11 min read

Eating for Fat Loss

Hara Hachi Bu -- Eat to 80% for Fat Loss
Mmm…Raw Salmon…

I wanted to create a simple resource for all my readers based on my nutritional philosophy, as that relates to eating for fat loss, which is pretty simple overall and so it should be.

If you did number one 90% of the time or higher, you’d probably get incredible fat loss results and if you don’t, then we can troubleshoot it.

This is a quick run-down of the essential questions you should ask yourself before every meal if you’re eating for fat loss.

I’m giving out a free cheat-sheet here, no strings attached, uncopyright, please fold it up and keep it with you. Refer to it regularly for 90 days and let me know if you make some progress.

Granted, you can’t lose weight without an energy deficit, so ultimately you need to track your progress and tweak.

These skills generally provide an excellent result with little to no other interpretation, but sometimes you need to be a little more specific in their application.

Given that there are a variety of interpretations of these somewhat global skill-driven weight loss tips, you’ll need to keep in mind that you may have to continue to tweak these behaviors towards your objective.

1. Am I eating whole foods that I know the origins of?

Three-thousand calories from potato chips and three-thousand calories from potatoes are not the same thing. Eating that many calories from chips is easy, grab a bag or two, but try eating an equal amount of just whole unprocessed potatoes, it’s a lot different!

The same thing could be said for a lot of demonized cereal grain carbohydrate products, try eating three-thousand calories of bread, then try eating three-thousand of bulgur or oats.

What about eating fruit instead of drinking juice? Think of all the caloric drinks out there we’re drinking from Coke to Mountain Dew, it’s not whole, not even close.

If we could get everyone on earth to eat whole foods the majority of the time we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic sweeping North America, it’s almost that simple.

2. Is this too much food, too quickly?

The Okinawans (little island off the coast of Japan, remember Karate Kid?) have a fantastic saying called Hara Hachi Bu, or in English, eat until you’re 80% full.

This is wonderful advice actually because it takes about twenty minutes for your body to register that it’s full anyway, mostly because the feeling of hunger is regulated by the endocrine (hormone) system and it takes a while for these hormones to take effect.

So if you eat until you’re 80% full, you’ll notice that about twenty minutes after you started eating, you’ll actually feel completely full and satisfied.

Another strategy might be to play with your environment, try eating from a nine inch plate, instead of the standard eleven inch plate, this makes the same amount of food look huge and instantly more satisfying, while limiting how much you can fit on there.

One other strategy is to simply take a picture of your food at every meal — don’t worry about keeping track of every calorie you eat like most people advise for now.

It’s also O.K. to leave a little on the plate, put the leftovers in the fridge, take them for lunch tomorrow.

I hate counting calories and have managed to stay at 6-8% body fat for most of my adult life, it’s doable if you understand quantities.

Hint: I’m going to show you some easy measurement strategies below using your hand as a good rough guide for quantity. As long as the quality of the food is high (see question #1), these measurements work very well. 

3. Is this enough lean protein? 

Palm Sized Serving of Protein for Fat Loss
Check your palm right now, is that about right for the lean protein on your plate?

Protein intake is important, the smaller molecules called Amino Acids, that make up proteins are contributing to pretty much every process in your body, which is why they are frequently referred to as the building blocks of the body.

One serving of a lean protein is approximately the size of your palm, and about the thickness of a deck of cards to maybe an inch.

I would say women should go for one of these servings and men should go for two.

You can choose from sources like lean meat (poultry breast/thigh, fish, lean cuts of beef, pork, bison, elk, ostrich, etc…), or lean vegetarian sources (egg whites, tofu, tempeh, legumes/beans), or powdered protein supplements — for supplements one scoop typically for Women and two for Men instead of the palm size servings.

Protein increases the thermic effect of the meal you are about to eat, which means your body is going to spend more energy actually digesting your food at rest than you would without protein.

It also lowers the glycemic response of the food, meaning less of a spike to your blood sugar levels.

Protein also keeps you feeling fuller, for longer as a result of the above.

4. Are there enough vegetables on this plate? 

I want you to stop fretting about carbs and start focusing on greens.

Fist Size of Veggies
A serving of veggies is about this big.

Veggies make everything else in your system just work better with a great dose of useful vitamins and minerals.

They are like the oil in your engine or on your bike chain, making sure everything works smoothly.

You’ll feel better, experience less sickness, have more energy, and be more regular.

As long as the protein is there, it won’t feel like you’re a rabbit grazing on niblets and not getting full.

Now it depends on how frequently you plan on eating but if it’s only three square meals a day you should get two of these bad boy measures in at every meal — half the plate or so.

If you eat more frequently, like six times a day you could get away with one of them.

Again women probably don’t need as much as men by about half, but keep in mind your fist is probably smaller.

Go after a variety of veggies from cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli or cauliflower, to leaf vegetables like Kale, Seaweed or Swiss Chard, to bulb/alium veggies like garlic, onion or leeks, to things like peppers, legumes, mushrooms, even squash (particularly in the fall), and root vegetables.

Try not to have fruit with every meal, but whole fruit can be thrown into the equation from time to time too. Fruit is a great option for consideration #5…

Mix it up, find what you like and cook it how you like. You can steam them, grill them, bake them, even saute or stir-fry them in some healthy fats. Eat more, once you’ve mastered this we can talk specifics.

5. Are there too many starches or simple sugars here? If so, how active was I today?

You’ve all heard it by now, carbs are evil. Except that they are in everything to a certain extent almost and glucose (sugar) is needed for the brain to function.

Carbohydrates are the gas for your car, you’ll need them especially if you’re exercising regularly. If you’re sedentary, then by all means keep carbs low in your diet (100-150 g per day is probably fine).

Yes your body can convert fat and protein into glucose, but it’s a slow painful process, so you’ll need some starchy carbohydrates in your diet — or more beans and root vegetables as a good substitute — particularly if you’re moving or exercising a lot, which you should be if you’re trying to lose fat.

However, a simple strategy you can employ to maximize the effect of your intake is to eat these starchy veggies, grains or any simple sugars — if you’re going to eat the latter at all — more on days you train, especially around times that you exercise/train.

Better still, the more simple they are, the better they probably better consumed near the end of your workout. Not immediately after necessarily but within 3 hours or so.

There is a physiological reason for this, because it’s perceived as the best time for those carbohydrates to assist in recovery from your workout and be stored as carbohydrates and not additional fat. It won’t have a huge statistical relevance but every little bit helps.

Scooped Handful
Scooped Handful of Something = 1 Serving Starchy Carbs

Simple sugars are the low spectrum offenders, they can completely stall your fat loss, or even induce weight gain, if not kept under control. Typically added sugars should represent less than 10% of your diet, and I’d say for good results during intentionally fat loss, minimize it to 5% of intake.

Note: Simple vs Complex carbs is a bit of a confusing point. It’s not 100% accurate, but it can help clarify an idea. Simple carbs are usually just slang for added sugars (either mono or di-saccharides like table sugar, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, etc…) or easily broken down processed starchy carbs (like white pasta, muffins, cookies, bread, etc…). Complex carbs is usually just slang for foods that have simple sugars in them but usually meets two criteria; A) Fiber is attached to the food itself; B) The simple sugars are part of that food and not added. For example: Fruit/Whole Grains. Like I said, there is more to it than that (read the link above) but helps people associatively.

Starchy vs Non-Starchy is probably a better frame of reference overall. Non-starchy carbohydrates would include pretty much all vegetables (save maybe some root veggies) and fruit probably isn’t going to break the bank but eat more vegetables.

So, for this next meal, are there too many starchy carbohydrates, particularly simple processed ones with sugar added or bread or pasta?

A good frame of reference here is a scooped handful for women and men might be able to tolerate two scooped handfuls. A piece of bread is also roughly the equivalent of 1 serving (provided it’s not outlandishly large!).

Starches in the diet include fruit, grains, pasta, quinoa, amaranth, rice, other cereal grains and the processed versions of them like bread, sodas, bagels, muffins or cakes.

You want to lean more towards fruit, whole grains like rice or oats, seeds like Quinoa or amaranth and less towards tastier treats like bagels, sodas, muffins, etc…

Additional Word of Warning: Added sugars can often be found in pop/soda, fruit juices, and anything pre-bought or pre-packaged like salad dressings, sauces, desserts, or sweet snacks. Check the labels!

I may add to that list that you should really only drink non-caloric beverages whenever possible, like green tea, black coffee, or water.

Overall, just try to eat less starchy carbohydrates and especially simple sugars found in processed foods. Eat more starchy carbohydrates the more active you are, and eat less if you don’t move as much.

This is tough because they are in everything, right in your face at every restaurant or coffee shop you visit. All else fails, refer to question 1.

6. Did I get some healthy fats in today?

The first and perhaps original demonized macronutrient. This is another reason #1 is so important.

Thumb Sized Serving of Fats
To First Knuckle of Thumb = Roughly 1 TBSP

Highly processed foods generally have nasty processed fats, like trans-fat, these can lead to fat gain, hence the bad rep fats have.

However, you still need fat in your diet, fatty acids do a lot of stuff in your body that are essential to many bodily functions like tissue repair and regeneration, or heat regulation, not to mention it surrounds all your cells and your brain.

Fat aids in many bodily functions and protects a lot of stuff.

Essential body fat levels for women are approximately 11-14% and in men 2-4%, so we know that your body needs some fat to function appropriately.

You’re going to need a healthy mix of preferably naturally occurring fats if you’re going to lose fat too.

So, for this next meal, double check, are there small amounts of healthy fats in this meal?

Did you eat some healthy fats today already?

It’s not a necessarily a one time a day thing only if you know the right portions but if you didn’t already get some in, you probably should now. It doesn’t and probably shouldn’t be much. 2-4 thumb-fuls of a healthy fat most days will be enough for most women and 3-6 thumb-fuls will be enough for most men.

You can choose from healthy oils like olive oil or coconut oil or macadamia nut oil, to half an avocado, even some raw or roasted nuts like hazelnuts, cashews or almonds.

It could also be raw/roasted seeds like sesame, sunflower, flax, chia, or hemp, and omega-3 rich fish oils are equally great.

Whichever type you choose, make sure you’re adding healthy fats to your diet while replacing the unhealthy ones.

This means emphasizing omega-3 fatty acids in particular, something notoriously low in the western diet. Eat more fish, eat omega-3 enriched eggs, etc… The good new there is that you’ll get a good dose of healthy fat usually with a good source of protein (see point #3).

There is also substantial evidence suggesting that monounsaturated fats like olives or avocado should have a strong prominence in your diet.

This is above and beyond saturated fats, which don’t generally need to be added to the diet — though they probably don’t deserve the label of unhealthy either.

The thing about saturated fats is that they are in a lot of good foods already like lean proteins, and eggs. Sure you can cook with coconut oil, butter, ghee or red palm oil occasionally but I’d still generally encourage people to place more emphasis on other oils like olive or avocado for cooking things that don’t have to be high heat.

Oils/Seeds/Nuts servings should be about the size of your thumb or about 1 tbsp, guys again can probably go a little bit more (2 to 1).

Eating for fat loss doesn’t have to be complex, it just has to get you to a slight energy deficit. So if you’re not getting to your goals, the first places I’d look provided you’re good with #1-4 is ways to reduce your fat and/or carb intake a little further, probably starting with carbs.

Here is the cheat sheet again. Keep up the good work!

[zilla_alert style=”yellow”] Just to follow up and confirm, these are somewhat vague generalized considerations. You MUST track progress to know if you’re making progress and you may have to tweak these to be more specific to obtain the result you seek.

Many tweaks within them can still be made. Carbohydrate intake for instance often needs to be manipulated around how active you are. If you’re not particularly active a higher fat diet might be ideal, but it might be detrimental to the more active individual.

Carbs can also help modulate certain hormones and can be useful in preventing your body from freaking out over severe deficits with periodic refeeds, for women this could be just before menstruation in the menstrual cycle. In men this might be every 6-7 days.

This is a reason that ‘cheat’ meals/days (I prefer the term ‘refeeds’ and meals rather than days) make a ton of sense for some people, but not for all people.

There are many ways to hone in on the specifics of these general approaches, so please consider them as you progress towards your objectives and ask questions.