Carb crazy? Consider this: Refined carbohydrates, such as bread, potatoes and rice, create a surge in insulin that in turn drives down your resting metabolic rate, explains Aronne. "It's important to keep carbohydrates in your diet, but really focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which have less of an effect on insulin levels," he explains. And when buying whole-grain breads and cereals, make sure the first ingredient listed is whole wheat, whole oat or cracked wheat.
When attempting to lose body fat, insulin control is crucial. The total amount of insulin released by the body isn't related to just how many carbohydrates you eat but how fast those carbs are digested. Refined carbs digest quickly, raising insulin levels substantially, which is why you should avoid them. But if you do happen to eat, say, a bowl of cold cereal (typically a fast-digesting carb), you can still take measures to ensure those carbs digest more slowly. This will cause less insulin to be released and therefore have less of an impact on your ability to burn fat.
Grazing is a surprisingly good idea because it helps you avoid metabolic slowdown. "Your body will be tricked into thinking it's constantly eating, so it will never slow your metabolism down," explains Bauer. Aim for five small meals (200 to 500 calories) a day rather than three large ones. Also try not to go more than four hours without eating — if you eat breakfast at 7am, for example, have a snack at 10am, lunch at noon, another snack at 3pm and dinner at 7pm.
If you find yourself cutting down your calories and doing cardio, yet your extra fat is still sticking around, it may be a good idea to focus on your lean body mass. Increasing lean body mass wakes up your resting metabolism. It also affects many different hormones in the body like insulin, leptin, and ghrelin. These hormones communicate with your cells and instruct them about whether it’s time to store fat or release it.
Low-calorie diets: It is harmful to reduce your daily calorie intake lower than 1400 calories per day, because your body adjusts to a semi-starvation state and looks for alternative sources of energy. In addition to burning fat, your body will eventually burn muscle tissue. Because your heart is a muscle, prolonged starvation will weaken it and interfere with its normal rhythms. Low-calorie diets don't meet the body's nutrition needs, and without nutrients your body cannot function normally.
The scale is not necessarily your friend. You may want to lose fat – but the scale measures muscles, bone and internal organs as well. Gaining muscle is a good thing. Thus weight or BMI are imperfect ways to measure your progress. This is especially true if you’re just coming off a long period of semi-starvation (calorie counting), as your body may want to restore lost muscles etc. Starting weight training and gaining muscle can also hide your fat loss.
Men and women squirrel away fat differently, according to Harris-Pincus. On average, women have six to 11 percent more body fat than men. That extra fat typically gathers lower on the body (especially before they hit menopause) around the hips and thighs, creating a pear-shape. Men, on the other hand, tend to accumulate fat around the belly (hence, the beer gut).
Even though you are eating well and exercising, you may reach a plateau where your weight stays the same. Plateaus are mainly due to decreased resting energy expenditure (REE). When you consume fewer calories, your REE decreases, thus your body's need for energy decreases. Keep exercising and eating well to help you get through periods with no weight loss. Sometimes a plateau is the body's way of saying that you may not need to lose more weight. If you are meant to lose more weight, eventually weight loss will come as your body's metabolism catches up with your new lifestyle.
That’s a big deal considering time and opportunity are some of the biggest hurdles people face when trying to make fitness a priority. “Everyone is dealing with full schedules and competing priorities, so it’s often difficult to add something new to your routine without trading something else out,” O’Connor says. You’ll still need to shift some things around to make running a serious part of your life, but being able to run right out your front door, free of charge, eliminates some very real roadblocks. (For proof, see: 20 Incredible Stories of Weight Loss Through Running)
Always be sure to get enough protein and healthy fats to start your day. Your energy after a breakfast of 2/3 eggs, 1/3 – 1/2 an avocado and 1 piece of fruit or Breakfast Tacos will be significantly higher and sustain you longer than a carb-heavy bowl of cereal. Think about it this way – if you want to lessen the “carb-chase-cravings” and energy drops that often hit in the later mid-morning and/or late afternoon, the key is to increase your protein and healthy fats earlier in the day. Avocados and blueberries are great breakfast additions because they are nutrient rich superfoods that can easily be added to your daily diet.
If you’re logging just a few hours of sleep a night, you may actually find yourself gaining weight. Researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center found that subjects who slept just four hours had a harder time processing carbs. "When you're exhausted, your body lacks the energy to do its normal day-to-day functions, which includes burning calories efficiently," says Talbott.
Intermittent fasting has blown up in the past year, but scientists are just starting to figure out how it can help you lose weight. In one study from the University of Illinois at Chicago, researchers compared obese people in a traditional weight loss group and fasting group. For the experiment, the calorie-restricted group simply reduced the amount of calories they ate by 25 percent each day. The fasting group, however, alternated days: they ate 25 percent of the calories they needed one day between 12 and 2 p.m., and then had feast days the next, where they ate 125 percent of their required calories.
If you ate nothing but Twinkies or apples for a few months, you'd probably lose weight. You'd also lose muscle mass and gym performance—and threaten your overall health. Your goal is to build a healthy diet that gives you the right amount of macros (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) that will sustain you over that time. Let's look at these macros one at a time.
A calorie isn’t always a calorie. Eating 100 calories of high fructose corn syrup, for example, can have a different effect on your body than eating 100 calories of broccoli. The trick for sustained weight loss is to ditch the foods that are packed with calories but don’t make you feel full (like candy) and replace them with foods that fill you up without being loaded with calories (like vegetables).
The 2003 research indicated that exercise is a top weapon against visceral fat, backed up by a 2011 study which found that aerobic exercise is basically a magic bullet. Aerobic exercise is known to most people as cardio — activities such as running and cycling, as opposed to resistance training (where you lift heavy stuff around). While participants in the study worked fairly hard (jogging 20km per week at a high intensity), the researchers said lower-intensity but longer workouts should have similar benefits.
It's the age-old question: How many sets do you need, and how much time should you spend in the gym each day? The answer varies from person to person, but when burning fat is the primary goal, a good rule of thumb is to train until you're pretty beat up, but not to the point at which you're flattened and thoroughly exhausted. That type of kamikaze training may satisfy your pysche, but it does a number on your anabolic hormones.
It's easy to overdo it when you're eating something delicious — and that's why it's good to focus on foods that will force you to slow down. "Slowing down can help you check in with your hunger levels. For that reason, I love snacking on 100-calorie packs of in-shell pistachios," Gorin says. "Shelling the pistachios helps you slow down your snacking, and the shells leave a visual cue to remind you of how much you've eaten. Because you're more in tune with what's gone into your mouth, you may be less likely to have extra servings." In one preliminary study, people snacking on in-shell pistachios ate 41% less calories than those who ate the shelled version.
Unintentional weight loss may result from loss of body fats, loss of body fluids, muscle atrophy, or even a combination of these. It is generally regarded as a medical problem when at least 10% of a person's body weight has been lost in six months or 5% in the last month. Another criterion used for assessing weight that is too low is the body mass index (BMI). However, even lesser amounts of weight loss can be a cause for serious concern in a frail elderly person.
A study in the April 1999 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition proved the calorie-burning benefits of muscle. The study put two groups of obese individuals on a very low-calorie diet. One group did only aerobic exercises four times per week while the other group did only resistance exercises three times per week. After 12 weeks, the aerobics group lost more weight than the resistance group. However, in the aerobics group almost one third of the weight lost was muscle. The resistance group lost only fat.
It may seem like a no-brainer that regular exercise can help you burn fat and lose weight. But it's not just about the calories you're burning. It's also about the adaptations your body makes when you exercise on a regular basis. Many of those adaptations lead directly to your ability to burn more fat without even trying. When you exercise regularly:
Most people are familiar with calories but few know exactly what they are. Calories are units of measure assigned to foods to show how much energy it contains. Your body expends a certain number of calories as energy everyday. If you consume more calories than you expend, the excess will be stored as body fat. If you consume less than you expend everyday your body will have to use stored body fat to meet energy needs.
We now know that this type of fat, called visceral fat, is metabolically active and churns out stress hormones like cortisol and inflammatory substances called cytokines that affect you body’s production of insulin. The result is worse than just being generally overweight; you’re looking at increased risks of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, some cancers, and even dementia.
"Only doing abdominal-focused workouts, like crunches, won’t help you banish the bulge. Belly fat is simply where your body stores energy, so you need to take a whole-body approach to tackle it. HIIT training (high intensity interval training) is a great way to burn fat and get your heart rate up. Squats, burpees and treadmill sprints are all examples to try."
All animal proteins are also a good source of tryptophan, which is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. “If you struggle with mood or stress, it’s important to boost the production of serotonin to stabilize your mood, curb emotional eating, and keep stress-induced snacking at bay," especially when you’re trying to lose weight, says Cording. But when it comes to portions, opt for a 100 gram serving, which is about the size of a deck of cards, for reference.
REALITY: Fats and carbs both play a role in fat loss. Fats are responsible for hormone production, joint lubrication, and many other important health and muscle-building factors. Dropping your fats too low could compromise your health and your goals. Everyone's body and metabolism is different, so it's crucial to know how many grams of healthy fat you need to eat for a balanced nutrition regimen.
Repeat after us: It’s time to start eating clean. She recommends a combination of veggies, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, low-fat dairy and lean protein like poultry, eggs and fish for a dose of omega-3 fatty acids. And drop the added sugar while you’re at it. “Studies show that when you have a diet rich in whole grains — and calorie-controlled — that you can reduce the belly fat,” she says. But remember to watch your portions, too. “A lot of people eat very healthy and don’t eat junk, but their portions are too large.”
In our eat-and-run, massive-portion-sized culture, maintaining a healthy weight can be tough—and losing weight, even tougher. If you’ve tried and failed to lose weight before, you may believe that diets don’t work for you. You’re probably right: some diets don’t work at all and none of them work for everyone—our bodies often respond differently to different foods. But while there’s no easy fix to losing weight, there are plenty of steps you can take to develop a healthier relationship with food, curb emotional triggers to overeating, and achieve lasting weight-loss success.
Here's something else most people probably don't know: Fidgeting is good for you. It's considered a nonexercise physical activity, and it's an important way to burn energy. You get more health benefits if, in addition to exercising, you are a more fidgety, more active person the rest of the day. This means gesturing while you're talking, tapping your foot, just moving around.
3. Caffeine: Coffee is good for more than just a jolt in the morning. A study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that consuming caffeine an hour before you hit the gym can help you burn about 15 percent more calories than normal. What’s more, other research has found that sipping on the stimulant before the gym can help you eat fewer calories afterward.