I was tempted to title this article “10 Dieting Variables That Don’t Matter.”
As much as my coaching philosophies center around making big complicated topics much more simple and easily digestible, this would have been a bit of an oversimplification.
Here’s the short and the long of dieting for the sake of fat loss:
There are a lot of variables to consider – what foods you eat, the number of meals you eat, the time it takes to cook your meals, the amount of carbs in each meal, etc.
This laundry list of variables to juggle and balance when beginning a diet is already pretty intimidating to read, much less to actually put into practice.
With all the dieting information (and misinformation!) out there, it can be difficult to know what’s important, when it’s important, how important it is, and what’s not important at all.
Have you ever heard the expression “can’t see the forest for the trees?”
It high lights the tendency to get lost in the details and lose sight of the bigger picture.
When it comes to dieting for fat loss, it’s all too easy to stress over the details while completely missing the mark. Oftentimes, the stress and confusion surrounding which diet is “best” even prevents us from making any real changes at all! This is a classic example of paralysis by analysis.
The following is a list of popular FAQ’s asked by people like yourself – trying to lose body fat, trying to gain muscle/strength, and having a difficult time seeing any measurable results. Perhaps you’ve actually Googled some of these exact questions in an attempt to “get it right” with your fitness goals, too.
(I should note that it’s not your fault. It’s not your fault if you’ve spent hours and hours researching these types of questions. In a world where everyone is trying to sell you something, how should you know who/what to trust? Now is the time to set the record straight!)
As I mentioned in the opening lines, it’s tempting to say that these variables don’t matter at all – while they may not directly determine your ability to lose body fat, they can absolutely be manipulated to make dieting easier, faster, and more sustainable than ever.
Keep reading to see what I mean!
10 Fat Loss Questions That Miss The Point
1. “How many meals should I eat each day?”
The number of meals you eat has no direct bearing on your fat loss. Instead, eat however many meals helps you to feel the most full and satisfied throughout the day. You can even adjust the size of your meals to meet your varying hunger needs from breakfast through dinner.
2. “What time should I stop eating at night?”
Your body doesn’t know the difference between calories eaten at 6 am versus the same amount of calories eaten at 10 pm. Instead, take notice of your sleep quality relative to the timing of your last meal. Do you feel best going to bed on a stuffed stomach? Do you feel best when it’s been a few hours between dinner and bed time?
3. “Do I need to remove carbs from my diet?”
Removing carbs completely (or drastically reducing them) will not cause bigger, faster, or “better” fat loss than eating your preferred amount of carbs. Carbs are necessary for brain and muscular function, and extremely low carb diets are not superior to higher carb diets for fat loss.
4. “How many carbs should I eat?”
This is completely dependent on your energy needs throughout the day, specifically around your workouts. There is no set number of recommended carbs for any one person, much less people as a whole. Most people will feel best getting between 20-60% of their daily calories from carbs. Consider your level of activity and the type of activity you engage in – do you need lots of immediate energy for these?
5. “Do I need to try Intermittent Fasting?”
There are no meaningful benefits inherent to intermittent fasting (IF). Shortening the window of time during which you eat your daily calories has no direct bearing on fat loss. Training in a fasted state (i.e. fasted cardio) is equally non-superior. If you’re struggling with hunger while dieting, you can use IF to manipulate to shorten your “feeding window” to eat fewer, larger meals or meals that are closer together time-wise in order to feel more satiated during the day.
6. “Do I have to count calories?”
As the popular fitness saying goes, “You don’t have to count calories, but all calories count.” If you’ve been “dieting” for years without losing any meaningful amount of body fat, it might be time to pay closer attention to the number of calories you eat on a typical basis. However, the more common situation is that you may have been told that you need to count calories and track your macros in order to lose body fat – these tools can make it easier/faster, but they are not inherently necessary.
7. “Is it worth buying gluten-free foods?“
Gluten-free foods are not any more or less helpful for fat loss – they simply don’t contain gluten. Many food/beverage items that are now being labeled as gluten-free would not normally contain gluten as an ingredient anyway – they are simply certifying that there is not trace gluten from surrounding food productions. For those with gluten sensitivities and allergies, this marketing can be helpful, but gluten-free bread, pasta, vegetables, and even water is not more beneficial for losing body fat.
8. “What about Whole30?”
Whole30 is a diet program designed to help isolate and expose food allergies and sensitivities by eliminating the most common sources of food allergies and slowly reintroducing them one at a time. Many people whole follow the Whole30 diet will report weight/fat loss, but this is due to the likelihood that their total average calorie intake was reduced from their prior diet structure. This diet is not designed to specifically create fat loss, and is not physiologically superior in creating this either.
9. “What is the best macros ratio?”
Creating a specific ratio between your proteins, carbs, and fats can make dieting for fat loss easier and more enjoyable to follow, but will not lead to higher levels of fat loss. Therefore, there is no “best” or “perfect” macros ratio for losing body fat. For maintaining muscle mass and proper hormonal function, there are rough guidelines that can protect against deficiencies, but these are largely unrelated to fat loss compared to total daily calories.
10. “What is the best exercise for fat loss?”
Exercise burns calories, which can help create a bigger calorie deficit between the number of calories eaten and the number of calories expended. There is not any one “best” exercise for fat loss, especially since body fat cannot be spot-reduced (i.e. doing crunches for reducing belly fat). Intentional exercise also accounts for a relatively small percentage of total daily calories expended for most people, so this would not be the “best” place to start for creating a deficit either.
At it’s core, this list is an attack against the dogmatic “musts” and “must nots” that get perpetuated surrounding dieting culture.
In reality, there are very few things you “must” do (only 1!), and perhaps even fewer things you “must not” do when it comes to losing body fat.
There’s actually only one rule that your body follows for fat loss:
In order to lose body fat, you must be in a negative energy balance. This means that your calorie intake must be lower than your calorie output – you can also think of it as your calorie output being higher than your calorie intake. There are many ways and helpful tools to help achieve this, but it ultimately comes down to the calories you are consuming versus the calories you are expending.
Not the timing of those calories, not the types of those calories, not how many meals it takes to eat those calories, etc.
Let’s keep it simple and take the time to see the forest as a whole!