Not everyone is the same. Every body requires a different approach to training and diet. The difference between one approach and another does not need to be vast, but what works for one person may not be ideal for another. Having said that, there are some universal truths when it comes to fat loss. Here are my top five tips for women aiming to lose some fat. The same tips would be applicable to men, I just feel that women need to hear these a little more often.
1. Lift weights
Weight training promotes an environment in the body that is perfect for fat burn. Muscles asking for energy in recovery. An elevated metabolism for up to 72 hours. A hormonal cocktail guiding the body towards energy usage and not storage and a stress busting feeling of well-being post workout are just some of the reasons to lift weights. Add to that injury prevention, osteoporosis risk reduction, muscle firming and increasing blood flow to stubborn fatty areas (back of thighs for example). I cannot emphasise this enough. You HAVE to make lifting weights the focal point of your programme. Forget all the ‘fat-burn’ cardio (I ranted about that the other day HERE). I would recommend getting someone suitably experienced to show you the ropes and give you something to start with. My general tips would be: Use free-weights or bodyweight. Pick a weight you can do 10-15 times…no more! More reps with a light weight WILL NOT tone you up. Pick 4-6 exercises per session spread across upper and lower body. To keep your heart rate up, keep your rests to 45-60secs. Work hard and stay safe!
2. Build all meals around a protein source
As a general rule, your meal choices should be built around a protein choice. With a lot of the food diaries I analyse the meal choices are built round a carbohydrate choice, like pasta with something, or a sandwich filled with something. Pick a protein and go from there. Your protein choice should take up roughly a third of your plate. Half your plate should be green vegetables like spinach or broccoli, and the rest of the plate can be a fat or a carb choice depending on your activity levels for the day and your goals. There are numerous benefits to a protein rich diet including increased satiety, better lean tissue quality and more stable energy. The most common protein rich foods are: Chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, tuna, haddock (all fish really), prawns, eggs (the egg white specifically), cottage cheese and whey. I advise people to pick one for each night of the week and design an exciting recipe based on their choice. So, Monday, chicken – indian style, which could be tandoori chicken with curried spinach and aubergine and a small dish of lentils/chick peas. Tuesday could be built around tuna, a Nicoise salad served with olives and boiled egg. Wednesday could be a Moroccan style shepherd’s pie made with lamb mince and sweet potato. You get the gist. When you think of what you are going to eat, choose your protein first.
3. DO NOT go low fat
Marketeers use ‘low fat’ to sell products to people hoping to lose weight. Something like Special K (which is utter crap) will be labelled as low fat and healthy to make it more appealing. Unfortunately for all the people who buy into ‘the Special K diet’ it won’t do much to help you lose weight. Fat is good for you, and when you are being conscious of your portion sizes and calorie intake (which you do need to do), consuming fatty foods will provide your body with the a nice hit of energy. Fat is also essential for many of the body’s functions, and eliminating it from the diet will leave your body in an unhealthy state. As with all food, the main thing to consider when consuming fat is the source of it. Drinking the drippings in the drip tray underneath the local doner kebab shop’s spinning doner will not be very healthy. But something like grass fed and organically reared beef will give you some of the healthiest fat around and leave you feeling amazing. Fatty foods like nuts and avocado are great for snacking as they will leave you satisfied and not in danger of an energy crash or cravings like some other ‘low fat’ carbohydrate based ‘health bars’ would do. Some great sources of fat are: oily fish like mackerel, sardines and salmon, nuts, beef, lamb, olives, avocado, coconut milk and dairy.
Taking time to unwind is essential when pushing your body in an attempt to lose weight. Stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol which if not managed correctly can wreak havoc with your fat loss endeavours. Some stress is not a bad thing. The stress brought on by high intensity training for example creates an environment where cortisol can interact with adrenaline and human growth hormone (with low insulin levels) which is very beneficial to fat burning. Recovering from this stress is equally as important from both a nutritional and mental point of view. Eating nutrient rich foods and having some meditation time post workout can help to suppress it post exercise and restore balance within the body. You also want to manage stress when exercise is not the cause. Constantly feeling stressed (from traffic on the way to work, whilst at work because so-and-so said something bitchy, then on your way home from work in traffic, then again when you’re watching TV because Grant slept with Phil’s wife or something in Eastenders) leads to your adrenals become fatigued and too much cortisol being in the system. When cortisol doesn’t have adrenaline and human growth hormone to play with it can be conducive to fat storage (especially in the presence of insulin). So, unwinding with a sweet treat and a glass of wine is a recipe for disaster (alcohol can also elevate cortisol levels!).
Tactics for relieving stress should be employed if fat loss is your goal. Meditation or breathing exercises are useful, as is ensuring your sleeping environment is well set up. Massage, saunas, naps, laughter, green tea, spas, physical affection, time with loved ones and yoga are all great ways to de-stress. Remember, pushing your body to lose fat is naturally stressful (in a good way) for the body. Don’t undo your good work by keeping those stress levels up all day away from your workout. I should also make it clear that pushing your body too hard by exercising for hours on end (especially low intensity CV) and not eating enough on a regular basis will leave your body in a high stress state which will limit your ability to burn fat effectively, and could even lead to storage! Ditch the ridiculous low kcal diets, keep your workouts short, sharp and high intensity and remember to recover adequately!
5. Choose who you listen to carefully
The weight loss world is full of know-it-alls, myself included. To get yourself started, and to keep you accountable on the way you should get the help of someone you trust (or someone who is suitably qualified with a good track record). From that point on you only need to listen to that person about your progress (provided they are keeping records and tracking your results). You should also listen to yourself in the sense of how your body is feeling and how it reacts to changes to your training and environment. Beyond that, ignore everyone else! It may sound harsh, but it’s true! Mothers will always think you’re not eating enough and need a good meal, Fathers will think they know about the latest fitness trends and declare things like whey protein as only used by body builders and steroid users. Sisters will say “don’t lose too much” because if you look thinner, they look fatter. Your close friends will have to do their best to compliment you when you lose weight, especially if they have been putting some on (not that I’m calling women bitchy or anything). Work colleagues will be all of the above rolled into one! Especially anyone who has been using Weight Watchers for the last few years with little or no results. Basically, most people will mean well, but could say one thing that burrows into your brain and gives you a complex. This has the potential to derail your efforts. Keep it easy and just don’t listen to them.