The Tenets of Fat Loss

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UPDATE:  The original title of the post was The Tenents of Fat Loss.  As in “tenents,” a word that doesn’t even exist.  I meant to say tenets. My bad (and thanks to the 17 or so people who pointed out my mistake.).  There I go again making up new words!

I don’t claim to be an “expert” in anything.  Actually, that’s false.  I am an expert in somehow forgetting to clean all the dirty dishes in the sink before I leave for work every morning, much to my girlfriend’s annoyance.

Oh, and I can crush 90’s movie trivia.

But other than those two things, I don’t claim to be an expert in anything.

Which is why I’m amazed as to how often that claim – being an expert –  is tossed around. Especially in the fitness industry. I once had a 20 year old – Like, still an undergraduate 20 year old –  email me and claim he was an “expert” in lumbo-pelvic-hip anatomy and rehab.

Okay dude, calm down. How bout you pass Kinesiology first, and then we can talk.

And of course the internet is rife with Paleo experts, low-carb diet experts, kipping experts, heart rate variability experts, strength experts, body recomposition experts, experts, experts, experts.

Maybe it’s just me, but unless you’re a NASA rocket scientist, or a medical researcher, you’re not an expert, mmm kay?

Thanks to Dean Somerset for the hilarious pic!

Alas, we can talk all we want on what it actually means to be an expert – they do exist – whether it’s education, years of experience, real-world application of said education, but it’s not going to prevent people from putting the term into their bylines.

With that teeny tiny rant out of the way, I’m going to take a little time this morning and discuss fat loss.  More specifically what I feel are the main tenets, criteria, or components of effective, efficient, and long-term fat loss.

Note: I am not an expert (but I play one on the internet)

In my defense: while I don’t claim to be an expert, this isn’t my first rodeo, and I do train people – in person – on a daily basis, so I do feel that gives me some degree of credibility.

I guess the first point to tackle is to make the differentiation between fat loss and weight loss.

Weight loss is easy.

Don’t eat or drink for a day, go take a dump, cut off a limb……..SHA-zam, you just lost some weight.

Fat loss on the other hand, is a different ball game and takes a little more attention to detail.

Granted I’m playing with words, but it’s technically true.  I won’t belabor the point here, but if you’re interested I wrote on the topic of Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss HERE.

Some people do need to lose weight.  If we’re referring to a morbidly obese person, then I’m not going to be overly concerned with the ratio of muscle loss to fat loss. This discussion changes for someone who’s 50 lbs overweight – who runs the risk of developing a plethora of markers which can affect their health and well-being – as compared to someone who’s 8% body fat and four weeks away from a photo shoot or from stepping on stage.

For the sake of this blog post, lets assume we’re not referring to the morbidly obese person.

If that’s the case……

Make no mistake, regardless of the end game (photo shoot, content, or you’re just looking to bring sexy back), MAINTAINING AS MUCH MUSCLE MASS AS POSSIBLE – especially when dieting  – IS THE KEY TO FAT LOSS.

You do not want to sacrifice muscle mass.  Or, at the very least, you want to minimize its loss as much as possible.  More on that in the link I provided above.

Stealing a funny anecdote from my buddy, Mark Young, coach at Lean Body Consulting, the keys to physique improvement (in order of importance):

Makes a ton of sense to me, and I doubt there are many reputable fitness professionals who would disagree.  Although, admittedly, we LOVE to argue about the minutia.

Take nutrition for example.  Everyone knows – or, they should know – that in order to promote fat loss you need to elicit some sort of caloric deficit (calories in vs calories out).  It’s science, there’s a law to back it up (Law of Thermodynamics.  And yes, I realize there are 4, and one is called the Zeroth Law, which is snarky. For simplicity I’m referring to the 1st Law and maybe elements of the 2nd Law, and even then I understand that even those can be interpreted into a million and one different things. Why don’t you just get off your high horse, huh???), and I find it comical that people debate it as if they’re the one example unique flower in all of recorded human history to defy it.

Calories count

^^^^ I understand that the above article doesn’t make the distinction of fat loss vs. weight loss, and I also understand there are other variables that come into play, but I do feel that the first talking point comes down to how many calories someone is eating on a given day.

If someone isn’t losing weight/fat, the obvious starting point is a discussion on their nutrition and whether or not (s)he is ingesting too many calories.

If you have 20 or so minutes to spare you can check out the EPIC thread that started on my Facebook page with people arguing over the article HERE (just scroll down a bit).

As the saying goes:  you can’t out train a poor diet.

Dieting for fat loss can bite the big one at times. It sucks.  Some days you’re going to want to stab someone in the throat.

But it’s a moot point, I feel, to argue that a caloric deficit isn’t what’s needed or that calories somehow don’t matter so long as it fits your macros, yo!  Yes, other factors come into play once someone is already pretty lean, and looking to get leaner – meal timing, meal frequency, the interplay of hormones, even macros!

But for 90% of the people out there reading, 90% of the time, calories in vs. calories out matter.

And it should be said:  just telling someone to eat less and move more defeats the purpose and is borderline counterproductive. As fitness professionals it’s our job to educate our clients and to arm them with the skills necessary to succeed. It’s imperative that we teach them habits that will stick and help them not only get from Point A to Point B, but to stay there.

People aren’t dumb. They understand that crushing Taco Bell every night isn’t the best choice, and it certainly won’t help them attain their goal(s). It’s our job to figure out WHY they’re going to Taco Bell and to set up preventative strategies to help them avoid it.

It could be something as simple as outlining an alternate route home from work.  Or maybe it’s coaching them on better food choices. I don’t know, it could be dozens of things.  The point is: WE NEED TO DEVELOP HABITS.

And lets briefly discuss lifting heavy things.

As I noted above, the key to fat loss it to limit the amount of muscle loss.  What makes muscle, keeps muscle.

Lifting heavy things provides the stimulus the body needs to keep muscle.  One of the biggest mistakes I think many people make when following a fat loss plan is ramping up their training volume to ungodly levels.

The mentality that more is better takes over, and it’s just not true. I’m actually more of an advocate for dedicated strength training when dieting for fat loss.  Sure, other things like finishers, circuits, medleys and what not can help expedite the process….but for all intents and purposes, training should be geared towards MAINTAINING MUSCLE MASS. And low(er) rep, non-sadistic volume strength training is often the right course of action.

Not always, but kinda always.

In Closing

I’m in no way insinuating that my way is the only way, and I realize that this is a far-stemming topic that entire books, DVDs, and television infomercials have been dedicated towards.

I just wanted to hit on a handful of “big rock” talking points – namely, that calories do in fact matter and strength training is an often overlooked component – I feel are important to the discussion.

There are many, MANY other things tethered to fat loss – not to mention subcomponents that can (and should) be tweaked depending on one’s needs/goals/experience level/progress.

Have your own points to sound off on?  Share them below.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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Comments for This Entry

  • PJ Striet

    Excellent stuff as always Tony. Reminds me a lot of this article I recently wrote for

    September 3, 2014 at 10:21 am | Reply to this comment

  • Bob

    Sure, calories matter, and no one is about to repeal the first law of thermodynamics. However, the calories you burn depend in part on your hormonal response to the type of food you eat, and the amount, as well as what you physically do in and out of the gym. So "just" reducing calories in is a good first step, but may not produce the full caloric deficit you expect.

    September 3, 2014 at 10:57 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      TOtally agree Bob. I hope I didn't come across as insinuating that the body process 100g of butter as it does 100g of chicken (or that they're on in the same). Hormones do matter. I just feel that's a latter conversation to have.

      September 3, 2014 at 11:05 am | Reply to this comment

  • Glenn De Kler

    This is great, unfortunately I have a hard time counting past 5: movements, reps, ice cream mix-ins. So the calories thing is out of reach for me until I can develop some sort of time lock on my esophagus. In the meantime, I'll share this with my clients, and refrain from sharing the number of cookies I can pound in 5 minutes.

    September 3, 2014 at 4:21 pm | Reply to this comment

  • ronellsmith

    After 5 years and way too many hours of reading/watching/studying nutrition-related information, I'm continually amazed that folks make it harder than it needs to be. It really, REALLY is as simple as you point it out as being, though it's not easy. The sticking point for many people is shiny things syndrome: Even when we know what works, the more "pain" we feel as we get closer to our goals, the more palatable it is to try some new, different and easier. As I tell business owners all the time, the folks you look at as being the most successful are actually the most consistent. They've committed to doing what works with consistency. RS

    September 3, 2014 at 10:31 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Speak the truth Ronell. I am by no means a "nutrition guy," and I understand (and respect) the notion that a lot of factors come into play and what works for one person won't work for the next. I do feel people KNOW what to do. It's just finding a way to help them be successful with that knowledge. I.e., helping them develop habits. That's the motherfuck of everything.

      September 4, 2014 at 7:04 am | Reply to this comment

  • Strivin4Fitness

    As someone (I'm female) who lifts heavy and weighs nearly every gram I eat (with some fun treats thrown in), I know it takes A LOT of determination to do it right. That's what it takes to maintain low body fat/lots of beautiful muscle. I think most people greatly underestimate how ridiculous the typical American lifestyle is (typical meals, typical activity level) to be fit. They adapt some habits (switching to diet soda), but don't do the major overhaul that is needed.

    September 4, 2014 at 8:20 am | Reply to this comment

  • Prop

    Stravin4fitness you are so right, but I think especially for beginners that committment is a bit overwhelming, so any way to keep things simple is important. That is why people flock to these crazy diets ( and Jillian Michaels, threw that in for Tony's sake), it tells them what to do. How to lift, what about cardio, and how can I keep a social life and still follow a nutrition plan are all things the experts could help us simplify (knowing full well things are not that simple in science)

    September 4, 2014 at 11:30 am | Reply to this comment

  • Roberto Aguilar

    And when in doubt... increase proten ratio!

    September 5, 2014 at 9:24 am | Reply to this comment

  • Shane Mclean

    Folding airplanes and cookie monster in the one fat loss post. You got me. Good advice Tony. However this is why the cookie monster will not eat his vegetables. He simply has no room left.

    September 7, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Shane Mclean

    Good advice Tony has always. keeping it real and simple.

    September 7, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Michelle

    Tony Thanks for the article. i love it. I also clicked back and read your "weight loss vs. fat loss" article which i am actually going to save and show to my clients. I am a both a therapist and a trainer, and the crux of all my work with clients is getting into their head and creating behavior change. People KNOW what they should and should not do (mostly), but its the actual DOING, or not doing, that they need help with. My dual areas of education (social work and CPT) have really helped me start this conversation with clients... at first they may think it strange that a therapist is training them, but then when i point out the marriage between body and brain, they become more interested. Thanks again for the post. Its so great to hear another fitness pro place focus on this stuff! - Michelle

    September 8, 2014 at 8:36 am | Reply to this comment

  • Fitness Polly

    Love any article that can make me laugh AND learn. Cheers again :)

    September 11, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Reply to this comment

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