Weight training is the ultimate way to burn calories fast. "A pound of muscle burns up to nine times the calories of a pound of fat," explains Richard Cotton, M.A., chief exercise physiologist for myexerciseplan.com. Weight training increases your resting metabolic rate, which is the number of calories you burn while sitting on your butt. What's more, it gives your metabolism an added boost after you exercise, staying in overdrive for up to two hours after the last bench press, according to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Strapped for time? Try these quick moves: squats, bench step-ups, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups and planks. In a pinch, just do single sets of 10 for each exercise — you'll get optimal results for the time invested.
What’s more, your body digests protein more slowly than carbs, so it keeps you feeling fuller longer and zaps your need to needlessly snack. “During weight loss, you want more protein—to prevent hunger, enhance satiety, and minimize muscle loss, as long as there’s some degree of physical activity,” Tom Rifai, MD, regional medical director of metabolic health and weight management for the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit told Prevention.
The normal fat cell exists primarily to store energy. The body will expand the number of fat cells and the size of fat cells to accommodate excess energy from high-calorie foods. It will even go so far as to start depositing fat cells on our muscles, liver and other organs to create space to store all this extra energy from calorie-rich diets – especially when combined with a low activity lifestyle.
"Anytime you’re stressed, you probably go for food," Dr. Seltzer says. (Have we met?!) That’s because cortisol, the stress hormone, stokes your appetite for sugary, fatty foods. No wonder it’s associated with higher body weight, according to a 2007 Obesity study that quantified chronic stress exposure by looking at cortisol concentrations in more than 2,000 adults’ hair.
Eating meals frequently helps combat fat gain by giving your body long-lasting energy and preventing intense hunger that leads to irrational food choices and over eating, says Armul. At each meal, fill half of your plate with fruits and veggies, one quarter with whole grains, and one quarter with lean protein, like beans, nuts, eggs, fish, and poultry, she says. These nutrient-rich foods increase satiety by slowing the digestion and absorption of food in the stomach, which ultimately leads to less calories consumed and more weight loss.
Fat metabolism is the most efficient way to produce energy, allowing you to go and go and go without burning through a ton of calories. But efficiency is the enemy of fat loss. To lose body fat, you want to churn through calories—calories from carbs, calories from fat, calories from anything—and you get there through carb metabolism. “The more energy-demanding the work, the more likely you are to lose body fat,” Zimmerman explains.
The body doesn't react to all fats in the same way. Research correlates high intake of saturated fat (the kind in meat and dairy) to increased visceral fat, says Patton. On the other hand, monounsaturated fats (the kind in olive oil and avocados) and specific types of polyunsaturated fats (mainly omega-3s, found in walnuts, sunflower seeds, and fatty fish like salmon) have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, and if eaten in proper portions may do your body good. But Patton warns that eating too much fat of any kind increases your calorie intake and could lead to weight gain, so enjoy healthy fats in moderation.
The researchers explain that people who cook their own meals may simply have other good-for-you habits, like exercising more. However, they concluded that home cooks simply ate more fruits and vegetables (along with a wider variety of foods), have healthier methods of prepping their food, and splurge less on foods high in calories and sugar. No clue where to start? Try these 25 high-protein chicken recipes for weight loss.
A study from Canada’s McMaster University (partly funded by Dairy Farmers of Canada) put women on several different diets (lower protein, low dairy; lower protein, medium dairy; higher protein, high dairy) and found they all lost the same amount of weight — but that the higher-protein, high-dairy group lost the most belly fat while also gaining and holding onto the most muscle mass. “It seems… increasing calcium and protein in the diet may help to further promote loss of fat from the worst storage area in the body,” said Andrea Josse, lead author of the study.
Even if you do meet your goal, it's nearly impossible to keep off the weight over the long term: "The amount of restriction required [to maintain that number] will make you so hungry that you’ll eat everything in sight—it’s survival instinct," Dr. Seltzer says. And since calorie restriction gradually slows your metabolism, your body will be less prepared to burn the foods you binge on, he adds. That could mean gaining more pounds than you lost in the first place.
Body fat seems so easy to add and so hard to get rid of. You try to work out and restrict your calorie intake, and yet the fat still refuses to go away. If this sounds familiar, rest assured that there are healthy options for effectively burning fat. While there’s no guarantee that your fat will simply melt away (as many fad diet/pill/exercise ads promise), you can improve your health and appearance by getting your body working for you — and against your excess fat.
The trick here is not only to avoid all obvious sources of carbohydrate (sweets, bread, spaghetti, rice, potatoes), but also to be careful with your protein intake. If you eat large amounts of meat, eggs and the like, the excess protein will be converted into glucose in your body. Large amounts of protein can also raise your insulin levels somewhat. This compromises optimal ketosis.
"With all the different tips out there, it can be tricky to understand exactly which exercises work the best. HIIT is great for fat burning and will get your heart rate up, but I’d also recommend including strength (resistance) exercises too. Try lifting weights, using resistance bands or using the weight machines at the gym as these will increase your metabolism to help with weight loss, and increase your muscle strength. It’s important to mix-up your whole-body workouts so you don’t get bored."
Build more muscle: Cardio gets all the glory for melting fat, but it’s actually far more important to focus on building muscle. It’s pretty simple: Lipolysis happens in the mitochondria of the muscles, so the more muscle you have, the more mitochondria, and the more potential to burn. Plus, the more muscle mass you carry, the more your BMR is burning calories at rest. Strength training is also one of the strongest ways to spark production of testosterone and growth hormone, which both help to break down fat, Seedman adds.