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The Truth About Losing Fat and Getting in Shape

author image John Berardi, Ph.D.
John Berardi is a nutrition coach and exercise physiologist. He also serves as a performance consultant for Nike and as an adjunct instructor at Eastern Michigan University and the University of Texas. Berardi received his Ph.D. in exercise physiology and nutrient biochemistry at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.
The Truth About Losing Fat and Getting in Shape
Information alone won't help you get lean. Photo Credit: Ridofranz/iStock/GettyImages

Most fat-loss plans help you control your food choices and energy intake. Plus, they get you moving. But there's one thing many of them ignore. And that's what separates people who have success and those that don't. It's your daily habits.

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But before we get to that, let's first go over what a good fat-loss program looks like.

The 5 Rules of Fat Loss

Successful fat loss plans have a few things in common. Five, actually. You probably already know what they are, but let’s refresh just in case.

1. Don’t eat so much.

If you’re eating a typical diet, you’re probably eating a bit too much food to lose fat. When the food you eat isn’t used for energy or re-building, it gets stored as fat. Simple stuff, but it’s often overlooked. That’s because most of us have no idea how much food we really eat.

Here’s a simple way to do that: Start using LIVESTRONG.COM's free food tracking app, MyPlate, or grab a notebook and write down everything you eat for the next three days. After three days of tracking your food, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how much food you normally eat.

Then all you have to do is replace empty-calorie foods with calorie-dense foods. Or just trim back your portions a little. Voila! Same amount of food, instant calorie-reduction, no stress.

Eat more greens!
Eat more greens! Photo Credit: Sarsmis/iStock/GettyImages

2. Eat the right amount of healthy food.

Depending on who you ask, “healthy” food can mean different things. But there's one universal truth: More nutrients with fewer calories is a recipe for success.

In general, the best foods are lean meats, vegetables, high-quality fats and maybe a small amount of starches, depending on your carbohydrate tolerance. The best part about these foods? They’re also fairly low in calories compared to processed stuff.

But how much should you be eating? That's why portion control is important. You don't need a food scale or measuring cups; all you need is your hand! Here's a simple guide. In general, each meal should feature:

  • 1 cupped handful of carbohydrates
  • 1 palm-sized serving of protein
  • 1 thumb-sized serving of healthy fat
  • 1 fistful of vegetables

NOTE: Men will likely need to double this portion size in order to meet their daily caloric requirements.

But what’s all that look like on a plate? Just check out this helpful graphic:

Here's what a typical meal should look like.
Here's what a typical meal should look like. Photo Credit: John Berardi/Precision Nutrition

3. Move more often.

Many people think the only way to lose weight is to work out for two or more hours a day. Fortunately, this isn't true. You can see some remarkable fat-loss progress by simply moving more often.

Taking the stairs, going for a morning bike ride or walking to lunch instead of driving may seem like small steps, but they make a big impact on how your body feels and how many calories you burn. Of course, this isn’t all you need to become a cover model, but it does kick-start the fat-loss process. It also supports rules number four and five.

4. Strength train a few times per week.

To look and feel better and speed up the rate of fat loss, you need to do muscle-building exercises like weight-training or bodyweight workouts. They don’t need to be too intense, and they certainly don’t have to take a long time.

The best thing you can do is start slowly and visit the gym two or three times a week. Perform a small circuit of full-body exercises like squats, lunges, rows and presses. It all takes about 45 minutes.

A word of caution: Working out is something most people overthink. The truth is, you don’t need a perfect program to start the process. All you need is something that gets you in the gym a few times a week and has you lifting weights or doing some sort of challenging body-weight exercises. Adding complexity can come later.

Read more: How to Get Started With Weightlifting

5. Do interval cardio.

If strength training was your muscle-building exercise, intervals are your calorie-burning activity. Doing short bursts of work followed by longer periods of recovery helps your body burn a tremendous amount of calories.

To start, all you have to do is get on an exercise bike, treadmill, or other cardio equipment and try the following:

  • 30 second burst of fast pedaling or running
  • 60 second recovery of slow pedaling or jogging

That’s one round. Go back and forth between the “intense burst” and “recovery” and repeat that for a total of six rounds. And that’s it!

Don't try to change too much at once.
Don't try to change too much at once. Photo Credit: jacoblund/iStock/GettyImages

The Wrong Way to Lose Fat

Typically, this is where most articles would stop and send you on your way. Unfortunately, that information alone won’t help you. Knowing how to lose fat is different from actually doing it.

It’s all about your daily practices. Your behavior. Your habits. What you do every day. The decisions you make — both consciously and unconsciously. But how do you change a habit?

Most people struggle to lose fat because they try to do too much at once. People take an "all or nothing" approach to their body: They remove all unhealthy foods, go full throttle on exercise and even try to remove bad habits like not getting enough sleep. After a couple of weeks, those good habits are replaced by withdrawal, frustration and a belief that you’ll never be able to look the way you want.

Trying to do too much at once — trying to adopt and change 20+ new habits from the start — never works. A better approach consists of doing one habit at a time. Mastering it, and then making progress. And by using that approach, you can lose fat faster than ever and get in the best shape of your life.

Read more: The Top 3 Fat-Loss Mistakes

The Right Way to Lose Fat

Alone, these small changes may not look like they’d make much of a difference. But add them on top of one another, practiced daily for a full year, and the results become mind-blowing.

Here are just a few examples of these kinds of healthy habits:

  • Take fish oil and a multivitamin.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Work out at least three days per week.
  • Stop eating at 80% full.
  • Eat fewer carbs.
  • Eat veggies and protein with every meal.
  • Do 20 minutes of de-stressing.

Simply pick one habit — maybe start with one of the ones above — and practice it every day for two weeks. Don’t worry about trying to follow anything else. Just focus on your habit. And after two weeks, pick one more habit to try.

It may seem simple — and it is. But research shows that simple is the only way to achieve long-term, sustainable results. And the results do speak for themselves.

Read more: One Simple Change That Will Maximize Fat Loss

Want to Learn More?

If you’d like to learn more about losing fat and feeling better, here's something you need to see. We've created two free 5-day video courses that show you how to get control of your eating and your health.

To get started, simply click one of the links below:

What Do YOU Think?

Are you trying to lose fat right now? What does your fat-loss plan look like? Do you follow the five rules of fat loss? What healthy habits are you trying to implement right now? Are there any others that you're trying to work on? Share your thoughts, suggestions and questions in the comments below!

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