When it comes to learning how to lose body fat, information overload is a real thing. One diet suggests drastically cutting calories whilst another says to go HAM on heavy gym workouts and guzzle protein powder. (Both approaches are to be swerved, btw – a balanced method will always be the most sustainable.)
The goal isn’t to get rid of body fat completely. You need to have some fat on your body to live your best life. If you’re looking to lose some weight to improve your overall health or wanting to cut body fat fast to look better for summer, the process can seem complicated, and for many, they just aren’t sure where to even begin.
The goal is to improve body composition. This means lowering the amount of body fat you have to healthy numbers while also increasing lean muscle mass.
Losing body fat is not the easiest of propositions; just ask anyone trying to lose that last ten pounds. It often seems as if the more persistent a person is, the harder this stubborn body fat is to lose. Whether your goal is to get into top shape for a bodybuilding contest or to look good for the beach, fat loss is arguably the biggest incentive to train.
When you do this, you achieve that slimmer, toned look that you might be after. It can also help increase your energy, improve your posture, make you feel more agile and just make you feel more generally better.
You see, a survey of WH readers revealed their main health goal is to lose body fat, so we know it’s important to you. Our job is to help you identify the best way to safely lower your body fat percentage to a healthy range without putting your physical or mental health at risk.
If you’re at a loss of where to start and how to lose body fat without negatively affecting your body or mind in the process, then read on for our five best ways to lose body fat. Disclaimer: There’s no quick fix or magic overnight solution. Healthy weight loss takes a lot of patience, a dash of motivation and a generous serving of perseverance.
Studies show that the best way to achieve an ideal amount of body fat varies from one person to the next. This means that what works for someone else may not help you reduce your body fat percentage, and vice versa.
How To Lose Body Fat in a Healthy
Strong Is The New Skinny
Strength training (aka resistance training) may conjure up images of extreme bodybuilders or Mac from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” But it’s not all about getting jacked.
Successful strength training requires contracting your muscles against a resisting force such as from lifting weights or supporting your bodyweight in a yoga pose.
One study showed that 10 weeks of resistance training may boost the number of calories burned while resting by 7 percent and reduce body fat by 4 pounds (1.8 kg). Burning calories while at rest? Sign us up!
In another study, weight training reduced visceral fat (internal belly fat) by 78 percent in folks with metabolic syndrome.
Visceral fat may sound like a Marvel villain, but it’s actually a type of fat that forms around the organs in your belly and can lead to dangerous consequences. You can fight off the evil visceral fat by adding strength training into your workout regime.
The most common form of strength training is — you guessed it — weight lifting. But if pumping iron isn’t your thing, you can try yoga, gym machines, exercise bands, or rearranging furniture in your house to achieve the same results.
Fat Loss Workouts
What are the best gym workouts for getting lean? The truth is, there’s no such thing as a fat loss workout. But strength training will definitely help you maintain muscle and develop a great shape.
This 2015 systematic review and meta-analysis of diet, exercise, or diet + exercise concluded approaches combining diet and exercise were more successful than diet alone. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4429709/
Do some kind of resistance training at least 3 times a week. This might be free weights, functional fitness, CrossFit, bodybuilding style training, or using strength training machines.
Be sure to train all the major muscle groups throughout the week. A great way to get this done is to cover squats, hip hinges, vertical and horizontal press, vertical pull, and horizontal row movements.
High-Intensity Interval Training For Fat Loss
High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, involves alternating short bursts of high-intensity exercise with slightly longer periods of low-intensity exercise.
The goal is to spend 20 to 90 seconds working as hard as you can to increase your heart rate and then backing off a little to allow for a quick recovery before you rinse and repeat.
Research shows that HIIT can increase your metabolic rate and reduce both subcutaneous fat and belly fat better than other types of exercise, including moderate-intensity training and aerobic exercise [5, 6].
For optimal fat burning, try to do some HIIT workouts a few times per week. If you’re new to the concept of HIIT, a personal trainer can show you the way.
Exercise Moderately With Aerobics & Weights, Gradually Increasing The Intensity As Fat Is Lost
If you’re severely overweight, it is probably best to start your fat-burning phase with low-intensity aerobics and weight training, to ensure your body is not placed under undue stress at this early stage. When significantly overweight (over 25 percent body fat in males and 30 percent in females), it is best to work moderately as a way in which to gradually ease into a higher-intensity program.
Moderate aerobics are likely to burn a greater amount of body fat if the intensity is kept at around 70 percent of maximum heart rate, and taken beyond the 30-minute mark (with one hour being the eventual goal).
With weight training, high repetitions with moderate weights would work best for an obese client during the initial stages of training. It is important to remember that lower-intensity weight training and aerobics should both be done in the same program to maximize results.
Walking is a perfect, low impact aerobic activity for anyone who is obese. For weight training, all body parts should be targeted with basic exercises that work larger muscles.
For our purposes here, high-intensity cardio falls between about 80 to 90% of your maximum heart rate (MHR) or, if you’re not using heart rate zones, about a 6 to 8 on a 10-point perceived exertion scale. What this translates to is exercise at a level that feels challenging and leaves you too breathless to talk in complete sentences.
But you’re not going all out, as in sprinting as fast as you can. There’s no doubt that some high-intensity training work can be helpful for weight loss as well as improving endurance and aerobic capacity.
For example, a 150-pound person would burn about 341 calories after running at 6 mph for 30 minutes.3 If this person walked at 3.5 mph for that same length of time, they would burn 136 calories.
But, the number of calories you can burn isn’t the whole story. Too many high-intensity workouts every week, can put you at risk in a number of ways.
Not only that but, if you don’t have much experience with exercise, you may not have the conditioning or the desire for breathless and challenging workouts. If you have some kind of medical condition or injury, check with your doctor before doing high-intensity training (or any kind of training).
If you’re doing several days of cardio each week, which is what is recommended for weight loss, you would probably want only one or two workouts to fall into the high-intensity range.4 You can use other workouts to target different areas of fitness (like endurance) and allow your body to recover. Here are some examples of high-intensity workouts.
- Exercise at a fast pace: For a 20-minute workout at a fast pace, you can use any activity or machine, but the idea is to stay in the high-intensity work zone throughout the workout. You’ll find that 20 minutes is usually the recommended length for this kind of workout and most people wouldn’t want to go much longer than that.
- Incorporate Tabata training: Tabata training is another form of high-intensity interval training in which you work very hard for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat that for a total of four minutes. If you do this workout right, you shouldn’t be able to breathe, much less talk.
- Utilize interval training: Interval training is a great way to incorporate high-intensity training without doing it continuously is by doing intervals. Alternate a hard segment (e.g., running at a fast pace for 30 to 60 seconds) with a recovery segment (e.g., walking for one to two minutes). Repeat this series for the length of the workout, usually around 20 to 30 minutes. A 10-20-30 interval workout is a good example of this kind of high-intensity workout.
Get Moving Any Way You Can
“To be honest any sort of exercise will help,” says Lawson. “For many people it’s about just spending a bit more time being active. The evidence shows that breaking sedentary behaviour is the best thing you can do. Even if you can just do a 20-minute walk in the evening before your dinner each night, that would be a positive thing.”
If you’re really short on time and want to maximise the effect of your workout, HIIT workouts might be the way to go.
“There’s evidence that HIIT provides more bang for your buck in terms of time,” says Lawson. “So if you only have 20 minutes then try doing something at a higher intensity. There’s no excuse for saying you’re too busy, because we’ve all got 20 minutes haven’t we?”
Try a HIIT Workout
HIIT, which stands for high-intensity interval training, is the hot new way to work out, according to fitness enthusiasts. And the benefits are worth it. Not only do you reap the benefits of high-intensity workouts in a shorter period of time, but it can also help blast belly fat. Greek researchers studied exercisers who performed intervals for 20 minutes and another group that ran for 20 minutes straight on the treadmill. After eight weeks, the group who did intervals ended up losing two inches of belly fat, while the treadmill group lost less than one inch. Although strength training and cardio are both keys to a successful fitness plan, make sure you’re incorporating intervals, too.
Jump-Starting Fat Loss with a New Diet
Consume a well-rounded balance of protein and fat.
Studies show that eating lean proteins like chicken, lean beef, beans, and healthy fats found in fish, avocados, nuts, and seeds promotes fat loss. Choose proteins and fats that are hormone-free and unprocessed.
Consuming 1200 mg calcium per day may help you reduce your body fat. Aim for three servings of dairy a day. Choose products made from skim milk to lower the number of calories you take in from dairy each day.
Choose olive oil and grapeseed oil over canola oil and butter when you cook.
Drink a lot of water. Studies show that drinking plenty of water actually increases the body’s metabolic rate, leading to more fat loss. Aim for 2 litres of water per day, more if you’re active.
Replace alcohol, soda (including diet soda), coffee, and other drinks with water.
Start your day by drinking a large glass of water when you wake up, before you eat breakfast.
Eat breakfast every day. Starting your day off with a healthy breakfast gives you the right foundation for eating well all day long. Because your metabolism slows down at night, eating breakfast in the morning can boost your metabolism to a more active state. If you skip breakfast, you’ll be more likely to eat too much or lose your willpower to eat nutritious foods later in the day.
Eat a lot of protein and fiber at breakfast to keep you full for several hours. Fruit, eggs, and vegetable smoothies are great breakfast choices.
Avoid eating pancakes and other baked goods for breakfast. These give your body a shot of sugar without wholesome nutrients, so you’ll get hungry faster. Plus, you’ll be starting the day at a dietary disadvantage.
Fill your day with fiber. Soluble fiber, which is found in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, lowers insulin levels in your body and leads to fat loss.  Eating plenty of fiber with every meal will also make you feel full faster, so you won’t be as tempted to eat high-calorie foods.
Eat whole fruits and vegetables. Fresh, whole vegetables and fruits like apples, cherries, oranges, broccoli, spinach, kale, and sweet potatoes have a lot of fiber.
Eat whole grains. Try steel cut oatmeal instead of instant, and choose whole wheat over white every time. Quinoa is another delicious whole grain to incorporate into your diet.
Don’t drink fruit juice. Fruit contains a lot of sugar, which is fine when you consume it along with the fruit’s fiber. But when a fruit is juiced, its sugars are extracted and the fiber is discarded, leaving you with pure sugar.
Start to Focus on Eating More Protein
Protein is the only macronutrient not stored as energy in the body. Essentially, we must eat to provide this important piece of our body’s fueling system.
One of the best parts about incorporating more protein into your diet (while reducing carbohydrates, more on that later) is you will reach a level of satisfaction with your hunger more easily. Having a higher level of protein on board will also allow your body to spend more time using body fat as a direct energy source while using protein to help you recover from the strength training you started in step number one.
Furthermore, many studies have demonstrated that a diet focused on increasing levels of high-quality protein has a direct association with reducing belly fat, reduced overall calorie consumption, and preserved muscle mass while losing body fat.
Sayonara Soda & Bye-Bye Booze!
Regularly sipping on sweetened beverages like soda, juice, and frappuccinos can add tons of empty calories, which can contribute to body fat.
Another culprit? Alcohol. Booze contains a bevy of calories — and it’s generally not listed on the bottle. So that rosé you’re sipping during The Bachelor every week contains more calories than empty promises made in the fantasy suite.
Alcohol also lowers your inhibitions, which can cause you to overindulge or make unhealthy food choices.
What’s more, studies show that these types of drinks are also linked to increased belly fat.
Swapping these drinks for a refreshing glass of water or sparkling essence water is a refreshing, zero-calorie alternative.
Another alternative is hot or iced green tea. It’s loaded with antioxidants and caffeine to boost your energy, immune system, and fat-burning potential at the same time.
Can’t quit those calorie-rich drinks? Start small. Swap one or two of your sugary drinks each day with water or green tea, or replace that rosé with a single glass of heart-healthy red. You’ll soon reap the benefits!
Eating Plenty Of Micronutrient-Rich Foods
One of the really great things about flexible dieting is that it’s, well, flexible. There’s a lot of room for you to eat all of your favorite foods while still staying within your macros.
But if you’ve noticed a stall in your progress or you just really want to dial it in, try to focus on including as many micronutrient-rich foods into your meal plan as possible.
In other words, choose foods with high amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants over foods that don’t have as much to offer in that department.
This will naturally lead you to choices like fruits, fiber-rich vegetables, lean proteins and slow-digesting carbs that keep you full and balance your blood sugar, while also helping to slim you down.
Stagger Food Intake
At the smooth stage(a thin layer of fat—independent of water—covers the body) or in the shape stage (around six percent body fat), it is probably acceptable to stagger food intake so that high calories (1000 or so above normal) can be eaten for two days followed by lower calories for three days.
There are many variations on this practice, but the guiding principal stays the same: After a period of low calories, the body will tend to hold onto fat; on this basis it is thought that upping the calories will up the metabolic rate to burn more adipose tissue.
Generally the extra calories will not be stored as fat as long as the high-calorie days are limited to a certain period and are promptly followed by the lower-calorie days. The higher-calorie days are not open invitations to pig out on all manner of forbidden foods, but should be comprised of clean proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
This strategy is best practiced when aiming to lose that remaining five to ten pounds of fat, and when a person is in reasonably good shape to begin with. If the client is overweight, the higher-calorie days could sabotage their weight loss due to a more sluggish metabolic rate.
A greater degree of excess fat would probably require consistency in terms of low-fat, low-calorie eating, as will be shown in the success stories featured later in this article.
There are a variety of definitions of what moderate-intensity exercise is, but it typically falls between about 70 to 80% of your maximum heart rate, which would be a level 4 to 6 on a 10-point perceived exertion scale.
That means you are breathing harder than normal but can carry on a conversation without much difficulty and you feel pretty comfortable with what you’re doing.5
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) often recommends this level of intensity in its exercise guidelines. The lower end of this range usually incorporates the fat burning zone. Moderate-intensity workouts have some great benefits. Here are some examples.
- Better health: Even modest movement can improve your health while lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
- Comfort: It takes the time to build up the endurance and strength to handle challenging exercise. Moderate workouts allow you to work at a more comfortable pace, which means you may be more consistent with your program.
- More choices: High-intensity workouts will usually involve some kind of impact or, at the least, a fast pace. You can usually get into the moderate heart rate zones with a variety of activities, providing you work hard enough. Even raking leaves or shoveling snow, if you do it vigorously enough, can fall into that category.
Cut Down On Sugar
In most cases, sugar (the refined, processed kind) isn’t your friend. Of course, everything’s fine in moderation, so indulging from time to time is okay. But if you’re trying to lose fat, it may be hindering your success. This also counts for sugary drinks (sodas and juices), which are sugar-packed and are devoid nutritional value.
One way to drastically reduce your sugar intake is to cut out sugary beverages. Swap out soda and fruit juice for water or herbal tea, and try drinking your coffee without sugar. Small changes like these can lower your calorie intake and help you meet your fat loss goals. Watch out for all-natural juices and smoothies too. They may seem ‘healthy’, and though they don’t always contain added sugar, fruit juices are still packed with natural fruit sugars that trigger spikes and crashes in your blood sugar levels. At the same time, the juicing process extracts the healthy fiber contained in the whole fruit.
Adjust Your Routine to Get More Sleep
The correlation between sleep, recovery, and weight loss has been studied for decades, resulting in strong evidence that getting more sleep can help boost your efforts to lose body fat.
One particular study demonstrated that over sixteen years, women who slept more than seven hours each night were less likely to have negative weight gain than those who slept for five hours or less.
Another study showed that more sleep directly equated to more balanced hormones, including those associated with hunger and appetite control.
An additional study over six months found women were far more likely to successfully lose body fat if they got at least seven hours of sleep every night.
While sleep requirements can vary between individuals according to their base metabolic needs and activity levels, many studies have found a correlation to improved health benefits when the seven hours of sleep goal is consistently reached.
Low-intensity exercise is considered to be below 60 to 70% of your MHR, or about a level 3 to 5 on a 10-point perceived exertion scale. This level of intensity is no doubt one of the most comfortable areas of exercise, keeping you at a pace that isn’t too taxing and doesn’t pose much of a challenge.
This approach, along with the idea that it burns more fat, makes this a popular place to stay. But, as we’ve learned, you can burn more calories if you work harder, and that’s what you want for weight loss.2
That doesn’t mean that low-intensity exercise has no purpose. It involves the kind of long, slow activities you feel like you could do all day. Even better, it includes activities you usually enjoy such as taking a stroll, gardening, riding a bike, or a gentle stretching routine.
Cut Down Processed Carbohydrates
While I am a firm believer the human body MUST HAVE carbohydrates on board to function OPTIMALLY, cutting down and then eliminating refined and processed carbohydrates will have a major impact on your long-term health, recovery, performance, and yes, weight loss.
Not only do processed carbohydrates challenge our body’s ability to balance blood sugar, but they are often extremely low in fiber and nutrient value.
Some excellent studies have shown diets balanced by a whole food, natural and clean carbohydrates like quinoa, sweet potatoes, oats, rice, and buckwheat to provide nutrient-dense fuel that balances blood sugar, feelings of hunger, recovery, and healthy weight loss. Examples of dirty, highly processed carbs to avoid include pasta, pastries, bread, chips, and cereals.