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Weight Loss Approach

From Mark Carroll of the Clean Health Institute

· Health and Nutrition

I just read some amazing material on weight loss and transformation from Mark Carroll. Mark is a lead trainer for the Clean Health Fitness Institute in Australia, and is known as the "trainer of trainers" and an industry leader in the field of personal transformations. I really align with his approach, and would want to relay a lot of his advice when asked about weight loss. The purpose of this blog post is to organize some of my thoughts on Mark's approach so that I can better explain this to someone else, most of this is pulled directly from Mark, with a little bit of color mixed in from me. I've cherry-picked the stuff that resonates with me. I definitely recommend looking into material directly from Mark himself.

Goal Setting

  • Healthy and sustainable fat loss should be the goal.
  • A 10% drop in body weight over a 12-week period is usually achievable in a safe way.
  • Body fat % is also a good biometric to track, with the goal being sub 24% for women and sub 18% for men.
  • The results are not linear over 12 weeks. It's common to lose more weight in the beginning and less towards the end. It's also possible to have the body fat % declining faster than the body weight (lbs).

3 Core Principles - Lifestyle, Nutrition, Training

  • Many people focus on training, and training alone. However, the training component will not matter if lifestyle and nutrition are not properly addressed.
  • Without a sound nutrition plan, there is no result. Without a calorie deficit, there is no fat loss.
  • Stress and lack of sleep can lead to a chain reaction of negative metabolic adaptations which will also impact results too. These negative adaptations slow down the rate of fat loss, which is an issue, because the number one reason people quit their dieting routine is because their results are too slow.

Stress and Lifestyle

  • Understanding stress - we have 2 branches of the autonomic nervous system. The Parasympathetic State is when we are at calm, at rest, and digesting and assimilating the nutrients from our food. This is where we recover and grow, and as you might have guessed, is the preferred state of being when it comes to fat loss. Then there is the Sympathetic State, this is our fight or flight response, which is when we are in a state of stress. Not all stress is bad. The problem is when we are in heightened states of stress for too long. Stress is crucial for our bodies to disrupt homeostasis, which is what allows us to adapt, grow muscle, and lose body fat. We do not want to live in a sympathetic state. We want to enter into it when we train, then immediately get out and return to a parasympathetic state post workout, as we begin the rest and recovery process.
  • So periodic stress from training is good. Chronic stress is bad, and it impacts mood, sleep, hunger levels, and rates of fat loss. Here are common things in modern society that could be causing you stress: lack of sleep, financial troubles, poor body image, relationship issues, work, moving, poor quality food, dehydration, smoking/alcohol, over-training, social media, environmental pollutants/toxins.
  • It's important to address any of the above stressors, and make any possible lifestyle changes. There are also activities that can assist you in getting into a parasympathetic state: breathing techniques, meditation (guided or unguided), yoga, stretching, walking, reading, massages. 


  • Sleep is the most bang for your buck intervention we can use to aid fat loss efforts. 
  • Do you fall asleep within 5 min of going to bed? Do you stay asleep without waking through the night? Do you wake up before your alarm each morning with energy? This is what good sleep looks like.
  • Optimizing stress management, creating a bedtime routine, and potentially sleep based supplementation are ways to sleep better.

Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

  • This refers to our incidental activity, the calories we burn each day outside of planned training. For example, walking, typing, fidgeting. 
  • This is the biggest variable shown to be the reason for slowed fat loss.
  • The best way to track this is with a daily step target. Recommendations are: 8k-10k steps in the 1st 4 weeks. 10k-12k steps weeks 5-8. 12k-14k steps in weeks 9-12.

Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)

  • Through TDEE we are able to establish our body’s baseline caloric requirements. Baseline calories – aka our maintenance calories – are the amount of energy we can consume and not gain or lose weight. This number is important as it helps dictate how to create the calorie deficit required to generate fat loss.
  • TDEE is comprised of 4 key variables:
    1. BMR - Your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) refers to the calories your body needs to stay alive. For example, our organs – particularly the brain and liver – require a large amount of energy to run. Your BMR is the most dominant factor in relation to TDEE. 
    2. Daily Scheduled Activity - This is the calories we burn during planned exercise. This will account for the lowest amount towards TDEE. 
    3. NEAT - this is our incidental activity, the calories we burn outside of training. This is the most variable factor in relation to TDEE. 
    4. TEF - The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the amount of energy required to digest and process the food you eat. Our digestive system requires a large amount of energy to run. A diet higher in protein will lead to a higher calorie output.

Here is a great TDEE Calculator. It will show your maintenance calories per day, based on you providing your gender and age, weight and height, body fat %, and estimated amount of activity. Here is what mine looked like:

Nutrition Fundamentals and Energy Balance

  • Calories are king when it comes to fat loss. Simply put, calories are a way to measure the energy we consume. They are crucial for dictating energy balance, which is the balance between calories in versus calories out. To achieve fat loss, we must be in a calorie deficit.
  • Calories come from macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. Protein: 1gm = 4 calories. Carbs: 1gm = 4 calories. Fats: 1gm = 9 calories. Alcohol: 1gm = 7 calories
  • Macronutrients do not determine the rate of fat loss. They simply determine how we feel when we diet. How we feel is crucial when dieting. If we feel great, we train harder, recover better and have a far higher rate of compliance. 
  • A low carbohydrate approach is not necessarily superior for fat loss to that of a moderate carb approach. This will depend on calories and somatic type (body type). However, the higher your body fat, the more likely you are to have poor insulin sensitivity. Poor insulin sensitivity will directly affect how you feel on carbohydrates. So, most clients will go on a low carb or variation style diet when they commence their fat loss journey. A good approach is low carb initially, with the goal of driving up carbohydrates each training phase the leaner and healthier we get.
  • Low carb approach is 20% of total calories from carbs. Moderate is 30-40%. Diet Bootcamp is a kickstart method with the goal to improve insulin sensitivity, and is high protein, high fat, and all you can eat vegetable approach.
  • Micronutrients refers to the ‘quality’ of our food. Foods high in micronutrients are integral to our overall health, in particular processes such as methylation, detoxification and neurotransmitter formation. What we put into our body will determine how we think and feel. However, micronutrients do not determine rate of fat loss. This is crucial to understand. In saying that, this does not mean you should eat junk food. 
  • There are positives and negatives from a calorie deficit. Some of the positives include increased fat loss, increased insulin sensitivity, decreased inflammation, decreased toxicity. However, when we push our bodies, our bodies push back. Some negative adaptations include increased muscle protein breakdown, increased hunger and decreased satiety, decreased BMR, decreased libido. The negatives can lead to slower fat loss and decreased compliance. 

Recommended Foods

Recommended vegetables would include basically all of them. Recommended protein would include clean meat, seafood and dairy, clean protein powders, as well as these non-animal sources: beans (15g/cup), lentils (18g/cup), chickpeas/hummus (14g/cup), quinoa (8g/cup), potatoes (8g/potato), nuts like peanuts and almonds (30-40g/cup), chia seeds (2g/tablespoon) and hemp seeds (5g/tablespoon), spirulina (4g/tablespoon). Even vegetables like kale, broccoli, and mushrooms provide 2-4g per serving.

Here are Mark Caroll's recommended carbohydrates and fats:

Example Nutrition Plan for a Beginner Client:

  • Weeks 1-4 are at a 30% calorie deficit. No carb (only vegetables). 1g of protein per pound of body weight. Rest of the calories from fat. Think of phase one as a metabolism reset, filling our body with lots of good quality food which will help us feel full, and good mentally. The goal is to stabilise blood sugar levels here. When we can stabilise blood sugar, this leads to more consistent energy levels throughout the day which is crucial to dietary success.
  • Weeks 5-8 are at 35% calorie deficit. Low carb, approx 80g per day, 1 starchy carb meal/day. 1g of protein per pound of body weight. Rest of the calories from fat. Think of phase two as building upon phase one. The key change is that by the end of it we should have improved our insulin sensitivity, so it’s time to begin to utilise carbohydrates in the final phase. Please note the carb meal will be placed either post workout or last meal of the day.
  • Weeks 9-12 are at 40% calorie deficit. Protein is increased slightly to aid in hunger levels and boost TEF. Carbs set at 100-120g per day. By the time we have come to the final phase we have now lost body fat, making us more insulin sensitive and giving us a greater ability to handle more carbohydrates.


  • Resistance-based training using weights is the foundation of Mark's plan and will allow for muscle building and muscle preservation when dieting. Diet and cardio alone lead to weight loss, yes, but a large loss of lean mass will slow down your BMR and can lead to fat rebound. The calorie deficit combined with a small amount of cardiovascular work is where we will primarily target fat loss. The weights training will be geared around building lean mass and also strength. We want to be strong, not just skinny.
  • The workouts are primarily whole-body workouts which pair upper body and lower body exercises. This gives our body an overabundance of blood flow and lactate build up, which can lead to increased growth hormone outputs, and in turn will maximize fat loss potential.
  • 2 days of whole body resistance training is paired with a third day of low-intensity steady-state training (LISS). That would include low endurance training such as walking, very easy jogging or hiking, swimming, cycling. The duration increases through the phases, from 30 min phase 1, to 45 min phase 2, to 1 hour in phase 3.
  • A weekly regime would look like this: Day 1 Whole Body 1, Day 2 Whole Body 2, Day 3 LISS, Day 4 Whole Body 1, Day 5 Whole body 2, Day 6 LISS, Day 7 OFF.
  • This is obviously the high-level theoretical, for an exact training plan, I highly recommend Mark Carroll's program that you can get from him website.
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