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Many women who start a wellness journey have a goal of “fat loss,” and they assume that the best approach is to exercise more and eat less fat — a formula that seems logical and intuitive. In reality, the process is much more complex, and it also depends heavily on individual differences and needs.
“Eliminating fat from your diet and exercising too much will likely work against your goals,” explains Mahri Relin, NASM-certified personal trainer and founder and creator of Body Conceptions. “And a bigger question arises: Unless you absolutely need to reduce fat for a specific reason, is there a different way to look at exercise than simply aiming to reduce fat? Could we focus instead on what our bodies and minds really want and develop a lifestyle of fitness and healthy eating that naturally leads to healthier body composition and a stronger and happier life?”
With the fat-loss craze that hit the diet industry, many people attempted to eliminate fat completely from their diet — and often replaced it with processed, unhealthy alternatives. We’re now learning that this approach is detrimental to the body. For instance, “good fats” — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — are crucial for brain function, organ protection, cell growth, nutrient absorption, and control of cholesterol and blood pressure. They also give your body energy, which is helpful for exercising at your optimal level.
On the flip side, “bad fats” — i.e., saturated fats found in many animal and high-fat dairy products and also in some processed foods — should be limited because they can contribute to unhealthy weight gain and heart disease risk. The key, Relin says, is to include some degree of healthy fats in your diet (preferably a bit in each meal) and limit saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of your diet.
From an exercise perspective, the trend toward doing “more” and working “harder” as an approach to burning fat and losing weight has also had some unexpected consequences.
“People who are not used to working out and who approach a workout regimen with lots of intensity are at higher risk of injury, and they can also burn out quickly,” Relin says. “Also, high levels of cardio can break down muscle tissue and decrease your resting metabolism (and also make you extra hungry and likely to overeat!), which makes weight loss more difficult. Interestingly, doing too many workouts that are too high intensity can lead to chronically high levels of cortisol in the body, which leads to an increase in visceral fat meant to protect your organs. This excess abdominal fat plus inflammation throughout the body from overexercise clearly undermines weight-loss goals and leaves our bodies desperately needing rest.”
That’s why Relin believes the key to jump-start your fat loss lies in understanding what works best for you. What do you really like to do? And what are some other reasons for exercising and eating well than just getting smaller?
“Finding out what kinds of movements make you feel stronger, happier and more energized will encourage you to exercise more regularly and make it part of your lifestyle,” she says. “You will be more likely to continue following healthy routines for longer rather than see diet or exercise as an all-or-nothing phenomenon. And focusing on results that have nothing to do with body image will take shame and guilt out of the equation. Instead, you will focus on how these habits can truly help you feel like your best self rather than try to achieve a shape that might not be natural for you.”
Losing weight doesn’t have to be a difficult journey — from lifting weights to counting your steps, keep these five easy lifestyle changes in mind and start working toward your fitness goals today.
5 Simple Fat-Loss Tips
1. Fiber + Protein = Fat Loss
This pairing helps cut cravings because it keeps you satisfied longer by breaking down food at a slower rate in your body. “Also, make sure to include healthy fats in your meals along with protein and foods that don’t cause a spike and fall in blood sugar — like fruits, green vegetables and complex carbs,” Relin says. Before the day is through, whip up a protein shake, steam some leafy green veggies or pack dried fruit for your afternoon snack. Whatever it is, just make a point of doing it.
2. Count Your Steps
Not literally, of course, but by using a pedometer, you can record how many steps you take each day. According to The Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research, 10,000 steps a day will get you started on the path to fat loss and cardiovascular health. Some good ways to add to your count? Take the stairs, park farther away when you go shopping and walk with a buddy at lunch. “Consider playing music you love that makes you want to move more,” Relin adds. “Before you know it, you might find yourself dancing around your room, or you might even be motivated to go for a run.”
3. Meet With a Dietitian
Should you eat six small meals a day? Or do intermittent fasting and only eat twice? It’s hard to know because your body is different from everyone else’s. “I recommend seeking the counsel of a dietitian, even if just for one visit, who specializes in creating individualized plans,” Relin says. “This person will help you figure out the best way your body processes and metabolizes food, including the timing and makeup of your meals. You should also factor in the timing of your exercise.”
4. Sleep More
OK, cut out on the late-night talk-show circuit tonight and hit the sack! Studies reveal that two hormones are responsible for your need to feed: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin tells your body it’s hungry, while leptin tells your body it’s full. When you don’t sleep, ghrelin thrives and so will your appetite, so tonight be sure to get your vitamin “zzz’s.” But that’s not all sleep does. “Sleep helps regenerate the brain and all functions of the body,” Relin explains. “Many of us don’t realize that good sleep is crucial for maintaining healthy hormone balance (including helping control cortisol levels) and for helping muscles function and repair themselves properly.”
5. Lift Weights
The healthier your muscles are, the more they will aid in your showdown against fat. Weight training boosts your metabolism and that, in turn, will melt fat and keep your body incinerating all day. “Strength training also releases endorphins, which gives you a feeling of euphoria that brings you back to the exercise room,” Relin says. “This kind of work also builds strength and prevents injury, both of which are crucial to achieving the body, confidence and longevity that we all crave.”
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