Do you find your weight slowly creeping up as you get older, or have you always had an issue with keeping trim? Perhaps you’re already quite slim, but you just can’t quite see those abs?
Whatever your situation happens to be, you want to lose fat and you want to lose it now. But for that to happen, you need the right approach. Many people fail to lose fat effectively and usually, it all comes down to one or two mistakes they happen to be making. Let’s take a closer look at what the secret to burning fat is and what mistakes you might currently be making that are sabotaging your efforts.
Fat burning 101: What you must do to start burning body fat
Okay, so these are the non-negotiables. Absolute must-haves:
1. You must burn more calories than you consume
There are no two ways around this one and anyone who tells you otherwise is someone you shouldn’t be paying attention to.
No magical food combination, sports supplement, or other formula is going to allow you to take in more calories than you burn and still lose fat. It’s physiologically impossible and comes down to basic chemistry. Matter cannot be created or destroyed. When food energy goes in, it’s going to go to one of 3 places – to be burnt off for energy, to be converted to muscle, or to be stored as excess fat.
If you eat as much (or more than) you burn, there’s no reason for your body to use fat as a fuel source to meet its energy demands. This is a problem for many because as we move into more sedentary lifestyles, most of us simply aren’t burning calories as we should. You might think your gym session will help you, but one hour per day isn’t really enough.
You may need to try and move more in everyday life to:
- Take the stairs up to your apartment or place of work
- Walk to talk to a co-worker
- Park further away and walk the extra distance
- Do some house cleaning
- Head out for a walk after dinner
- Do some core work while you watch TV
Just do anything to get moving!
2. You need to do nutrition right
Next, you need to get on top of your diet. Some people think they can out-exercise a bad diet. You can’t.
Believe me. You need to eat right. It’s just too easy to consume 400 calories of food in 30 seconds. Do you know how long it would take you to burn those same calories off? Unless you want to spend all day in the gym (and the truth is none of us can really do that), get your diet in line.
3. You need to prioritize sleep
You’re busy. Sleep is a hot commodity and something always seems to push it out of your day. But if you want to maximize your potential to burn fat, you need to be sleeping at least seven hours, if not eight hours per night. Numerous studies have illustrated that those who aren’t sleeping enough have a higher risk factor for obesity1, diabetes2, and having trouble controlling their appetite3.
Make a commitment to going to bed earlier. You’ll wake up feeling much better and you’ll also be far more likely to stick with your diet in the long run as well.
With these three must-do’s in hand, you’ll be primed for losing body fat.
Why you’re not burning fat right now
Now let’s look at four things you might currently be doing which are costing you success.
1. Endless cardio
Don’t fall into the trap that is endless cardio training. You probably think if maintaining a calorie deficit is key, then burning 500+ calories per day with cardio should be great, right?
Not quite. While in theory, it would seem to be the case, the fact is to do loads of cardio, you have to keep the intensity down, and at the end of the day, this just doesn’t burn that many calories. What it will do is lead you down a path to an overuse injury, which will then take you away from the gym entirely, preventing you from doing strength training exercise, which really does matter.
If you want to see success, kick it up a notch. Either perform high-intensity interval cardio training (HIIT), which is short in duration, and burns a good amount of calories both while you do it and after you’re finished, or consider doing intense weight lifting instead.
Both are much better ways to improve your body composition.
2. Liquid calories
Beware of liquid calories, and I’m not just talking about alcohol. Any form of liquid calorie, unless it’s whey protein powder, is bad news for fat loss. Liquid simply doesn’t fill you up and most people won’t cut back on their solid food intake just because they had a glass of juice or milk.
Therefore, these calories just get added to your daily total and you soon find you’re in a situation where you’ve eliminated that calorie deficit we spoke about.
Water should be your beverage of choice. Black coffee and tea are also fine, as is sparkling water (without sugar) provided it doesn’t cause you to become bloated.
3. Being highly strung
It’s important to take a breather every so often. Being stressed out is extremely detrimental to your progress and could lead you away from results.
When you’re stressed, your cortisol levels shoot through the roof and this encourages both fat gain and muscle loss. The exact opposite of what you’re going for!
Find yourself a new way to de-stress and make sure you do it often.
4. You are not building muscle
Sometimes, building muscle first is the best way to begin your war against fat.
The reason being that lean muscle tissue burns up a high number of calories at rest. The more of it you have on your frame, the higher your total daily calorie expenditure will be.
And this can lead to you having a much easier time with losing weight.
By stepping back from focusing on fat loss and instead focusing on muscle building, you may actually do better. This is a great approach for those who are stuck in a rut after years of dieting. It’s also helpful for those who have a sluggish metabolic rate, or those who are ‘skinny fat’; meaning they aren’t that heavy but still have a decent amount of body fat on their body. These individuals lack muscle mass to begin with, so building muscle may be a wise place to start.
With some smart muscle building tips, you can get on track to success:
1. Sort out your diet – What you eat defines how much excess fat you carry more than anything else, so cut back on the calories, swap processed foods for whole foods and begin taking more notice of what you really eat on a daily basis.
2. Focus on strength training – It goes without saying that to build muscle, you must lift heavy. Not only will this increase your muscle mass, but that new muscle will mean your body burns more calories than before, even at rest.
Make these changes and change your life
Fat loss isn’t complicated – your biggest challenge is simply maintaining the willpower to follow through with the plan. The fact is, the more you stick to it, the sooner you’ll see the results you crave, but nobody can do that for you.
So what are you waiting for? Make a commitment and make these changes today – you’ll thank yourself for it 4 weeks from now.
- Cappuccio, Francesco P., et al. “Meta-analysis of short sleep duration and obesity in children and adults.” Sleep 31.5 (2008): 619-626.
- Knutson, Kristen L., et al. “The metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation.” Sleep medicine reviews 11.3 (2007): 163-178.
- Schmid, Sebastian M., et al. “A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal‐weight healthy men.” Journal of sleep research 17.3 (2008): 331-334.