The standing joke among fitness trainers is when a client asks, “How do I lose weight?” our answer is always, “Cut off a limb.” The truth is, you don’t want to lose weight, you want to lower body fat. Losing weight can mean anything from losing to muscle to losing water. I’ve don’t workouts where I am 5lbs. lighter afterwards just from sweating. So, if we change the query from ‘how to lose weight’ to ‘how to lower body fat’, then we are getting somewhere.
Decreasing body fat is not an easy process. For the same reason that it takes time to put on body fat, it also takes time to eliminate it. With patience, perseverance, education, and training, you will be able to lose body fat and look leaner. There are two things that need to happen to lose fat: diet and exercise. Diet is a matter of self-control and exercise is a matter of self-discipline.
When it comes to having a proper diet, there are a lot of different theories out there. I am not going to prescribe anything specific because an individual’s dietary needs are almost as unique as their fingerprints. However, there are some basic principles you can follow that will help you shed those unwanted pounds.
#1 – NO SUGAR
When I was a kid, my mom told me not to eat sugar because it would rot my teeth. Now we know that sugar does a lot more than harm your teeth – sugar is responsible for multiple dietary related diseases including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides. There are even studies that link the consumption of sugar to cancer!
If you want to lose fat, stop eating sugar IN ALL FORMS. That requires some education because sugar is packaged in almost everything these days. A few examples of the worst kind of sugars are refined sugar like candy and pastries. Soda and juice is also full of highly concentrated sugar – don’t be fooled by the ‘all natural’ juices out there. If you really need a glass of juice, then buy the fruit and juice it yourself, otherwise you’re getting too much sugar.
No sugar also means no sugar in your coffee or tea. Even artificial sweeteners can cause the same insulin-releasing affects that sugars have. Also avoid all the so-called ‘natural’ sugars – they have the same effects on your body that refined sugar does. This includes cane sugar, agave, honey, or anything else the ‘health food’ stores try to hype up. Sugar is sugar, period.
#2 – Avoid Processed Foods
A processed food is the opposite of a whole food. A whole food is a food that occurs naturally in nature, without the innovation of mankind. A processed food is a food that does not naturally develop or grow without intervention from mankind. There is a HUGE grey area between whole foods and processed foods.
Take a steak, for example. Technically, a steak is a whole food. It is a cow. But without a human being around to butcher and cook the cow, we would never have the steak. Heating is a form of processing. I still consider a steak to be a whole food, however, since the cow would exist whether man was involved or not.
What about a slice of bread? Bread is considered a processed food, even if it is whole wheat or whole grain. Why? Because even though bread comes from a natural substance like wheat or oats, without man intervening to create the bread, it would never exist on its own. There are no bread trees or bagel bushes.
The area gets greyer when we talk about a can a tuna. Tuna is a whole food because it exists in the sea. But for it to end up in your supermarket it must be caught, ground, canned, and shipped. That’s a lot of processing. For the purposes of losing fat, canned tuna would still be considered a whole food.
So how do you avoid processed food? Simple: eat meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, and little starch. Anything else is likely to be processed and unnatural. A whole food dinner could be a steak or chicken breast, baked potato, and broccoli. A processed food dinner might be a pizza (neither the bread nor the cheese is a whole food and it’s highly likely there’s sugar in the marinara).
#3 – Stop eating 11-12 hours before breakfast
First of all, you MUST eat breakfast. This will jump start your metabolism for the day and ensure you don’t burn off needed muscle for performance. That being said, if you eat your last meal 10-12 hours before breakfast you will prolong your fasting time which is when your body burns the most fat.
Your body burns the most fat during low intensity exercise or when rested. This happens while you sleep. If you wake up at 5am and eat breakfast around 6am, then have your last meal before 6-7pm the night before. Ideally it will be a 12 hour fast but some people have a hard time sleeping on an empty stomach and lack of sleep will prevent fat loss. You can do a 10 hour fast but just keep in mind two key principles: you must eat breakfast within an hour of waking and you want to fast as long as possible overnight.
Too many people eat right before going to sleep. This is great for falling asleep because the body will get tired during the digestion process, but it’s horrible for losing fat. In fact, if you want to gain muscle for mass or performance it’s recommended you eat before bed AND wake up in the middle of the night for another quick meal. To lose body fat, give yourself 11-12 hours of fasting overnight.
#4 (Advanced) – Count Calories
For a more advanced way to lose fat, you can always count your caloric intake. The simple math is that calories you take in will convert to calories you burn off. If you take in extra calories, that extra energy will go to muscle if you’re training or fat if you are not training (sedentary). If you eat less calories than you burn off, your body will convert your body fat to energy (or your muscle if you’re in too much of a deficit).
I cannot recommend a number of calories for you to eat on this blog post because it varies for everyone. I can tell you that if you start to track your caloric intake, you might be surprised to discover how many calories you eat in a day. There are several great apps out there you can use to track your calories, but the one that has the most data is MyFitnessPal. You can also find it in the app store for your smartphone.
Exercise is a part of life. Human beings were meant to move, we have moving parts. If we didn’t, we would be trees or rocks (and even trees have some moving parts). When we don’t move, our energy gets stored in our body in the form of fat. If you want to lose that fat, you have start moving so your body will use it for energy.
#1 – Low-intensity on an empty stomach, 20-30 minutes
Going along with one of the dietary recommendations above, if you can prolong your fasting by an extra hour or two you will be able to burn more body fat. When you train at a low-intensity, your body uses the fat storage as energy. Combine these two principles together and do some low-intensity monostructural movement for 20-30 minutes when you first wake up in the morning!
A monostructural movement is a cyclical movement that can be sustained for long periods of time. Monostructural movements are commonly called ‘cardio’ exercises and include running, biking, swimming, rowing and jumping rope. If you have a bike, rower, or jump rope, you can alternate what you do each day. If you don’t have any of these items, a simple 20-30 minute run in the morning is great for fat loss, de-stressing, and will wake you up in the morning better than a cup of coffee.
The reason you want to sustain low-intensity for 20-30 minutes is to get the metabolism going for the body to burn fat storage. The body has several energy pathways and the oxidative pathway is the low-intensity/long-duration drive. When you first wake up and have already been fasting your body is primed to continue to burn fat. Going for a light jog will increase the rate of fat burn and keep in going throughout the day, even after your first meal.
#2 – High-intensity exercise 4-6 times a week, 30-60 minutes
High-intensity exercise has multiple benefits, including burning off layers of stored energy we call fat. Anaerobic training builds muscle and strength. More muscle means better performance, higher quality of life, higher metabolism (which will indirectly accelerate fat loss), and less chance of injury.
Form follows function. When you train like an athlete, your body will adapt to look like an athlete. Doing bicep curls or floor bridges at your local gym will only get you small results. The best way to shred fat and build a strong, toned physique is through high-intensity.
High-intensity training comes in many forms and modalities. I recommend you stick with functional movements to get that total body workout. At least 4 times a week for 30-60 minutes is enough to tell your body that you need more strength and all those extra calories you’re eating can go to your performance instead of your ‘love handles’. You can train up to 6 or even 7 times a week, but be advised that eventually you will need to rest to reap the benefits of training.
When it comes to an exercise program, I like CrossFit. I know there are mixed reviews about the CrossFit methodology but I am here to tell you that the people who are against CrossFit are usually misinformed. You will need to get a good coach because without proper instruction moving heavy object can lead to injury, but CrossFit or weight training is in no way dangerous. Like with anything else, negligence is dangerous.
#3 – Squat
Ok, I know this post is about how to lose fat but I should add this. You need to squat. Everybody needs to squat. Will squatting help you lose fat? Yes. Will squatting help you live a longer, happier, healthier life so you can pick up your great-grandkids and hike up mountains and never have to live in a nursing home? Absolutely!
Everybody should squat, at least once a week.
If you have any questions for me about anything in this post, please leave them in the comment below. There is so much to add about this subject that I could write an entire book about it (maybe there is an eBook in the future), so if I’ve left something out or you need clarification on anything, just post to the comments and I’ll get back to you.
Train for Chaos.