Lose Fat

How to set up a realistic and sustainable fat-loss diet (part 2): Goals and Time

So, last time we covered what you should measure and why. I touched on the metrics that are normally tracked and why its often best to stick with the simplest measurements.


Now, we need to know how to set up a situation where firstly, we know where we want to get to and secondly, how long and what it will take to get there.


Of course, goal setting is a very, VERY commonly discussed topic.


If you’ve ever taken a business class at school or university or been part of a large corporate business, you’ll no doubt be familiar with acronyms such as S.M.A.R.T and the idea that you first create a vision, then an action plan to attain that mission.


You may even have had some success with these concepts – after-all, they are well known for a reason.


What changes when the goal is your appearance and the person in charge is YOU is that


Emotions and bias cloud your judgement.


You stop to see things in an objective manner and, in most cases, start to question whether the ‘extremely ambitious’ may actual be possible.


You see a photo of your favourite celebrity topless in a film or a model on a magazine and immediately assume that if you diet for a few months you’ll look like that too.


You find a photo of you at 18, on the school sports team looking lean and athletic and you assume that with a few tweaks and changes, you’ll be back there in no time.


The unfortunate reality is that we’re unlikely to reach either of the above goals in a short amount of time and this often leads to a lack of interest in the process and derailment.


The most effective plan is the one you can stick to.


This is precisely why the methods we use with clients and advocate in our writing are always founded in managing and optimising adherence and flexibility, rather than how many grams of protein should be in each meal.


So, we need to manage both our expectations and our biases in order to keep us on track for as long as possible and that takes a sets of sensible targets and a sustainable way of ensuring we reach them.



In Easter 2010, I had a moment of realisation.


After a night out with friends I was scrolling through the photos on Facebook and slowly plugging the holes in my hungover memory.


I came across a photo of the five of us standing in a line, laughing and smiling. I stared at myself closely for a few moments and realised that, despite my persistent efforts in the gym, I’d gained a few pounds recently. I was starting to look pretty soft around the edges.


A combination of exams at university and one too many dominoes takeaways were outpacing my efforts in the campus gym 4-5 times each week. I’d been vaguely aware for some time that my diet needed to tighten up a little and this was the kick that I needed.


“I don’t want to relax thanks….I’m fat now!”


I sat down, put pen to paper and outlined (using all my knowledge at the time) a fat-loss diet that would take me to the elusive “single digit body fat”.


I started a log on the forums of a well known bodybuilding website, posted that I was determined to reach 10% and that I thought it would take me 5 weeks to get there. I even stuck up some starting progress pictures (much to my embarrassment) to help fuel the fire and get me started.


At  the end of the 5 weeks and I’d lost just under 1kg…


In the photos I looked vaguely different, but you had to really focus to spot the changes…


I spent a few days feeling quite lost and frustrated, convinced that I must have got something wrong or that I’d deviated too many times from my strict meal plan.


As they say, hindsight is a beautiful thing.


Aside from planning a strict meal plan that included venison for breakfast, lunch and dinner (sounds extravagant, chewy and bland in reality), there was a lot wrong with my 5 week attempt.


Firstly, of course, I’d not been measuring the basic principles of morning weight, rep strength and comparable pictures on a daily or weekly basis.


More importantly, I’d been chasing a goal that was ambitious and vague, the timeline was even more ambitious and I had no plan of how I intended to adjust variables along the way.



As I discussed in the last instalment, body fat measurements are a commonly used measure of progress. If we had an easy (and affordable) way of getting an accurate measure, it probably would be the best option.


However, even with DEXA and accurate calliper readings, there’s a lot of room for error.


When it comes to changes in body composition and performance, goals should be as numerical and objective as possible, leaving no room for guesswork and opinion.


So, instead of “I want to drop to 10%” I should have set an amount of total weight to lose or even a waist measurement to begin with.


Numbers always tell the truth.

If you’re measuring average weight each week and you reach your goal weight in the 10th week, there’s no arguing with that data. You achieved what you set out to do, time to change the plan.


For someone who is driven by aesthetics (most of us are on some level) it can be hard to pin point an amount of weight loss that would yield a significant visual change.


A good starting point (assuming you’re not already lean enough to have a full set of abs) is:


Try dropping 5-6% of your total bodyweight while monitoring and maintaining your strength.


For an 80kg man (Let’s call him Bob….the Bodybuilder) carrying an already respectable amount of muscle mass, if he could drop to 75-76kg while maintaining his strength, he’d likely see a big change in who lean he looks in the mirror.


For MOST people (those who aren’t considering physique modelling of bodybuilding) this level of change will yield satisfying results and often surpass what they expected.


Most importantly, if Bob  sets 75kg as a goal weight, he can now measure his progress each week and compare his current position to where he wants to be without bias, make adjustments accordingly and say for sure whether or not he is on track.


No more “maybe I need to go low carb to get really lean”, simply:


Is my weight trending towards the target? Do I need to decrease total calories?


Is my strength staying the same or increasing? Do I need to take a 1-2 week break from dieting?


It really is true, what gets measured gets managed.





Now that we have a goal that isn’t subjective and can’t be influenced by Instagram filters and downlighting, we can set about laying out a timeline to reach it.


Using the above example, let’s assume that Bob decided to shed his Xmas weight and sets about dropping 6% of his bodyweight while measuring average weight each week, rep strength on 5 key lifts and taking comparable progress pictures.


Firstly, he needs some macros and calorie goals to start him off sensibly losing weight…. (click here to get them for free)


Second, he needs to calculate the amount of total weight he needs to lose (6% is equal to 4.8kg).


And lastly, he needs consider not only how long this would take in a best case scenario and also if there are any obstacles that lie in the way (holidays, birthday parties etc). This will obviously mean that it will take longer than we might be able to accurately predict.


Setting a deadline and having a concrete target to hit by that date is a great way to fire up your motivation and reach a goal but to set a deadline that is too ambitious is only going to lead to disappointment and disillusionment.


I like to use the idea of dropping a % of your bodyweight each week and then using simple division.


While its not the most accurate measure, assuming that 1 pound of body-fat equates to a 3,500kcal deficit will also help guide him decide what may be possible.


I like to start with a goal of dropping 1.5% of total bodyweight every 2 weeks.

This may seem overly specific, but its just the result of watching the trends of 100s of clients weight loss data and getting a good impression of not only what is possible but also what is attainable in the real world of off days, unplanned dinner dates and unexpected drinks with a friend.


So, for Bob the Bodybuilder, this would equal roughly 1.2kg of fat loss every fortnight or 0.6kg per week.


I like to measure every other week simply because weight loss is rarely linear and 2 weeks give you a chance to properly evaluate whether or not a plan is working.


At this rate of 1.2kg of loss every week, Bob the Bodybuilder can expect to be somewhere near his goal in 8-9 weeks of successful dieting, assuming nothing happens to significantly derail progress.


So, lets wrap up.


Instead of the normal starting point of. “I’ve gained a few pounds in winter, I’d love to see my abs for summer” we have:

A concrete goal that is numbers based.

A fixed amount of total weight loss to shoot for.

An idea of how long this may take (as a minimum) assuming nothing unexpected crops up.

3 variables to monitor and track to ensure progress is maintained.


The thing to remember here is, the leaner your starting point, the less weight you can expect to lose and conversely, if you’ve got a lot of fat to shift, you may be able to lose higher %s of bodyweight with relative ease.


However, assuming our calculator will generate a result for you and you aren’t already bodybuilder lean, the above process with work for you.


We’ll be back soon with our third and final instalment of the series.

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