Permanent Fat Loss Principles: The “Secret” is No Secret

Fat Loss Secret

Though you trudge away on the treadmill and scrape by on seeds and sprouts, the bathroom scale refuses to budge. But actually, the formula for fat loss is quite simple.

Self-proclaimed health “gurus” and hokey fitness gimmick infomercial hosts promise you can cull the kilos (or pare away the pounds) by exercising only three minutes a day.

Then there’s the fine print: Losing “weight” is easy.   LOSING FAT and keeping it off can be downright difficult.  But don’t despair; there is hope!

Arm yourself with these fat-trimming lifestyle tips and keep it off for life!

1) Banish Your Bathroom Scale

First things first:  banish your bathroom scale and only take it out once every other week.  It is your fat loss foe! It is a traitor that will deceive you (unless you know how to keep it in line).

The media, food companies, and woo-pushing quacks have brainwashed everyone to focus on “weight loss” instead of FAT LOSS with little to no consideration for body composition.

Guzzling a so-called “skinny teatox” loaded with laxatives and diuretics might fool you into thinking you’ve lost fat, but you’ll quickly regain the weight once you stop using it.

2) Buy Into Body Composition, Not Just Body Weight

Focus on building and maintaining valuable muscle. Muscle is very metabolically active and pays a higher caloric “rent” to sustain itself (even at rest).  Fat tissue, on the other hand, is something of a metabolic freeloader which burns comparatively fewer calories.

If after a few months your scale weight hasn’t changed much, you might notice that your clothes fit better.  This is usually a result of an increase in muscle and decrease in fat.

Have a look and compare these two cross sectional thigh scans.

thigh_with_fatthigh_with_fat2The first image shows a strong dense muscle with minimal fat penetrating into the muscle.  The second image shows a weak, wasting muscle which is infiltrated with fat.  The overall surface area is similar, but you can see the drastic difference in composition.

3) Don’t Trust Fibbing Exercise Machines 

Ever seen those “fat burning” or “cardio” buttons on treadmills and stationary bikes?  The irony is the so-called “fat burning” button can keep you fat and the cardio button will help trim your gut and butt.  This is where it gets confusing so pay attention. Check out my detailed article on this topic.

In the image below, you can see that a lower intensity (lower VO2) burns proportionally more fat as a fuel source during exercise (fat burn button). The trade off is that you also burn less overall calories per unit of time compared to higher intensities.

At higher exercise intensities (cardio button), you burn more carbohydrate (sugar) as a fuel source (blue dots in the image), but you burn more calories per unit of time.


Comparing apples to apples, if you did 10 minutes on the treadmill on the low-intensity fat loss setting versus 10 minutes on the the higher-intensity cardio setting, you’d actually be better served by the cardio setting.

Independent of the fuel source during exercise, your overall energy (calorie) expenditure is higher. The energy deficit created by exercise is later justified by the body pulling fat out of storage (even when not exercising).

In the long-term, you are served much better by exercising at higher intensities per unit of time and maximizing the energy burn than focusing on which fuel source you’re using during exercise.   The overall CUMULATIVE calorie deficit is what matters and that’s what’s going to have you looking good for the long haul!

If you’re new to exercise and out of shape, then you may need to start off at a slow pace in order to allow your body to adapt.  Progress slowly and work up to higher intensities over time to maximise intensity to enhance energy expenditure.

4) Build Your Fitness Foundation

Following on from above, if you’re completely new to exercise, develop your fitness foundation slowly and gradually progress to higher intensities.  Doing too much too soon may leave you sore and discourage you from continuing. Check out my 10 quick tips to get off the exercise rollercoaster and set your fitness foundation in stone.

Start off at a leisurely pace on the bike or treadmill for no more than 20 minutes and do this 3 to 4 days per week.

Depending on how you feel, increase your duration by 5-10 minutes per session each week until you can do 45-60 minutes of non-stop cardio exercise.

5) Integrate Intense Intervals

With your fitness foundation in place, start cranking up the intensity by integrating intervals into your routine (this is key for fat loss). Intervals are higher intensity bursts interspersed within your cardio routine designed to raise your heart rate and crank up the calorie burning control knob.

During your cardio exercise, start off with 1 to 2-minute high intensity bursts and then give yourself 3-4 minutes of active recovery at a lower intensity (keep walking or pedaling).

Perform your intervals at an intensity high enough that you can barely speak to the person next to you, preferably an exercise partner who shares your same fat loss goals.

6) High Intensity For Longer

Once you’ve established your fitness foundation and incorporated intervals into your regimen, try to maintain higher intensities for longer durations.  The longer you maintain the higher intensities, the more energy you burn, the more fat you pull out of storage, and the greater your overall fat loss.

7) Muscle = Metabolism.  Lift Weights (or Body Weight)

Muscle is the machinery that drives your metabolism.  Resistance training is known to enhance muscle size, structure, and function all of which cause a cascade of health benefits.  It doesn’t mean that you need to grunt and groan amongst bespandexed gym gorillas.

Many of the fitness boot camps leverage on calisthenic style exercises which mostly use body weight for resistance.  Muscles don’t have eyes.  As long as you’re stressing your muscles at a level above and beyond that which they’re normally accustomed, you can expect improvements in your appearance and, of course, your metabolic health.

8) Small Changes For Big Improvements

Avoid radical changes in your diet, as this only sets you up for failure.  Focus instead on making tiny nutrition changes you can live with.  For example, try cutting down on soda, chips, and sweets.

If you drink a liter per day, wean your way down to 500 milliliters, then to 250, and eventually to water.  One little change can translate to big changes in both scale weight and appearance over the long haul.

If you consume 250 calories less and expend 250 calories more with exercise each day, over one calendar year you’d could plausibly strip off about 23 kilograms (50 pounds) of body fat.

Obviously the actual amount of fat loss will vary due to inter-individual differences in genes, habits, and behavioral considerations (see my article: Obesity Genes: Does your DNA predict Body Fat and Weight?).  Small changes are important because they minimise the “famine response” and keep you off the exercise rollercoaster (and then some). As a general rule, healthy FAT LOSS is approximately 1 – 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kg) per week.

9) Incidentally Speaking, Waste Energy with Incidental activity

The emerging science of inactivity physiology shows that we need to be as inefficient as humanly possible as often as possible.

  • Waste energy at all times of the day outside of your structured exercise sessions.
  • Avoid life’s shortcuts.
  • Nix the elevators. Opt for the stairs.
  • Walk up those steep hills.
  • Take public transit and weigh yourself down with a laptop case or backpack.
  • Use a handbasket at the supermarket instead of a trolley (shopping cart).
  • Use a standing workstation instead of a sit-down desk.

The more energy you blow throughout the day, the greater your overall fat loss.  Every little bit counts and it all contributes to the “bottom line.”

10) Buddy Up

Sure, misery loves company, but so does exercise!  Identify your supporters and saboteurs.   Avoid the saboteurs who will attempt to undermine and derail your efforts out of jealousy.   Surround yourself with positive, supportive people who will either exercise with you on your journey or play the role of cheerleader!  It may also be helpful to join online support networks which will allow you to share your experience with other like-minded people who may be going through the same thing.

11) Make it Fun

It’s the age-old question: What’s the best exercise in the world?  The one you LIKE and the one you’ll do on a regular basis!  I see lots of trainers and exercisers alike debating over which exercise is best, but when it comes right down to it, you just need to find something that will make you more active.   If you like to walk, then walk.  If you like to ride your bike around the neighborhood, then ride your bike.  As mentioned above, intersperse some intervals to crank up the calorie burning control knob!

12) Unfriend the Media

The media is NOT your friend.  Cancel your cable TV subscription or at least stop watching it 20 hours per week.  Nix the fluffy celebrity gossip magazines.  These types of publications are loaded with unrealistic body images that are merely airbrushed photos meant to provide false hope and sell copies.

13) Fire Your Health Guru

The popularity of social media has led to rampant proliferation of self-styled “health gurus” like the so-called Food Babe and David “Avocado” Wolfe, both of whom have gone down in flames for making outlandish claims with no health science training.

While we all want to believe claims that health nirvana is just one miracle diet, supplement, or infomercial gadget away, the grim reality is that none of this works.

Guru promises of simple solutions to complex problems will likely leave you with complex problems without simple solutions. While not always a guarantee, checking for university qualifications in a health science can increase your chances of getting reliable information that will help you adopt a healthy lifestyle for life.


In all my years as a diet and exercise professional, I can tell you one thing with absolute unequivocal certainty:   the secret to permanent fat loss is that THERE IS NO SECRET.

Every client I’ve worked with who has lost weight and kept it off did not rely on slimming wraps (i.e., It Works body wraps). They simply committed themselves to a healthy lifestyle and then stuck with it for the long term. Thing is, we’ve known it all along.

Even the ancient Greeks knew it.  Hippocrates is quoted as saying, “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”

More recent evidence of this can be found on Dr. Rena Wing’s National Weight Control Registry at the University of Rhode Island. As much as we’d all like to believe in “wishful shrinking,” miracle diets, pills, powders, and infomercial gadgets do not work.  If they did we’d all be thin by now!

Bottom line:  consistency in doing the right thing will always win out over quick-fix fad diets and gimmicks.  Stay the course!  


  1. Completely brilliant! For the first time, I’m reading sound and applicable information for those starting out. PhD or not, thank you for posting this. I particularly appreciate your notes on the media and the cardio machines.

    I am now a fan (but I promise I will not stalk you).

  2. Thank you for providing such evidence-based articles and sound critiques to weight loss gimmicks. I was wondering if you can comment on a new fitness craze called Boogie Box Fitness which has appeared on multiple shows,tv stations, and even Dr. Oz. The CEO claims their aerobic routines can burn 11,000 calories in 1 hour. Everyone might as well give up their treadmills and hop aboard. Although I agree any aerobic exercise is beneficial, it sounds too good to be true. They support their claim by being rested at USC biokinesiology and PHysical therapy lab being hooked up to masks while exercising with the testers(look like students) verifying that the routine works all muscle groups. Is this study valid?

    I enjoy your articles and would truly love to hear your feedback on this one.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Sophia. The claim of 11,000 calories in a single hour appears to be excessive. I’d certainly be curious to see the science behind that! The mention of multiple TV stations, Dr. Oz, etc is certainly good marketing fodder, but seldom translates to responsible science-based evidence. The website is a little bit over the top in some ways, but I think I’ll need to take a deeper look at all available materials to see if they’re taking liberties and over-embellishing some claims for profit.

      I really appreciate your visiting my site and taking time out to write a thoughtful response.

      Yours in health,

  3. Sorry, correction, meant to write tested not rested (darn the automatic word spell entry on cell phones)
    They support their claim by being tested at USC biokinesiology and PHysical therapy lab
    The video is posted on their website as a YouTube video.
    Thank you for your comments in advance.

  4. Correction: 1100 cal/hr which still seems high.
    I look forward to and know I  will be enlightened by your feedback. I thought the YouTube video at the lab was interesting. Although the instructors were performing at an intense level, I doubt they are that intense when teaching an actual class. I’m curious How do they extrapolate the nber fr the study.Sorry for my mistake with the calories.

    • Hi Sophia,
      I’ve had a look at the video and, while my objective was not to slam the product, there were a few things that stuck out to me:

      1) While it is true that this “testing” took place at USC, it did not appear to be anything official. More like an informal get together with some undergrad students to tinker around with the metabolic cart (mask on face).

      2) They only “tested” it on 3 people. Any scientific study with any semblance of statistical validity is probably going to need more than 3 subjects.

      3) There is no comparison group to evaluate the effects of this form of exercise vs. any other form of aerobic exercise (i.e., high intensity running, high-impact aerobics, cycling, etc).

      4) To my knowledge, I don’t think the results of this “study” are published in a peer-reviewed journal. Doing so would ensure it’s been subjected to some level of scientific scrutiny/academic rigor.

      5) It is possible to expend 1100 calories in an hour, though it is quite high. This would be determined from the gas analyzer they used. If you know a person’s VO2, then you can extrapolate out their calorie expenditure.

      6) The entire video and the dialogue appeared to be one long, shining advertorial. The purported tester (the kid with the hat) was anything but impartial and was ranting and raving about how great this form of exercise was without any consideration for how it would compare next to any other high impact exercise.

      7) No doubt someone doing this form of exercise would burn calories and lose weight. BUT, you have to remember that anyone who is completely inactive, deconditioned, and unfit will improve their health and fitness even if they lifted bricks all day. It’s not a miracle, just basic exercise physiology overload adaptation.

      Anyway, I hope this helps. Thanks again for bringing this to my attention.
      Dr. Bill

  5. Sorry last comment was wondering how they extrapolate the number from the study. (I dislike the autoword entry function of cell phones) Promise I will just use a regular computer next time to avoid further mistakes. Sincerely, Sophia

  6. Excellent article! I threw out my scale in May 2009 and haven’t looked at my weight since. For doctor’s appointments, I let the staff know in advance not to tell me my weight, and I look away from the scale while being weighed. My tool is a cloth measuring tape and the fit of my clothes. Giving up the scale improved my self esteem and conquered the addiction to checking my weight several times a day.

  7. Hi
    Very informative article. I have gained a lot of weight due to sitting for long hours before computer and avoiding daily exercise routine. Now I will pay more attention to my fitness goals.

  8. Hi, could you elaborate on why the scale should be banished? In my experience, the scale was both a great motivator as well as an alarm-bell when more self-discipline was required.

    • Hi Sam,
      Thank you for your comment. My point regarding the scale is that, while it has its place, it should not be relied upon as the sole gauge of your progress.
      Remember that:
      1) The scale does not differentiate between fat and muscle weight
      2) Daily fluctuations in body weight due to water can be disillusioning for those who are constantly glued to the scale

      You sound like you have a good handle on the scale and how to make it work for you. Unfortunately, many others don’t have your understanding and, if their scale weight goes up overnight, it is viewed as a catastrophic failure.

  9. There are no magic foods. Some foods may help you suppress your appetite a little. Some other foods may slightly increase your metabolic rate. Unfortunately, the effect is miniscule. The only way to really lose fat is to consume fewer calories than you burn. This way your body will tap into the fat stores to get the energy it needs.


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