Probably the most popular reason for people engaging in any type of exercise is to lose body fat. This is no surprise given that the fitness industry prioritises how your body looks ahead of what it can do. Social media has only exacerbated this problem. I understand that we all want to look good, but immediately dropping body fat may not be the most efficient route for getting there.
Here's a statement you've probably never head before:
Unless you are carrying enough body fat to be classified as obese, you would be better served gaining or at minimum maintaining your bodyweight.
Yes, you read that correctly. Let me explain why.
Beginner gains are your friend
If you are new to the gym, your body has an incredible aptitude to gain strength and muscle at a rapid rate, called the 'novice effect'. One of the lovely features of this physiological phenomenon is that you can initially burn fat and gain muscle at the same time! Yes, studies have actually shown this to be true.
Sometimes this will result in your weight staying the same, and sometimes it will lead to a gain in weight. What you need to keep in mind is that the weight being gained is muscle. Who cares what the scale says if you look and feel better?
If you are carrying a lot of body fat (enough to be considered obese or morbidly obese) then what I've outlined doesn't apply to you. At this level of body fat, you are at an incredibly elevated risk for most diseases. Therefore health and losing the body fat should be your number one priority.
However you should still engage in resistance training as this is also great for your health and will speed up the fat loss process. Once you are at a healthy body fat percentage, you could then begin to start gaining muscle mass.
When and how to cut
Once you have gained some decent strength and muscle, you may decide it's time to cut the body fat.
As I've outlined before, fat loss comes down to calories-in vs. calories-out. So you will either need to start adding in some extra physical activity, or reduce your calories. Personally I find it easier to just start doing 15-20 mins of cardio every day as it's good for your health anyway. However this will be an individual thing.
It's important that you don't create too large of a calorie deficit. Start at about -250 from your usual intake, and gradually push it toward -500 if your fat loss stalls.
A word of warning
We all would love to snap our fingers and be at 5-10% body fat. However the reality of what it takes to live at that level of leanness is something most people are completely oblivious to. The only people who live at this level of body fat year round are people who are paid to do so. This means models, professional bodybuilders etc.
The tradeoffs are massive. Would you still want to be that lean if you had to be in bed by 10pm every night, or if you could almost never drink or have dessert? What if you had to track the macros of every single meal, and you had to train every single day, sometimes twice a day? That is what it takes to stay at a muscular 5-10% bodyfat.
There are smaller tradeoffs like this for every bit of fitness you gain and body fat you lose. If you want to have a lean muscular physique, that also means you don't get to go out every single night. You can't get drunk all the time and eat fast food all the time.
Therefore if you are thinking about getting super lean, just take the time to decide what you are willing to sacrifice for that goal. Everyone has their limits, and I personally know what I'm not willing to sacrifice for health and fitness. Things like family and friends, my health and happiness, my job, etc.
Decide what you want, make sure it's in line with what you're willing to sacrifice, and then go from there.