Don't cut calories too much if you want to lose fat — it could backfire, a personal trainer warns

Don't cut calories too much if you want to lose fat — it could backfire, a personal trainer warns
Trying to eat as little as possible to lose fat long term is a mistake.Getty
  • It's a mistake to try and eat as little as possible to lose fat, a personal trainer said.
  • This is often unsustainable, so doesn't make you hit your goals faster, Emma Storey-Gordon said.

If you want to lose fat long term, it's a mistake to try and eat as little as possible and exercise as much as you can, personal trainer Emma Storey-Gordon told Insider.

To lose weight you need to be in a calorie deficit by consuming less energy than you use.

You will in theory lose fat faster if you eat less, but this is a mistake in the long run. Following a restrictive diet and over-exercising is unsustainable for the vast majority of people, Storey-Gordon said.

Instead, people who want to lose fat should try eating as much as they can while being in a slight calorie deficit, to fuel a healthy, sustainable lifestyle, according to Storey-Gordon.

"It's much better to create a 500-calorie deficit you can stick to than try to do a 1,000-calorie one that leads to overeating," she said.


You get the most out of your first workout of the week

Equally, trying to go from zero to five workouts a week, or walking 2,000 to 14,000 steps a day, is not only likely unachievable for most people, but is unnecessary too, Storey-Gordon said.

When it comes to exercise, Storey-Gordon cites the principles of the "minimum effective dose" and the "law of diminishing returns."

Don't cut calories too much if you want to lose fat — it could backfire, a personal trainer warns
The law of diminishing returns applies to workouts.Emma Storey-Gordon

This means the benefit you get from going from zero to one workout a week or 2,000 to 5,000 steps a day is far greater than if you go from four to five workouts a week or 11,000 to 14,000 daily steps, she said.

For example, a 2019 study assessing the step-count of nearly 17,000 older American women over four years found that walking 4,400 steps a day was linked to a significantly lower mortality rate than walking 2,700. Mortality rate is the number of people in a certain group who die in a given time.

The mortality rate progressively decreased the more steps the women took, but this leveled out at around 7,500 steps a day.


A post shared by Emma Storey Gordon (@esgfitness)

"The biggest benefits come from being inactive to even mildly active," Storey-Gordon said.

Whether for health or fat loss, you get the most bang for your buck in that first bit of exercise you do, and most people need to do far less than they think, she said.

"That first one hour of exercise every week is so beneficial, and then you have this law of diminishing returns above that," Storey-Gordon said. "You still get a benefit from each additional hour of exercise, but it's way less than the first one where you get a huge benefit for the unit of time."

If you over-train, however, and don't give yourself enough recovery time between workouts, you may actually slow your fitness progress too. Equally, if exercising more in the hope it will aid weight loss is making you ravenous and struggle to stick to your calorie deficit, it may be counterproductive, Storey-Gordon said.

Doing something is better than trying to be perfect and doing nothing

People can worry they won't lose weight or improve their fitness if they can't fit their fourth weekly workout in, for example, or worry about not being able to do what they think might be "optimal," but they shouldn't, Storey-Gordon said.


She said people should strive for "imperfect action" or doing something, even if it's not perfect.

The concept applies to both workouts and diet, Storey-Gordon said: Don't worry about supplements, just focus on having three balanced meals and perhaps a snack or two per day.

"If you do the basics right, you don't have to worry about going any further," she said.