By Lindsay Wilson
Here at FitFolk we believe knowledge makes weight loss easier.
We’ve designed The Fat Loss Framework to help people lose weight more simply by using science to focus their efforts.
The Framework begins with a look at energy balance, the primary reason we lose weight. We then asks how we can alter this balance to aid fat loss by adjusting nutrition in terms of food quality, caloric intake and macronutrient balance, or by altering movement through activity levels, cardiovascular exercise and strength training.
It’s called it a ‘framework’ because understanding these elements is only a foundation. Experimenting with this information is the only way to make it useful to you.
The Fat Loss Framework
Here’s the menu:
1) Energy: Can science teach you how to lose body fat?
2) Food: What are the best foods for weight loss?
3) Calories: How many calories should I eat to lose weight?
4) Macros: What are macros and should you count them?
5) Activity: Do calories burned walking and working matter?
6) Cardio: What’s the best cardio for weight loss?
7) Strength: Should you be lifting weights to lose weight?
Why bother with a framework?
A quick look at the best sellers in the weight loss section of Amazon shows that most experts agree on the same formula.
This is how it goes:
- Explain why getting fat isn’t your fault (to get you on side)
- Pick a villain to blame for it all (fat, carbs, dieting, sugar, wheat)
- Describe how they’ll trick you into unknowingly cutting calories
- Think of a catchy title that implies it will be easy/painless/fun
That’s it. All experts seem to agree this is the best way to sell a diet book.
These people are not the people you want in your corner!
Who are the real experts?
No community in the world understands fat loss physiology and behaviour nearly as well as natural body-builders. Not even close. I have been exposed to some serious sport nutrition in my days and I can assure it is lightweight compared to these people.
Of course this makes perfect sense. When a bodybuilder enters a contest prep their entire job is to lose fat and hold on to muscle. That’s literally their main goal for a six month period. And these people aren’t messing around, they are chasing a level of leanness that few professional athletes will ever know.
Now like me you probably never want to look like a body-builder. And like me you might also think their methods are a bit obsessive. But who cares?
I’m never going to be 5% body fat, but when I decided that I didn’t want to hit forty with wider hips than shoulders the knowledge I gleamed from this community made my trip from 230lbs down to 180lbs a whole lot easier that it would have otherwise been.
What sets these experts apart?
When you study the work of the top coaches and researchers in ‘evidenced based fitness’ you notice the fundamentals of their approaches are almost identical. They all track macros. They all eat plenty of protein. They all lift heavy.
When fat loss starts to stall they make adjustments to re-establish it, generally to carbs or cardio. And to look after metabolic rate they use variations of refeeds, diet breaks, carb cycling and reverse diets.
Now if that all sounded like insider jargon fear not, it was 😉 But its not what’s important. The main thing to understand is they share a single mindset.
They all understand that losing fat is about a creating a sustainable caloric deficit and working to maintain it as your body adapts.
They all start with the deficit!
This Framework is my attempt to help you pull up a metaphorical chair with some of the smartest fat loss minds on the planet. I have created it because I believe there is a smarter way to think about weight loss that only a small niche within the fitness community seem to understand.
By writing these ideas down in a structured and accessible way I’m hoping it will help people outside this community approach the fat loss challenge in a much more focused way. It has also been a fascinating way to formalise my own thinking on the subject and an indulge my fascination with data.
Using the framework
If you learn anything something useful from this framework I’ll be delighted. Personally, there are three ways I use this information.
They are as follows:
1) Build your knowledge base
Losing weight is so much easier when you put science in your corner. That’s primarily what this framework is about. Reading the whole Fat Loss Framework will take you less than an hour and will provide you with some great knowledge for analysing your own approach to weight loss.
The Framework is divided in seven sections. Energy balance is the first and most important section as it provides the context for understanding everything else. Then you work through nutrition: food, calories and macros, before going on to movement: activity, cardio and strength.
If you don’t have time to read the whole thing then just read the energy section, because it is the core insight.
2) Focus your efforts
Trying to act on all seven elements of the framework has the potential to be overwhelming and confusing. If you are just starting out on a weight loss journey then I’d recommend focusing you efforts on one nutrition approach and one movement approach.
Where you devote most of your energy should depend on what your goals are. There are a three axes in the framework to help with this.
Here are the cliff notes.
Health focus: Eat a balanced diet of quality food and be active. If you are most concerned about your long term health it makes sense to eat a rainbow diet of whole foods and build lots of activity into your regular lifestyle. This works for the world’s longest lived people in places like Ikaria (Greece), Loma Linda (US), Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan) and Nicoya (Costa Rica), and there is no reason it can’t work for you.
Fitness focus: Control your calories and and crank the cardio. If your goal is to improve your cardiovascular health then you’ll want to find a simple method for taking control of calories and to match this with some cardiovascular exercise you enjoy. This could be walking, running, swimming, cycling . . . . whatever you are most likely to stick with.
Physique focus: Track macros and lift heavy things. If you want to get ‘shredded’ then focus on progressive resistance training and solid macros (protein, carbs, fat). You’ll might need to consider cardio and food quality as you progress, but its kilos on the bar and grams of macros in your mouth that will provide most value for physique focused individuals.
Although most people naturally mix and match ideas from all three nutrition ideas with all three movement approaches don’t underestimate the power of focus. Giving your all to one nutritional approach and one form movement will invariably produce better results than doing a poor job of all six.
3) Adapt your approach
Perhaps one of the most limiting things you can believe about fat loss is that it will be a smooth linear affair. Let me save you the heartache, its not going to work out like that!
Fat loss is state specific. Our species didn’t survive ice ages without the ability to get frugal with energy use when faced with a food shortage. So don’t be surprised if after initial success your weight loss slows, or even appears to stop completely (water weight fluctuations can mask changes in fat).
Your body is going to change, so you need to change with it. To keep your fat loss project going over a long period you’ll likely need to adapt. Although adjustments are as much an art as a science, and they aren’t heavily covered in the Framework, we can at least stress the reality that we have plenty of options.
As a general rule if you have a period of four weeks with no measurable progress then its probably a good time to change things up. Here are a few examples of adjustments you could make based on the problem you are facing:
Don’t worry if this chart looks a little strange, the adjustment here will make much more sense once you’ve read the Framework. The main thing I’m trying to stress here is that you shouldn’t be disappointed if things stop working.
Just give yourself credit for what you’ve achieved to date and look for the next forward step. Losing a substantial amount of fat is not easy and will likely require you to be flexible in your approach.
Limitations of this framework
The basic physiology of fat loss is pretty simple, you create a caloric deficit and do some things to protect muscle mass so that the energy shortage is fuelled preferentially by your fat mass. Looked at over the course of a day, or even a week, this looks like simple maths. But once you dig a little deeper you realise you’re playing with complex web of dependent variables.
In this Framework we have limited ourselves to seven ideas: energy, food, calories, macros, activity, cardio and stength. While these limitations a great for helping us focus on things people can control it does mean numerous important ideas are glossed over or skipped completely. For example we don’t deal with sleep and its important role it recovery and appetite regulation. We deal only briefly with hormones, a rapidly growing area of obesity research. There is limited discussion about food environment and its important role in diet compliance. And barely scratch the surface of behaviour change which is a fundamental part of diet adherence.
The omission of these topics is not an attempt to diminish their importance but rather a result of our desire help people focus on understanding the main levers they have for affecting their own energy balance.
A few thank yous
A special thanks to my wife Soph for tolerating the endless hours I spent staring at the computer, you’re the best 😉 And thanks to my creative genius Tom for making everything on the site look so pretty.
Finally a huge thanks to all the bright sparks in the world of evidenced based fitness that have inspired this Framework. In particular I’d like to thank Eric Helm’s for the sense of priorities, Lyle McDonald for the physiology, Kevin Hall for the modelling, Alan Aragon for the reading material, Stephan Guyenet for the insights, Danny Lennon for the soundtrack, Andrea Valdez for the perspective, Jordan Syatt for the entertainment, and Andy Morgan for the inspiration.