It’s the holy grail of getting healthy, but it’s also one of the toughest things to achieve: finally losing that wobbly, jiggly muffin top or beer belly that ruins the look of your clothes (not to mention your self-confidence!) But losing that stubborn fat is possible – you just have to ignore all the hype and stick with what actually works.
And, speaking of hype… first, let’s debunk some myths.
Myth #1: Popping pills is the answer… if you can just find the right one.
Despite all the marketing, media claims, Facebook testimonials and advice from all sources, there is no magical diet, pill, or potion that will give you extreme, consistent or safe fat loss. You read that right – none, zip, zero. No matter how amazing the latest fad may sound, it’s just that – a fad (and it’s usually been concocted to make someone a lot of money).
The unfortunate truth is that – despite what you may think – it takes the body a relatively long time to put on fat, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that it can also be quite difficult to burn it off again.
The rate at which we gain and lose fat depends on a number of factors, from gender to genetics, nutrition, exercise levels, and stress. Obviously, some of these we can change, some we can’t. But having a greater understanding of how and why our bodies are the way they are can only help in our battle to beat the bulge.
Myth #2: Exercising like a madman is enough to create the lean muscular physique you’re dreaming of.
The truth is that you cannot out-exercise poor nutrition. A full 80 percent of your success in shedding the pounds will be down to what you eat. (And yes, we all know people who seem to get away with eating whatever they like, but they’re undoubtedly taking a toll on their bodies in many other ways, particularly if they aren’t getting sufficient nutrients.)
You may think, why even bother with exercise if it’s only going to contribute 20 percent of my fat loss? The answer is that exercise is not just about burning excess calories. With the right plan, you can also influence your metabolic rate, how your body stores and uses its energy sources, your hormone production (which influences energy levels, stress and circadian rhythms), as well as your muscle tone. When you combine this with all the other health benefits, and the feel-good factor, why wouldn’t you exercise?
Myth #3: Low-carb is the only way to go.
Sugar is currently being demonised throughout the media, and possibly rightly so. Instead, we’re told, a low-carb, high fat, high-protein diet is now all the rage. Although this may make great headlines, what you’re not being told is that the effects of this type of diet can be quite short-lived, and eating this way has other health implications. A diet that’s too low in fibre can lead to gut problems, excess protein can cause kidney issues, low-carb affects some people’s mood, and a lack of nutrients can cause inflammation, oxidation and poor immunity.
There are a whole array of diets out there to choose from, and each of them have worked for many people – and not for countless others. The real trick is to provide some structure to your meals. If you can find a diet that looks palatable and sustainable, then go for it – you’ll see results if you stick to it.
Here’s the rub, though. Many successful dieters regain the weight, and more, within 12 months of coming off the plan. The trick to avoiding this is to steadily introduce small, but sustainable changes to your lifestyle and eating habits – this means that in the long term, you will be more successful.
Here are 5 simple changes you can make to trigger fat loss in a healthy and balanced way.
1) It’s all about proportion. A healthy lunch and dinner should be made up of 40% vegetables (as many colours as possible), 40% meat or other protein (as unprocessed as possible), and 20% whole grains or starchy veg (brown rice, quinoa, squash, sweet potato, etc).
2) Water is even more important than you think. Drinking a large glass of water 30 minutes before each meal won’t just help you stay hydrated – it could help you lose a lot more weight, too. A recent study at the University of Birmingham found that subjects who drank 500ml of water before each meal lost an amazing five times as much weight as those who didn’t drink anything before meals.
3) Plan your (healthy) snack, and snack your plan. If you’ve got something healthy to nosh on when hunger strikes, that croissant won’t even get a look in. Some excellent choices are a small handful of almonds, some unsweetened Greek yoghurt, berries, eggs, or hummus and veg sticks.
4) Turn out the lights. Getting at least 7 1/2 hours sleep each night will leave you well-rested – and can help reduce stress levels, which in turn makes it easier to stick to your plan and lose weight.
5) Work out less – but harder. High intensity interval training sounds too good to be true – how can you spend less time at the gym, but get better results? The trick is that instead of spending a slow-and-steady hour on the treadmill, you’ll need to do short bursts of exercise at close to your maximum level – either by doing cardio sprints or high-intensity resistance training. It demands a good bit of effort, but the results can be amazing.