Ironically, "not eating enough" is also a common mistake people who are trying to gain weight tend to make. I include it here, however, because the first idea that usually comes to mind when you're trying to lose fat is, well, to eat less. This logic is sound, but you need to approach it strategically. Think "precision ground strike," not "nuclear bomb."
As any online fit pundit will tell you, humans burn fat by consuming fewer calories than they expend in a day. But you want the size of your daily caloric deficit to be small enough that it doesn't negatively impact your hard-earned muscle size. If you jump into dieting haphazardly or too drastically and cut too many calories from your daily intake, you may set off a chain of unfortunate effects.
In the beginning, you'll feel tired, mentally unclear, and maybe even a little cranky as your blood sugar falls low between meals. As you continue your low-calorie cut, your body will begin to get alarmed and hold on to fat stores instead of metabolizing them. In combination with all the cardio you've probably been doing to reinforce your aggressive fat-loss diet, you may force your body to burn muscle for fuel instead of fat.
A far better way to lean down is to cut back to a reasonable deficit. To start, try knocking off 500 calories from your current daily or maintenance intake level. For example, if you normally consume 3,000 calories per day, you would knock it back to 2,500. A 500-calorie daily deficit amounts to a weekly deficit of 3,500 calories, which—and this is no coincidence—is the amount of calories stored in a pound of body fat.
After a few weeks, you may find that a slightly greater or smaller deficit works best for you based on your body and training. The key is that you dial it in precisely—say, in increments of 100 calories—rather than make dramatic, unsustainable changes. A reasonable caloric deficit should provide your body with enough calories to still train hard and take care of your daily business.
When it comes time to cut down, I still eat the same 5-6 meals every day, but I adjust the portion size. I still make sure to get adequate protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. You need these. Don't neglect them, or you'll end up paying the price (Labrada, 2014)!
OK, you've got your 2,500 calories down on paper. Now ask yourself: Does this reflect everything you actually eat? Be honest!
Many trainees follow their diets most of the time, only to blow it by sneaking in calorically dense snacks that aren't on their plan. Keep in mind, if you're adhering to rule number one and eating enough, you don't have extra room in your daily macro-nutrient profile for junk—or even healthy snacks, for that matter. Here's the thing about a small caloric deficit: It can easily be turned into a surplus simply by eating a few handfuls of almonds, granola, or fruit. The effect is multiplied when the snacks are unhealthy—potato chips, candy, or ice cream, for example.
Save the junk for your weekly cheat meal. And if you don't have a cheat meal scheduled in your diet plan, then it's even more important to have enough pride and discipline to know you followed your plan. I promise, the feeling of accomplishment will taste sweeter than any treat (Labrada, 2014)!
I can't tell you how many times I've seen an otherwise perfect diet meal ruined by a poor choice of sauce or condiment. Salad dressings, dips, and sauces are normally loaded with calories, and I don't know anybody who measures them out in half-teaspoons—especially when they're hungry!
To start, look for "light" versions of your favorite sauces. They are out there, along with a plethora of fat-free items that aren't marketed to people who are dieting. For instance, I enjoy mustard and Sriracha because they offer intense flavor with little caloric impact.
You're best off avoiding sauces altogether when eating in a restaurant. If you must include a sauce or dressing with your food, ask for it on the side, so you can control the exact amount you ingest.
And remember: That salmon filet may be great, but there's no such thing as a "light" lemon butter sauce (Labrada, 2014)!
One of the easiest ways to accelerate fat loss is to cut all sugary drinks out of your diet. If you currently consume them, and you changed nothing else in your diet, you would see a drop in body fat—and perhaps a significant one.
This isn't going to shock most people, because they know Coke, Pepsi, and even their energetic children Monster and Rock Star contain totally unjustifiable amounts of sugar. And yet far too many of us still find a way to justify the unjustifiable. The time has come! Draw a line through the can!
While you're at it, lose other sugar sources which hide behind the mask of health. Even though you can find juices which contain "no added sugar," fruit is naturally high in sugar, particularly when you remove all the seeds, skin, and fiber. While juices may contain nutrients and antioxidants, they have no business being in your glass while you're dieting—even so-called "green juices." Only get nutrients from the source. Eat an apple or a salad Another big no-no is drinking sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade.They contain as much sugar as a soda, and the electrolytes they offer are minimal. Sports drinks companies dupe unwitting consumers into thinking they're drinking something healthy or performance-enhancing. The calories you get from these sugary drinks are much better off being consumed in the form of lean proteins, complex carbs, or healthy fats (Labrada, 2014).
Back when my dad, Lee Labrada, was breaking into the world of big-time bodybuilding, you wouldn't have seen this listed as a "mistake" on most people's list. In those days, fat had a bad reputation, and high levels of simple carbs were generally seen as harmless. Now, we know it's not so simple, and fat is an essential part of a healthy diet.
Healthy fats, like those provided by oily fish, nuts, fish oil, and krill oil are responsible for a litany of positive effects throughout your body. Some you can feel right away, boosting your satiety and controlling hunger levels. Others are only felt over the longer term, such as increased brain function, balanced hormones, and healthy testosterone levels, a healthier heart, improved workout recovery, and increased fat loss. Yes, that's correct, you can increase your fat loss by consuming fats!
This seems counter-intuitive to some people, who may make the mistake of limiting or completely eliminating fat from their diet when trying to lose weight. I try to include 2 tablespoons of fish oil every day in my diet, and I make room in my macros for healthy dietary fat sources. Sure, they're calorically dense, but that just means you need to monitor and limit them—not avoid them altogether!
Get the fats you need—not to be confused with the fats you want all the time—and you'll get better results. It's that simple (Labrada, 2014).
Labrada, H. (2014). 5 Fat-Loss Mistakes You Can Fix Today. Retrieved from http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/5-fat-loss-mistakes-you-can-fix-today.html