4 Keys to Fat Loss Beyond “Eat Less and Move More”

If you are working to lose fat but your progress has stalled, these four troubleshooting tips may help.
By Jen Comas
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Diet and exercise get all of the attention when it comes to fat loss. While they both do play a major role in the process, it’s not quite as simple as the outdated “eat less and move more” mantra so many people repeat with conviction. While that approach can work for a while, there’s a lot more to it. 

I’m going to share with you the four things I emphasize with our GGS Coaching clients to ensure they continue to make progress toward their goals. These are also the first practices I evaluate if someone’s progress has stalled. In this article, you’ll learn why refining these four key factors…

  1. Sleep quality and quantity
  2. Training and nutrition balance
  3. Hunger and satiation awareness
  4. Cardio strategy 

… is so important when it comes to fat loss. I’ll also show you how you can evaluate each of these for yourself and give you tools to help.

Key #1. Get More Sleep (and Enjoy Your Better Decision-Making Power)

I know what you’re thinking…

“More sleep talk? Borrrrrring!” 

I understand. Sleep isn’t exactly an exciting topic! However, if you’re serious about losing fat — and generally optimizing your health, regardless if your goal is fat loss or not — there are some things about sleep that are important to know.

If a client’s fat loss stalls, I don’t start analyzing her food intake or increasing her exercise frequency or intensity. Instead, I immediately look at her sleep quality and quantity — and her chronic stress levels. 

It’s that important.

We are a chronically sleep-deprived, over-stressed society. Each of these on its own can cause health problems and hinder fat loss. Combine them, and it’s no wonder so many people struggle to achieve their health and fitness goals.

Have you noticed when you’re exhausted you feel hungrier than usual? This is not your imagination. Not getting enough sleep affects leptin and ghrelin, which are (to oversimplify) your hunger hormones. Basically, being in a sleep deficit will make you hungrier and more impulsive, and you’ll have strong cravings for high-carbohydrate foods. This makes it a heck of a lot harder to turn down the donuts at the office and make choices that align with your long-term goals.

Are you ready to become the strongest, fittest, most confident you with a program that fits your life — instead of controlling it? Learn more about GGS Coaching

Research also shows that sleep deprivation can reduce our ability to lose fat, even if we’re eating fewer calories.1,2 Plus, being chronically under-slept can also mean elevated cortisol and insulin resistance. This doesn’t bode well for fat loss, much less your overall health.

If this isn’t enough reason to turn in a bit earlier, let me remind you that adequate sleep is also imperative for maintaining cognitive function and keeping a sunny disposition. It’s also essential for having a steady supply of energy so you can keep up with your kids on the playground, run around with your dog, lift heavier weights, and enjoy all the other active things you love to do.

Ask yourself: Am I averaging at least seven hours of sleep per night?

If the answer is no, here are three tips to help:

  1. Only consume caffeine before 11 a.m. (When the clock strikes 11, it’s time for decaf.)
  2. Turn off all screens at least one hour before going to bed. Setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to log out may be helpful here.
  3. Establish a relaxing routine to do each night to help you wind down before bed. This may include practices like taking a bath, journaling, reading, or meditating. Choose what works for you.

Choose the one you feel confident you can accomplish, and work to stay consistent with it for at least two weeks. Then, reevaluate your sleep. If you still aren’t getting enough, add on one of the other tips. 

Key #2. Balance Your Training and Nutrition by Finding Your Optimal Effective Dose

Back when I was the reigning Cardio Queen, I felt like I could never get enough food. I used to love this one 90-minute, high-intensity cardio kickboxing class in particular. It was a blast, the music was awesome, and all my friends went. The problem was that it revved up my hunger so much that I would race home to eat… and eat... and eat.

Whether it's running or intense strength training — or even a cardio kickboxing class, as it was in my case — it's important to pay attention to how your fitness activities affect your hunger.

It took me many years to realize that high-intensity, steady-state exercise was not the best approach for me when my goal was fat loss. It turned me into a bottomless pit! I could “out-eat” my training far too easily, which meant I was forever spinning my wheels.

We always recommend finding — and honoring — your Optimal Effective Dose for training. While we appreciate that you may love to exercise, the key is to do just enough to elicit the desired results while keeping your hormones happy and your hunger and appetite in check.

Depending on ability level, a typical training week for many women may include:

  • 2–3 resistance training sessions
  • 1–2 short-duration sessions of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or high-intensity training (HIT) 
  • 1–2 moderate-intensity, steady-state cardio sessions 
  • Unlimited low-intensity movement (e.g., walking)

Interested in finding the best balance for your training? Here are the four steps to finding your Optimal Effective Dose

Getting too aggressive with exercise, doing an obscene amount of cardio, spending hours in the weight room every day, or doing two-a-day training sessions can lead to voracious hunger — which makes the journey toward fat loss a lot more difficult.

Ask yourself: Is any type of exercise I’m doing increasing my hunger to the point that it may be sabotaging, instead of supporting, my goals?

If the answer is yes, consider what types of exercise you could do that would both feel good and align with what you want to eat each day. For example, instead of running for 45 minutes, could you break it up into three 15-minute interval sessions throughout the week? Or, instead of that hour-long spin class, could you try two 30-minute moderate-intensity cardio sessions? 

You may need to experiment a bit to find the right balance for your body, but being aware of this will be greatly beneficial as you work toward your goals. 

Key #3. Eat When Hungry, Stop When Satisfied

In our GGS Coaching program, we identify hunger and appetite as two different things. 

Hunger is the physiological need for food. Appetite is the psychological want for food.

Hunger is the sensation in your belly or body that tells you that you need to eat in the near-ish future (e.g., a hollow feeling in the belly, a dip in energy, struggling to focus).

On the other hand, appetite is typically stimulated by seeing, smelling, or hearing about food. Appetite can act as a form of self-comfort, as a reaction to stress or strong emotions, or as a procrastination tactic. 

Everyone occasionally eats because of appetite — it’s normal! But learning to recognize whether you’re experiencing hunger or appetite can make all the difference when it comes to reaching your goals.

This distinction can be tough to make at first. Some of us proactively snack and eat often throughout the day, and the hunger sensation feels really foreign — and very uncomfortable. For others, hunger can feel scary, particularly to those of us who have a history of restrictive dieting or disordered eating or who experienced food scarcity growing up. 

Then there’s the constant temptation to multitask while eating. Eating while scrolling social media, watching Netflix, or working can lead you to consume more food than you need. The distraction prevents you from noticing your satiety signal — your body’s message that you’ve had enough to eat. 

It’s a double whammy: It’s hard to identify when we truly need to eat and when we’re truly satisfied. 

If your goal is fat loss, then it’s important to be able to:

  • Distinguish between your hunger and your appetite.
  • Eat mindfully according to your hunger.
  • Eat without distraction.
  • Pay attention to your satiation cues. 
  • Eat in a way that aligns with your goals.

When you eat until you're satisfied but not stuffed, you’ve found your sweet spot for that meal. This takes practice, and it will change at each meal depending on several different factors (e.g., how active you’ve been, how much you ate at your last meal). Finding this satiety spot will also help you stay in tune with your body and what it needs in regards to food.

Ask yourself: Am I eating according to my appetite or my hunger? Am I eating while distracted?

No matter what your answers are, be kind to yourself. Increasing your awareness is a huge step toward eating according to both your body’s needs and your goals. 

If you feel like you can distinguish between your appetite and hunger, and you’re able to eat slowly and mindfully, try using our GGS Coaching Hunger and Fullness Continuum tool. 

GGS Coaching Hunger and Fullness Continuum Table

For a goal of fat loss, we encourage you to eat when you’re hungry and then consistently eat until you reach a 7 on the Continuum. 

Finding your sweet spot with satiety requires a little trial and error. You may notice that you overshoot at one meal and then undershoot at another. This is to be expected. Stay patient with yourself and use those experiences as learning opportunities. 

Bonus Exercise

If you notice that you’re regularly over-eating or eating until you feel stuffed (and you’ve already eliminated mealtime distractions), it may be helpful to take a half-time eating intermission for two minutes. 

When you’re halfway through your meal, put down your utensils and set a timer for two minutes. After two minutes, you can continue eating until you feel satisfied. Sometimes this small break can make a huge difference in our ability to pick up on our satiation cues!

Key #4. Be Strategic with Your Cardio

For a long time, cardio was the go-to recommendation for women who wanted to lose fat. (And in some cases, it’s still the first thing women think to do more of when they’re seeking fat loss.) But the pendulum has begun to shift. 

As our knowledge has evolved, a growing number of women have embraced strength training and the empowering feeling of lifting weights. And while strength training is awesome for overall health, cardio has gained criticism in some circles — even though it can be an excellent tool when used correctly.

Is cardio necessary for everyone who wants to get leaner? Not really. But if you find that you’re a bit stuck, doing a couple of sessions per week could certainly help.

Both moderate-intensity and low-intensity steady-state cardio can contribute to your daily energy expenditure. More importantly, though, they improve aerobic capacity. This means you’ll see better training results, breathe a bit easier during challenging lifting sessions, and be able to cut down on your rest time between sets! Moderate-intensity and low-intensity cardio also increase blood flow to your muscles, which can help with recovery and reduce post-workout soreness.

Plus, there are all the general benefits of cardio, like:

  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Better sleep
  • Stronger immune function
  • Better mood
  • Reduced chronic pain and stiffness

(... and the list goes on.)

But here’s the thing: It’s important to be strategic about cardio. While some cardio is often beneficial, more cardio isn't always better

As I mentioned earlier, finding your Optimal Effective Dose will be tremendously helpful for determining the right amount and type of cardio for your goals. And whatever form of cardio you choose, make sure it’s cardio that feels good for you and keeps your hunger under control. 

Ask yourself: What kind of cardio do I enjoy the most? Can I spare 20 minutes twice a week to incorporate this type of cardio into my routine?

Once you’ve figured out what type of cardio you enjoy (e.g., brisk walking, biking, riding the elliptical) and started working it into your schedule, it’s time to evaluate your results. How is the cardio making you feel? Do you feel energized and in control of your hunger? 

If you’re feeling great, keep on going! If you’re feeling exhausted, cranky, and hungry, try scaling back the length or frequency of your sessions. If that doesn’t help, re-evaluate the other three keys we just discussed. 

Important note: Once you make a habit change, stick with it for a few weeks before evaluating your progress. Sometimes it can take a little while to start seeing results.

As you just learned, there’s more to the fat loss equation than simply restricting food intake and doing more exercise. Turning your attention to these four keys can make all the difference when trying to break out of a rut and push things forward. 

Want to learn how to get the results you've always wanted — without extreme diet or exercise?

Sign up for this FREE 5-Day course and you'll learn:

  • How to set yourself up for success (not failure) from the beginning
  • Why meal plans don't work (and what to do instead)
  • Why more exercise isn't better (and what to do instead)
  • How to overcome two major roadblocks concerning your hunger and cravings
  • The "secret sauce" for long-lasting, life-changing results — even when you're busy, injured, or unmotivated
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Women are tired of spending hours in the gym without seeing the results they want. Fortunately, no matter your goal, we can help. Strength gain, muscle gain, fat loss, more energy—we've got you (and your goals) covered.

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About the author:  Jen Comas

Jen Comas is a Girls Gone Strong co-founder and GGS Coaching Head Coach, as well as a NASM Personal Trainer and USAW Level One Weightlifting coach. She has competed in figure and trained as a powerlifter, teaches and practices yoga, and is obsessed with motorcycles, dirt biking, and downhill mountain biking. Learn about Jen on her website and follow her adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

References

  1. Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Schoeller DA, Penev PD. Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Ann. Intern. Med., 2010.
  2. Wang X, Sparks JR, Bowyer KP, Youngstedt SD. Influence of sleep restriction on weight loss outcomes associated with caloric restriction. Sleep, 2018. 

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