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How to Lose Body Fat (The Healthy Way)

How to Lose Body Fat (The Healthy Way)

By Kire Stojkovski M.D
Editor akhila Published 08 May 2023
Time to read 13 min

We’ve all been there. You embark on your weight loss goals completely gung-ho, then a few weeks later that initial motivation disappears. Weight loss journeys can be tough.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though…maintaining weight loss motivation is not only possible but it’s key to a healthy weight loss program. A sustainable plan includes healthy eating and physical activity as part of your weight loss efforts. Make it happen with these practical, and proven, strategies for weight loss success.

How to Lose Body Fat in 7 Weeks

We share three simple steps to encourage fat loss while staying healthy. These strategies can also aid with weight loss if you’re looking to drop pounds as well as flab:

  • Step 1. Balance Anaerobic and Aerobic Exercise

Exercise is 100 percent necessary if your goal is to cut down body fat.

Aerobic exercise is most effective, especially if you ramp up the intensity. High intensity training, or HIIT, can significantly boost fat loss [1]. This sort of aerobic exercise is also convenient in terms of time: less than 20 minutes will suffice since you’ll be pushing yourself to the maximum.

Although aerobic-style workouts are usually the go-to for fat burning and weight loss, you should also consider pursuing strength training.

Any anaerobic exercise that demands strength—e.g., machine-based resistance training or weight training with barbells—can help you shed fat while building muscle [2]. If lifting weights isn’t appealing to you, you can always perform resistance training using only your body weight.

  • Step 2. Overhaul Your Diet

Your calorie intake per day and what foods you get them from can make all the difference in successful fat burning.

Don’t Undereat

Severely limiting your calorie intake might be tempting to eliminate pesky fat—but it isn’t the best strategy. Ensure you’re consuming an appropriate number of calories for your age, weight, and activity levels. To lose weight, a calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 fewer calories per day should suffice for most [3].

For one, overly restrictive diets aren’t usually sustainable over time: you’re more likely to gain weight again. Next, eating too few calories long-term might promote fat burning but cost you lean muscle mass, which you don’t want [4].

Eat Fat to Lose Fat

Many people automatically steer clear of fat in the quest to lose weight. However, adding healthy fat to your diet can promote weight loss. That includes butter, unprocessed cheese, avocados, olive oil, and fatty fish like salmon.

For instance, the keto diet emphasizes consuming plenty of fat successfully decreases weight while preserving lean muscle [5]. Similar high-fat, low-carb diets boast other health advantages such as lowering blood pressure, heart disease risk, and blood sugar.

Increase Protein Intake

Although there’s some controversy surrounding high protein diets, there doesn’t appear to be harmful effects from getting most of your calories from this nutrient. One study found that men practicing strength training and consuming lots of protein benefited from less fat and better body composition overall [6].

One other way protein can help is by encouraging weight management over time. Research found protein can improve disease risk, satiety, and body composition. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, ensure you’re choosing protein-rich foods like lentils, tofu, and tempeh.

Eat Your Greens

Vegetables are one of the critical components of a healthy diet: unless you’re going full carnivore, you should try to adapt to eating greens. Increasing your consumption can aid both fat and weight loss [7].

Besides being lower in calories than other food groups, certain vegetables are high in protein, such as spinach and broccoli. They can also help lower blood sugar and blood pressure to mitigate your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular illnesses.

Fiber Is Your Friend

Upping your fiber intake each day can help control appetite and improve dietary adherence, especially if you’re restricting calories [8]. One study found that eating fiber may significantly limit the chance of weight and fat gain in women [9].

There are many high fiber foods you can pick from. Cereals (whole grains only), certain fruits such as berries, nuts, and seeds, and legumes are all fiber-rich.

Minimize Refined Carbs and Sugars

Processed foods are one of the ultimate foils if you’re trying to slim down, not to mention the adverse effects on blood sugar and overall disease risk. That doesn’t only refer to obvious culprits like soda and candy, either. Frozen meals, dressings and sauces, and even fruit juices can contain hidden sugars and carbs, not to mention extra calories that hinder fat loss.

You can make small substitutions to help adapt to eating more wholesome foods in the interest of fat loss. For example, whole grains are preferable to refined grains.

Cut Down on Alcohol

Despite claims that wine in moderation is a healthy choice, booze, in general, won’t help your quest to slim down—frequent drinking is linked to obesity and belly fat in particular [10]. Hangovers can also impact performance and recovery after high intensity training sessions [11].

If you must keep drinking, skip the many calories you don’t need by consuming a small amount (e.g., one drink a day) and avoiding sugary cocktails.

Take Probiotics

Multiple studies found that people with poor gut health are more prone to weight gain [12]. Although a good diet can help balance out the bacteria in your gut, one surefire strategy is to take probiotics.

Probiotics are proven to help with insulin sensitivity, which in turn can fight fat retention [13]. You may experience mild side gastrointestinal side effects when you first start a probiotic that should disappear with time.

  • Step 3: Examine Your Lifestyle and Overall Health

Successfully burning flab isn’t only about following a healthy diet and hitting the gym. Other factors people don’t generally associate with weight gain could be potential culprits.

Stay Well-Rested

If you’re not getting enough sleep regularly, this may be the culprit behind your stubborn belly fat. Multiple studies found that individuals who deal with insomnia are more prone to weight gain [14].

Practice good sleep hygiene by setting up a calming nighttime routine and avoiding napping during the day. You’ll also find you perform better during workouts and may have fewer cravings when you’re well-rested.

Reduce Stress

Occasional stress is one thing, but if you’re under high amounts of stress every day, it could be sabotaging your fat loss. Due to heightened cortisol levels, chronic stress is linked to weight gain, especially around the abdomen [15].

Seek to eliminate stressors when and where you can in your daily life. Set aside time for yourself to decompress each day, whether it’s a calming bath or a quick meditation session.

What Medical Conditions Make It Hard to Lose Fat?

If you’ve found that all your attempts to reduce body weight have failed, you might want to investigate with your doctor.

Certain diseases and medications encourage weight gain or make losing fat challenging, including but not limited to [16]:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Steroids
  • antidepressants

Remember: Don’t Go Overboard

It might be tempting to restrict calorie intake or overexercise to eliminate persistent flab, but you don’t want to get injured or compromise your health.

People need a certain amount of body fat for survival to maintain normal function—if you go too far losing weight, you’re risking health complications [17]. That includes making yourself more vulnerable to disease, experiencing lower energy levels, and reduced strength and stamina.

What is a Healthy Body Fat Percentage?

A healthy percentage depends on your gender, age, and activity levels. Between 17.6 to 25.3 percent is a healthy range for men, and from 28.8 to 35.7 percent is appropriate for women [18]. As we get older, body fat tends to increase slightly—and then decline after age 85 [19].

However, elite athletes, such as bodybuilders, can maintain under 10 percent of body fat [20]. Your ideal percentage number will depend on your activity levels and goals.

How to Calculate Body Fat Percentage?

The number you see on your scale consists of more than fat. Your total body weight includes:

  • Muscle mass
  • Water weight
  • Bones
  • Fat mass

Bear in mind that muscle weighs the same as fat, although it presents far differently since fat has a greater volume. Five pounds of muscle mass and five pounds of fat may look the same on the scale but appear vastly different on your body.

Similarly, you may be heavier than you look due to a higher bone density or excess water weight—standard scales won’t tell you much about your body composition.

Some medical devices and tests can show you how much body fat you have. Despite being highly accurate, these tests can be expensive. These include 3D scanning, hydrostatic weighing, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), and BOD POD.

One more accessible method of calculating body fat is using skinfold measurements, although the margin of error is higher than with other methods. This technique involves using a caliper, which is a clamp-like device, to take fat measurements on various parts of the body. Typically, you’ll use the skin caliper on your thighs, abdomen, chest, and arms.

You can ask a certified personal trainer to use calipers to calculate your body fat, as using the device by yourself may prove challenging if you’re not familiar with it.

Alternatively, you can measure the circumference of your neck, hips, and waist. Then, input the information into a body fat calculator like this one that uses the same formula as the US Navy. For greater accuracy, recruit a friend or relative to take your measurements.

What Exercises Help You Lose Body Fat?

Ideally, you should combine exercises that rev up your heart rate (aerobic) and resistance training. The idea is to maximize calories burned and ensure that you drop fat and not lean muscle.

  • Any form of high intensity interval training (HIIT) such as Tabata or Crossfit
  • Traditional cardio (cycling, running, elliptical machine, etc.)
  • Using resistance bands, weight machines, or dumbbells
  • Bodyweight exercises if you prefer not to use equipment (e.g., planks, pull-ups, etc.)

If you want to get serious about weight training, you may want to work alongside a personal trainer. If your end goal is amateur bodybuilding or competitive lifting, a personal trainer can guide you through creating a sustainable, effective routine and avoiding injury.

What Exercise Burns the Most Belly Fat?

Unfortunately, obsessively performing stomach-centric exercises won’t miraculously burn off belly fat—the type that most people struggle with [21]. High intensity exercises that burn more calories have the greatest success at getting rid of abdominal fat, particularly when combined with resistance training [22] [23].

Can Supplements Help You Lose Body Fat?

Supplements are no substitute for a balanced diet and a dedicated exercise regimen. However, certain ingredients can promote losing fat by kickstarting metabolism, controlling appetite, and heightening energy. They can also aid in preventing weight gain by making it easier to stay active and avoid succumbing to temptation.

How Fast Can You Lose Body Fat?

The best ways to burn fat the right way involve consistency and time. It might seem like a good idea to start strength training for hours every day and restrict calorie intake to eliminate persistent flab, but you don’t want to compromise your health.

Targeting your eating habits, exercise routine and addressing lifestyle factors should help you make noticeable changes within seven weeks. However, the exact speed at which you burn fat will depend on numerous factors, including:

  • Gender: Men tend to lose fat faster than women due to innate physiological differences [24].
  • Starting body composition: If you were overweight to start, you’d likely see dramatic changes more quickly than if you’re already fit with little fat on you.
  • Diet and exercise: Making drastic changes to your diet and exercise routine will yield faster results, although you should always prioritize your health and do so safely.
  • Supplements: Adding a supplement to your arsenal of fat-burning tactics may help you hit your goals faster and prevent weight gain too.

Losing too much fat within a short period may sound ideal, but it isn’t good for your health. One study found that slower weight loss resulted in improved body composition compared to rapid weight loss, as less muscle is lost [25].

How to Lose Body Fat Without Losing Muscle

It can be tricky to navigate how to maintain muscle when you’re striving for weight loss.

Your diet plays a sizable role: it’s essential to eat enough protein, which is vital for muscle mass [26]. Protein synthesis fuels growth and repairs damage from exercise, which means you need to ensure you’re eating at least 0.8 grams per kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of weight [27].

You can also ramp up the intensity of your workouts and ensure you continue to strength train. Adjust your calorie intake accordingly, though—even if you’re eating at a deficit, you need to eat enough to continue to build muscle if you’re more active. That applies double for those of you who are into serious strength training, since you’ll need more energy to fuel your workouts.

Don’t forget that cutting calories or overexercising may bring the numbers on the scale down but cost you your gains and strength. If you’re wary of losing hard-earned gains and uncomfortable doing it alone, you may want to consult a nutritionist or a personal trainer for professional guidance.

In a Nutshell

Fat burning is no easy feat, but it is achievable in time with patience and perseverance.

Remember that your body weight is not an indicator of your body fat percentage.

Although weight loss and fat loss share similar tactics, these goals are not mutually exclusive, especially if you’re wary of losing your gains. If you want to learn more about general weight loss tips, read this next.

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