Being ready for fat loss isn’t as simple as wanting to lose fat. That might sound silly or confusing, but there are a ton of internal and external factors at play when it comes to deciphering if you’re ready to enter a fat loss phase and start cutting.
So what does fat loss entail?
Fat loss is all about energy balance: calories in, calories out. To lose fat, we must consume fewer calories than we expend. While that may sound simplistic (and the science behind it really is), fat loss can be extremely difficult to achieve if you’re not in an appropriate physical or mental space to safely and sustainably do so.
Key word: sustainability.
Crash diets might yield rapid weight loss, but that’s not our goal here. Slower, steadier fat loss is what we’re after, because the “quick fix” never sticks around. And in order to steadily lose fat and sustain the results, our bodies must first feel safe.
Let's work through a quick self-assessment:
I’ve never tracked my food intake before.
I can’t remember the last time I ate at maintenance for at least 3 months (maintenance = consuming as many calories as you expend per day - a number that is probably higher than you realize).
I don't even know what my ACTUAL maintenance calories are.
I’ve been under-eating for a prolonged period of time (i.e. less than 1,500 calories for a female, less than 2,000 calories for a male for 4 months or longer).
I am a yo-yo dieter/am a sucker for fad diets and have tried just about everything.
My relationship with food needs work (I suffer from food guilt, and think of certain foods as “good” and certain foods as “bad”).
I’m a “diet starts Monday” type of person, and treat the weekends as a free for all.
No matter how “clean” or how little I eat, or how hard and frequently workout, I don’t see results.
I am sleep deprived (regularly sleeping <7 hours per night) and/or consistently struggle with daily energy.
I’m always hangry.
I feel weak/my performance in the gym regularly suffers.
I am consistently stressed out.
Women only: I suffer from amenorrhea (absence of menstrual cycle).
Women only: I'm within 1 year of having given birth.
Women only: I'm currently breastfeeding.
Tough truth: you haven’t earned the right to cut.
If any of the above statements resonate with you, then you are not ready to engage in a fat loss phase…regardless of your current body composition. Period.
Why? Because our physiology wasn't designed to live under that level of chronic stress and your body will NOT be in a safe enough place to give you the results you want.
Because why would your body want to work with you if you’re constantly working against it? We CANNOT perpetually live in a deficit, bounce from diet to diet, operate under chronic stress, etc. and expect our bodies to favorably respond. Furthermore, we are also far less likely to sustain our balanced, healthy habits for the long haul if our relationship with food is in the gutter.
So then what?
Easy. Hit up a maintenance period for a bare minimum of 12 weeks. Not sure where to start? Lean our Nutrition Blueprint maintenance blueprint for detailed maintenance macro assignments.
Dial in your healthy habits (drink water, prioritize protein, eat vegetables, get plenty of sleep, etc.) and enjoy this period of time to improve yourself from the inside out. You may even be surprised by the body recomposition that often happens in maintenance. Consider it an excellent time to work on your relationship with food, and to revel in the positives of heightened gym performance, increased energy, and improved sleep!
Once you’ve spent a sufficient amount of time in maintenance, go back to the above list of “true/false” statements and re-evaluate your readiness for fat loss. If you’re still not ready - no sweat…continue on your maintenance path and be patient (it can takes MANY people a lot longer than 3 months to adjust and prepare for fat loss).
When you are ready to cut…
Place a time cap on your efforts, and start with a conservative deficit (make it easier on yourself and start with our Nutrition Blueprint recommendations). The goal is to eat as much as possible while still losing fat, so do not be in a hurry to take calories away Remember: progress is progress, even if it's slow to manifest.
Eating in a caloric deficit — for any period of time — is an inherent stressor on your body. So when we ARE eating in a deficit, we ideally place a 12 week limit on our efforts and periodize our cut with an equal or greater amount of time in maintenance before cutting again (regardless of how much fat we still need to lose once we’ve hit the 12 week mark) so that we may keep our metabolic and hormonal functions operating properly and SUSTAIN our results!