I’ve taken just over a month off from blogging and am ready to go again! Many questions I am asked on a daily basis while working the floor at the Y or am chatting with a personal training client or friend boil down to the following: “How do I burn excess body fat?” You may say “I want to tone,” “I want to get rid of this *points to or grabs a chunk of midsection* (it sounds kind of funny when written out, but happens on an almost-daily basis),” “what are some triceps exercises I can do to get rid of my cafeteria lady arms?” I think the biggest assumption here is that exercise alone will deal with your body fat, or that the biggest factor in the amount of body fat you are currently carrying is based upon your activity level. While the amount and style of activity you perform day-to-day does affect physique, it tends to affect muscle mass, not as much in the way of fat mass. I’ve heard it said that “abs are made in the kitchen” and that seems to be getting a little closer to accurate than focusing on exercise as being solely responsible for your current body fat percentage. Everyone has to eat to stay alive, and it’s the most consistent thing you can do to control your body fat percentage. That being said, here are my top 5 tips for eliminating excess body fat via nutrition alone. (Note “excess” because we do need some fat to function, and if you are currently at a healthy body fat percentage, focus on maintenance.)
1) Eat consistently, preemptively, every 2-3 hours during the day. This will help to keep your metabolic fire burning and keep you full. It will also help to curb binges because you won’t be ravenously hungry at 10pm. That being said:
2) Cut binges. I recently spoke with a woman who is a former triathlete, likely about 80-100 pounds overweight, not strength training, and who told me her nutrition is good. I really try to not be super-critical, but my curiosity was piqued at her statement, so I asked her to give me a rundown of her daily nutrition. Most people are honest and will say “it is terrible–I eat muffins for breakfast, have Chinese food for lunch, had a whole small pizza last night for dinner,” (I’m pulling each meal from separate conversations with people, but have heard all of the above) but that doesn’t cover ALL people. If your nutrition is “good” (and you haven’t been losing body fat–some people are on the journey from morbidly obese to healthy, and may be at the midpoint, so I try to ask questions as opposed to jumping to conclusions. Turns out this particular individual has nightly sweets binges. This information followed the initial description of a “good” dietary regimen of oatmeal or whole-wheat pancakes in the morning, a serving of starch and protein in the afternoon for lunch, and the same for dinner. No way she was surviving on just that–something that one could maintain for maybe a couple of days, but not consistently realistically. If she was, her body was storing whatever excess BIG TIME. I’ve had other clients who are doing the right things sometimes, but also are having the binges of sweets and wondering why the scale is going nowhere or is going up despite exercise and doing a few of the right things. So outside of not binging on sweets, what should you be doing nutritionally to maximize your fat-burning?
3) When you eat, prioritize non-starchy vegetables and lean protein along with a lot of water. They will help to get you full more quickly and to keep you full. Tough to binge when you have no room for any of the food.
4) If you are craving sweets and dinner hasn’t satisfied that sweet tooth, a great technique that I use (when I remember) is a sweetened almondmilk cocoa:
-8oz boiling or at least hot water
Cocoa (more specifically, raw cacao) has some serious fat-burning properties that will help during the hours between your final meal and breakfast.
I think the final tips are ultimately the most important because your hormones are the biggest regulators of your physiological functions:
5a) Control your insulin levels by minimizing starchy carbohydrates and replacing them with fibrous vegetables. *Note-to-self about the Rice Chex* Cortisol (a powerful hormone that can either burn or store fat, depending on the company in which it finds itself. Kind of a fickle fellow, if you ask me.) in the presence of insulin becomes a fat-storer, not a fat-burner.
5b) Control your cortisol levels by minimizing stress outside of strenuous exercise! As a result of strenuous exercise (that places heavy stress on the body), your body releases human growth hormone, testosterone, catecholamines (dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine), and produces lactic acid. While in the presence of all of the above, cortisol is a fat-burner, so the heavy stress is good! Outside of the presence of these hormones, cortisol is a fat-storer. To lower cortisol, lower stress. To lower stress, leisurely and relaxing activities should be a priority, especially at the end of the day to help you wind down before you sleep.
I guess the list could be appropriately labeled “4 tips for eliminating binging and 1 tip for keeping your hormones under control” but that’s a bit wordy, and I’m practicing brevity. 🙂