Next week, we kick off the free, 4-week #BlissFitHabits challenge. This program is your gateway to a healthier, stronger and more blissful life (and just in time for the holiday madness). You get 8 new workouts and weekly schedule, a daily mindset habit practiced by some of the most successful athletes and business people, and a community of strong peeps just like you doing the challenge too! Plus a chance to win great prizes! Don’t miss out! It’s totally free! Sign up at www.trishdacosta.com/blissfitchallenge
Every week I’m approached by someone interested in losing body fat. They will point to a specific body part, ask me how to make it ‘smaller’ and then wait with eager anticipation as I wave my magic wand and make all their dreams come true.
God, I wish I had a magic wand. I’d smack people on the head with it and give myself a pair of Jimmy Choos. This is my fairy tale! Unfortunately, I’m not a fairy godmother and there is no single diet or exercise that will help you lose fat. However, an intelligent combination of the two does work. Decreasing body fat requires understanding the differences between fat loss and weight loss. You can find that HERE.
Most people will tell you that losing body fat is a simple ‘eat less, exercise more’ formula. Technically, this is correct but it’s terribly misleading to a beginner. I fell for this in my 20’s too and did what every college girl was doing at the time: I ate less and worked out more. I’d hit that treadmill for up to six miles a day and felt super proud of myself when I’m make it to the gym twice in one day. “I’m sooooo motivated!” I thought to myself. “I’m totally going to get ripped.”
I did get lean but only by default because beginners generally see consistent progress when they start out. But all that cardio and salads weren’t sculpting my body the way I wanted and I was clueless about why.
Because it doesn’t work!
The ‘eat less, burn more’ style of fat loss is short sighted. We can only ‘eat less’ for so long and eventually all that extra exercise will wear us down because we’re not properly fueled. In the ‘eat less’ scenario, the emphasis is on eating less calories overall rather than eating more nutrient quality foods. But calories aren’t created equal. A 100-calorie snack pack is not better than a 250-calorie omelet because the former lacks nutritional value for a lean physique. Running on low calories alone while pushing your body to extremes will eventually have the reverse effect and cause your body to store more body fat!
So to recap: Eating less and exercising more is not a long-term strategy for fat loss. Like, ever.
There’s a much better way! Fat loss is supported by sustainable, positive behaviors that in the long run become automatic. That’s called a habit. Get those behaviors on autopilot and you’re looking at easy maintenance for the long haul, not a bunch of yo-yo dieting (because #DietRiot) and endless hours on the treadmill.
These 4 simple habits are key to losing body fat and keeping it off (Note: This is not a meal plan or nutritional program. If you want that, I recommend hiring a dietician.)
Fill your tank up to 80%
I’m talking about your stomach tank. Eating to 80% fullness is enough to feel satisfied, comfortable and allows you to go about your day without going into a food coma. Experts have suggested several tactics to help one do this, which includes using a smaller plate, eating slowly or covering up leftovers with a napkin once you’ve reached the 80% level. You’ll need to experiment with what works for you but personally, I have found that eating slowly allows me to assess if I’m still hungry or not. At restaurants, I push my plate away or cover leftover food with a napkin so I don’t mindlessly pick at my plate once I’ve hit my 80% mark. This isn’t about learning portion control, but about listening to your body’s signals when it’s done chowing down. Most of us eat on the go or in front of a TV and don’t even realize we’re satisfied or full and just keep going. No wonder we overeat!
Increase your protein intake
Protein is like learning the alphabet. If you want to advance a grade, read or write you need to learn your A-B-Cs. If you only adopt one new habit it should be this. Protein is the foundation for lean muscle growth and from a caloric standpoint you’ll get more high quality nutrients from lean proteins than eating bagels at breakfast.
Precision Nutrition recommends 2 palm-sized servings of protein for men and 1 palm-sized serving for women – at every meal. Step up your protein game with chicken, turkey, fish, lean game meat, eggs and beef.
Watch them carbs
Carbs get a bad rep in the diet industry but let me assure you, carbs are not the enemy. You are.
Too harsh? (I don’t think so)
Here’s the reality: Americans don’t know how to eat. We eat too much sugar, too many carbs, too little protein and hide from fat like it’s the coming of Lucifer. We stuff our faces with processed carbs – bagels, white rice, crackers, potatoes and muffins – and wonder why we’re still carrying body fat around our midsection. There is a way to manipulate your carb intake so it’s enhancing your active lifestyle, building lean muscle mass and not stored as fat.
If fat loss is the goal, decrease the number of carbohydrates you eat, especially on non-training days. This article from Dr. John Rusin points to these recommendations from Precision Nutrition:
“According to Precision Nutrition, your macronutrient split should be as follows:
– If you’re an ectomorph (naturally thin), consume 25% of your calories from protein, 55% from carbohydrate and 20%from fat.
– If you’re a mesomorph (naturally lean and muscular), take in 30% of your calories from protein, 40% from carbohydrate and 30% from fat.
– If you’re an endomorph (naturally thick), consume 35% of your calories from protein, 25% from carbohydrate and 40% from fat. (Berardi et. al, 2015)”
This might be too ‘in the weeds’ for most people so if you’re just starting out, the first step is to track what you eat and how much for a few days. MyFitnessPal is a great tool for that but personally, I just love the pen and paper method. Even without calculating the macronutrients, writing it down lets me see exactly what I’m eating and when. I might note I have an excess amount of starch on non-training days when it could go to better use on training days. Or I’ll see that my daily afternoon cookie is really just a ploy to get away from my desk and fight boredom and serves no purpose.
The point is eliminating carbs altogether isn’t necessary. Understand how much of it you’re eating now, decrease the amount you’re taking in (especially on non-training days) and increase the protein intake. Some excellent sources include sweet potatoes, yams, brown rice, quinoa, Ezekiel bread and squash. Carbs are great. Eat some.
Guess what? You can still snack when you’re trying to lose body fat.
I know, I know. It’s pretty awesome. However, snack time for fat loss clients (and adults in general) should have some sort of nutritional value. You’ll do yourself a disservice by snacking on things like granola bars, flavored yogurt, fruit, protein bars, cheese and crackers, bags full of nuts, or 100-calorie pack snacks. These are poor snack choices because these options are loaded with sugar (yes, even fruit) or they’re very processed. The nuts are the only exception because your body still needs healthy fats to stay lean. But if you’re like me and have zero self-control, then nuts are a terrible snack option for you. If you love yogurt, ditch the flavored kind for plain or Greek yogurt (more protein, less sugar).
Finally, if you love fruit like I do, be sure to use it strategically. An apple or banana a day won’t make you gain weight but if all you eat through out the day are berries and fruit smoothies then you’re taking in a lot of sugar. Add in other snackable options like hard-boiled eggs, bell peppers, cucumbers, baby carrots, and Brussels sprouts (I eat them like popcorn because I’m a weirdo).
Quit eating fake food
Food manufacturers have manipulated their products and led us to believe that anything fat-free, gluten-free, organic or all natural is good for you. It’s not because let’s be real, food corporations don’t give a sh*t about your fat loss goals. They’re in it to sell you gluten-free cookies (like, what the f*&%k does that even mean!?!).
Not that I hate all food manufactures but please be a conscientious consumer and read the nutrition label. When a soda can reads ‘SUGAR FREE!’ it doesn’t make it healthy. Soda makers will replace it with something else, like artificial sweeteners and other lab-created ingredients to maintain the flavor and dupe you into thinking you’ve made a healthier choice. Same goes for fat-free products. Taking out the fat implies fat is bad for you (it’s not) and is replaced with more sugar (which is bad for you). If you want to learn more about what fake foods you are probably eating, I recommend reading THIS.
We could probably go on for days regarding how to eat for fat loss. Let’s not forget that decreasing body fat has other important elements like stress management, plenty of sleep and eating healthy fats too.