1. Drink more water. Although a recent study suggested that drinking the standard “8 glasses” or 64 oz of water touted by experts is not necessary for health, forget about it. We’re dealing purely with fat loss; moreover, ways to maximize it. In my experience (and in the collective experience of other fitness professionals), I’ve found that there is a direct, inverse correlation between water consumption and fat loss – the more water a client drinks, the more fat they lose. Ellington Darden suggests that superhydration with chilled water may be effective in fat loss due to your body having to warm the water to body temperature in order to use it in your cells. The net effect: about a calorie burned per oz of water. Dr. Darden suggests that his recommendation of drinking a gallon of chilled water will burn about 130 calories.
2. Stop doing cardio… It’s widely recognized that performing cardio for fat loss is an exercise in futility. Try this simple experiment: Perform the cardio of your choice and go until you have burned 500 calories (FYI: Running 5 miles will burn roughly 500 calories). Next, get a Venti Cafe Mocha from Starbucks and drink it (It contains roughly 508 calories). Which was easier? Which was faster? It’s much simpler to watch your food choices throughout the day than to spend countless hours of your life burning “excess” calories from a poor diet.
3. …but if you must run around, perform intervals. Ok, so you’re eating perfectly. Or close enough to it. You lift weights (properly). But you are still not seeing any fat loss. Well, if you must add in activity to help burn fat, then perform intervals. Because high-intensity interval training is a heavy stimulus to the body, it causes a large metabolic effect. In plain English, your body has to struggle to perform the work required in an interval workout. The exertion effort causes your body’s engine to continue running at a higher rate, even hours after the work is done. Specifically, the fat oxidation in the 24 hour period post-workout is far greater than after a moderate cardio workout (where the fat oxidation post-workout is virtually nil). By performing intervals, you maximize fat burning during the other 23 hours of the day when you’re not working out.
4. Lift weights. Heavy ones. This is a must. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Performing weight training exercises will minimize loss of muscle tissue as your body gets rid of fat. Maximizing muscle also means that your metabolism will stay high, in that retained muscle goes to work burning fat for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is estimated that muscle contributes up to 70% of your metabolism, so the more muscle your have, the more calories (and fat) you’ll burn. So what does this best? Lifting very heavy things, multiple times. The increased calories you’ll burn from the actual lifting will help, but the increase in your metabolism post-exercise will contribute even more to total calorie burn.
5. Eliminate processed foods from your diet. This one should be plainly obvious. Processed foods contain hundreds of chemicals, tons of salt, and (more than likely) trans-fatty acids. In other words, substances that wreak havoc and cause damage to the cells of your body. Most processing strips the nutritional value from foods, eliminating many of the vitamins and minerals that naturally occur in foods. You need every last bit of nutrition from your food, particularly if you’re consuming less of it.
6. Eliminate starches and sugars from your diet. Carbohydrates have come under fire with the popularity of Atkins, South Beach, and other low-carb diets. There’s good reason these diets are so popular – they work without giving the dieter a sense of deprivation. By eliminating the substances that distrupt hormonal tone in your body (namely, starches and sugars), low (refined) carb diets maintain steady insulin levels and turn your body into a fat-burning machine. If that in and of itself is not intriguing, consider this: studies performed with low vs. high carbohydrate diets that contained the same number of calories all showed that subjects on the low carb regimens consistently lost more fat than their higher carb cohorts. Experts think that this occurs due to hormonal factors and the thermic effect of food; if you’re particularly science-minded, read about it here. I think Alwyn Cosgrove summed it up best: “If you’re looking to lose fat and you’re not eating a low-carbohydrate diet, you’re a fucking idiot.”
7. Take a yoga class. No, not because of yoga’s supposed health benefits or because of the extra calorie burn or any nonsense like that. Instead, do it because yoga relaxes you. It is well established that the stress hormone cortisol causes increased depositing of fat around the middle; ergo, anything we can do to reduce cortisol levels in the body is good for fat loss.
8. Don’t be scared of fat. What is the one thing that causes most low-carb diets to FAIL? Consuming too much protein? Too little fiber? Too few veggies? The biggest factor causing low-carb approaches to fail is not enough intake of fat. Here’s why: Your body normally runs on sugar (carbohydrates). Take away those carbs, and you need to introduce a different energy source. Yes, your body can convert protein to sugar for energy use, but you didn’t lift the weights and do the intervals just so you could break down your protein stores; you did it to burn fat. Your body needs dietary fat as an alternative energy source when carbohydrates are restriced. Once fat is introduced into the diet, not only do an individual’s energy levels rise, but their feeling of fullness (satiety) increases, resulting in fewer food cravings. Without fat, a low-carb diet becomes an unhealthy high-protein diet, which is not what low-carbohydrate experts (or myself) recommend. Read this website to see why fat is good for you, or check out Nina Planck’s book Real Food.
9. Get more rest. Remember that nasty cortisol? During waking hours your body produces more cortisol if you are sleep-deprived. Hey, I guess I should be the last one to talk, but get some rest. Most sleep experts agree that a range of between 7-9 hours a night is optimal.
10. Throw your scale out of the window… Most trainees I know are way too concerned with their scale weight. So concerned, in fact, that they may weigh themselves several times a day. This is an unhealthy obsession, both mentally and emotionally draining. Scale weight does not accurately reflect what’s going on. 120 lbs and 20% body fat is much, much different than 120 lbs and 5% body fat, but in both cases, the scale would tell the same story. Not a great tool at all.
11. …And use the other 6 indicators instead. The above being said, accountability is very important. How do you intend to measure your progress if you can’t weigh yourself? Use other, more telling indicators. Namely:
a) Body fat, using calipers or an inaccurate bio-impedance device
b) Measuring your waistline each morning
c) How your clothes fit
d) The “mirror” test
e) Waist-Hip Ratio
and, if you’re an athlete or professional,
f) Hydrostatic weighing or DEXA
Seriously, just by accessing how your clothes fit and measuring your waistline in the morning, one can just as accurately track progress as having a professional perform body fat testing. And you’ll be less inclined to measure your waistline several times a day.
12. Eat. Often. Why do bodybuilders do it? Why does Bill Phillips suggest it in Body For Life? Why does every trainer in America tell their clients to do it? Because it works and there are actual studies to back it up: Eating more frequent, smaller meals spaced evenly throughout the day helps exercisers lose more fat than eating fewer, larger meals, even if the calories consumed are exactly the same. Is it because of the Thermic Effect of Food? Or perhaps it’s due to lower and steadier insulin levels? Maybe it causes more ghrelin, leptin, and Peptide YY3-36 to be secreted, signaling satiety? How about something as simple as leaving too much time between meals increases hunger, causing you to overeat at meals? Whatever the cause, physiological or mental, do it, because it works. Unless you’re following the Warrior Diet or an Art DeVany approach (intermittent fasting) – but then again, if you are, you’re likely more well-informed than 95% of the persoanl trainers in America.
And I tip my hat to you.