In the past two weeks, three different women have separately asked me for tips on how to reduce their bodyfat. I'm not sure if everyone is envisioning bikini season despite the freezing winter temperatures, but this seemed like a perfect time to record some of the keys I see as essential elements in any fat loss program.
These tips are meant to be (somewhat) simplistic and easy-to-follow, but as always you can find much more in-depth scientific research by Googling any of the key terms to follow.
The first axiom that helps plot the course to fat loss is to remember that DIET IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EXERCISE. I'm sorry for yelling, but often that point gets missed and requires loud tactics to drive home the point. I've used this saying before, but it bears repeating - great abs are made in the kitchen.
Now that we've successfully established that when it comes to fat loss, diet is more important than exercise, we can move on to some of the micro-level details:
#1 - Cut out the junk.
In-case you are puzzled as to what constitutes "junk", it would be any of the following: sugars, sodas, fried foods, white carbs like breads, pastas, white potatoes, and heavy dairy like cheeses or most regular milk. None of these sorts of foods belong anywhere in a fat loss program.
#2 - Keep it clean.
After eliminating the "bad", begin to focus on the good. Your daily eating habits should be focused around solid clean food sources. Base your grocery shopping and meals around lean proteins, LOTS of vegetables (particularly leafy greens and colors), moderate amounts healthy fats, low-to-moderate amounts complex carbs (more on this in a minute) and some select fruits.
Examples are as follows:
Lean Proteins: Lean turkey breast, organic chicken breast, Tilapia, Salmon, Egg Whites, organic eggs, Tofu, Bison.
Vegetables: Spinach, Kale, Swiss Chard, Mixed Greens Salads, Baby Carrots, Red/green/yellow Peppers, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Cabbage.
Healthy Fats: Avocado (this does NOT mean guacamole), extra virgin olive oil, Almonds, Almond Butter, organic Peanut Butter, Coconut Oil. Eggs and Salmon also fit into this category.
Complex Carbs: Oatmeal, Oat Bran, Sweet Potatoes, Brown rice, Quinoa
Fruits: Blueberries, Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Grapefruit
#3 - Reduce carbohydrates later in the day.
It's time to start looking at food (particularly carbohydrates) as fuel. Carbs make up the body's most immediate energy source (especially fruits, sugars, and non-complex sources) so it makes little sense to load up on an energy source when the remainder of the day will be mostly spent sitting in-front of the computer or television, or preparing for bed. Replace the space on your dinner plate that would normally be filled by pasta, mashed potatoes, white rice, or dinner rolls with salads and/or vegetables.
#4 - Focus carb intake around workouts
To build off of point #3, it makes little sense to continuously fill your body with carbs (think muffins and bagels around the office, lunchtime sub sandwiches) throughout the day if your energy expenditure is mostly walking back and forth to the copy machine or restroom. One strategy that has worked well for me is to limit carb intake to pre-workout only. The goal is to fuel up with energy and burn those carbs off during my intense workout. I've even abandoned the long-held strategy of post-workout carbs (rice cakes, gatorade, bananas, etc) to "refill muscle glycogen stores" after an interesting read which made tons of logical sense. Post-workout carb refilling is appropriate if you are an endurance athlete. It does not fit into a plan focused around reducing body fat.
#5 - Limit "Reward Meals" to 1-2 times per week
I use the term "Reward Meals" instead of cheat meals to signify that these meals truly should be a reward for your hard work and diligent eating during the week. The 90/10 rule applies towards your diet in that if you keep on-track 90% of the time, the remaining 10% may slow your progress slightly, but will not ultimately derail it. It is important to remember however that a Reward Meal is not an entire Day's worth of gorging. It may also be helpful to plan your reward meals the day before a tough workout so that those extra calories go towards your energy level and performance in the gym.
#6 - Intensity of Exercise > Duration of Exercise
The metabolism is a lot like a fire. Focus on using your brief-but-intense workout to rev up the metabolism for the remaining 23 hours of your calendar day. A fat loss workout does not need to be two hours. It should not be an endless marathon on the stairmaster or elliptical trainer. Those machines can have a small-but-focused role in your workout, but they should not be foundation of your plan as I so often see many women doing in the gym.
Those looking to shed bodyfat should instead utilize interval training like Tabatas, or High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to get their heart-rate up, which takes advantage of the fat-burning qualities of Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) and Lactic Acid. Intense resistance training (don't be scared ladies) also plays a HUGE role in priming the body's hormones to burn off stored fat cells. A targeted clean diet plan sets the stage for the correct hormonal environment within your body. Intense resistance training brings hormones like testosterone and HGH into the equation, which have proven fat loss attributes.
There are other aspects of your fat loss plan that need to be in-sync, such as getting a proper amount of sleep (8-9 hours per night is recommended), and avoiding a stressed daily mindset. The body will not release stored body fats if your normal temperament is stressed and agitated, as this throws the hormones I mentioned earlier out of balance.
Losing body fat is a process not an event. It is not a linear, mathematic equation (eat 500 calories less, burn 500 calories more, etc) that happens exactly as it would on a calculator. It requires patience, perseverance, and a plan. Life does not happen in a linear fashion, and neither will your fat loss. But with the right tools in-place, it can be put into action just in-time for beach and bikini season around the corner.