This blog post was originally written as two separate emails for my email list, that I am now merging together for your convenience.
Beyond Fat Loss – Part 1
I want to talk about a few ideas that are all connected under this umbrella of what lies beyond fat loss. In part one, we’ll talk about some of the realities of getting to the end of the road for reasonable fat loss. In part two, we’ll talk about some things to do to prepare you for life beyond fat loss and maintenance.
Let’s get right into it…
#1) It’s important when to know to move beyond fat loss in the first place. If you’ve been fixated on changing your body appearance generally speaking and fat loss specifically, it can be really easy to get stuck in a groove where you think that to make “progress”, you need to keep going.
This, at best, might keep you from doing things more fulfilling – dropping from 40 percent body fat to 20 percent body fat is often life changing shit – going from 20 to 14 percent probably not so much. Meanwhile, you could have devoted your energy and time to other pursuits.
But more concerning is the fact that as you pursue lower body fat levels, negative things can start happening. Men and women have different abilities to tolerate lower body fat levels with women having a greater need for fat in general (not just needing a higher percentage, but needing that higher percentage more for not getting messed up), but even among women different women seem to tolerate different body fat levels.
Some side effects of too low of a body fat percentage would be loss of menstrual cycle and libido; disruption of mood which perhaps ironically, can then trigger more body insecurities such as “feeling fat”; slower or weaker growth of hair and nails, sleep disturbances and more.
In general, 18-22 percent body fat is probably a pretty safe target for women. Some women can go significantly lower than that and be free from the types of disturbances I mentioned above, whereas for others… no freakin’ way.
“But what if I really want visible abs?!”
Then you better hope that you can tolerate a low enough body fat percentage for that to happen and ideally be someone that naturally stores fat on somewhere other than your stomach. If you feel great at say, 12 percent body fat, and store fat on your hips, sure, you may be able to walk around with visible abs most of the time.
For the rest of us though (the majority), it’s best to know when enough is enough and move on.
Understand that it’s not only perfectly healthy and normal to not have visible abs, but unless you have the perfect genetic predisposition, it’s probably much healthier.
Beyond Fat Loss – Part II
In part 1, I talked about how to know when to move on from fat loss in the first place – mainly understanding that there is a threshold where beyond diminishing returns from fat loss, there can even be physical and psychological negative consequences. I want to wrap this up with a few other thoughts…
#2) Create a Foundation For Your Future Free of Fat Loss
Think about what you want to do when you reach your goal for your desired leanness. If you’ve been fixated on fat loss for a LONG time, this may be an uncomfortable mental exercise. What do you WANT to do with your body beyond just making it smaller? Do you want to build some muscle and get some serious glutes? Do you want to get strong as hell and inspire your kids? Do you want to learn a new sport?
Regardless of individual goal, the conclusion is largely the same – you need to build a movement foundation. You don’t need to know how to use your hips properly for simply burning calories to lose weight (but it could help), but when it comes time to pursue any of the sample goals I mentioned above, you bet your sweet glutes that it matters. So even if you COULD just meet your weight loss goals with monotonous cardio, it’d still be in your best interest to create a foundation where you know how to use your body to safely generate force. How to use your hips. How to lock down your core. How to stabilize your shoulders. And of course creating some strength too, not just body awareness.
By creating a solid movement foundation WHILE you’re losing fat, you’ll be able to better transition to excelling at your post fat loss goals.
And of course there are other benefits for resistance training for fat loss such as the preservation of muscle for creating a more powerful visual change in body appearance, but that’s out of the scope for today’s topic. You can see the Fit Body Blueprint for that.
#3) Create a ceiling
Maintenance doesn’t mean staying the exact same weight forever. There’s gonna be some fluctuations. Decide on what degree of fluctuations are acceptable as you pursue your other goals with your body and what degree ISN’T. Keep in mind too that as you transition from deficit calories to maintenance calories, you’ll pretty much instantly add a couple of lbs from simply having more food in your belly and more water storage. If you have a very specific look that you’re trying to pursue, that COULD also be an argument for taking another couple weeks and losing a couple extra lbs beyond where you feel that you like your best. That way, when you get more food and water in your system, you’ll then be at that look in a well fed state.
Again, just being at maintenance calories alone will likely add a little bit of scale weight. So THAT’S your starting point, not your weight/measurements on the last day of your fat loss phase. Once you know your starting point at maintenance calories, you can then decide on how many lbs is acceptable to gain from there before you take measures to lose fat again.
For example, maybe you drop down to 150 but decide that 160 is where you would transition back to fat loss if you were to hit that level (side note: make sure to go by metrics more than just scale weight). This is largely a personal decision. This is something that Leigh Peele talks a little bit about in her excellent resource The Fat Loss Troubleshoot, so that can help inform your decision making process there.
That wraps things up. Know when it’s time to move beyond fat loss, create a foundation early for things you want to do later, and have some flexibility when you’re in maintenance-mode but also establish when you’ll have to flip the switch back into fat loss mode based on your personal preferences and goals.