Clients, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers ask me questions online and in person about how to reach their goals.
Questions vary depending on each individual’s situation, and common issues range from bodybuilding competitions to traveling.
I selected some of the most frequently asked questions that may be helpful to a general audience.
1. What Is The Best Way to Lose Fat?
This is probably the most common question that I get. My first response is always, “What does your current diet and exercise look like?” Depending on one’s current situation, it may or may not be a good time to try to lose fat.
If you have already been in a caloric deficit for a long time, it might not be an appropriate time to pursue fat loss. However, assuming that you are in a good place physically and mentally, then the best way to lose fat is to put yourself in a caloric deficit.
Related: 38 Women Fitness Experts Share Tips on Fat Loss for Women
In terms of best practices, cutting your calories a little at a time can help to minimize weight plateaus and preserve lean mass1. Thus, as a general rule, you should always consume the greatest number of calories you can while still losing weight. If you are starting at a high percent body fat, then you might be able to jump right into your diet on a steeper caloric deficit than someone who is already fairly lean1.
A good practice is to make small changes to your diet every week or every two weeks until you reach your goal. Check progress by weighing yourself, taking measurements, and/or taking progress pictures. Each week (or whenever you “check in” with yourself), make a small change to your plan.
If you track calories or macros, this might look like cutting your daily calorie goals by 100 calories or your daily carbohydrate goals by 25g carbohydrates. If you don’t track numbers, this might look like decreasing from 2 slices of toast to 1 slice for your pre-workout snack.
The other tool in the toolbox is exercise. While strength training is key to make sure that weight loss comes from fat and not muscle2, any extra physical activity can help to increase energy expenditure and thus your caloric deficit. This might look like adding 15 minutes of high-intensity interval training or a morning walk when your progress plateaus.
2. I’m Having Trouble Reaching My Goals. What Am I Doing Wrong?
Some prospective clients come to me as a sort of “last resort.” These individuals have already tried reaching their goals on their own but are not having success. My first response to these individuals is always, “Are you tracking?”
If you don’t track what you eat or how many steps you take in a day, for example, then it is difficult to know if you are on track toward your goals. Many people say that they “eat healthy” when in reality they are overeating, even if they are consuming many nutrient-dense foods. If someone who is feeling lost is not tracking, then it’s a good idea to start–even if it isn’t meant to be a long-term solution.
Tracking for a few days can be enough to give a realistic depiction of the current situation. From there, changes can be made to get things moving in the right direction.
If someone is already tracking, then the solution is usually to tweak his/her current target goals. Most often this involves a simple increase or decrease in daily calorie/macronutrient goals. Rarely, someone might have been in a caloric deficit for a long time or decreased their food intake too fast. In those cases, increasing food and decreasing activity might actually lead to decreased or maintained body weight for some time.
3. What Should I Be Eating?
Despite the Dietary Guidelines for Americans describing healthy dietary patterns and providing dietary recommendations3, choosing which foods to eat remains a confusing task for many of us. While the answer to this question depends on your lifestyle and goals, you definitely do not need to follow a special diet (like keto or paleo), no matter what your current situation and goals look like.
Unless you have food allergies or intolerances or a specific diagnosis, no foods should be off limits. People often ask me what specific foods they should eat to meet their goals. However, there are no specific foods that will help you reach your goals, no matter what they are. Overall dietary pattern is what matters.
Related: The 4 Pillars of Dietary Success for Any Fitness Goal
If your goal is to improve overall health, then a balanced diet over time is key, even if certain meals or days are off. Just make sure to eat fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein regularly3. If your goal is related to body weight or body composition, then how much you eat is more important than what you eat.
You will need to be more careful about overall calories but also macronutrients – carbohydrates, fat, protein – as they each have specific functions in the body. In terms of reaching weight-related goals, however, it truly doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you meet your calorie and nutrient goals. There are no magic foods that can help to burn fat, for example.
4. How Do I Get Rid of Cellulite?
I get a lot of questions about how to lose cellulite or how to lose fat from specific areas of the body. These people typically want to know what exercises they can do to get rid of “flabby arms,” “love handles,” “thigh fat,” or some other area of fat/cellulite on the body. Despite being described as a “cosmetically distressing condition”4, cellulite is just fat pushing against connective tissue.
Some of it is even good, especially when it comes to lower body subcutaneous tissue (think butt and thighs)5. If you really want to lose it, you can refer to question #1 for your answer. When fat loss is your goal, keep in mind that doing certain exercises will not make you lose fat from specific locations. Although fat loss tends to come more from subcutaneous fat than visceral fat6, we cannot choose where on the body it comes from!
5. How Do You Cope with Gaining Weight?
This is a common question I get from clients who are in their bodybuilding offseason or who are simply trying to put on muscle. As the fitness industry glorifies leanness, it is difficult to go against social norms and “bulk” or gain any weight, especially as a female.
The answer to this question is complex, and I would recommend seeking out help from a mental health professional if negative thoughts or behaviors impact your life in any significant way. In terms of general coping strategies, it’s important to remember that this process is only temporary.
Just like it isn’t healthy to diet forever, it’s not healthy to gain weight forever. Both dieting and gaining weight are just a means to an end. When you reach your goal, you can move on. We are always growing and changing. Try to appreciate the different seasons of life.
Additionally, try to focus on how you feel, not what you look like. Work out because it feels great, not because it can change your body shape or size. Focus on things other than your body and food. Family, friends, and work are much more important than your weight. Find what truly makes you happy. (It’s not your appearance, your size, or your shape.)
6. How Often Should I Work Out?
The answer to this question depends on many variables, but one of the most important is your schedule. It’s not worth forcing yourself to hit the gym 5-6 times per week if you’re not getting enough sleep or getting anything else done.
Research suggests that training each muscle group twice a week can help to maximize muscle growth7. This means that old-school training splits with an arm day, chest day, etc. might not be the best in the long-term for most individuals. Instead, you can try upper body days and lower body days or doing back and arms together on Tuesdays and Fridays instead of back on Tuesdays and arms on Fridays.
Contrary to what high-profile fitness professionals might make it seem like, you do not need to work out for hours every day to see progress. If you can only make it to the gym 3 days per week for 45 minutes per session, that’s great! Try not to worry too much about how long or how often you work out. Consistency over time is what matters.
The answer to each of these questions may vary depending on your situation or goals. If you are having trouble with a specific health or fitness concern, it’s a good idea to consult with a professional who can help you determine the best course of action.
- 1. Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ, Wildman R, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: diets and body composition. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:16. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0174-y
- 2. Miller T, Mull S, Aragon AA, Krieger J, Schoenfeld BJ. Resistance Training Combined With Diet Decreases Body Fat While Preserving Lean Mass Independent of Resting Metabolic Rate: A Randomized Trial. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2018;28(1):46-54. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0221
- 3. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines – health.gov. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/. Accessed July 29, 2019.
- 4. Friedmann DP, Vick GL, Mishra V. Cellulite: a review with a focus on subcision. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2017;10:17-23. doi:10.2147/CCID.S95830
- 5. Booth A, Magnuson A, Foster M. Detrimental and protective fat: body fat distribution and its relation to metabolic disease. Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig. 2014;17(1):13-27. doi:10.1515/hmbci-2014-0009
- 6. Merlotti C, Ceriani V, Morabito A, Pontiroli AE. Subcutaneous fat loss is greater than visceral fat loss with diet and exercise, weight-loss promoting drugs and bariatric surgery: a critical review and meta-analysis. Int J Obes (Lond). 2017;41(5):672-682. doi:10.1038/ijo.2017.31
- 7. Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2016;46(11):1689-1697. doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8