The Single Most Important Nutritional Factor for Fat Loss

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Fat loss is probably the most common health and fitness goal today and there are so many different products and programs designed to make people lose fat that it is virtually impossible to keep track of them all. Having different options for achieving fat loss is important, because no single approach will work for everyone, although some fat loss strategies definitely work better than others.

I hope this is obvious, but any good approach to long-term fat loss must involve making improvements in your nutrition and any product or program that promises fat loss without addressing nutritional issues is almost certainly a gimmick and a waste of money. The good news is there are many different fat loss programs that are effective. Interestingly, even though some of these programs involve very different eating habits, they often have some of the same fundamental strategies at their core.

Some of the more popular nutritional strategies involve minimizing insulin level fluctuations, eating natural (unprocessed) foods, eating small meals throughout the day etc. The multitude of nutritional strategies and diets, along with the current obesity problem, has resulted in a lot of research being done to learn more about the process of fat loss. Many studies have compared various eating strategies to figure out which ones work better than others and analysis has been done to determine what nutritional factors are most strongly linked to fat loss.

Of course, there are many factors that influence whether or not a fat loss program will be successful, but some things have been shown to be more important than others. One of the commonly studied factors is the percentage of calories consumed from fats, protein, and carbohydrates, otherwise known as the macronutrient profile. The macronutrient profile is one of the most obvious differences between nutritional programs or diets, with different programs focusing on things like minimizing carb intake, minimizing fat intake, having a balance between all three, etc.

So many programs suggest that theirs is the best for fat loss because of the particular macronutrient profile of the foods, but it turns out this is not the most important part of a meal plan, at least from a fat loss standpoint. When it comes to weight and fat loss, the number of calories consumed is more important than what type of calories you are consuming. Of course, the type of calories you consume is very important for your overall health, but eating for health and eating for fat loss are not always the same thing.

Even though the number of calories you consume is more important for weight and fat loss than the type of calories consumed, calorie consumption is still not the factor that is most strongly linked to fat loss. The single most important nutritional for fat loss is actually something called caloric density. Caloric density is a measure of how much a food weighs compared to how many calories are contained in that food. Simply stated, foods that weigh more and have fewer calories are better for fat loss than other foods.

Researchers have found that the weight of the food you eat has more of an effect on how full or hungry you feel than the number of calories contained in the food. In other words, if two people with similar appetites each eat a pound of food, they should both feel equally full, even if one person ate twice as many calories as the other person. By eating foods that have fewer calories by weight, you will be able to minimize your feelings of hunger, which is one of the keys to long-term fat loss success.

I should point out that while caloric density does not measure where the calories come from (fat, protein, carb), foods that have good caloric density scores usually have healthy characteristics. This is because many healthy components of food, such as water and fiber, have weight but do not add calories, so they will improve caloric density. On the other hand, foods that are very high in fat will have low caloric densities, because fat has more than twice the number of calories per weight than protein or carbs.

By taking a look at the things that influence caloric density, we can see that while it does not directly measure calorie content or macronutrient profiles, the caloric density of a food is essentially a partial measure of both things. Another interesting thing is that many foods with the best caloric density scores are healthy vegetables, which are considered good foods to eat on virtually every type of nutritional program or diet.

It is important to keep in mind that eating foods just based on their caloric density will not guarantee you will have a well balanced diet. You still need to include a certain amount of fat, particularly healthy fats (omega-3 oils), and quality protein if you want to achieve fat loss and good health. However, other things being similar, a person who eats foods with good caloric densities should lose more fat than a person who eats foods with poor caloric densities.

Finally I want to point out that caloric density and nutrition in general is only one component to fat loss. The most successful programs always incorporate both nutrition and exercise. Following a nutrition program that focuses on eating a well-balanced combination of foods with good caloric densities should result in fat loss, but your results will be significantly better if you consistently include challenging workouts into your routine as well.

About Ross Harrison 14 Articles

Hi, my name is Ross Harrison and I am a personal trainer in Austin, TX. I have been a certified personal trainer (NSCA) since 1996 and I am also a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), nutritional consultant, and I have completed numerous other courses and certifications over the years. I also have a degree in psychology from Grinnell College. Over the course of my career I have been an independent personal trainer working with  clients in their homes or various other locations, as well as a trainer at a large gym. I also have experience working in a privately owned health food store  and a large chain supplement store.

After almost a decade in the health and fitness industry, I became frustrated and discouraged by the way many personal trainers and gyms were so focused on making money, even at the expense of their client’s success. As a result, I decided the only way for me to feel good about being a personal trainer would be to start my own business. That way I could create my own policies and make sure I stayed true to what I believe a personal trainer should  be. Then in 2005, I did just that when I started my personal training business called Precision Health & Fitness.

I chose to name my business Precision Health & Fitness, because it accurately reflects the approach I take as a personal trainer. I believe personal training should be completely focused on the client and since every person is different, every program should be precisely designed to reflect that individual’s specific goals, needs, abilities, and lifestyle. I know many
personal trainers say this, but more and more trainers are just repeating the same programs with numerous clients or using tools, such as computer programs,  to self-generate “custom” workouts or nutritional programs for their clients. In my mind these are examples of mass-produced training programs, not personal training.

I also feel that many conventional personal training practices, such as making clients sign contracts, not allowing refunds for purchased sessions, and even paying by the hour, ultimately take the focus off the client’s needs. Therefore, I made the conscious decision to stay away from any policy or practice that I felt detracted from focusing on my clients, even though other people have told me I am limiting my income or discounting the value of my services too much.

For example, my clients pay session prices instead of an hourly rate. This may not sound like a big difference, but it means I can spend more time with my clients when they need it. Many of the people I work with are just starting to exercise or have never been taught proper exercise technique. By having a set time limit on my sessions, I can take the extra time to ensure my clients learning to perform exercises correctly. This not only ensures their safety, but also leads to more effective workouts and better long-term results. Of course, if a client has a set schedule or a limited amount of time, then I will make sure the workouts I create fit those time constraints.

Another benefit of not having timed sessions is it gives clients the opportunity to talk or ask questions about health and fitness or their workout routine. I have never been a big fan of trainers who take the “do it because I said so” approach to health and fitness. I encourage clients to ask questions and I believe that becoming more educated about exercise and nutrition and
learning how your actions affect your results is an important component of health and fitness programs. By making a link between your actions and your results, it will help motivate you to stick to your  program.

This is just one example of how I my business is focused my clients, but there are also other ways Precision Health & Fitness stands out from other trainers and gyms. For instance, I do not have clients sign contracts and they are free to discontinue their training program at any time. I even let my clients determine their own payment plan, which they can change at any time.
Some clients pay for a number of sessions in advance, some pay after each session, and some pay after they have completed a number of sessions. It is all about trying to make things as easy and convenient for my clients as  possible.

That is not to say the workouts themselves are easy, because every workout is designed to be challenging, so it will create a stimulus for improvement. At the same time, I never design workouts that are designed to make  people stiff and sore for a week or have trouble walking up stairs. I know some  people like those workouts because they think the harder they work, the better  their results will be, but that is only true up to a point. It is definitely  possible to exercise too hard or too much and excessively challenging workouts  are almost always counterproductive over the long-run.

When you really think about it, shouldn’t long-term health and fitness improvements be the goal of a personal training program? I believe that it certainly is, although I know there are people who would disagree with me. However, for the people who just want to push themselves as hard as possible regardless of the long-term consequences, there is not shortage of personal trainers who are willing to do just that. My background and personal experiences  have made me believe that long-term health and success should never be sacrificed for short-term gain and that is the philosophy I apply to my personal  training programs.

Speaking of my background and personal experiences, exercise and nutrition have both been very important parts of my life since I was young. When  I was seven, I developed a serious hip infection that destroyed the femur head  (ball that connects to the hip) in my right leg and left me with a fused right  hip. At the time I was told there was almost no chance that I would ever
walk again, but by working hard and keeping up with my exercises, I was able to regain the ability to walk and eventually allowed to play most sports and participate in almost any other activity I wanted.

However, even with continued exercise, I still experienced hip pain that increased over the years. Then when I was 30 I was finally old enough to get a total hip replacement, which resulted in an almost complete reduction in my pain, but I was also left with a new set of restrictions. Since hip replacements  wear out over time, it means the more stress I put on my hip by doing things  like playing sports or running, the sooner I will need a new hip replacement.  Needless to say, my activities have drastically changed since my hip replacement  and I no longer play sports, but I still exercise regularly to remain healthy  and stay in shape.

As for nutrition, it has played an equally important role in my life. When I was younger, I had very unhealthy eating habits, was overweight (or husky  as my clothes were called), constantly felt run down, and got sick frequently.  By the time I was 18 I was trying to eat healthier, but I had already caused my  body and immune system enough distress to be hospitalized for
pneumonia and I  developed a bad case of ulcerative colitis, which is an incurable intestinal  condition where treatment involves just trying to keep it in remission. Simply  put, I had a lot of health issues for a teenager.

Fortunately for me, I became more educated about nutrition and I made eating healthier a priority in my life. My improvements were not immediate, but over time my energy level increased and my immune system improved to the point where I rarely ever get sick anymore. Also I have been able to keep my ulcerative issues to a minimum just by eating healthy (it is generally kept in remission through medication) and by working on managing my stress level. Due to  my improved nutritional habits, I can easily say that I am far healthier and feel much better in my mid 30’s than I ever did as a teenager.

The reason I included all this information is because it explains what motivates me as a trainer and why I care so much about health and fitness. My personal history has also shaped my training philosophy and it is the reason why I always focus on the long-term outcome of a training program, instead just thinking about short-term improvement. It is also why I try to get people to shift their priority from what they can do to look better and think more about what they can do to make their body feel better throughout their lifetime.

If you eat healthy, exercise properly, and do other things that make your body feel better, you will be doing the same things you need to make your body look better. On the other hand, if your sole focus is on making your body look better, it does guarantee that your training program will make your body feel better years down the road. Workout programs that cause you to perform
exercises incorrectly, use poor posture, or develop muscle imbalances can still result in you looking better, but they can also lead to premature muscle and joint aches and pains years later.

It is completely natural to be focus on the present and the immediate future, but people frequently do not think enough about how they want their body  to feel in 20 or 30 years down the road, at least not until they start developing some health related problems. Personal training success is often measured my how much weight is lost or how much muscle is gained, but I believe that is not the best way to think about success. Even if you lose fat, if you are frequently sore or in pain, I would not consider that to be successful, except maybe if you are a competitive athlete or someone who is required to push  your body to the limit.

Personal training and health and fitness in general, should be about creating a better overall quality of life and not only about looking better. Of course, looking better is almost always a primary goal, but it should not the only focus of a program. I know from first hand experience how much of a positive impact a well-designed exercise and nutrition program can have on virtually every aspect of your life. All too often, people accept aches and pains as normal consequences of aging, but in most cases you can make a significant improvement in how you feel.

I want to leave you with a final thought, regardless of your current situation, you are capable of improvement and you probably capable of achieving much more than you might think. I wish you success in all your health and  fitness endeavors and please contact me at ross@precisionhealth-fitness.com  or (512) 537-3377 if you have any comments or questions.

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