A wonderful (and sidenote, gorgeous) TFB reader and bride-to-be came to me with a frustrated #AskAmanda question earlier this week, and I felt for her, because I feel like it’s something I commonly hear from training clients that are just starting out:
“I’m busting my ass in the gym (or, training for this marathon; or, doing CrossFit; or, taking the 40-day hot yoga challenge, etc. etc.) and I’m actually GAINING weight.”
Believe it or not, I’ve been there. There was a time in my life when I was running more than 25 miles per week, lifting weights, and doing CrossFit, and watching that infuriating little red ticker on my scale NOT BUDGE AN OUNCE. Here I was, legitimately exercising at a high intensity at least 2 hours per day and not losing weight. Seems impossible, right?
How could adding more exercise produce results that are the exact opposite of exercise?
So….here’s the thing, guys. Remember my 80/10/10 theory (if not, read all about it here)? The basic idea is this: only 10% of the way your body looks in terms of fat-to-muscle composition comes from the gym. The other ten percent comes from genetics (hey, don’t fight Mother Nature). And the remaining EIGHTY (eight-zero) percent comes straight from what you put into your mouth: your diet.
Anyone who’s lost a significant amount of weight without illness or surgery will tell you, if they’re being honest, that it’s making a radical dietary change that made the final difference in watching the scale go down, down down. Social media, pop culture, and fitness magazines do their best to tell you that it’s “gettin’ swole” in the gym or doing some particular sort of workout that’s going to make your six pack pop – when in reality, dropping carbs for a week will do more for your abs than a thousand crunches ever will.
That being said, of course there are some nutritional strategies that are more effective than others, and there are some workouts that are more effective than others, and there are some “insider” trainer tips that can help speed along body fat loss – and I want to give you a little insight into all of those, right now:
BE. CONSISTENT. Above all, you need to be consistent in your diet and exercise routine. As you know, I am a big fan of intermittent fasting (IF), and the reason it works for me is because I do it every day. Maybe IF isn’t for you, but maybe the four-hour body is. Maybe my style of working out (mid-distance running interspersed with traditional weight training and twice-per-week obstacle training) isn’t for you, but Pilates is. I am not as concerned with WHAT clean-eating plan you’re following or WHAT workout you’re doing, as long as you’re not doing it a couple days a week and acting “shocked” when results aren’t there. Success is a full-time gig, my friends.
TRACK & CONQUER INFLAMMATION. Especially when picking up the iron for the first time, a lot of my clients experience a great deal of muscle soreness and inflammation, which can lead to skipping workouts, poor sleep quality, and just general feelings of OUCH. I wrote a whole blog on how to get over this initial exercise adaptation (so hey, I’m not gonna repeat myself too much here) but just know this: if you don’t reduce inflammation in the body, your brain doesn’t receive enough of the leptin hormone (yep, the one that controls and regulates your appetite), and you end up hungry & tired.
TIME YOUR MEALS TO CONTROL YOUR APPETITE. A lot of first-time marathoners complain that they’re ravenous because of their increase in weekly running mileage – but the strategy here is to use your meals strategically so that they curb your appetite and refuel your body rather than leave you stranded and starving. My best advice is to exercise first thing in the morning – yes, before you’ve even eaten – to “use” a large, nutritious breakfast (NOT this “fat-free yogurt and fruit” BS that so many of my clients think is healthy) as your recovery meal (by eating before you work out, you “use up” the fuel during your work out, and often feel hungry afterward and need a “second breakfast” to keep going). Have a lunch that features lots of protein and a healthy carb, then let the carbs go after 4pm – focusing on protein alone as afternoon snacks (read: hard boiled egg, protein shake) and as the centerpiece at dinner. As the old saying goes, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”
DROP THE WHITE STUFF. Speaking of eating, the three food “groups” (eye roll) you can let go in a jiffy if you’re honestly trying to cut fat are sugar, flour and salt. Point blank. These three ingredients (especially when consumed to excess) are poison to your system, dull your skin, slow your metabolism, clog up your bowels, and worst of all, make you fat. You know what DOESN’T make you fat, in the ultimate irony? FAT. You can even lose weight drinking liquid butter for breakfast – but not if you can’t drop the croissants.
DIURETIC YOUR DIET. A lot of us retain a lot of water (per the above, often due to overzealous salt and sugar intakes) that in turn makes us have the “appearance” of chubbiness even when body fat is not that high – think puffed-up cheeks, swollen hands and feet, and distended bellies. If you are one of these people (and hey-o, I am too!), diuretic foods and beverages can be your best friend. Granted, you don’t want to lose all the water in your system and you need to stay super hydrated throughout the day for diuretics to be healthy and effective, but integrating diuretic foods can help beat the bloat and give you a slimmer, tighter appearance almost instantly (definitely a fitness-model trick for photoshoot day, believe you me). Here’s a list to help you figure out what to eat.
Finally, USE YOUR GYM TIME WISELY. Most of us don’t have hours to slog away on the treadmill and per my above points on inflammation, appetite, and weight loss – you don’t want to be doing that anyway. Building more muscle is the surest way to make your body a lean, mean, metabolic-functioning machine, and building more muscle comes from a combination of eating enough protein and 3-4 sessions per week of lifting heavy weights (ladies, you too). Add in a day or two of HIIT-style cardio to shed a little more fat and bingo – your kick-started fat loss journey has begun.
What’s worked for you in terms of body fat loss – and if you’ve never needed to lose weight, what are your best stay-slim strategies?