Doing all the right things but still not losing fat? Maybe you got results in the beginning but nothing has changed lately. You’re feeling stuck and frustrated. Maybe even ready to give up.

Let’s delve into the basics of fat loss and how to make it work for you.

When your goal is to change body composition (often the body fat percentage) it’s important to focus on the quality of the weight more than just the quantity. Two people who are the same height can weigh exactly the same amount but look completely different. One has less fat and more muscle, while the other person has more fat and less muscle.

To look great for long term it’s crucial to focus your efforts into losing fat while trying to maintain as much of lean muscle as possible. Unless you are heavily overweight it’s not necessary to worry too much about the scale weight.

Fat loss can get complicated

At the most basic level losing fat is simple. For fat loss you have to eat less calories than your body uses, or “burns”. This is called calorie deficit. When your body doesn’t get all it’s required calories from food intake it will dig into the fat storages to get the needed energy to keep the body functioning.

Science tells us that 500 grams of fat equals 3500 calories. Following that thought of conventional wisdom it would be easy to assume that if you reduce your calorie intake by 500 calories per day you should lose roughly 500 grams of fat per week (7 days x 500 calories = 3500 calories = 500 grams of fat). Follow that for 12 weeks and you’ve lost six kilograms, right?

Not quite.

If the above would be true then a 85 kilogram man would weigh 10 kilograms in 2.9 years. Doesn’t make any sense does it?

Here’s where things get more complicated. Your metabolism is adaptive. When you eat less your metabolism will down regulate, meaning it will adapt to requiring less calories to function. In the evolutionary perspective this is great. Back in the day when there was less food available humans could adapt to have a better chance of survival.

But this fantastic system works against us in the modern world where the excess food is readily available. All we need is the energy to open the fridge door or dial our favourite restaurant and order a delivery.

So does this mean that you need to eat even less?

Yes, the hard physics still apply to fat loss: to lose weight you need to move more and/or eat less. But as mentioned before, the less you eat the more your metabolism will adapt to it. You cannot race it to the bottom and expect to keep your health and sanity. If the metabolism has to down regulate too much due to ultra-low calories it will focus all its efforts in only keeping the basic bodily functions going.

You can’t just go on a ultra-low calorie diet and expect to get sustainable fat loss results without sacrificing your long term health. A long term low calorie state will affect your immune system function, skin, nail and hair condition and other pressing aspect of your health.

It will also affect your hunger signals. You are more likely to crave foods, making the fat loss harder psychologically. This can lead to on/off mentality and binge eating, causing you to yo-yo with your fat loss results. A sure way to never achieve a sustainable fat loss.

To achieve a healthy, vibrant looking body the solution is not to go ultra low with calories. Rather just aim below of your current maintenance levels where your body stays the same.

Still struggling?

If you are currently struggling to lose fat (remember that losing fat and losing weight are two different things) maybe you need to slightly reduce your portions or increase your activity levels. Change only one thing, track your results to see whether it worked or not. Then adjust again. The goal is to get as much results as possible with as little change as possible.

This allows you to readjust again in the future when you plateau once the metabolism adapts. If you cut your calories drastically in the beginning you’ve got nowhere to go but down when your metabolism down regulates to adjust to the lower calorie intake. And it will adjust.

You want to lose weight but from the evolutionary perspective all the body cares about is survival. Your have to outsmart the body by being smart and patient about your approach to fat loss.

You can follow ICON’s fitness expert, Jono Castanoacero on instagram @jonocastanoacero