Just this morning a friend I have known for over 10 years finally asked me to design a program for him. He is a brilliant man, but he knows nothing about the specifics of exercise and weight loss. This is good, because it reminded me that it’s important to keep information accessible and uncluttered. Specifically, he asked me about a fat loss product whose name I already cannot remember. There really isn’t much point: They are all ultimately indistinguishable. They make bold claims that aren’t backed by independent study, they aren’t scrutinized by the FDA (so there is no consistent quality control), and ultimately they may cause more harm than good. If you are going to take a product for losing fat, it is imperative that you first make sure with your doctor that it won’t adversely affect your health conditions or negatively impact any medications.

First, let me clarify something about these fat burning pills, gels, powders, and drinks. They are generally a hyper concentrated dose of caffeine. When you look at the ingredient label, they may try to avoid saying it directly. Similar to foods that avoid using the word “sugar” by listing various other ingredients instead (e.g. unrefined cane extract, honey, sucrose, beet powder, high fructose corn syrup, etc.), these diet pills will name caffeine once (if at all), then go on to name green tea extract, green coffee extract, etc. In other words, caffeine, caffeine, and caffeine. There may also be way too much vitamin B, some chili pepper extract, crushed red pepper, raspberry, and other substances that increase your metabolic rate temporarily.

All of these ingredients do have an effect on your metabolism, but they also affect blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety, and depression. These concentrated compounds can make you feel energized temporarily, but they also often cause a crash afterward. They can also become addictive.

I want to shift toward calories. It is really quite frustrating that people still think of them as a simple unit of relevance. People in the fitness industry continue to preach that losing fat isn’t complicated, it’s a simple matter of creating a calorie deficit. Burn more than you consume. That makes logical sense; however, this is the human body, and it’s not simple or logical.

First, if it were true that a simple process of bean counting would cause weight loss, then diets and supplements would work. But they don’t. This is well observed: People cannot sustain the restrictive and/or demanding requirements, they discontinue what they are doing, and they regain all the lost weight (plus some). This should have thoroughly disproven the burn/consume theory. There is far more going on, and frankly your body cannot count calories.

And generally it’s not helpful, even when your brain makes the attempt.

Formulas for calculating a person’s resting metabolic rate (the number of calories a person burns just to stay alive) and deeply flawed, and generally quite inaccurate. These formulas cannot account for metabolic states, hormone levels, medications, and a variety of other non-mathematical considerations.

Take two people with the same age, gender, height, weight, activity levels, and health conditions, and each will require a different number of calories to live.

It does not work that way:

Being obsessed with calories isn’t effective across your lifetime. But rather, let us focus on what actually is simple: Healthy diet and adequate exercise. Even in this, not everyone will be able to achieve the same results from the same practices. Walking is perhaps the single best exercise you can do to improve all aspects of your wellness. But what if a person does not have the space or physical ability to walk? Healthful foods are imperative, but what about someone with a wide variety of allergies or intolerances? Even the “simple” practice of food and activity isn’t simple. It makes sense that people would resort to magic pills and potions, but these are not the answer.

Considering your own personal situation, if you want to improve your body composition (changing the ratio of fat to muscle), it is important that you not tie yourself to the idea that you have to accomplish someone else’s goals by their particular means. You have to separate yourself from fitness models, porn stars, movie actors, social media influencers, and advertisements. There is a general principle underlying fat loss, but it isn’t fixed or universal to all bodies.

To reduce body fat, be mindful of the degree and frequency to which your food choices spike your blood sugar. Consider where your foods cause inflammation in your bowels or undermine your intestinal flora. Be mindful of any medications or hormonal conditions that interfere with your ability to shed fat. Once you can steer clear of those hurdles that are specific to you, then consider the physical activities you enjoy. Can you walk? Okay, can you walk more?

Do you need to focus on upper body conditioning because of an injury or disability in your legs?

Research options that let you focus on getting your heart rate up with your arms and torso. Do you do strength and/or performance training? When your technique allows you to do it safely, increase your volume with more resistance, sets, and/or repetitions. Increase the frequency, duration, and/or intensity of whatever activities you enjoy.

This is the way to lose fat: The way that works best for your body and your situation. Some people will remain lean regardless of what they do or avoid. Others will struggle to lose weight. What will improve your chance of success is to set specific goals to achieve by a particular deadline, and to then journal the process. Journaling doubles your chance of success. Focus on programs that are designed to your own specifications and needs, and be careful of people who sell you that idea that anything about losing weight is simple.

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