How to Lose Fat and Have Energy to Train

March 03, 2015, 12:40 p.m. (ET)

By Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD

If you have excess body fat you want to lose, please think twice before you go on a restrictive diet. To lose weight healthfully and successfully keep it off, you need to learn how to eat better. Poor eating habits contribute to weight problems—in particular, the over-eating that commonly occurs after having “blown a diet.”

     Strict diets rely upon willpower. Strict diets leave you feeling denied and deprived of one of life's pleasures—food. Rather than diet, you want to learn how to healthfully eat diet portions of any food you currently enjoy and would like to enjoy for the rest of your life. Healthful eating offers long-term success as compared to the temporary results of crash dieting. Healthful eating also ensures adequate intake of all the nutrients you need to exercise at your best.

    The following eating tips can help you successfully lose weight plus have energy to enjoy exercising. Plan to gradually lose weight at a slow but realistic rate of about 0.5% to 1% of your body weight per week. Even weight-class athletes like wrestlers can (and should) use these tips to lose fat and keep it off. 

Twelve Steps for Successful Fat Reduction

#1.   Observe what you typically eat in a day, then evaluate your meal patterns and eating habits. Do you skip breakfast? Nibble all afternoon? Devour huge dinners?  Eat nonstop at night?

     If you eat very little during the day but then indulge at night, experiment with eating a bigger breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack—and then a smaller dinner. You want to fuel during the active part of your day, then diet by night, so you lose weight while sleeping.

     By giving yourself permission to eat more calories during the day, you will 1) have more energy to exercise, 2) prevent yourself from getting too hungry. Generally speaking, people who become ravenous by dinnertime don't care about what they eat, nor how much they eat. Some claim they are “addicted” to food. Doubtful. They are simply way too hungry.

#2. To lose weight, you have to create an energy deficit.

That is, you have to eat fewer calories than you burn. Knowing your calorie budget and the calorie value of foods can be helpful to prevent over- and under-eating. You can educate yourself about calories by using apps and food labels. But first, measure your foods (cereal, milk, rice, and pasta) so you can learn how much you are actually consuming. Because most people repeatedly eat the same ten to fifteen foods, learning the proper portions that fit within your calorie-budget is a manageable one-time task.

NOTE:  This calorie calculation is a rough estimate of your energy needs. You may burn more calories or fewer calories, depending on many factors unique to your body. For example, people who constantly fidget expend more energy than do sedentary people! A registered dietitian can help you more accurately estimate your energy needs.

#3.  Chip away at fat loss by subtracting 10-20% (or less, but not more) from your maintenance calories; this is a reasonable calorie target for fat loss. For example, if you maintain your weight on about 2,000 calories, you should plan to lose weight on about 1,600-1,800 calories. Note that petite athletes (i.e., skaters, gymnasts, dancers) will subtract fewer calories than will bigger athletes (football players, body builders). If you cut back more than 20% of your normal intake, you will likely become ravenously hungry and be at high risk for blowing your diet.

#4.  Organize your eating into a balanced plan. For example, divide a 1,600-calorie diet into three meals plus snacks, such as:

Breakfast         400 calories
Lunch              500 calories
Snack              200 calories
Dinner             500 calories.

Be sure to eat enough calories during the day so you will have plenty of energy to exercise at your best. Daytime meals invest in your ability to "diet" (that is, eat less) at night because you will be less hungry. You will not gain weight by eating a substantial breakfast or lunch. But you will gain weight if you skimp on these meals, get too hungry, and then overeat in the evening. Remember: Fuel by day and diet by night.

#5.  Eat slowly. Overweight people tend to eat faster than their normal-weight counterparts. You should try to pace your eating because your brain needs about 20 minutes to receive the signal that you have eaten your fill. No matter how much you consume during these twenty minutes, the satiety signal won't move any faster. Practice chewing slowly, putting down the fork between bites (rather than eating non-stop), tasting the food, and savoring it.

#6.  Look at your week ahead of you and figure out which days you’ll be stressed or tempted to eat more. Plan in a "maintain weight day" and enjoy (a reasonable portion of) birthday cake or other special meal. This will help you honor your reducing program when tempted at other times. When enjoying this special meal, eat it slowly to fully appreciate the taste. After all, the best part about food is the taste.

#7.  Keep away from food sources that tempt you. For example, read the newspaper in the living room rather than in the kitchen next to the cookies. Avoid jogging past the bakery. Stand away from the buffet table at a party. By keeping food out of sight and reach, you will be more likely to keep it out of your mind, and out of your mouth.

#8.  If you tend to eat because you are bored, stressed, tired, or lonely, make a list of ten activities you can do instead of eating: read your emails, surf the web, water the plants, take a bath, call a friend, work on a jigsaw puzzle, go for a walk, go to sleep...

#9. If you eat because you are stressed, learn how to handle stress and anxiety without over-eating. Recog- nize no amount of food will satisfy anxiety-hunger. Take steps to resolve the real problem. For example, make yourself write in a journal for 5 to 10 minutes before you distract yourself from feeling your feelings by eating comfort foods.

#10. Think positive. Every morning before you get out of bed, visualize yourself eating appropriately and achieving your nutrition goals. This will help you start the day with a positive attitude. Continually remind yourself that you would rather be leaner than overeat.

#11. Measure fat loss by looking at yourself naked in the mirror. If you see (and pinch) less body fat, you have less fat! If you weigh yourself, do so once a week first thing in the morning, after you have gone to the bathroom and before you have eaten. Don't weigh yourself after exercise or at night; that gives a false weight! Remember, if you are building muscle while losing fat, the scale may not change but your body will look different and your clothes will feel looser.

#12.  Be proud of your healthy eating patterns and keep reminding yourself that when you eat well, you feel better—and you also feel better about yourself. Plus, you have enough energy to exercise and enjoy life.