The complete picture of weight-loss
If you are thinking about “losing weight”, please allow me to just refine that thought for the sake of your benefit.
Your goal is not weight-loss. You want to lose weight for the better looks or a better and healthier body overall. You want to get in shape. What you do not want is to end up being a shrunk up version of your current self.
What you want is to get lean, toned, and defined, not skinny, flabby, and weak.
When defined this way, to lose weight you must –
- Lose bad weight (Fat mass)
- Keep the good weight (Muscle mass)
That means you want to lose as much fat as possible, while maintaining as much muscle as possible. You want to lose weight the right way.
NOTE: Keep in mind, your body burns fat uniformly from all the body parts. You can not target fat of any specific area (say belly or buttocks) by doing any movement specific to that area. “Spot Reduction” is really a big myth that is thrown around and believed in.
Hell, I too am guilty of having done hundreds of crunches hoping to lose belly fat.
Here’s the only 3 things you must keep in mind for losing weight (fat) the right way –
1. Eat in a moderate calorie deficit
Fat loss is all about calorie deficit. No matter what you eat and when you eat, if at the end of the day you are eating in an energy deficit you will lose fat . Research is absolutely clear about this.
On the other hand, if you are eating in an energy surplus you simply can not lose fat.
Dr Eric Helms (who is also a professional natural bodybuilder) sums up nutrition for fat loss in the most concise way –
The levels of this pyramid are stacked in decreasing order of importance for getting results during fat loss.
Energy balance is the first and most important level of the pyramid. According to Eric himself, the first two levels are so important that they alone contribute to 90% of your fat loss progress.
That being said, although calorie deficit is a mandatory pre-requisite for fat loss, it should be practiced with a little caution.
Going too low on your calories will surely increase the rate of weight loss, but that comes at the cost of losing your precious muscle mass.
Since we are not idiots and are rather interested in keeping our muscle mass as much as possible, we must aim for a gradual pace of weight-loss.
I meet people all too often who very happily announce that they lost 5 kilos in one month.
That is a disaster. If only they knew what they had actually done to their body, they would never do it in the first place.
Losing weight very fast is not something you should be proud of, but something you should be afraid of!
How to set your calories for fat loss?
In this graph below, I have plotted calorie deficit (y) vs time (x). To lose a certain amount of weight (W), a calorie deficit of 40% (D) takes the least time (t4) and a calorie deficit of 10% (A) takes the most time (t1). But you will certainly lose more muscle in the former, and keep the most muscle in the latter.
The guy cutting at a slow and safe pace will end up being pretty happy with the way he looks shirtless in the mirror. Whereas the other guy will probably keep his shirt on.
A calorie deficit of ~20% has been shown to be a safe deficit and leads to reasonably good rate of fat loss. 20% is a large enough calorie deficit to maximise fat loss but low enough to minimise muscle loss .
At a deficit of ~20%, you will be losing 0.5–1% (1–2 pounds for most people) of your body weight in a week. That my friends, is the rate at which you can lose your weight and sleep like a baby in the night without worrying about muscle loss. 
Assuming you have estimated your maintenance calories (M), you can start with a calorie intake of –
Calories for fat loss = 0.8*M calories
2. Lift heavy weights in the gym (Strength Training)
Once your calorie deficit is in place, you can be sure of losing fat. You must now make sure that you do whatever is necessary to maintain muscle mass. That is where the role of strength training comes in.
Strength training is the external stimulus which tells your body that it needs to keep the muscle in face of the workouts (survival adaptation). Strength training is of utmost importance if you want to maintain your muscle mass on a cut .
Your body does operate on “use it or lose it” principle. Make sure you are hitting the gym 3–4 days each week, whatever suits your lifestyle the best.
Although, it’s normal for your strength to very gradually go down with time while eating in an energy deficit. Your best efforts should be consciously directed to lift as heavy as you can and keep your strength levels from going down.
(I will cover the most effective exercises in my next post!)
Lost strength has a reputation to sooner or later transform to lost muscle.
NOTE : If you are a complete beginner at strength training, congratulations! With strength training you will not only maintain your muscle mass, but might possibly build some muscle even under a calorie deficit.
Evidence shows that since your body is a virgin at strength training, it builds some muscle in response to the sudden change of environment. (body re-composition )
But what about cardio?
The first thought most people have when it comes to fat loss is doing crazy amounts of cardio.
People spend hours and hours running on a treadmill or running circles in a ground, and still struggle to get lean.
Let’s take a quick look at what is the role of cardio for weight loss. And why you should do it, if at all.
Fat loss is guaranteed to happen if you are creating the same calorie deficit through your diet. Doing cardio won’t earn us extra brownie points for fat loss.
The key role of cardio on a cut is to enable you to eat more while creating the same calorie deficit.
If you find that your diet is not enjoyable and the amount of food is not sufficient for you to be consistent with your diet, then cardio is a great tool in your arsenal.
Most people do cardio thinking that is the part of the day in which they are burning fat! That assumption is totally unfounded and misleading.
Cardio does not burn more fat in and of itself. Even if the cardio you are doing has the reputation to burn more fat while doing it, at the end of the day the net calorie deficit will dictate the net fat burned. 
In theory, you really do not need cardio to lose fat if you are able to create the deficit through diet alone. You can get as lean as you want without even thinking about cardio.
But in my experience if you abandon cardio altogether, you will lose some of your endurance/stamina. Trust me, I have been there.
Your body knows the “use it or lose it” principle all too well.
After all, what is the point of looking good as fuck if you struggle to complete a mountain trek with your friends?
However, it is important to be aware of the fact that too much cardio (especially HIIT) can be quite taxing on your body. When pushed to the limits, cardio has been shown to negatively affect gym performance and recovery.
It seems like a good idea to avoid both the extremes of the spectrum and throw in a moderate amount of cardio say about 1–2 hour each week. An amount of cardio which gives us the benefits of cardiovascular training without losing on the benefits of strength training.
I believe that cardio should be used as tool which you can recruit as per your needs, and not as a bunch of unnecessary work to burden yourself with.
As long as the cardio is not interfering with your performance inside the gym and recovery outside the gym, you are good to go. 
When done under limits, moderate amount of cardio is a good way to –
- eat an extra snack and enjoy your diet even more.
- benefit your cardiovascular health.
Bottom line — Strength training is what will keep your muscles from being eaten away by energy deficit. Cardio, intermittent fasting, keto diet and all the other stuff are just different methods aimed to make calorie deficit easy to achieve. They almost play no role in muscle maintenance.
Do not buy into the fallacy that any of these side methods will burn more fat by itself. Regardless of what tools you employ, the reason for fat loss at the end of the day would still be calorie deficit. The principle is one, methods are many.
3. Eat adequate protein to maintain muscle mass
Macro-nutrient intake is the 2nd most important level of the nutrition pyramid.
There are 4 macro-nutrients we consume in our diet-
Every macro-nutrient has its own importance in our lives.
Protein intake = 1 gm per pound of Body weight
But what about fats and carbs?
Fats are really essential for your hormonal balance. Going too low on fats results in significantly lower testosterone levels which sucks. Lower testosterone affects not only your sex drive but also your gym performance.(Fats do not make you fat, Calorie Surplus along with lack of physical activity does)
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for your body while working out. If you go low on carbs, that will affect your strength inside the gym (and testosterone too). You should try to fit as many carbs as possible in your diet during fat loss. Gotta eat your carbs!
But here is what makes this easy, you do not have to count your carbs and fats.
If you are hitting your protein and are eating around your net budget calories, the rest of the calories will come from carbs and fats automatically. The key here is to just eat a good balance of carbs and fats on an average basis.
Eating 20–30% of your total calories from fats will be enough to take care of your hormonal health.
In my opinion, if you do not avoid fats on purpose you will be hitting that sweet balance without counting pretty easily.
Now, was that so hard?