Fat Loss - Why it's more than just calories in vs calories out

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

A lot of people in the industry would say fat loss is easy, calories in vs calories out. At its most basic level this is true. So why do so many people struggle with losing fat and keeping it off.

We know a negative energy balance (more calories out than taken in) is how fat loss is achieved. What people fail to see is that the concept of achieving this negative energy balance should be viewed as multi-faceted. If you take this very simplistic mindset of ‘just eat less’ you’ll likely have flaws in any nutrition plan. Just as fat loss needs to be achieved by a negative energy balance, this negative energy balance needs to be achieved by addressing 3 key areas. These areas are physiological, psychological and environmental and all of which must be addressed in any nutrition intervention under the overarching banner of adherence. Essentially, it’s all well and good to tell someone this is how to lose fat (negative energy balance) but how do we put ourselves in a positon to achieve this negative energy balance that then results in fat loss over the long term.

All 3 of these areas are intertwined meaning if one falls down then the others generally suffer. For example, if you constantly surround yourself with ‘temptation food’ (environment) then it’s likely you’ll over eat (physiological) and then feel guilty about what you have done and potentially give up altogether (psychological).

Let’s look at each area in more detail below and you’ll see why they are all vital cogs achieving fat loss.


This is what people will be the most familiar with. Eat less food and exercise more. As a general rule, diet is the first point of call when it comes to reducing energy balance. Focussing our effort here improves accuracy and offers more than predictable results if adhered to. This is because we have a better understanding of the deficit we are creating when achieving it through food rather than exercise. If I aim to create a 200 calorie deficit per day, I can track that quite easily by tracking food. In comparison, to try and create this deficit by aiming to burn an extra 200 calories a day exercising is not as easy to track.

“But the treadmill said….”


What your treadmill doesn’t tell you is how many calories you would have burned at rest without the exercise. We use energy for everyday activity, even just to stay alive (RMR). So, when your 45 min walk on the treadmill states that you chewed through 300 calories, it doesn’t take into account that you might have burned 100 calories at rest anyway. All of a sudden, your 300 calorie deficit becomes 200 (100 calories was an example of energy expenditure at rest and it will vary between individuals)

Don’t get me wrong cardio is a great tool to use but pick your moment. Only use it as needed. A good time to introduce cardio is when you’re at the lower end of your caloric intake or if you’re smaller person with a low food intake to begin with. In each case you are running out of room to move in terms of dropping calories. Even then, introduce cardio at the lower end and then increase it as needed.


This is big! For a lot of people it’s not easy to all of a sudden just eat less when their mindset surrounding food doesn’t allow for it.

I believe there are 4 main sticking points that exist in one’s mindset towards food.

1 – Emotion/relationship with food

Probably the most damaging and the toughest one to break. For so long humans have turned to food to cope with emotion. Tough day at work, arguing with your partner and even just boredom can lead to an unbreakable urge to eat as coping mechanism. The reason it’s so hard to break is because in order to remove food as a means of coping, that void must be replaced with something else just as and if not more meaningful. Further to that it must be turned into a habit. Trying to replace something that has provided you with an ‘out’ for so long is tough and takes experimentation and practice.

2 – Poor Self Awareness

This comes back to knowing what you TRULY want, not what you think you SHOULD do. It’s all well and good to dream of wash board abs but is that what you really desire? Once you know what you want make sure that you’re aware of what it will take in order to achieve this and then decide if you are willing to do itW. What will you sacrifice? Uncertainty about the end result leads to uncertain actions which will get you no-where.

3 – Time (Instant Gratification Vs Long Term Goals)

In a lot of cases it’s not easy to diet when the end goal is so far away. That’s why people leave it until 3 weeks before their holiday and then panic because they’re not in shape.

Time can be viewed as ‘instant gratification’ VS ‘long term goals’. Instant gratification refers to someone giving into temptation in the short term knowing that they are putting their long term goal in jeopardy. Basically, the drive/emotion for you to satisfy your immediate desires knowing they are not conducive of future success. When the long term goal is kept at the forefront of one’s mind then you’ll find it significantly easier to stay on track.

4 – Knowledge

This is self explanatory! The more you know, the better off you’ll be. When you understand how energy balance works based on your goals, what food sources contain what macro nutrients, how to structure a day/week/month of eating, how to properly fuel your body then you’ll be 2 steps ahead of everyone else. Allow yourself to make informed decisions and give yourself certainty in the choices you make.


Arguably a very underrated concept but the importance of environment for fat loss is key. If you surround yourself with foods that you know you’ll overindulge on then you are setting yourself up for failure. You hear people all the time say “You never have to give up your favourite food” BUT if your favourite food is ice cream and every time you go near it you eat the tub not a couple of scoops, then it might need to go. If you surround yourself with people every weekend that love to drink and party then of course it will be hard not to indulge in a few drinks and some pizzas with them.

When looking at environment I’d recommended you think about this statement. “Make the better choices the easier choices”

  • Do meal preps for work instead of buying the takeaway food

  • Keep the trigger foods out of the house

  • Maybe you need to eliminate the ‘snacky food’ so you can stick to whole meals

There are so many ways and these are just a few suggestions. It’s about finding what best applies to you and implementing.

Don’t set yourself up for failure by constantly putting yourself in compromising situations.


To represent it visually you’d have something that looks like the below image. As you can see, all 3 of the factors just discussed have a direct effect on creating the energy deficit which then has its direct effect of causing fat loss. The key takeaway is that fat loss at its most basic is calories in vs calories out, but it would be naive for one to think that are not a number of considerations that must come into play in order to achieve this.

What the image does include is adherence. The reason it’s the biggest circle is because it’s the biggest contributing factor to fat loss. When addressing all of the 3 key areas just discussed it’s important to plan them in the context of the adherence. For example, when making environmental changes, it’s no good implementing a change that the individual won’t consistently do. Find another way around the same problem or just decide on something different to address and move forward.

Obviously fat loss nutrition NEEDS to go hand in hand with an appropriately designed strength training program but this is a discussion for another time

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