How to Eat and Workout for Healthy, Sustainable Fat Loss

Long-term sustainability is key to successful fat loss; here's how you can make small lifestyle tweaks (diet and fitness) to make that happen.

Closeup of fit mature man holding oranges as healthy snack after morning workout at snowy winter

You’ve just decided that you need to lose fat. Congratulations ?

That’s often the first step toward a healthier version of yourself. But now that the first step’s done … what next?

Will you need to live off quinoa and salads? What about daily 10 km runs?

Well. No – extreme lifestyle changes are difficult to sustain because they aren’t enjoyable. Worse still, they leave no room for life and all its uncertainties (e.g. last-minute dinner plans, late-night work calls, parenting duties).

So, what you want to do, instead, is to make tiny lifestyle tweaks. Long-term sustainability is the key to successful fat loss; here's how you can make that happen.

Go into a slight calorie deficit

You probably already know this: if you want to lose fat, you need to go into a calorie deficit. There are no two ways around it. But, of course, that doesn't mean the greater the deficit, the better.

Going headfirst into a calorie deficit of 500 calories a day is foolish.

You’ll most likely need to make drastic changes to your daily diet – especially if you’ve been consistently eating in a surplus.

Here’s how you can ease your transition into a fat loss diet:

  1. Estimate your daily calorie intake: Because we tend to underestimate calorie intake, it'll be better still if you could track everything (right down to that morning spoonful of peanut butter) you eat in a day with an app like MyFitnessPal.
  2. Calculate your maintenance calories: Don’t know how you can do that? Our past article details the entire process in a step-by-step guide (includes macros for fat loss), so be sure to check that out.
  3. If you’re currently eating in a surplus: Gradually scale back your intake such that you’re now eating at maintenance instead. Then, work on hitting a calorie deficit (just 200 to 300 calories).
  4. If you’re currently eating near or at your maintenance: Work toward hitting a slight calorie deficit of just 200 to 300 calories a day.

A deficit of 200 to 300 calories will be enough for you to lose fat – yet it isn't so restrictive that you'll feel miserable while sticking to the diet.

Make food swaps instead of complete elimination

Okay, so 'go into a slight calorie deficit' sounds terrific and all … but how, exactly, do you go about it?

This is where the secret to sustainable fat loss efforts lies.

Instead of eliminating food groups (like in the ketogenic or Paleo diet), make calorie-wise food swaps.

What does that mean? Here are a few examples of how you can use food swaps to your advantage to kickstart your fat loss process: 

  • Lean cuts of steak: A 100-gram rib-eye steak contains 466 calories – while the same portion of a sirloin tip side steak serves just 206 calories. Do the math, and you’ll see that the difference comes up to 260 calories! That’s more than enough to kickstart your fat loss efforts. All just from picking one cut for the other!
  • Yogurt: Craving for something cold and refreshing as you’re chilling, watching your favorite shows? Stay away from Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. A ¼ pint of the perennial favorite flavor, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, will increase your daily calorie count by 270. Instead, opt for yogurt. The same portion size of yogurt only comes in at 70 calories (of course, this is brand-specific – but the numbers don’t stray far).
  • Whole grains: Go for complex carbohydrates instead of refined carbohydrates. They contain fewer calories per serving and are also more satiating, which reduces the likelihood of you overeating. For example, 100 grams of generic pasta contains 355 calories, while the same portion of brown rice pasta has 300 calories.

Don’t underestimate the effect food swaps can have on your overall calorie intake. ‘Saving’ 50 calories here, then another 100 calories there, will all add up.

And best of all? You wouldn’t feel like you’re starving yourself. You’re essentially still eating the same volume (and type) of food, after all.

Find a fitness approach that works for you

For fat loss to be sustainable, you can’t just make dietary changes.

You'll also have to increase your physical activity – as that increases the number of calories you burn, which makes sticking to a calorie deficit much easier over the long term (we're talking years, not months).

And, of course, the same principle applies to your fitness approach: avoid jumping into the deep end and resorting to extreme measures right from the get-go.

Here’s how you can slowly build up your physical activity levels:

  • Increase your NEAT levels: New to fitness altogether? Then one of the easiest ways to get started is to increase your NEAT levels. Get yourself a standing desk, walk around the neighborhood when you’re on a break, take the stairs instead of the escalator … as insignificant as these activities may seem, they’ll still go a long way toward ramping up your daily calorie burn.
  • Find a cardio activity you enjoy: Once you’ve gotten your NEAT levels toward a respectable figure (a rough estimate is 10,00 step count – daily), work toward a regular cardio schedule. It’s good for your heart, and it burns calories. But remember this: pick an activity you enjoy. Hate running? Try swimming. Can’t swim? Try the rowing machine in the gym. There are plenty of options.
  • Throw in resistance training: You can do this at the same time you’re exploring cardio options. Strength training builds muscle – which helps you burn more calories in a day compared to fat mass (crucial for fat loss). Of course, work your way toward regular resistance training gradually. Start once or twice, then increase as your body adapts.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help

That said … the thing about resistance training is that you could get hurt if you don’t know what you’re doing (e.g. squatting or deadlifting with poor form = ouch in your lower back).

If possible, it’d be best for you to seek out help from someone who knows what they’re doing; in most cases, this would refer to a fitness professional, like a personal trainer.

But, of course, personal trainers can get expensive.

Don’t have money to spare?

Then you could get yourself a personal trainer app (ahem, GymStreak) that can – at the very least – help you:

Interested? Then check out GymStreak for yourself here.

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