Everyone loves a hack!
Bio hacks, confidence hacks, productivity hacks, fat loss hacks. In my view, I’m all for making things as easy as possible but you get to a point where you have to just pull on your big boy pants and get stuck in.
The list below will show you a handful of actions that will give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to fat loss. They are usually simple but not necessarily easy. They ARE without a shadow of a doubt, the best place to start so until you’ve got these nailed, there is literally no point looking elsewhere for more advanced tactics. It would be like trying to teach your dog to run an assault course before teaching it to sit or to stop pissing in the kitchen.
Just so you don’t get disappointed and through your laptop across the room in a hangry rage, there are no real hacks – that said, the last bonus hack is a real hack so you could even skip all the others and just do the last one.
Both ways work😉
The First Hack
There is no hack. Sorry to say this but there is no way to HACK the process. Nothing works without looking at your diet. Even liposuction – i.e. physically removing the fat from your body or getting a gastric band will fail if you keep eating as you did before.
Whether you like it or not, the only way this is going to work is with lifestyle and identity change. Whatever you do to get into shape, is more or less what you are going to need to do to sustain it.
“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.“- Zen Philosophy.
The Second Hack
This one is going to make your life so much easier. Stop labelling foods good or bad. There are definitely better and worse foods but context is key. Allow me to demonstrate:
Nuts are considered to be healthy. However, if someone is trying to drop body fat then eating nuts throughout the day without taking them into account is probably a bad idea.
Conversely, ice cream is generally considered unhealthy. However, enjoyment is one of the reasons we eat and happiness (or the pursuit thereof) is the main reason we live. I can vouch for the fact that ice cream brings me both enjoyment and happiness. If the rest of my diet was healthy and I was hitting my goals then occasionally eating ice cream would actually be beneficial as it would overall improve my life.
The other issue is ‘good and bad’ foods is the brownie effect. If I tell you that you can never eat brownies (or any other food) or that brownies are banned, very quickly you’ll start craving brownies. This is what happened to me and I don’t even like brownies?!
Here’s my takeaway – no food is good or bad. Some foods have more nutrition, some foods have more calories, some foods you enjoy more. Good or bad can only apply to your diet and lifestyle as a whole (think of the multi-gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps – his 12,000 calorie diet was ideal for his lifestyle but may not suit you so much).
What this also helps with is the “what the hell effect”. You may be familiar with the concept of eating on diet and then going off track and having a cookie. As you now know, this is not a problem. But if you’d classified that cookie as a bad food then you may have thought “what the hell” I’m just going to eat the whole packet of cookies and start again tomorrow/on Monday/next January/ the start of the next decade. If you are looking at the bigger picture then the cookie is just a part of the greater whole and is easily incorporated (and you can have another tomorrow #abundance). I rest my case.
The Third Hack
Be aware of your calorie balance. The crux of fat loss is calorie balance. It’s not the be-all and end-all but it is the underlying principle. All diets that work are based on this premise (whatever they may claim about anything else). There is a reason they come up with a long convoluted pseudo-scientific reason for why their diet works and no others do (which I explain here) but if all diets work (as evidenced by the success stories they all invariably quote) then there must be an underlying principle in common between them, right? Well, this is it.
What this means is that you need to eat less than you burn. You have the freedom to choose your method! Cutting out carbs works. Cutting out fat works. Fasting works. Cutting out meat works. Following a meal plan works. But in all these cases you need to be eating less than you burn.
My go-to solution is tracking your food intake. This allows you to enjoy a wide variety of food, while still progressing and more importantly it allows you to learn about the properties of foods and how they interact with YOU and your body. It’s not a long term solution but it’s the best starting point for a sustainable lifestyle change and the best part? You can combine it with any dietary preference you may have and it provides you with data for what to do if your progress stalls or if you want to change tact (which happens very often).
The Fourth Hack
Exercise. You may have heard in the media that exercise is not required for weight loss and is actually not hugely effective when it comes to losing weight. The reason for this is that it is generally difficult to burn a huge number of calories during exercise, we often overestimate this number and it is very easy to eat those calories back and more.
For example, a 20-minute jog may burn 100-200 calories. You may then go home, assume because you’ve exercised you can eat what you want. 1000kcal and a tub of ice cream later you’re wondering whether you have a slow metabolism or a thyroid issue when you’re just missing the fundamental math of fat loss.
I agree that exercise is not the best method on its own when it comes to fat loss, however as an adjunct to a healthy, balanced diet it helps. A lot. And on top of this, there are a million other benefits to exercise way beyond burning a few kcal (check my article on the benefits of exercise here).
What I suggest: Pick something you enjoy and can do regularly. Do it regularly and consistently over many weeks. Increase the amount you’re doing over time until you’re moving most days of the week for at least 20-30 minutes. Brisk walking counts if you get your heart rate up and get a sweat on.
The Fifth Hack
Sleep well and control stress. Poor sleep and lots of stress can make this process unbearable. Lack of one or too much of the other can cause a host of reactions within the body with the end result being – craving sugary food, zero willpower and no motivation for exercise.
Let me be clear. Lack of sleep or too much stress won’t HALT fat loss (I have first-hand experience of this) but they can make your life more difficult.
By prioritising sleep, you will make eating well and exercise much much easier. These will then help control stress. And this will again make sleep, diet and exercise easier. It works every other way too – they all help each other, creating a glorious upward spiral of success and progress.
My advice: Just begin. Start working on one with the others in mind and give them time to improve.
Ok, so this is an actual real hack as noted. If you can master this then you never need to diet, track food or use willpower when it comes to food ever again.
Wait for it.
Here it is: be present.
So, if you were to be entirely present while eating. Savouring each mouthful, enjoying every bite and being aware of the sensations throughout your whole body you’d know when you were full and simply stop. On top of this, you’d enjoy your food a whole lot more, never overeat and you’d be more likely to eat better food as well.
Now, this is tough and like in real life, suddenly deciding to be present generally doesn’t work. It takes time to master.
What I recommend is that you follow the other 5 ‘hacks’ AND work on your presence. This gives you the best of both worlds so here are a few quick tips that you can implement today.
Eat more slowly. There are a million and one ways of doing this. Chew your food 20 times before swallowing, put your knife and fork down between bites or perhaps most easy is to set a timer when you eat. Set it for 20 minutes and make sure the meal lasts this long. SUPER tough to begin with but the difference when you start achieving this consistently will change the game for you.
Just eat! By this, I mean that when you are eating, just eat. Don’t watch Netflix, don’t play on your phone, don’t listen to an audiobook. This is the first step to being entirely present. You can close your eyes. Enjoy the smell, sight and anticipation before you even taste the food. There are whole meditations you can do surrounding food but for now, focus on just eating.
That’s me. Apologies for the lack of quick fixes or magic pills but overall, this is going to be a total game-changer if you implement these points consistently (another secret hack).