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Updated on Jul 24, 2019. Posted on Jun 30, 2015

Here’s Everything You Need To Know To Actually Lose Body Fat

Losing fat isn't the same thing as losing weight. This is how it all works.

Justine Zwiebel / BuzzFeed

Everyone has their own goals for their health and wellness, and those goals vary from person to person. We get that not everyone is focused on losing body fat — and that is A-OK. But since some people do want to change their body composition — whether for health reasons, aesthetic purposes, athletic performance, or some other reason entirely — we wanted to provide the best advice we could on how to do it safely and effectively. BuzzFeed Life consulted two experts for this story: Dr. Holly Lofton, director of the Medical Weight Management Program at NYU Langone Medical Center, and Dr. Florence Comite, a New York City–based endocrinologist who specializes in precision medicine.

1. First, understand what body fat is, what it does, and how much is healthy to have.

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Body fat is actually a tissue our bodies really need. Lofton explains that we need a minimal amount of fat to keep our central nervous system and organs (including our brains) functioning properly. This fat is called essential fat, because it's absolutely necessary to our health.

The body also needs fat for cushioning and insulation, but having too much of it is associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and more. The fat around your abdomen, called visceral fat, is in particular what you want to minimize because it can invade your organs and hinder their ability to function properly.

Comite says that an ideal body fat range for women is 25–28%, and for men 12–15%. Of course, these ranges vary from person to person. Be sure to check in with a doctor if you're trying to figure our your ideal body fat percentage and how to get there.

2. Yes, losing body fat IS partially about how many calories you eat. So let's just get that out of the way first.

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As BuzzFeed Life reported for a previous story, figuring out how much you should eat depends on your goals.

If you're looking to reduce body fat, you'll most likely have to find a way to take in fewer calories, on average, than you presently are. Lofton recommends keeping a journal of what you eat across three days (including one weekend day, since weekends tend to be when most people let a little loose) to see where there might some easy fixes to make — like cutting down on alcohol consumption, eliminating sugary drinks, or reducing any portion sizes that seem overly big.

If journaling isn't for you, you can also use online calculators to give yourself a rough estimate of how many calories you need per day based on your goals.

Now that you have some basic information, either from your journaling or calculations, you can figure out how to adjust your eating habits to support the goal of losing body fat. Keep in mind that the amount of calories you need to reduce each day or week to lose fat will be totally specific to your goals, lifestyle, the exercise you're doing, any medical conditions, and so on, so you might need to experiment. Otherwise, of course, speak with a doctor or dietitian for more precise numbers.

3. Whatever you do, don't eat a low-fat diet.

4. But you probably should eat fewer carbs.

5. Here's how to estimate about how many carbs you're eating.

6. When it comes to measuring progress, don't use a regular scale.

7. Get enough sleep and make sure it's good quality.

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Comite explains (and studies show) that getting adequate, good quality sleep keeps the body's hormones in balance — hormones that are responsible for regulating metabolism. Not getting enough good-quality sleep can disturb hormonal systems that are responsible for enabling us to lose fat.

Plus, research shows that being sleep deprived causes us to crave high-calorie foods.

8. Do some high-intensity cardio exercise.

9. Make strength training part of your routine.

10. Focus your training on large muscle groups for maximum effect.

11. Give up sugary drinks.

12. Read labels.

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If you're going to try to pay attention to how much fat, carbohydrates, and protein you're eating, you need to understand how much of each are in your food. Pay attention to the numbers on the label and what they mean for your overall goals. You can use an app like MyFitnessPal to track not just calories but macronutrients, too.

13. Or just guesstimate portions and servings wisely.

14. Make sure you're drinking enough water.

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"If you don't have enough water, you can't burn energy efficiently in the same way, including sugar," says Comite. "If you're drinking water you're going to be better at losing fat." To figure out how much water you should drink per day, divide your weight in half, Lofton says, and drink that many ounces of water per day.

15. Don't overdo the post-workout snack.

OK, so that's a lot to think about.

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If you're thinking of trying to lose fat, the tips above will be helpful — but remember to check with a doctor before making any big changes to your diet or exercise routines. And also remember to check with yourself to make sure your goals for physical fitness match up with your goals for your mental health and lifestyle.

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