This guide is currently a work in progress, please read and feedback with any comments for inclusion.
My Goal - A simple guide to losing fat (in the real world).
Aside from looking good and having energy, being as lean and as strong is the best way of staying healthy as we age. The correlation between fat cells and chronic long term illness is very clear.
The gap between scientific information and actionable steps seems to be widening and leaving people with little advice that actually makes sense and is helpful. Life is not lived in the science lab or in a hut in the woods, the internet is awash with gimmicky chat about fat loss that either only works in the short term or for the minority of people.
Making things complex or zooming in the lens is what makes people sound clever and stops most of us from comprehending the simple actions that will make the difference.
Who is Nick Quinton?
A 42-year-old father, who has spent close to 2 decades helping people to be fitter, faster, stronger (and healthier).
Deconstructing what works and what does not work over the long term. I am by definition a generalist and whole-istic in my approach to pretty much everything - Nothing works in isolation.
I am a professional (charge money) coach and you can read more about me here.
"Lost is the goal that is not defined."
Are you (1) at the mercy of bad habits and behaviours or (2) lacking a good process to take action against? It's probably both. This is not a guide about habits or behaviours (more on this in a future guide). If it is more (1) than (2) then you may need more clarity on where to start but if it is more (2) than (1) then keep reading.
Yes, anything health-related is highly nuanced and individual. This guide is designed to help you clear the lens and start taking meaningful, objective actions. Everything will need adapting to your starting point, goal and life. These guides have worked well for the majority of people who have applied them appropriately.
Being healthy and living well is highly subjective, more of an art than a science but, we need some objective measures in the short term to progress.
At this stage, most of us will have tried some sort of "diet" that may or may not have produced some results. In my experience, most things that work well over the short term, do not work well over the long term because they are not sustainable. The shift that I think we need to make is small (easy to make) progress that compounds over time and is sustainable.
The overlaps between health and finical success are huge, high-risk fast-money strategies do not have a high probability of working and boring small gains that compound over 30 years do create real wealth.
Health, like wealth, is a game of probability. No hard and fast rules that will work every time but your actions and choices will compound to define your probability of success.
(Side note - don't ask me about finance, it something I have not focused on and am therefore juvenile in my approach and understanding).
Habits over the long term
Just to re-emphasise, health is built on sustainable habits over the long term. This guide is by definition about a short term strategy for fat loss, please don't forget that both are required. Short-term is subjectively used here, don't be in a rush. 30-day "shred challenges" can be fun but the key is to think long term. The science is clear on this point, weight lost over a shorter period has a much higher chance of being put back on than weight lost slowly. Don't be in a rush. Again, money earned or saved slowly over the long term will have the highest probability of generating real wealth, the same is true for fat loss. Crash course is exactly that - a crash course.
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Understanding where we are and where we need to get to is vital to creating momentum. "Losing weight" or "shifting a few pounds" will not deliver very much in the way of clarity for you to take action against. The clearer we can be about the challenges/goals we face the better. This is the biggest factor in helping someone get started and taking meaningful action.
Chances are that you will fall into one of 4 categories (let me know if you don't).
A. Crystal clear on where you are and where you need to get to but do not know which strategy will work (Strategy)
B. Do not have real clarity of where you are or where you need to get to but want "help" (Clarity, strategy is useless)
C. Are on a path but want to progress and move faster (Hungry)
D. Have none of the above but are hoping that life will turn out ok, probability is against you (Deluded - most people, unfortunately)
The 5 Why's, this process can help uncover the clarity required and my Clarity worksheet walks you through the process, it can be found here.
Fat loss goal should be achievable
Guys on the Elemental Health Protocol (EHP) aim for 1.0 - 1.5kg/month is a good target. In 12 months you will have lost 18 KGs, chances are you will lose more but set your expectations as achievable. We are playing the physiological game and stacking wins -compounding!
Measure - Be objective
Measuring sounds obvious and is something we do in every area of life where details matter. Fat loss is no different and we are looking to be objective and not guessing.
1. Track calories for a week (using a tracker like My Fitness Pal makes it easier) An eliminating experience for anyone I have worked with that has had the discipline to do it. Most of us are overeating.
2. Eat the same thing and know how many calories it contains. This might sound daft as we are always thinking we need to taste nice things and asking ourselves "what do we fancy for lunch?". Shift your mindset to I am not feeding the taste buds, I am fueling the body. Don't be a delicate flower, be disciplined. If you can nail this down for 3 days a week and eat like it's your job then results will come (or as my rugby coach used to say, "you will get the W on the score sheet". The healthiest populations on earth eat the same 3-5 simple single ingredient foods every day.
Ok, let's pause for a second. If we are able to implement these two steps and have a decent handle on what we want (goal) and what we are actually consuming (objectivity), we will be in the small percentage of people that are empowered to make a change. This alone will have a massive impact on your health and fat.
Reduce and refine - clean up
Reduce the total amount of energy you are consuming (calories) and refine the type of energy and information you are putting into your body. I usually advise that if you are ready, willing and able to start this step of the process then look to reduce by 200-300/calories/day against your estimated basal metabolic rate. Don't worry too much about what that means, it is just a standardised way of providing some sort of number to what the body is doing. Calculate it here and make a note of the numbers of calories burnt per day based on your current activity levels.
My Numbers: Hieght 183cm, Age 42, Weigth 79 KGs.
I bounce between moderate and high activity and seem to use between 2600-3000.
This means if I want to drop body fat (which at the time of writing I am) I try to spend as many days of the week under 2300 calories.
There is no escaping the one simple fact, energy in and energy out have to be balanced or you will store energy as fat. Anyone who is adding weight (getting fatter) is storing more energy than they are using. It really is black and white, about the only thing we can be sure of when it comes to health (the law of thermogenesis). Everything else is a balance of probability. And, unless you are strength training and therefore muscular you a probably storing more fat than you think you are.
Walk, run, cycle, lift heavy things, they all create demand for energy. The catch is that the body is amazing at adapting to the environment and what you throw at it. To this point, it is worth mentioning Progressive Overload" a weight lifting term for adding more weight over time to ensure progress. You can apply it to any physical activity, it will combat the body innate adaptation process.
Reassess and REST
Like any good racing car, the engine is to be used and used hard but not continuously or it will burn out. Bursts of intensity and activity are natural. Slow persistent stress is not. Resting well is an art and as any good athlete knows is the key to recovering and rebuilding. Good sleep and a calm state will absolutely trump any training or diet.
Rest well, take naps and destress from life.
Progress is addictive and enjoying the process is the key ingredient in succeeding - PROGRESS AND PROCESS ARE ALL THAT MATTER. Reassess at regular intervals to ensure progress is being made and being acknowledged, take the wins.
Tactics that work - This is a very short list of things that I (and my clients) have found to work well.
Protein first and drinking more water
Protein deficiency has not been a problem for the last few decades, in the western world. I come from a small village in Greece and the difference in the size of the males is dramatic between mine and the younger generation to my father's generation. This can mostly be attributed to diet and plentiful meat supply. It is the accepted narrative as to why humans have developed and evolved so rapidly compared to other species.
Protein is the primary food source
We viewed through the lens of optimisation for health and muscle building most of us will come up short. It is very hard to hit a high protein target and serious lifters and bodybuilders have to really put in the work to eat enough.
In terms of fat loss, protein can be viewed as the most optimal food as it does not get stored as fat if it is not required. Carbohydrates and fat both get tucked away. Additionally, it is hard to max out and overindulge on protein alone, try it, how many fillet steaks can you actually eat?
On a practical level is it the single best macro-nutrient to focus on first. Aim for 1.8/kg+ body weight, start hitting that consistently and two things will likely happen. You will feel full and your metabolism will speed up. 1.8/kg body weight is the threshold you are trying to stay above and some evidence shows that if you are dramatically dropping calories (which I advise against) more protein will help you not lose and muscle, which makes sense.
Now I don't want to go down a rabbit hole of what macronutrient ratios (fat, protein, carbs) are best, like most things with the human body, we don't really know and people with lots of letters after their names can argue the toss. We want a practical approach that makes sense.
So at 79 kgs I am aiming for at least 142 grams (5 ounces) of protein daily. This equates to 6 chicken breasts or 125 (4.4 ounces) grams of lentils.
Eating within a defined window and not outside it.
This does not take a lot of explaining. Lots of chat about intermittent fasting and how Bradley Cooper does it, but ultimately it is a tool like anything else to help you to progress. Eating in a clearly defined window of 18 hours every day will help you stay within your targets. Some people massively struggle with pushing breakfast back till 11 OR 12, in which case stop eating earlier in the day. On the whole, gradually pushing back your breakfast meal is not that hard and has been very effective as a tool from my experience.
Removing calories from the drinks
This does not mean a switch to sugar-free junk, that stuff will kill you. OK, this is an unsubstantiated claim that doesn't;t hold water (pun intended). If you want to drink synthetic low sugar drinks then go for it as long as it is not a gateway to 5 burgers!
My advice, drink water or tea/coffee without anything in it. Green tea and coffee are appetite suppressants so can complement the feeding window approach above.