A Fat Loss Template

The path to fat loss is not necessarily a difficult one to traverse, but it is largely misunderstood.  The mainstream advice absolutely works, but only if your goal is temporary weight loss, not sustainable fat loss.  “Doing The Paleo Diet” can also be quite effective at making you feel better, improving health, and causing some fat loss, but I have never seen diet alone get anyone all the way to peak health or all the way to a body that looks great in a swim suit (which is actually two ways to say the same thing).  Those who focus on diet alone inevitably end up frustrated and/or short of their goals.

Today, I am going to lay out a solid fat loss plan for you that encompasses the four major inputs of health: nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress management.  The title of this post is “A” Fat Loss Template, because this is not the only plan that can work and I’m not guaranteeing that this plan will work for absolutely everyone.  Sometimes, after a long history of weight loss attempts, metabolic issues can necessitate more patience the this plan requires, but this is a solid plan that will work wonders for most people.  However, if you are looking for a magic bullet or something that will give you your dream body in a month, don’t waste your time reading the rest of this rather long post.

Month 1

The first steps are basic paleo, walking, and improving sleep patterns.  I discussed the basic paleo part in this recent post, so I won’t rehash all the details here.  Suffice it to say you need to get the offensive foods out and the human chow in.  Don’t worry about anything else related to your diet for at least 1 month.  If you need to use baby steps to get to perfect basic paleo, you have my full support, but don’t start the 1 month timer until you get there.

Walk as often as you can, for as long as you can.  You aren’t walking too much unless time spent walking is detracting from sleep and eating time.  If you have been doing traditional cardio or otherwise over-exercising, trade it all in for walking.  When we compare the way we move to the way our genes expect us to move, the biggest thing missing is lots of low intensity movement.  If you only have time for a 10 minute walk on your lunch break, get out there!  If you only have time for a 10 mile hike on a Saturday morning, get out there!  Most people can make time for a short walk everyday.  Be most people.

If you aren’t getting enough sleep, or if you are sleeping the wrong hours, expect to struggle with fat loss.  The research is undeniable, bad sleep patterns can (and often does) cause insulin resistance, which in turn makes it hard to access stored fat for energy (a quick search of Pubmed.com for “sleep insulin resistance” or “sleep obesity” is very enlightening).  Poor sleep patterns have also been shown to increase inflammation and increase cravings, both of which may cause an increase in stored fat and/or inhibit fat loss.  Sleeping 8 hours is a good target and 10 PM to 6 AM, or there about, are a good 8 to get.

Month 2

Reduce your starchy carbs and fruit so that the huge majority of your weekly carb intake comes from fibrous vegetables.  If you are a woman, this is also a good time to take a quick snapshot of your total calories because there’s a good chance you aren’t eating enough.  If you calories are below 1800 per day, get them up as best you can.  In my opinion, no adult ever needs less than 1800 calories per day, and and such restriction is certainly not necessary for fat loss.  Unfortunately, you may not have an appetite for more food after years of conditioning.  If you just aren’t hungry, try to walk more and add more fat to your diet.  This may feel forced at first, so feel free to slowly increase calories rather than make yourself miserable.  The good news is that red meat is calorie dense.  Eat more of it.  If you can get grass fed beef, bison, or any other source of pastured red meat, eating fatty cuts can really help increase calories.  If you have been eating too little for a long time, expect to gain a little fat when you first start giving your body what it needs to thrive.  Don’t let this freak you out!  You have to re-condition your body back to a place where it doesn’t feel the need to stuff every spare calorie into your fat cells to get you through these harsh times of scarce food that have been imposed upon it for years.

Continue walking and begin lifting heavy weights 3 or 4 days per week in workouts that focus on big compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and presses.  Your goal should be to increase strength and physical capacity, at least until you dramatically outshine the average person of your age and gender on the street, at which point maintenance may be fine for you.  If you have never lifted heavy before, you will need to find someone to teach you proper form.  There are probably good trainers in your area, although methods for finding a good one are outside the scope of this post.  My best advice for finding a good trainer is in The Paleo Coach.  We are also happy to teach you proper form at EPLifeFit.  Whoever shows you the ropes, be sure they are heavily focused on mobility and proper form.  You want to be lifting until the they put you in the ground, not injured and out of the game.  When executed properly, heavy lifting is safer than any sport you may have played as a kid.  Heavy lifting and walking trump cardio for fat loss every time.

Begin meditating.  I like 8 Minute Meditation by Victor Davich, but there are lots of other methods and, while some might be better than others, I don’t know of a terrible one.  You might need to just trust me on this one.  Meditation, the way Davich teaches it and the way I practice it, is not spiritual at all, so it should drop neatly into your life regardless of your beliefs.  It is merely an exercise in stress management.  Give it an honest shot for 2 or 3 weeks and I think you will love what it does for you, but please set aside what you may believe you understand about meditation if you have never practiced it for an extended period of time.  We live in a world that our ancient genes cannot hope to understand.  The stress we face in modern society is nothing at all like the stress we evolved to deal with.  Car payments, lousy bosses, and traffic jams have absolutely nothing to do with our survival, the hormonal response they elicit is very similar to survival stress, except in a long, slow, maddening drip instead of an acute rush.  Meditation is the only thing I have ever seen work for everyone I talked into doing it.

Month 3

Don’t change anything about your diet this month.

Add some sprints to your lifting and walking.  Stationary bikes, rowing machines, and your feet on grass or a track are all acceptable.  Intensity is the key to sprinting.  100% effort for a short duration (I like 20-30 seconds) is required to call it a sprint.  Adding 3 to 5 sprints, with enough rest between to catch you breath, to 1 or 2 of your lift days will work wonders, but don’t add another workout day for sprints.  Again, you may need to find someone to teach you the best way to sprint and help you understand intensity.  Proper warm-ups are non-negotiable!  Warm-up inadequately at your own risk!  High intensity interval training can also work, but we must define it.  High intensity and interval are key words here.  They denote near maximal effort and short duration.  20-30 minute HIIT workouts should only be done for sport, not for getting really healthy.

Month 4

If you are losing fat, even if it is happening slowly, you do not need this phase.  Just chill for a while and let your body get really healthy, however long that takes.  Remember, we are producing sustainable results here, which means you get to keep all the awesome changes you make.  It’s okay if Month 4 becomes Month 5 or 6 or 24.  If, in fact, fat loss is not happening for you, there are a few small tweaks that can be made.  Choose one tweak at a time and give each at least month to provide you with some data to work with while doing your best to control other confounding variables.

My favorite of the late game tweaks is simply a consolidation of of your total calories into a shorter eating window in your day.  Some call this Intermittent Fasting; I prefer to call it skipping breakfast.  The most important things that you must understand about this tweak is that it should not be used be used too soon and it should not result in a noticeable decrease in calories.  Either factor could cause stress and rob you of results.  Just redistribute your breakfast calories to lunch and dinner, and only eat in (approximately) an 8 hour window.  Example: begin eating lunch at 11:00 AM and finish dinner by 7:00 PM.  If you are someone who struggles to get enough calories, removing breakfast may be a problem for you if your appetite makes it hard to get enough food down at a sitting.  In that case, just remove all carbohydrates from breakfast.

If you have a huge appetite and eat lots of food each day, this might be a good time to slightly reduce calories.  Everyone is different and these are just estimates, but if you are a woman eating 1800-2000 calories, or a man eating 2200-2400 calories, this is probably not going to be a good tweak for you.  You will probably only negatively affect your metabolism if you eat less.  Some people, however, have no problem packing away food.  This isn’t always a hindrance to fat loss, but a slight calorie restriction can be helpful if you are stuck.  The key is to not make such a big change in calories that your body perceives it as stress.  If you overshoot this, you will likely begin to lose weight, and not just fat, which will include that hard-earned muscle mass required for a peak health metabolism.

Last but not least, you could try cycling your carb intake.  My favorite way to do this is to eat very low carbohydrate paleo (30 grams or less) for most days, but re-feed with lots of starch (sweet potatoes, yams, butternut squash, even white rice if you tolerate it well) in one or two dinners per week.  Keifer’s Carb Nite plan, which I love as a late game play, is based on this basic carb re-refeed concept.  I have to be honest here, I have seen carb cycling work very well for many people right out of the gate, but my experience has taught me that it often fails as a start-up plan for metabolically damaged people who have struggled with fat loss through multiple yo-yo dieting episodes, losing and regaining the same 10 or 20 pounds more than once.  Getting through the steps in the previous 3 months above is a good way to give carb cycling a decent shot at working for you.

There you have it

There’s no magic in there, but if you are used to mainstream weight loss prescriptions, this might take some magical patience and emotional control.  Like I said, this is a basic template that will work for most people, but it isn’t an ancient secret from the fabled Sumerian Fat Loss Scrolls (I just made that up, no need to Goolge it).  I have never met the beginner that would not at least get healthier this plan, but there are those whose bodies will resist fat loss through these steps.  Most of the time the answer is simply more patience.  Regardless, this is a good beginning (or restart) for anyone.  Also please acknowledge that the bulk of what I’m suggesting is a change of food choices, a maximum of 3 to 4 hours per week lifting with a couple of sprints mixed in, walking where it fits, 8 minutes per day meditating, and maybe an adjustment to sleep hours.  Remove all emotion and desperation, and it’s all very easy to implement.  Granted, change is almost always hard at first.  But when change leaves you with a hot body that feels great and is capable of doing things that used to be impossible, oh man is it worth it!

Go forth and be awesome.

Comments

  1. Traci says

    Great post! How much should fruit and starchy foods be limited? Should they just be avoided all together? Or can you eat them once or twice a week? Can you incorporate them again once you start sprinting, or is it best to leave them out till you reach your goal?

    I’m enjoying lifting way more than I ever did cardio. :]

    • Jason says

      In month 2, I recommend that you eliminate all fruit and experiment with starch starting on the low side. You might even consider eliminating all starchy veggies for a couple of weeks and see what happens when you add them back in. Fruit and starch can both be a healthy part of your diet once you have regained healthy metabolic flexibility and excess fat storage is not a problem.

  2. Lynn says

    I love this long haul approach. Thanks for the motivation and encouragement. Ditto on the weight lifting. Dreaded cardio, love the weights!

  3. James says

    So are you saying that you can eat only two meals a day? I started the doing the “30 Day Intro to Paleo” and I find myself too full to eat sometimes. Should I eat when I am hungry, or every so many hours?

  4. says

    …still looking for the Sumarian Scrolls!!! :) Great advice! It’s soccer season for the kids (and some adults). I’m coaching again, and use Tuesdays and Thursdays for my “extra credit” walk days as I likely cover 2 + miles during the hour sessions (a little light jogging too). Today it’s on the back of a Low Intensity Session at the gym (don’t let the name fool you).

    Keep up the great work J&S,

    Craig

  5. says

    This is awesome. I’m a huge book and podcast fan Jason and this brief sums up what you have in the Paleo Coach and other platforms well. Thank you for the concise article we can sick our friends onto! Keep it up!

  6. anonymous says

    Hello Jason,

    I am wondering about a few things. What if you are”

    1) Leptin Resistant and Weight loss Resistant despite over 2 yrs of Paleo
    2) Already eating a low carb Paleo, but when you increase calories your weight packs on lightening speed..isn’t it bad to let your body fat get high? Even if it is “temporary” as you say until it adjusts?
    3) Lifting weights / sprinting leaves you will infalmmation/water retention and poor recovery?
    4) You really feel much better on a plant based diet, which tons of Green veg, green juices and have a difficult time digesting red meats..I do eat fish regularly…

    Any advice would be great. your article is great…thank you!

    • Jason says

      You say “over 2 yrs of Paleo”, but also say “You really feel much better on a plant based diet”. Have you been strict paleo for 2 years, or have you occasionally returned to what makes you feel better?

      Your digestion issues lead me to believe that you spent some time as a vegetarian or vegan. Lots of help with gut flora and digestive enzymes fixes most people, unless of course you have something like ulcerative colitis. Still fixable, but with more specific protocols.

      I cannot say that this template will work without all the inputs in place. Diet alone will get some people very little results. I’m confident that I could turn things around for you, though. Consider trying to find a well versed coach in your area who can tweak your nutrition while teaching you to move without instigating inflammation.

  7. Allie says

    I’m a night shift nurse and I find that sleep is the biggest hurdle for me to conquer. I eat clean paleo as much as I can and train consistently with CrossFit. Not only does my varied sleep schedule effect my stress hormones and inflammatory response, but it effects my eating patterns. I have a consistent sleep pattern when I rotate between my days and nights but I feel like I’m out of ideas to improve this in any way (short of getting on a day shift schedule). Any suggestions?

    • Jason says

      If you can’t get your sleep perfectly dialed, get the controllable variables absolutely perfect. CrossFit will probably be a bad idea for you if you are doing it more than 3 times per week or if your metcons are regularly longer than 10-15 minutes.

  8. says

    I’ve been following Paleo template for about 2 years and been on Carb Nite Solution for almost a year. So far I’m still making progress in body recomposition overall. I didn’t have much fat to lose to begin with but it’s nice to finally be able to see some muscle definitions everywhere :)

  9. Lin says

    Thanks so much for this post…just what I needed to hear. I’ve been taking the short sighted approach to the Paleo lifestyle and when I haven’t seen “results” in a few weeks then I’ve gone back to my old eating habits. Then I come back to my senses and start up with Paleo again, and the cycle continues. I feel very empowered and optimistic after reading your post! I just need to view this as a long term strategy towards greater health rather than a quick weight loss stretegy. Thanks!

  10. Rich says

    Thanks for an interesting post. I am about three or four months in to a similar programme (having read paleo coach and info from various other sources).

    Overall I have had lots of success but have got stuck – My fat loss has stalled a bit short of where I want to be and my energy levels/ lack of brain fog are still not quite where I would like them to be.

    As such I have been reading up on the various options I have to try and move me on a level and trying to resist jumping into all of them at once.

    I had given up calorie counting but entered a standard day into myfitnesspal just to see what I am eating at the moment and think I am probably taking in 1800 – 2,000 calories in a normal day. Could it be that one piece of the puzzle is that I need to eat a bit more?

  11. James says

    So are you saying that you can eat only two meals a day? I started the doing the “30 Day Intro to Paleo” and I find myself too full to eat sometimes. Should I eat when I am hungry, or every so many hours?

    • Jason says

      If you are metabolically healthy (fat comes off easy, been paleo a long time, sleep good, etc.), and you can get plenty of calories in only two meals, go for it.

  12. Ann says

    What would you recommend for a Paleo follower who has 5-10lbs of fat to loose? Still a good idea to drop fruit/starch? Exercise is pretty well dialed in.

    • Jason says

      That kind of depends on how lean you are now. If losing 5 or 10 lbs will make you ripped with visible abs, it might require some experimentation. There is no correlation between being ripped and health so your body may not want to do it, which might mean trying every little tweak, one at a time of course, before you figure it out. Either way, eliminating fruit and starch is a good place to start. Be aware of the fact that this is where over training, stress, and/or bad sleep patterns can really undo all you efforts.

  13. Elizabeth says

    Thank you so much for sharing a plan that doesn’t promise sustained weight loss with a pill, drink or hormone and for encouraging people to not be afraid of the new ‘f’ word … ‘fat.’ This is a great approach to true fat reduction. I also appreciate your replies to questions.

  14. Tmice826 says

    I love the reminders, as often I get caught up in the “glam” of it all and forget that health should always be tops. I am wondering why would fasting for a women consuming between 1800-2000 calories be ill-advised, especially if one is able to consume that same amount within the 8 hour window? Should more food be consumed if attempting to fast and not lose muscle or strength? Will eating in excess of these calories assist with belly flab, since “abs are made in the kitchen”? I understand the statement, the specifics of “how” eludes me, please shed some light, next podcast maybe : )

    • Jason says

      If you can get all your calories in, you might be fine, but a condensed eating window usually means a few liess calories for most people at first and 1800 doesn’t leave room for less. If possible, I like to see a reduced eating window actually mean an increase total calories.

      Belly fat, specifically, is usually related to stress/cortisol, which is often exacerbated by insufficient calories. A healthy metabolism is always the first step to sustainable fat loss.

  15. Alison says

    Thanks for the template, Jason. I welcome your perspective on a reasonable body fat percentage. My body fat is currently 18%.

    I’ve been eating paleo for 3 1/2 years, and fluctuate between 80 and 100% strict. I carry a bit of fat on my belly, likely related to cortisol based on your post. I do Crossfit 3-4 times a week (the metcons are generally under 15 minutes) and yoga 1-2 times a week. On weekends, I’ll got for a short 3-4 mile run.

    Thanks in advance for your input.

    • Jason says

      You don’t mention heavy lifting, so that could be where your coming up short. If all your lifting is in metcons, you aren’t quite lifting the way I meant in the post. If your gym doesn’t have an organized, periodized lift rotation (in other words, you rotate through lifts, reps, and sets with a plan), then I recommend you find a way to fill that void. Also, trade the runs in for more walking, which I’m assuming you are already doing regularly, and don’t do more than 3 metcons per week.

      • Alison says

        Thanks for your response. We do heavy lifting one day/week, and sometimes the metcons also include heavy loads. I’ll trade in some running for walking, for sure. Any thoughts on what I should aim for in terms of body fat percentage? I realize that it’s partially dictated by what I want to look like, but in terms of a general healthy athletic body, I’m not sure how low I should aim.

        • Jason says

          Lifting one day per week is not enough, in my opinion. For what I’m prescribing here, it should feel like the focus of your training plan with metcons as an afterthought.

          18 percent is already well within the healthy range for women. The rest is up to your own desires.

  16. Lucca says

    What a refreshing, patience- driven long term approach. Echoing the nurse, I’m a physician and take call every third night and third weekend, so my sleep is compromised. I had my resting metabolic rate tested a year ago, and was told it was less than average for my age of 47. I follow Paleo ~70-80% and crossfit 3x/week, mostly met cons. I seem to be gaining muscle, but not losing fat that I can tell and could stand to lose 10-15 lbs or so of fat. I would greatly appreciate any advice.

  17. Cecily says

    Hi Jason — need some advice. I wish I had seen this post (and known about your book Paleo Coach) at the beginning of September, when I started Whole30 and recommitted to exercising. I do have a lot of fat to lose. When I started my Whole30 on Sept. 1, I also started doing weight training 3x/week (using the plan in the book “Body for Life” which was what I had on hand), and doing cardio 3x/week (e.g., Zumba, and starting the Couch to 5k program).

    So far, I am almost a month into this, and seeing no changes at. all. (I mean, I feel better, but there has not been any noticeable fat loss yet.)

    At this point, would you recommend scrapping my current exercise plan and starting over with just walking every day for 30 days (basically, start at month 1, day 1 of your plan)? Or should I just scrap the cardio in favor of walking, and change the strength training to a program more in line with your recommendations in Paleo Coach (essentially, starting at month 2, day 1)?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Jason says

      I think you at least need to scrap the cardio if you have a fat loss goal, but starting back at square one wouldn’t hurt either. But please note that at the one month mark feeling better should definitely be counted as progress. Some people don’t see significant fat loss for months. You should only worry if you aren’t seeing any improvements in health at all.

  18. says

    Great article Jason, thanks for the reminder that simple = better.

    Every time I try to complicate weight loss- by combining things like the Slow Carb Diet, fasting, exercise, paleo and more- I end up struggling.

    Meanwhile- every time I’ve had much simpler “rules”, such as cutting out junk food and exercising every day- I get results.

    A few years ago I lost weight super fast by just eating more fruits and veggies and laying off “heavy” foods and useless calories like grains.

    The problem for me is 1) getting into good habits, and then 2) sticking with them.

    I’ve been working out for a few days straight now, and I just gotta make sure I keep it up. Then if I can get off junk food and maintain that, I know i’ll really be rockin’ and rollin’.

    Anyways- thanks again!

  19. Jenny says

    Hi Jason

    I have been doing paleo for about 7 months and my body has certainly changed. I had a baby 12 months ago, but have been suffering with adrenal fatigue and now as a result have a tummy which I can’t seem to shift. I have always been very stressed and a tiny size 8 but since having my second baby I am a 10/12 with horrid amount of fat on my tummy. I am working hard on early nights, relaxing and changing my eating habits. I have for years hardly eaten anything. How can I change my body fat and get back my slimmer figure but without slipping back into bad habits. Would really appreciate some good advice as my fat loss has slowed down. Thanks Jenny

  20. Questions says

    I am wondering what changes or tweaks would need to be made if 1) you have adrenal fatigue issues 2) if you have autoimmune and inflammation issues (autoimmune thyroid, cortisol off the chart), and 3) if you cannot lift more than 15 lbs at a time because of a post-childbirth prolapse. My doctors have said no on the lifting. Thanks.

  21. Kayla says

    Just found this post, great info! I really appreciate you sharing!

    I currently lift heavy 3-4 times a week, do HIIT cardio 2-3 times, and 1-2 med. distance runs. I love running, but while training for a half and still gaining weight, I added in weight lifting. My question is, would you recommend that I scrap that and start back at month 1? The idea of just walking sounds horrible! I will admit that my history of calorie restriction (1000-1200/day) with running 3-4 miles a day in addition to 20-30 mins strength training at least 6 times a week has not worked out for me. I lost 20 pounds at first and then slowly gained it all back, plus a little more. :( I’ve been trying to eat well and am on a whole30 now, but I’m frustrated by no results! Patience is hard for me, especially when my clothes are too tight and I don’t want to buy new ones!

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