Though you trudge away on the treadmill and scrape by on seeds and sprouts, the bathroom scale refuses to budge. But actually, the formula for fat loss is quite simple.
Self-proclaimed health “gurus” and hokey fitness gimmick infomercial hosts promise you can cull the kilos (or pare away the pounds) by exercising only three minutes a day.
Then there’s the fine print: Losing “weight” is easy. LOSING FAT and keeping it off can be downright difficult. But don’t despair; there is hope!
Arm yourself with these fat-trimming lifestyle tips and keep it off for life!
1) Banish Your Bathroom Scale
First things first: banish your bathroom scale and only take it out once every other week. It is your fat loss foe! It is a traitor that will deceive you (unless you know how to keep it in line).
Guzzling a so-called “skinny teatox” loaded with laxatives and diuretics might fool you into thinking you’ve lost fat, but you’ll quickly regain the weight once you stop using it.
2) Buy Into Body Composition, Not Just Body Weight
Focus on building and maintaining valuable muscle. Muscle is very metabolically active and pays a higher caloric “rent” to sustain itself (even at rest). Fat tissue, on the other hand, is something of a metabolic freeloader which burns comparatively fewer calories.
If after a few months your scale weight hasn’t changed much, you might notice that your clothes fit better. This is usually a result of an increase in muscle and decrease in fat.
Have a look and compare these two cross sectional thigh scans.
The first image shows a strong dense muscle with minimal fat penetrating into the muscle. The second image shows a weak, wasting muscle which is infiltrated with fat. The overall surface area is similar, but you can see the drastic difference in composition.
3) Don’t Trust Fibbing Exercise Machines
Ever seen those “fat burning” or “cardio” buttons on treadmills and stationary bikes? The irony is the so-called “fat burning” button can keep you fat and the cardio button will help trim your gut and butt. This is where it gets confusing so pay attention. Check out my detailed article on this topic.
In the image below, you can see that a lower intensity (lower VO2) burns proportionally more fat as a fuel source during exercise (fat burn button). The trade off is that you also burn less overall calories per unit of time compared to higher intensities.
At higher exercise intensities (cardio button), you burn more carbohydrate (sugar) as a fuel source (blue dots in the image), but you burn more calories per unit of time.
Comparing apples to apples, if you did 10 minutes on the treadmill on the low-intensity fat loss setting versus 10 minutes on the the higher-intensity cardio setting, you’d actually be better served by the cardio setting.
Independent of the fuel source during exercise, your overall energy (calorie) expenditure is higher. The energy deficit created by exercise is later justified by the body pulling fat out of storage (even when not exercising).
In the long-term, you are served much better by exercising at higher intensities per unit of time and maximizing the energy burn than focusing on which fuel source you’re using during exercise. The overall CUMULATIVE calorie deficit is what matters and that’s what’s going to have you looking good for the long haul!
If you’re new to exercise and out of shape, then you may need to start off at a slow pace in order to allow your body to adapt. Progress slowly and work up to higher intensities over time to maximise intensity to enhance energy expenditure.
4) Build Your Fitness Foundation
Following on from above, if you’re completely new to exercise, develop your fitness foundation slowly and gradually progress to higher intensities. Doing too much too soon may leave you sore and discourage you from continuing. Check out my 10 quick tips to get off the exercise rollercoaster and set your fitness foundation in stone.
Start off at a leisurely pace on the bike or treadmill for no more than 20 minutes and do this 3 to 4 days per week.
Depending on how you feel, increase your duration by 5-10 minutes per session each week until you can do 45-60 minutes of non-stop cardio exercise.
5) Integrate Intense Intervals
With your fitness foundation in place, start cranking up the intensity by integrating intervals into your routine (this is key for fat loss). Intervals are higher intensity bursts interspersed within your cardio routine designed to raise your heart rate and crank up the calorie burning control knob.
During your cardio exercise, start off with 1 to 2-minute high intensity bursts and then give yourself 3-4 minutes of active recovery at a lower intensity (keep walking or pedaling).
Perform your intervals at an intensity high enough that you can barely speak to the person next to you, preferably an exercise partner who shares your same fat loss goals.
6) High Intensity For Longer
Once you’ve established your fitness foundation and incorporated intervals into your regimen, try to maintain higher intensities for longer durations. The longer you maintain the higher intensities, the more energy you burn, the more fat you pull out of storage, and the greater your overall fat loss.
7) Muscle = Metabolism. Lift Weights (or Body Weight)
Muscle is the machinery that drives your metabolism. Resistance training is known to enhance muscle size, structure, and function all of which cause a cascade of health benefits. It doesn’t mean that you need to grunt and groan amongst bespandexed gym gorillas.
Many of the fitness boot camps leverage on calisthenic style exercises which mostly use body weight for resistance. Muscles don’t have eyes. As long as you’re stressing your muscles at a level above and beyond that which they’re normally accustomed, you can expect improvements in your appearance and, of course, your metabolic health.
8) Small Changes For Big Improvements
Avoid radical changes in your diet, as this only sets you up for failure. Focus instead on making tiny nutrition changes you can live with. For example, try cutting down on soda, chips, and sweets.
If you drink a liter per day, wean your way down to 500 milliliters, then to 250, and eventually to water. One little change can translate to big changes in both scale weight and appearance over the long haul.
If you consume 250 calories less and expend 250 calories more with exercise each day, over one calendar year you’d could plausibly strip off about 23 kilograms (50 pounds) of body fat.
Obviously the actual amount of fat loss will vary due to inter-individual differences in genes, habits, and behavioral considerations (see my article: Obesity Genes: Does your DNA predict Body Fat and Weight?). Small changes are important because they minimise the “famine response” and keep you off the exercise rollercoaster (and then some). As a general rule, healthy FAT LOSS is approximately 1 – 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kg) per week.
9) Incidentally Speaking, Waste Energy with Incidental activity
The emerging science of inactivity physiology shows that we need to be as inefficient as humanly possible as often as possible.
- Waste energy at all times of the day outside of your structured exercise sessions.
- Avoid life’s shortcuts.
- Nix the elevators. Opt for the stairs.
- Walk up those steep hills.
- Take public transit and weigh yourself down with a laptop case or backpack.
- Use a handbasket at the supermarket instead of a trolley (shopping cart).
- Use a standing workstation instead of a sit-down desk.
The more energy you blow throughout the day, the greater your overall fat loss. Every little bit counts and it all contributes to the “bottom line.”
10) Buddy Up
Sure, misery loves company, but so does exercise! Identify your supporters and saboteurs. Avoid the saboteurs who will attempt to undermine and derail your efforts out of jealousy. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people who will either exercise with you on your journey or play the role of cheerleader! It may also be helpful to join online support networks which will allow you to share your experience with other like-minded people who may be going through the same thing.
11) Make it Fun
It’s the age-old question: What’s the best exercise in the world? The one you LIKE and the one you’ll do on a regular basis! I see lots of trainers and exercisers alike debating over which exercise is best, but when it comes right down to it, you just need to find something that will make you more active. If you like to walk, then walk. If you like to ride your bike around the neighborhood, then ride your bike. As mentioned above, intersperse some intervals to crank up the calorie burning control knob!
12) Unfriend the Media
The media is NOT your friend. Cancel your cable TV subscription or at least stop watching it 20 hours per week. Nix the fluffy celebrity gossip magazines. These types of publications are loaded with unrealistic body images that are merely airbrushed photos meant to provide false hope and sell copies.
13) Fire Your Health Guru
The popularity of social media has led to rampant proliferation of self-styled “health gurus” like the so-called Food Babe and David “Avocado” Wolfe, both of whom have gone down in flames for making outlandish claims with no health science training.
While we all want to believe claims that health nirvana is just one miracle diet, supplement, or infomercial gadget away, the grim reality is that none of this works.
Guru promises of simple solutions to complex problems will likely leave you with complex problems without simple solutions. While not always a guarantee, checking for university qualifications in a health science can increase your chances of getting reliable information that will help you adopt a healthy lifestyle for life.
DRUM ROLL…… THE SECRET TO PERMANENT FAT LOSS
In all my years as a diet and exercise professional, I can tell you one thing with absolute unequivocal certainty: the secret to permanent fat loss is that THERE IS NO SECRET.
Every client I’ve worked with who has lost weight and kept it off did not rely on slimming wraps (i.e., It Works body wraps). They simply committed themselves to a healthy lifestyle and then stuck with it for the long term. Thing is, we’ve known it all along.
Even the ancient Greeks knew it. Hippocrates is quoted as saying, “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”
More recent evidence of this can be found on Dr. Rena Wing’s National Weight Control Registry at the University of Rhode Island. As much as we’d all like to believe in “wishful shrinking,” miracle diets, pills, powders, and infomercial gadgets do not work. If they did we’d all be thin by now!
Bottom line: consistency in doing the right thing will always win out over quick-fix fad diets and gimmicks. Stay the course!