include some form of metabolic training and if putting on muscle is also the end goal then Resistance/Strength training is a must.

EPOC - After Burn Effect

After exercise an individual burns more energy, which is primarily used for muscle cell recovery and glycogen replacement within the muscle. This is called ‘Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption’ (EPOC). The higher the intensity of a workout, greater the EPOC. More EPOC more energy consumption which leads to more fat loss if other conditions like energy deficit are met. EPOC is particularly elevated for a longer period of time after certain workouts like HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and Strength training. Remember BMR? Our resting BMR goes into overdrive after an intense workout. So, you are burning calories even while you are doing nothing and all it takes is 20 mins of an intense workout to reap the best of both the worlds and you get the best bang for your buck!

Intensity matters

What you put into your workouts is what you get out. The more stress you put upon your body (muscles in particular) the more energy your body will require, which means a higher chance for burning fat for fuel. Contrary to popular opinion, low intensity workouts like running, walking, yoga (except for running these are still good for a host of other reasons) etc rarely has a significant impact on fat burning. As pointed out above, when you workout for long durations and perform other low intensity workouts like running, jogging etc it hardly elicits any EPOC so there is pretty negligible fat loss (during and post workout). So if you are not hitting your VO2 max you are not putting a dent on your fat stores.

* Running – Unless you are training for a marathon or in a professional capacity, one can give this a miss (if you have access to a soft surface like sand/grass etc then few short runs a week should be fine) as the risks far outweigh potential benefits and if fat loss is your end goal, then it hardly puts a dent!!

Timing matters

When we eat and what we eat makes a ton of a difference when it comes to fat loss. Timing our meals is crucial if you want to make any noticeable changes not to mention it is the easiest way to conquer fat loss. If we understand the physiology of our body, then we know timing our meals around workouts and fasting stages of the day will increase fat loss. For example, we want a quick spike in insulin after a workout, so complex, slower digesting carbs at this time are not optimal. Working out on an empty stomach can deplete your glycogen stores faster, so you can hit your fat reserves sooner.


What we eat and how we exercise are significant contributors for fat loss but there is another key piece which is imperative for overall success. Sleep or rather the lack of sufficient sleep will most certainly play a spoil sport in your road to fat loss. It compromises the efficacy of typical dietary and physical interventions for fat loss and other related metabolic risk reduction. The neuroendocrine changes associated with sleep deprivation plays a huge role in hunger, appetite control, our ability to exercise etc. For instance, higher ghrelin (hunger hormone) concentrations may facilitate the retention of fat. Cortisol, which is a stress hormone spikes if we don’t get adequate sleep, which leads to muscle loss amongst other things and muscle is one of the most energy hungry tissues we have in our arsenal for fat loss. It also impairs glucose control.

Fat loss can be achieved through various methods. However taking shortcuts and looking for a quick fix is not the ideal way to go about. The faster the process (like most fad diets) the less healthy it is, not to mention most of the results is weight loss (water, which will be back in no time) and not fat loss! So other than serving as a psychological crutch, it doesn’t serve the objective. Diets only support a negative calorie intake for the short-term and hence are nothing more than a fad! Learn how to mobilize fat for energy in the long-term and how to make healthy eating and weight management a lifestyle change.

A health and well-being coach should have, a good knowledge of physiology, exercise science, nutrition and an ability to motivate his/her clients!!


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