If you’re looking to burn more fat, you’ll need to watch your overall daily calorie intake, as well as the quality of the foods that you’re putting on your plate. You’ll need to decrease the number of calories per day, eat more whole foods, and increase hydration to flush out toxins released from fat cells as you burn fat and lose weight. But contrary to popular belief, you should not create a deficit in calories.
When the body doesn’t get enough daily calories and is running on empty, the metabolism slows down, muscles break down and can’t recover and rebuild after a workout. Follow these six tips to make sure you’re eating enough calories to maximize fat burning and trim down safely.
How to Create the Best Eating Plan for Fat Loss
1. Limit Sweets and Processed Foods That Lack Fiber
Eat a clean diet that consists of whole foods over processed foods like salty, greasy chips, baked goods or candy bars, and other convenient store-bought snacks and meals that lack fiber and valuable nutrition.
This will help you use calories wisely and train your body to burn fat by using it for fuel once you’ve reduced refined carbohydrate intake and sugar.
“These include processed foods like high-sugar 'protein' or meal replacement bars, convenience foods, pastries, and chips, which often provide more protein than you can process at once and place stress on the kidneys and liver,” Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, says.
Make whole foods the majority of the diet.
2. Don’t Slash Calories Too Much
Fad dieting and calorie deficit won’t target fat loss well, so while you might lose "weight," you’ll likely gain it back once you start eating more calories a day. Plus, you’re likely losing muscle mass and are malnourished too.
While this may differ per individual (always speak with your dietitian first to figure out your ideal number), “a 1,400-calorie menu plan should promote a safe and healthy weight loss of one to two pounds per week for most exercising females, with one to two pounds a week as the ideal rate of weight loss for long-lasting fat loss,” Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT, says.
Going under 1,400 calories as an exercising female would lead to malnourishment and weakened training performance.
“For females who are larger or training more heavily, if they start to lose weight too quickly, they can add an additional serving of protein and wholesome carbohydrate, and increase until they are losing weight at a slower rate,” Lakatos says.
Lakatos also advises that men should not go below 1,600-1,800 calories, and they should follow the same recommendations regarding too rapid of weight loss. Calorie ranges vary depending on how intensely a person is training, so be sure to discuss activity level with your dietitian too.
3. Bulk up on Protein and Healthy Fats
Protein keeps your appetite suppressed, your muscles and body fueled, and keeps your metabolism elevated to generate fat burning. Lakatos suggests eating at least 20 grams of protein at each meal to retain lean muscle tissue while losing weight and burning fat.
Snacks should consist of foods that are high in healthy fats and protein, plus fiber (with a smaller emphasis on sweets and refined carbohydrates, since fewer carbs as an energy source will help your body transition into fat-burning mode). Continue to be wary of your fat intake, however, so that you do not exceed your recommended daily caloric intake to continue losing fat.
4. Focus on Long-Term Results
Always aim for long-term results with fat loss.
“Sustainable and lasting change takes time to form, but you should begin to notice a change after following this diet pattern for three to four weeks," Best says. "Maintaining it through a lifetime is most important, where it’ll also improve heart health, lower blood pressure, and reduce your overall risk of obesity-related illnesses and chronic disease."
And while you might add in more calories or carbohydrates (since a lower-carb approach, such as the keto diet, tends to be beneficial for fat loss and fat burning, in particular), keeping them in moderation can be a handy tool for monitoring and sustaining fat-burning efforts (as well as fuel for endurance athletes).
“Once you hit your goal weight — if you’d like to maintain that weight — increase your daily calories so that if you were losing one pound a week, then increase your daily calories by a little under 500 calories, as you need fewer calories to maintain your new weight," Lakatos says. "If you were losing two pounds per week on the same plan, increase your daily calories by a little under 1,000 calories for weight maintenance."
5. Eat Lots of Green Veggies
Green veggies are low in carbohydrates, sugar, and calories, they naturally aid in fat loss, and they have good fiber and other vitamins and minerals to keep you hydrated, satiated, and well.
“Having vegetables with your meals will lower the calorie density of the meal,” Best, who suggests having a green veggie at every meal and pairing with lean protein and fat, says. “Plus, they’re rich in fiber to keep you regular and on very few calories.
“The best way to enjoy them for weight loss is fresh or steamed without sauces, dressings, butter, or oil, which all add extra calories that slow weight loss,” Lakatos says. “Instead, flavor with lemon, flavored balsamic vinegar, or mix them into your meal so they can take on the existing flavors."
6. Increase Your Antioxidant Intake
Green vegetables and fruit (in moderation, as fruit contains more carbohydrates and sugar) are not only hydrating and filling due to their high water content, but also they’re packed with antioxidants.
“These protect against muscle damage, which comes from free radicals produced during exercise,” says Lakatos. "These foods also fight chronic inflammation so that you can shed body fat more efficiently, as inflammation is associated with higher body fat."
So, you’ll benefit with your workout performance (and ability to consistently exercise), recovery speed and efficiency, and fat burning.
A Sample Meal Plan of the Best Foods to Eat for Fat Loss
This is a sample perfect meal plan for a day of eating geared towards fat burning, with options picked by Best and Lakatos. The latter has set portion sizes that fit within a 1,400-calorie day with meals at around 400 calories and snacks at 200 calories, so adjust accordingly based on need.
Best recommends eggs for breakfast with extra protein and fiber. She suggests two scrambled eggs, one slice of whole wheat toast, and three pieces of turkey bacon from a high-quality brand that’s free of nitrates, lean, and lower in sodium. (Don’t cook it in tons of butter, of course.)
Lakatos recommends oatmeal with berries and walnuts, along with scrambled eggs that are seasoned with turmeric and contain antioxidant-dense mushrooms and peppers. This would resemble ½ cup of oatmeal, ½ cup of berries, 2 tablespoons of walnuts, two full eggs, two egg whites, and unlimited veggies.
Depending on your needs, shoot for one or two snacks a day. Best recommends two options for snacks: a small apple with a serving of peanut or almond butter or a serving of almonds with one cheese stick.
Lakatos recommends just one snack: ¾ cup of grape chia seed pudding, which you can make at home by chilling chia seeds overnight and topping with fresh slices of grapes or making your own low-sugar grape jam at home to layer throughout. You can also swap the grapes for berries of your own choice.
Lean protein and greens are perfect for lunch. Best recommends grilled chicken with a side salad of mixed greens with other veggies on top (cucumber, olives, tomatoes, onions, and pepperoncini peppers) along with a bit of grain for a base, such as brown rice or quinoa.
Lakatos recommends lean protein too, such as grilled turkey or low-sodium and nitrate-free turkey breast slices, but inside a sandwich containing sauerkraut and avocado for probiotics, fiber, fat, and protein.
Pair with a spinach and citrus salad. If you are cutting back on carbohydrates, swap the whole wheat bread for low-carb bread (or make the sandwich open-faced and use just one slice instead). Otherwise, use two slices of whole wheat bread, four ounces of turkey, one ounce of avocado, two tablespoons of sauerkraut, two cups of spinach, an orange, and balsamic vinegar to drizzle.
For dinner, you can’t go wrong with a lean protein like chicken or turkey breast, tofu, or fish, along with green veggies. Best recommends a salmon filet with a side of steamed or sautéed broccoli (use olive oil or another healthy oil and don’t ever fry), and a base of rice noodles or cauliflower rice.
Lakatos also recommends salmon for dinner, suggesting grilled or roasted salmon with zucchini pasta, and a soup containing steamed broccoli, roasted cauliflower, fennel, lentils, and ginger. Enjoy four ounces of salmon, 1.5 cups of zucchini pasta seasoned with lemon and pepper, and 1 cup of soup.