There has been a big push in recent years to focus on the impact of body fat, rather than overall weight. Body Mass Index (BMI) is losing its value as a measure of health and it’s becoming more clear that body composition is a better marker of metabolic health.
As this perspective shifts, many people are trying to find the best ways to lose body fat rather than simply shedding kilos. Based on the research and our experience in helping people to lose body fat, here are the key ways that you can optimise your diet for fat loss:
1. Be consistent
One of the most important things to understand about fat loss compared to weight loss, is that it takes a quite a long time to breakdown body fat and use it as a fuel source. As a result, the weight change that you see within the first few weeks of dietary or exercise change, is unlikely to be from fat.
This is because your body is not designed to lose fat. Evolutionarily, we are designed to stock up on body fat when we can, and conserve as much energy as possible to prevent running out of our stores. So, one day or a week of eating less will not prompt your body to use stored fat as its primary fuel source. It takes several weeks of a small but significant energy deficit to cause fat loss.
To achieve fat loss, rather than weight loss, you need to create a pattern of eating that you can stick with, focusing on habits that you can do consistently on a daily and weekly basis. A great place to start with this principle is to do some habit tracking. Pick 1-2 habits that you know will help you to eat well and track how consistently you do that habit over a week or a month. Then you can build up your consistency over time. Some great habits to track that may support fat loss are:
- 2 cups of vegetables with lunch and dinner
- 2 pieces of fruit per day
- An alcohol-free day
- A soft drink free day
- Lunch or snacks brought from home
- Not going back for seconds of dinner
- Not having a dessert after dinner
These things don’t have to happen every day, but the more consistent you are with them, the more likely it is that you’ll achieve a balance for long term fat loss.
2. Prioritise nutrient density
When trying to lose weight, the focus very quickly falls to energy balance, which is balance of how many calories are coming into your body (from foods and drinks) and how many calories are being used by your body (by your baseline metabolism and movement). To lose body fat, we do need to achieve an energy deficit, wherein the calories coming into your body are less than the calories being used. A consistent energy deficit is what prompts your body to use stored fat as fuel.
But, when we focus solely on calories and eating less while moving more, we can easily over restrict. Over restricting can not only make it difficult to be consistent, it can also prevent you from getting all of the nutrients your body needs to function well, and that can have an impact on your ability to lose fat.
So, a more effective way to approach fat loss is to focus on eating more whole foods, particularly fruits and vegetables.
Making swaps or additions into your food choice that increase your fruit and vegetable intake will have two impacts:
- It will increase the variety and volume of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that your body needs to utilise body fat as a fuel source
- It will increase the fibre in your meal or snack, which helps to add volume while keeping the energy (calorie) content low.
These are some simple ways that you can increase the nutrient density of your meals and snacks:
- Pack your lunch with an extra container of chopped vegetables
- Double the vegetables in your favourite dinner recipes
- Mix in some vegetable noodles with your favourite pasta meal to make it stretch further
- If you’re craving something sweet, have some chopped fruit with a smaller amount of chocolate or ice-cream
- Alternate your alcoholic drinks with some fruit infused mineral water
- For an afternoon snack, have a smaller serve of nuts and add a piece of fruit
- When you get home in the afternoon, have a tasting plate of vegetables ready to manage your hunger
- Try a vegetable rich breakfast like: spiced baked beans or whole foods omelette
3. Keep including protein
A common side effect of losing weight through calorie restriction is losing a bit of muscle mass. However, if you are focusing on losing body fat rather than overall weight, it’s important to make sure that you are getting enough protein to support muscle maintenance and manage your appetite.
High quality sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes and meat substitutes like tofu. Including a source of protein in your main meals and in some of your snacks will help you to feel full, while also providing your body with building blocks of muscle.
Here are some easy ways to make sure you’re getting enough protein:
- Try 2-3 premade mini quiches for breakfast
- Have a cow’s milk or soy milk-based coffee with fruit for morning tea
- Add 150g of BBQ chicken to a salad at lunchtime
- Snack on a tin of tuna and some grainy crackers in the afternoon
- Munch on some roasted chickpeas or broad beans as a snack
- Swap ice-cream for some fruit and yoghurt for dessert
All of these strategies will help your body to function well and, in the right energy balance, will help to optimise fat loss rather than just weight loss.
If you are looking for more individualised ways of achieving fat loss, get it contact with the team of Accredited Practising Dietitians at The Healthy Eating Clinic. Book an individual consultation today.
If you’d like to hear more about gut health and other hot topics in nutrition, be sure to subscribe to Kate Freeman’s new podcast, The Daily Dollop. She’s a registered nutritionist and the founder and managing director of The Healthy eating Clinic and hopes to inspire you with sensible, easy to understand nutrition advice in a 15 minute daily podcast!