The question “Which is the best diet for fat loss?” may well have overtaken “What is the meaning of life?” in the All-Time most asked questions list.

Without getting too philosophical, that probably tells a story on its own.

We’ve become so obsessed about discovering the details of the perfect diet, thinking that our looks are everything, that we miss the bigger picture of “How is this going to help me live better?”

What ‘better’ means to you is up to you.

Maybe it means you’re so lean, girls want to lick tequila off your abs in Vegas.

Maybe it means you regain enough health to have kids when you were unable before.

Maybe it means your performance improves so you can beat your record half marathon time.

I could write a million different goals which are perfectly worthwhile and lead to more fun and personal satisfaction in your life.

The point is that until you know how you want to live and how your nutrition fits into the bigger picture,  nothing is likely to fully deliver what you want.

For instance, you could have the most ‘perfect’ calorie-counting based diet designed for you, but if you haven’t got time to make 85g of salmon and two poached eggs in the morning because of getting the kids ready, that diet is worthless.

I don’t know you or your situation so I can only give you some guidance points based on experience with people from all walks of life from busy executives to mums to professional athletes and everything in between.

I am not going to make any judgements on how you live either.

That said, know that minimising alcohol, maximising sleep and reducing stress will do MEGA things for your energy and body composition and apply to all of the dietary recommendations below!

If you have sports performance needs or want to gain muscle, there are other things you need to do than what you will read here – this is focused on getting healthy and lean for the majority of people.

Healthy Habits

If you currently eat based on whatever is handy, your best bet is to focus on installing three major habits.

Drink 1.5-2 litres of water each day, eat vegetables at least twice per day and make sure you have lots of lean, clean protein in every meal (not battered chicken and things like that!).

Forget worrying about calories and carbs and ketogenic diets – just make those actions non-negotiable, and pleasing changes will happen without any extra hassle.

By making a positive, proactive change through increasing your fats and proteins, you will leave less space on your plate for the sugars that have contributed to higher body fat levels.

It also means you are focusing on positive actions, rather than simply eradicating bad ones which can feel like strict deprivation and make losing body fat a battle rather than simply a healthy lifestyle.

Busy Bee Plan

If you’re so busy during the day that you just can’t stop for a good quality meal, then I recommend my busy Bee style nutrition plan.

This involves eating little during the day, just nibbling on raw veg and some light proteins (such as egg whites). I call it the ‘Almost Fasting’ way of eating.

In the evening, you can have a bigger, sit down meal which must focus on good amounts of protein, fats and vegetables.

Have some carbs if you like, choosing from things like jasmine rice, quinoa and sweet potato.

This method will help with calorie control, provided you eat slowly and relax in the evenings. If you shovel everything in, you’ll be no better off so just eat slowly and give your leptin hormone a chance to kick in and tell you when you’re full.

I’ve found it great for busy mums and dads who like to sit down with the family for a ‘feast’ in the evening and also business people who often find themselves over-eating at client entertainment events after work.

Full Fasts

Fasting is a great way to melt body fat, improve insulin function and again, reduce calorie and carbohydrate consumption without obsessing about counting everything you eat.

However, people of certain personality types are prone to higher levels of cortisol (your major ‘stress hormone’) and lower levels of serotonin.

Fasting can elevate cortisol further particularly if you’ve had a crappy diet for a while and you find such a diet mentally stressful.

We also know that eating carbohydrates increases serotonin, our key calming hormone.

If you typically worry about anything and everything and prefer life to stay on the path you know/understand, you’ll probably find fasting too difficult and may even gain fat due to the stress.

If you’re more of a risk taker and enjoy lots of variety, change and novelty in your life you’ll most likely have lower cortisol and higher serotonin and do well on a fasting/low carb diet.

However, these people often have addictive personalities and if you go overboard with sugar on ‘re-feed’ days, it can derail a great week!

These kind of people tend to have low base levels of dopamine and high sugar foods over-stimulate dopamine receptors in the brain, making bingeing a likely possibility.

The Anti-Stress Diet

The paradoxical thing about fat loss is that we often decide to finally do something about it and ‘go hard’, when we feel at our worst, are most stressed and are least able to cope with big changes to our lifestyle.

The reaction is to engage in some hard exercise and an extreme diet to get back to looking and feeling good as fast as possible.

This often simply piles on more stress and beyond the first few weeks of calorie restriction, can make matters worse from a body composition perspective.

If you are highly stressed but need to lose body fat, you will do best on a nutrition plan that simply emphasises cutting out processed foods, but allows a small amount of complex carbohydrates at each meal (20-30g).

The move to eat only natural, healthy food will remove a lot of calories and toxins from your diet, accelerating fat loss, but the small amount of carbs will make sure your serotonin levels are maintained and cortisol kept at bay.

You should also work on deep breathing for 5 minute blocks throughout the day and improving your pre-bed routine for better sleep for this purpose. 

You won’t find ‘eating less’ will solve your body fat issues as they are rooted in hormone disruption not just eating too much cake!

Calorie Counting

Calorie counting can work really well, but I find it’s only really good for people at either end of the fat loss spectrum.

If you have NO clue about food or your current intake, it can be useful so you learn about foods.

Even then, if you focus on just eating natural food, calories will largely take care of themselves.

If you’re a fitness model and need to make minute changes to go from 8% to 5% body fat, you will need to know the finer details of your actions.

Other than that, I don’t find the benefits are worth the hassle for most people, especially because their stress levels and activity levels changes so much that it’s basically false accuracy.

Some people like numbers and tracking things and a strict plan HELPS their brain, but for many, it’s just something else they don’t have time for in their life.

If you go down this route, aim for about 20-25 calories per 1kg of lean bodyweight per day and 2g of protein per 1kg of lean bodyweight per day – the rest in terms of fats and carbs will be down to some personal trial and error as well as the type of training you engage in.

What If I’m Already In Good Shape?

All of the above applies!

Sure, if you are getting on stage, things have to be really dialled in and you are likely going to be in for a hard few weeks as your body fights against giving up your last remaining fat.

However, the same things apply with regards to hormonal reactions – this doesn’t stop being a thing, just because your abs are visible!

Often the stress of preparing to get on stage can lead to huge cortisol increases and the resulting water retention and inability to manage and store sugars so well.

You will need to be tuned in to your calorie intake but individual factors like body type and hormone profiles are still important so that you burn body fat without giving up hard earned muscle tissue.

Much of this comes from repeating the process over a number of years to find what really works for you.

Going ‘all out’ on one effort to get as lean as possible can do permanent psychological damage as well as down-grading your thyroid function and metabolism due to restricting carbs for too long.

This is too big a topic to cover here.

Summary

As you can see, a successful fat loss nutrition plan is not about just restricting carbs as much as possible which seems to be the go-to recommendation in the fitness world right now.

ALL successful plans will involve lots of water, around 2g of protein per day per 1kg of lean body weight, lots of vegetables (especially green), some good fats at each meal and some carbohydrates at certain times.

The rest of the details are open to negotiation with your lifestyle and commitment levels.

Whilst change and effort is always necessary to get in great shape, at first, the best option is to find which healthy style of eating fits best with your current schedule and lifestyle.

If a restrictive diet is helping you lose fat but every day is a stressful chore and a battle against hunger pangs, it won’t last long and you’ll get nowhere long-term.

Once healthy eating has become habitual and you have turned your body from an insatiable, sugar-craving monster to a fat metabolising machine, you can then look to make further changes that MAY improve results.

Learn to play the game you’re in right now whilst looking at the areas of the bigger picture that you need to change such as the people around you, how much time you spend working, your home environment, your social activities etc.

Remember though, dietary ‘progression’ for one person may not mean progression for another because of personality type and stress levels.

There is never going to be a best diet for everyone but there is always an option that works best for you at a certain time because you are able to make it work consistently.