While blasting calories away at the gym does help offset some of what we consume, it’s not the primary answer to fighting fat.
Ask any of our most successful clients, and they will all simultaneously tell you proper nutrition is the ticket.
Have you not quite bought into that approach? Read on to see just how this model is possible.
Still skeptical? Try making these shifts in your diet for just 30 days (Heck, even 10 days!), and see how your life - and pant size - change.
Eat Cleaner. Not Less.
When it comes to body transformation, I think most people’s thought process is to think about losing pounds.
While pounds are part of it, the greatest success with weight loss and overall shift in body composition (losing fat and gaining muscle) comes when we lose fat and not just weight or pounds.
Would you feel good about losing weight in the form of water and muscle tissue (in other words, becoming dehydrated and less “toned”)? I’d hope you’d say absolutely not!
Sadly, this is often what happens when people go about losing weight the wrong way, and it’s how many non-credible websites advertise their “secret” to losing weight.
If I were to take a poll on what people thought they needed to do to lose weight, I’m nearly positive the common answer would be “exercise more, and eat less.” Help me put this tired notion to bed and instead reframe fat loss philosophy with the science-based truth of “Move More, Exercise Smarter, Eat Cleaner.”
When we take the old approach of exercising more and eating less, the focus is on calories and how much food we’re eating as we attempt to limit the amount of calories.
Sure, there are all sorts of generic calculations for males and females to determine our daily caloric needs, but don’t you often feel as though your metabolism works differently than your friends'? “Why is she able to lose weight by running and not watching what she eats, yet I have to record every morsel that goes in my mouth?!”
I’ve had numerous clients frustrated with these instances, and it’s because everyone’s metabolism is different. And when we don’t know how yours is currently functioning and how many calories your body needs just to sustain life, making the assumption that you need to eat less and move more could be the exact opposite of what you truly require to lose fat - not to mention be healthy. For most Americans, it’s hard enough to get adequate nutrients at 2000 calories per day, let alone if/when they dip to 1500 or less.
A safer and surer way to help your body shift into fat-burning mode is to fuel your metabolism wisely. In order to burn body fat, your body needs vitamins, minerals and other nutrients including healthy dietary fat sources in order to efficiently lose body fat.
Food = Energy!
Macronutrients. Macro-what? Macronutrients are nutrients that provide calories or energy. These include carbohydrate, protein and fat - all nutrients we need in our diet but in varying quantities.
It’s important “where” our energy (calories) comes from, especially when we’re talking about losing fat. The days of recommending low-calorie diets, low-fat or no-fat diets, sugar-free options, etc. are luckily starting to dwindle, although that messaging is still very prevalent in some commercial weight loss kits and product advertising.
The fact is, research again and again affirms the effectiveness of meal plans that offer a higher protein, lower carbohydrate, higher fiber, and healthy fat profile.
This way of eating may seem backwards for many, as this is the opposite of what we’ve been told to do for decades. When we shift our focus to the types of foods that we’re eating rather than how many calories we consume, however, eating healthy all of a sudden becomes much easier.
This macronutrient is one heck of a powerhouse! We’re most familiar with this nutrient for building muscle.
Protein actually burns more calories in comparison to carbs and fat for our bodies to break down and utilize. In addition, it digests more slowly than carbohydrates and serves as a great buffer for blood sugar fluctuations. Did I mention it also helps keep you fuller longer?
People who focus on lowering their calorie intake usually do not consume adequate protein amounts and find themselves at a lower body weight with higher body fat percentage. What’s the main takeaway here? Incorporate protein at every meal and snack! How much? A serving about the size of your palm is a good measure.
If you take away one thing from this article, it should be don’t fear healthy fats!
Fats found naturally in animal and plant sources should be a part of your diet on a daily basis. Forget the “no-fat” or “low-fat” mantra. Fat serves as a protective mechanism in our bodies. Every cell is encased with a membrane of fat, including brain cells. In truth, nearly 60% of your brain is fat!
All this said, before you load up on healthy fats, be sure you limit your intake of starchy, sugary foods. Otherwise your body will not burn its fat stores efficiently. Our bodies are built to first utilize our sugar (carbohydrate) stores, as it is a quick energy source - digesting and burning rapidly.
Fat, on the other hand, is digested and utilized more slowly. Therefore, what do you think happens when we have a large quantity of sugar in our systems to burn? We’re unable to burn the fat stores for energy!
I bet you’ll be less likely to reach for that sweet treat next time if you can remember that doing so will turn off your body’s ability to burn its fat stores!
A high-fat AND high-carbohydrate diet can spell disaster, so be sure to be dialed into a higher-protein, higher-fiber diet before thinking you can load spoonfuls of butter on those veggies. A great rule of thumb is to include a healthy fat portion about the size of your thumb at each meal.
Good? Bad? Eat it? Avoid it? Long story short, there’s a time and a place for (most) carbohydrates.
Carbohydrate is a big word for sugar (or glucose). It’s a type of molecule that gets broken down in our bodies to become sugar. Note: in order for our bodies to use this sugar, they need insulin. Insulin allows sugar to enter our cells, while simultaneously preventing fat cells from releasing fat for energy. Put simply, anytime we eat sugar, we tell our bodies to stop burning fat. Now repeat that last sentence and let it soak in….
Our bodies need sugar in order to function, but where we go wrong is the amount and the type that we consume. Keep it simple - vegetables, fruits and true whole-grains are great sources of carbohydrate that should be incorporated into our day. Why carbohydrates get a bad rap is due to the refined carbohydrates that make up so much of the traditional American diet. (Think foods that have been processed and packaged - e.g. cereals, donuts, bread, chips, cookies, etc.).
A great way to keep in mind what type of carbohydrates to consume can be questioning whether you’d find it in a farm or garden (e.g. spinach, carrots, squash, apples, etc.). I don’t remember the last time I saw a pasta tree or bread bush. How about you? Aim for half of your plate being comprised of veggies, and use fruit and true whole grains as a small side serving or part of a snack.
Real foods help our bodies communicate better.
Nutrient-dense foods or real foods, as we like to call them, are natural for our bodies to digest and utilize. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other essential nutrients we need to function (hence they’re being “nutrient-dense”).
It’s mind-blowing sometimes to think about all of the processes that our bodies complete constantly just to keep us functioning. If you were to look at those reactions and pathways on a cellular level, you’d notice a common theme: vitamins and minerals are required in order for them to happen.
Put frankly, in order for us to even exist our bodies depend on these nutrients.
For example, vitamin B6 is a key player in allowing the body to break down its backup stores of glucose into a useable form for energy. Simply put, low levels of even just one nutrient (e.g. vitamin B6) can impact your energy, blood-sugar levels, hunger levels, sleep pattern, irritability, cravings and more!
If your diet is lacking in wild-caught salmon, turkey, chicken, avocado, and/or green leafy veggies you may be asking for some unpleasant symptoms.
And don’t forget there can be a potential double-whammy for the large population of women who use the oral birth control pill, which decreases our levels of nutrients - including vitamin B6!
Did you know that magnesium, an essential mineral found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, brown rice and meats, is required for energy production? The average person fails to meet the RDA for magnesium, however. Is it any wonder then why coffee, energy drinks and caffeinated products are a typical go-to for so many?
One last example of how a nutrient-dense diet helps with proper “communication” within the body relates to a hormone called leptin. This hormone, although not commonly well-known, is critical for your fat loss efforts as it communicates between your digestive tract and brain to “tell” you that you’re full!
Studies show leptin is elevated in many obese individuals, leading to leptin resistance. In other words, the body keeps secreting the hormone to say “I’m full! Stop eating!” Yet, the brain isn’t hearing that message. Why might this happen? One theory is processed foods may block leptin signaling.
Nutrients provide functionality before vanity.
While losing body fat may be our number one priority, without the right nutrient intake, it may not be our metabolism’s first priority.
We all like to think we’re great multitaskers. We can watch T.V. while cooking dinner, tending to the kids, watering the houseplants, taking a few extra laps around the kitchen (to get closer to 10,000 steps), all while catching up with Mom on the telephone!
How confident are you that you’re doing all of those tasks well and to the best of your ability? Chances are, probably not very confident. At some point along the way, you start to prioritize what has to get done immediately (e.g. remove boiling pot from stove), what needs your attention but can be somewhat postponed (wait an extra 30 seconds before tending to fussy baby), and what things can wait (“Mom…I’ll call you back!”).
Much like our busy lives, our metabolism is multi-functional as well. Luckily, it is quite the great multitasker. However, very similar to our basic functionality, our metabolism also has to prioritize its tasks too.
Our bodies know to first keep essential functions going and to ensure those pathways are operating properly. Like I demonstrated above, however, it is relatively easy for our intake of nutrients to be subpar. Therefore, the amounts that we are getting are used first for critical processes (living, breathing) and then delegated elsewhere.
If you’re lacking in essential nutrients for those really important processes to function, your body doesn’t have the optimal capability and nutrient load to do other functions that you'd like, such as assist you with high-intensity workouts or shedding body fat.
To help ensure you’re getting adequate nutrient intake, nutritional supplements may be good habit to start as a way to fill some of those critical nutrition gaps.
To recap and provide you simple, straightforward ways to help you be the best fat fighter you can be, make it a goal to:
- Eat mostly veggies – primarily the colorful, non-starchy kind because they require the LEAST amount of insulin to be released (versus starchy veggies like potatoes). Remember, lowering insulin is the first step to releasing fat from storage!
- Eat enough protein to maintain the muscle you have (about 1g per pound of body weight).
- Don’t fear healthy fats. Include them in moderation with all your meals.
- Ensure adequate water intake. That means half of your weight in ounces (i.e. A 150-pound person should aim for approximately 75 ounces water).
- Rethink refined carbs. These do not serve a legitimate purpose in our diets, and they hinder fat loss. Carbohydrates are used for fuel and should be consistent with how active we are.
Would you like to know more about how your nutritional intake is influencing your fat loss progress? Talk with one of our registered dietitians today. Thanks for reading!
In health, Becca Hurt, MS, RD, Assistant Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.