This blog will discuss how you plan your weight loss program and how to measure your progress.  We will also explore the crucial roles that fat, sugar, insulin, and exercise – of various types and intensities –play in your journey.

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85% of people lose weight to improve fitness, 75% to enhance self-esteem, 70% appearance, 45% because of a spouse, 40% because of healthcare advice, and 35% to improve health – indeed, losing 5 to 10% of your body weight is proven to prevent and control chronic diseases.

Peter, a 33-year-old gentleman, presented with weight problems, fatigue, brain fog and poor concentration.  He had a strong family history of premature cardiac death.  His father had died of a heart attack at the age of 46.  This made Peter join his local gym.  Indeed, he had exercised regularly, supervised by a personal trainer, since his teenage years.

Despite high-intensity exercise and weight training, Peter wasn’t progressing.  The sessions were becoming harder.  He consumed high calories to compensate for heavy exercise demands, including breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, and pizza, snacking on crackers, biscuits and chocolates, and he had recently increased his sports drinks from one to two bottles a day.

He wondered why his exercise tolerance had decreased despite regular training and a high-calorie diet.  He was worried that he had developed chronic fatigue syndrome.

He had thin arms and legs but a high BMI of 27.9, a large waist measurement of 39 inches, WHR 1.05, height of 162cm, neck size of 18.7 inches, and BP borderline at 128/85.  His liver was enlarged and slightly tender.  He had a few patches of varicose veins on his legs.

The routine blood test confirmed high fasting insulin at 24, HbA1C prediabetic at 6.3, homocysteine high at 28, HDL low at 0.95, and triglyceride very high at 3.2.

The clinical picture suggested that Peter did not perform well in the gym due to energy fluctuations.  He regularly exhausted the primary fuel, glucose, frequently tapping into his sugar stores (glycogen), with depletion resulting in underperformance.

His insulin remained high, meaning he could not lose fat.  Hence, he had to use the second fuel option and break down his muscles to make glucose.  This resulted in significant muscle loss, so his strength and exercise tolerance decreased further.

His diet continued to build up his fat stores, mainly around the mid-body section.  He could not lose weight despite regular exercise and progressed to metabolic syndrome with high blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides and low HDL, the good guy cholesterol.  This put him at risk of heart disease, which was what he was trying to prevent.

How do you measure fat loss?

Simple observations can help you assess your body fat.  Stand up and look down; you must have significant belly fat if you cannot see your feet.  A waistline of more than half your height indicates significant belly fat.  A double chin or a neck size of more than 16 inches (42 cm) in a man and 14 inches (36cm) in a woman is a sign of excess visceral fat and increases the risk of metabolic diseases.

The weighing scale may not be helpful as it measures the whole body, including fat, muscle, bone, and water. The normal body is 70% water, 20% muscle protein, and 10% fat.

Starting the weight management program, many people are thrilled that they have lost weight.  But significant overnight weight loss is likely water loss.

As your blood sugar starts to fall, your body taps into stored sugar.  You store sugar as glycogen in muscles and the liver.  Glycogen stored in the liver is your first fuel option.  You have around 100 grams of glycogen; each gram is combined with 3 grams of water.  Burning stored glycogen, you lose a lot of water within 12 to 24 hours.

When this shows up on the weighing scale, people wrongly assume that their diet is working.  However, they have not lost weight, only water.  Therefore, the scales are not an accurate tool to monitor your fat loss.

Skin fold thickness is the oldest method of assessing body fat.  Applying the calliper is a simple but realistic way to monitor your weight loss program.  But modern technology provides more accurate tools.

Bio-electric impedance assesses the differences in bodily tissues’ electric resistance, notably your body fat mass.  The device looks like a weighing scale with or without a hand piece.  Bigger devices exist in gyms and leisure centres. It analyses your body composition, including your fat percentage. The result is highly affected by the level of hydration.  Dehydration spuriously raises your fat percentage.  Using the other equipment to estimate your hydration level would reduce this bias.

DEXA scan is the gold standard for measuring body composition, including fat mass.  The same machine is used to assess bone density in osteoporosis patients.  It is accurate, reliable, convenient, and fast (less than 5 minutes).  The only downside is it’s expensive, costing about £100.

Some people want more assurance that they are burning fat and not losing muscle, particularly early in their weight loss program.  Fat is released from the storage area (adipose tissue) into the bloodstream and transported to the liver.  The liver converts fat into ketone bodies and redistributes it to fuel body cells.  You can measure ketone bodies in urine using a strip or on a blood spot using a keto meter—the most accurate way. You can also check ketone bodies, mainly acetone, in your breath. People who burn fat smell acetone—the nail polish remover.

Is your fat loss journey progressing well?

You should be reassured that you are burning fat if your average weight loss is between 0.5 and 1kg per week.  Steady and consistent weight loss is likely fat loss.

Rapid weight loss often results in fatigue, headaches, muscle loss, and irregular menses in ladies. Being a nutrient-demanding process, it may cause nutrient deficiencies.

Your body has priority areas for fat storage according to age, sex, and hormones.  Women have a huge fat storage in their hips, buttocks, and thighs to meet increasing demands during pregnancy and lactation.  Making it harder for women to lose weight.

Men over 50 and postmenopausal women tend to store fat in their body mid-section, increasing their risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

You can’t target a specific spot.  Many people focus on practising abdominal crunches regularly, assuming this would dissolve belly fat.  This may be a reasonable suggestion.  Since belly fat usually goes first.  other people see changes in their face, neck, and breast early.

In one study, participants exercised one leg for 12 weeks.  The exercised leg lost less fat than the upper body.  There was no difference in fat loss between the exercised and non-exercised legs.

What evidence is there to guide us?

We should aim to create a calorie deficit (500 calories per day) by reducing calorie intake and increasing expenditure.  This is not a retreat to the conventional theory but a change in food quality and practising the appropriate exercise.

Remember, the key to fat burning and weight loss is to lower the fat-storage hormone, insulin.

The simple advice on food can be summarised in “Go Back to Mother Nature”.  There is strong evidence to advocate a diet high in fruits and vegetables, plant or animal protein, and low in sugar, processed carbs and alcohol.  Eat less frequently and exercise often to lower your insulin.

The diet that excludes processed food is known as a paleo diet.  I prefer the Volumetrics diet since it provides an adequate volume of food to fill you up but with fewer calories.

Real foods are rich in fibre.  There is insoluble fibre, which facilitates food movement along your gut and makes you regular.  Soluble fibre slows down sugar and fat absorption.  It’s not for you, but feed beneficial bacteria in the large bowel to produce short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, which enhance your insulin sensitivity and lower your insulin levels to facilitate fat burning.

Essential nutrients for converting food into energy include B vitamins, alpha lipoic acid, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron.  L-Carnitine is a key nutrient for transporting fat across the mitochondrial membrane to be burned for energy.

Vitamin D reduces the formation of new fat cells and their fat storage capacity. Sunshine, help your weight loss program.

Moderate protein intake is crucial to curb your appetite.  You spend more calories processing protein than any other type of food.  This is known as the dynamic action of food, which generates heat and make you feel warm after eating protein.

Eating fat helps burn more fat because it increases satiety and has a high-calorie content (9 calories per gram of fat), twice as much as carbs (4 calories per gram).  This helps you eat smaller and less frequent meals and avoid snacking.

If you’re not increasing your fat intake, the only other option would be to load carbs, which would fill up your sugar stores, raise your insulin and put you back to square one.  By restricting carbs and increasing fat intake, your body recovers the ability to burn fat.

What should your exercise program look like?

It is very important to start the exercise program gradually.  You cannot ask a couch potato to run a marathon.  You must first build a strong activity foundation.  Starting to move your muscles stimulate them to open up and get filled with sugar.  This happens without any insulin effect.  Then, practice cardio exercises to strengthen the heart and lungs and optimise the circulation.

Studies confirm that cardio exercise enhances the insulin sensitivity of muscles but not the adipose (fat) tissue, directing calories to be burned for energy and not to be stored.

After you have built a good stamina base, you can incorporate moderate-intensity exercise in the fat-burning zone and high-intensity in the sugar-burning zone.

The fat-burning zone is when you can continue talking while exercising.  In comparison, you are too breathless to talk during higher-intensity exercise.  Your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age.  You should exercise at 50% of your maximum heart rate in the fat-burning zone and 70% in high-intensity exercise.

High-intensity exercise quickly depletes your glycogen (sugar) stores, speeding up your fat burning.  You will continue to burn calories following high-intensity exercise for 24 to 48 hours, to cover oxygen debt.

Aim for 250 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly exercise, equalling 50 minutes five days a week.

Restful sleep and having loving relationships are also crucial to your weight loss program.  Staying awake increases your chance of eating, and sleep deprivation stimulates your appetite for palatable energy-dense food.

Hiking can add to your calorie burning, release endorphins, and make you feel happy.

So, my friends, whatever your motivation for wanting to lose weight, you can see that you need to bear several factors in mind as you progress – the quality of the food that you eat (Mother Nature knows best!), the cardiovascular exercise foundation you lay, the more intense activity you then undertake, together with what you already know about sleep and meaningful relationships. 

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Weight-loss statistics 2023 – surprising facts and data,84.6%25%20to%20improve%20fitness.