You’ve heard it before:
Eat less, move more.
Load up on fiber and protein.
Drink more water.
Get 150 minutes of exercise a week.
Eliminate sugar…or gluten…or breakfast.
The same old advice is repetitive and let’s face it, it’s not all that effective, otherwise we wouldn’t be here having this conversation.
What if there were some novel strategies for fighting your growing waistline that you haven’t thought of?
Maybe not all of these approaches are completely new to you, but even if they are basically old news, a refresher can never hurt. Either way, these fat loss strategies will support efforts to trim your waistline, while allowing you to develop the habits that let you think and act like a lean person.
With these strategies you never have to go back to being someone who resolves to lose weight every new year, or who suffers from embarrassment due to constantly losing and gaining the same 15 pounds over and over again. Instead, you’ll have the tools you need to optimize body composition and enter that tantalizing realm of the effortlessly lean.
#1: Learn To Cook
Eating at restaurants is consistently associated with obesity in studies, likely because restaurant foods are energy dense, poor in micronutrients, low in fiber, high in glycemic load, and excessive in portion size. Although it’s certainly possible to enjoy eating out on occasion and maintain your ideal body composition, fat loss is going to be a whole lot harder if you are eating the majority of your meals out of the house.
Taking control of what you put in your mouth is the single most important thing you can do. By making time to plan, shop, and cook, you accomplish at least four key things that make fat loss easier:
You eliminate the guessing game. By taking control of your ingredients, you can avoid foods that encourage obesity (soybean oil, added sugar, refined flour) in favor of those that support your metabolism and keep you on an even mental keel (seafood, avocados, vegetables), making it easier to achieve a calorie deficit.
You’ll have more energy. Research shows that part of the reason refined food diets (such as the typical American diet) promote obesity is that they change how you feel—your energy levels and brain function decrease due to poor food quality.
You’ll eat more mindfully. Buddhists like to say they can see the sun in their kale (or rice). Cooking sets us up to appreciate where our food came from.
You’ll be more consistent. Body composition is a result of what you do over the longer term. One or two days of healthy eating aren’t going to produce significant fat loss. This doesn’t mean you need to eat the same chicken and broccoli at every meal, but planning dishes to contain protein, vegetables, and healthy fat will make everything easier.
What’s The Pay Off?
All of this effort to plan, shop, and cook pays off with more than a delicious, nourishing meal. A recent study found that people who cook at home at least six days a week consumed fewer calories with a better nutritional profile than those who frequently ate out. And surveys show that cooking and eating at home is one of the most consistent habits used by successful dieters (those who have lost 10 percent of body weight and kept it off for at least two years).
As to what to cook, there’s no rule that you have to eat in one specific way. The key is to figure out a way of eating that fulfills your cravings, tempts your palate, and keeps you excited about food, whether it’s low-carb, Paleo, low-fat, vegetarian, or some combination.
#2: Employ A Dietitian or Therapist
When it comes to seeking out help with fat loss, most people would call on a personal trainer. While there are fantastic trainers out there who can help you get the body you want, for most people, losing fat and keeping it off is more about changing complex behaviors than it is about counting calories or hitting the gym. If being overweight were?just about the food we eat, it would be a much easier condition to help—but focusing on individual behavioral strategies that work for each person can make a difference.
Depending on your specific issue, a therapist or dietitian can help you work through negative mindsets that set you up for self-sabotage. Maybe you have harmful food- or body composition-related experiences from your past that impact your current relationship with food. Perhaps you use food as a stress reliever or to give your mood a boost (both of which are common and normal but can negatively affect body composition). Working with a professional can help you identify behavioral patterns that don’t work for you and troubleshoot hazards that lead you to eat foods and quantities you’d rather not.
How to know whether to pick a therapist or a dietitian?
If you have a basic understanding of good nutrition and your issues are more emotional or behavioral-based, a therapist can help you sort through things and come up with strategies to make positive change around food and exercise. If you are newer to healthy eating and you want to learn more about how food impacts mindset, energy levels, and hunger, try a few sessions with a dietitian.
#3: Stop Counting Calories, Start Lifting Weights
Strength training has gained popularity in recent years but there’s no denying that burning calories is still the goal of most fat loss programs. Unfortunately, research shows that aerobic cardio—the standard calorie burning exercise program—produces negligible fat loss and may encourage fat gain by stimulating appetite.
For example, one study of overweight young women who did 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 times a week found that 70 percent gained body fat over the course of the study. Researchers theorize that certain forms of exercise, especially those that require participants to count calories, result in compensation whereby people eat more either due to increased hunger or as a “reward” for a job well done.
In contrast, lifting weights is rarely associated with calorie burning and it conveys several benefits that encourage fat loss:
First, weight training increases muscle mass, which is the engine for your metabolic rate. When older adults did a 12-week weight training program, they gained 1.4 kg of muscle and the average energy intake required for body weight maintenance increased by approximately 15 percent.
Second, weight training raises levels of the catecholamine hormones (epinephrine and norepinephrine) that are involved in fat burning and metabolic rate. This means that the body is better able to access fat stores for energy and it gives metabolism a boost by as much as 10 percent.
Third, weight training restores the sensitivity of muscle cells to insulin. Insulin resistance occurs when the cells in your body don’t readily bind to insulin, which means that blood sugar isn’t being effectively used by the body. When this happens the body stores more of the food you eat as fat, inflammation develops, and diabetes risk increases.
Finally, weight training makes you stronger and more mobile—two factors that lead people to be more active in daily life and thereby have a higher energy expenditure. Studies show that compared to aerobic training, people who train with weights increase something known as NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), which is a measure of spontaneous activity.
#4: Take Care Of Your Gut Health
You might have noticed everyone is talking about gut health and wondered what the excitement was about. Here’s the deal: Gut health is a term that refers to how healthy your stomach, and small and large intestines are. A person with a healthy gut can eat a wide variety of foods without heartburn or bloating. They are able to absorb nearly all nutrients consumed, and have lots of beneficial bacteria in their body, allowing everything to run smoothly.
An individual with poor gut health may experience bloating, stomach pain, and difficulty absorbing nutrients. They tend to have a worse mood, handle stress poorly, and have trouble sleeping. They may experience chronic hunger or have trouble recovering from exercise.
Together, these factors are more likely to set you up to gain fat than to lose it because of the following effects:
Increased appetite: When your gut isn’t working right, nutrient absorption is impaired due to the bacterial composition in your GI tract. With poor absorption, your body wonders where all the nutrients are hiding, triggering a desire to eat more.
Chronic hunger: If you feel like a bottomless pit and can never get full, it’s possible that gut inflammation is interfering with activity of the hormone leptin, which helps regulate calorie expenditure and signals your brain that you are full.
Low mood: Feeling depressed is the opposite of what you want when trying to lose body fat. Changing your body is not easy. You want your mental resources to be at their peak in order to keep you motivated and on point. The gut plays a major role in mental health because more than 50 percent of the neurotransmitters that regulate mood are made in the GI tract.
Increased calorie absorption: Certain strains of gut bacteria increase the absorption of carbohydrates and fat, raising the number of calories your body takes in, which is the opposite of what needs to occur when trying to lose fat.
Getting your gut health in order can be achieved with a few actions:
Identify and avoid foods that your body doesn’t tolerate well. Common examples are gluten, wheat, soy, and dairy.
Improve your microbiome by eating beneficial living bacteria from foods like yogurt, kim chi, sauerkraut, kefir, and other fermented foods.
Set yourself up for good digestion by chewing your food well and eating more slowly.
Consider taking digestive enzymes to give your body the raw materials it needs for digestion.
Quit doing things that harm the gut: The GI tract takes a beating when you use medications (particularly NSAIDs) or eat a diet high in refined and processed foods.
#5: Finally Solve Your Sleep Situation
The amount of sleep people need is very individualized, but getting too little for your unique composition mucks up all of your fat loss efforts. Studies show that people feel hungrier, make poorer food choices, and eat more (as much as 300 calories a day) whenever they are tired.
The reason has to do with how hormones respond to the stress of limited sleep. The stress hormone cortisol goes up, stimulating hunger for high-carb “comfort” foods. At the same time, glucose tolerance declines and the sensitivity of your cells to insulin decreases when sleep deprived, shifting the body into fat storage mode.
Men experience an acute drop in testosterone when they are sleep deprived, and both sexes suffer from lower growth hormone release—a key fat burning hormone.
We also move less when we are tired. The body responds to exhaustion by downregulating brain pathways that make us feel wakeful and energized, slowing metabolism and making us more inclined to sack out on the couch than to hit the gym and kill a sprint workout.
Troubleshoot lack of sleep with the following recommendations:
- Establish a set bedtime, sticking to it on weekends.
- Make sure you sleep in complete darkness, turning off electronics an hour before bed
- Develop a bedtime ritual (try a grateful log, reading a book, or meditation)
- Consider using natural sleep aids like melatonin or a topical magnesium cream.
For more help getting your sleep situation in order, use this checklist for better sleep.