Below, you’ll see the top 8 best fat burning strategies which keep your hormones happy and your metabolism burning hot.
1. Eat more! You need a caloric deficit for weight loss, but there are different ways to achieve a deficit. You can eat less. You can exercise more. You can do a little bit of both. In addition, how specifically you eat less and exercise more makes all the difference. The smart way is to avoid crash diets and pursue slower but steady fat loss with an eye on body composition. Start with a conservative deficit of only 20% below your maintenance level. Use a larger deficit only if you’re seriously overweight. Increase the deficit incrementally when you need to, ideally not going above 30% under maintenance. When you add in resistance training, cardio training and an active lifestyle, your calorie expenditure (metabolism) goes way up, and that’s how you can legitimately eat more and keep getting leaner.
2. Eat natural. The long term daily consumption of refined, artificial foods in large amounts will eventually take its toll on your health. When hormonal health declines, body composition outcomes are worse during weight loss and risk of metabolic damage may increase. Furthermore, most natural, unprocessed foods, especially vegetables and lean proteins, are lower in caloric density and can lead to spontaneous decreases in caloric intake compared to the standard Australian diet (S.A.D.) For optimal body composition results and metabolic and hormonal health, it’s not just about calorie quantity, but also calorie quality. Don’t focus on one to the neglect of the other.
3. Eat regularly: I recommend eating like a physique athlete. Spread your total daily calories into 4-6 small feedings per day, if feasible, and be sure to include a source of lean protein with every major meal. But whatever meal schedule you choose, consistency is of great importance: studies have shown that haphazard eating patterns are at least partially responsible for metabolic disarray including decreased thermic effect of feeding and dysregulation of blood sugar and insulin.
4. Take Diet breaks: Avoid prolonged periods in aggressive caloric deficits. If you have a lot of fat to lose and it’s going to take more than 3 months to hit your long term fat loss goal, don’t do it all in one stretch. Take a week at maintenance calories after 12 weeks of restricted dieting. This – raising your calories – is the most counter-intuitive of all the metabolism-rebuilding strategies but it’s one of the most important. Even better: the bodybuilder’s method of cycling fat loss phases with muscle building phases, ensures that not only are you not in constant deficit, you spend significant time in calorie surplus.
5. Get serious about weight training: In the physique world, weight training is a foregone conclusion. But in the everyday world of non-athletes, weight loss = “diet,” not weight loss = “lift weights.” For Suzy soccer mom, or average Joe beer belly “lift weights to lose weight” probably doesn’t even compute. But weight training is so important for metabolic health and better body composition, that if you were forced to choose one or the other – cardio or weights – the weightlifting would be a NO BRAINER decision. If you have a concern about metabolic damage and you’re not weight training yet, there’s nothing else to discuss. Start pumping iron and building muscle first, then get back to me
6. Do Cardio. Don’t Over-Do It. If you’re overweight, you can sometimes get away with very low calorie diets without adverse effets if you’re not doing tons of cardio on top of it. Endurance athletes get away with high volume training because they provide ample amounts of food to fuel it (man, those guys can EAT!) Dieters and physique competitors on the other hand, often semi-starve themselves while doing huge amounts of cardio at the same time. Exercise research says that extreme amounts of cardio during a diet can actually cause the same type of adaptive metabolic downshift as eating too little food. Fitness and figure competitors have been known to do 2 or even 3 hours of cardio a day before competitions. This kind of overtraining can be counter-productive when you look at the metabolic damage and “cardio dependency” potential. And remember, if you’re not diligent, you can out-eat almost any amount of exercise. If you’re doing upwards of an hour of cardio a day and not seeing significant fat loss, you’d better take a close look at your diet first before you rush to add more cardio.
7. Balance stress with recovery: It’s ok to have stress in your life – the only people who don’t have stress are dead people. Training is a form of physical stress and it’s a good type of stress if you recover from it. That’s the key point: If you don’t balance each period of stress with a period of recovery, you will be in dire straits. If you add stress on top of a metabolic damage situation, it’s like an amplifier, multiplying the usual symptoms, the most well known of which is increased cortisol, the catabolic stress hormone. Stress without adequate recovery has been linked to suppressed thermogenesis, leptin resistance, insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, increased visceral fat deposition and defects in energy partitioning.
8. Get adequate sleep: In the past several years, the amount of new information coming out of research centres about the association between sleep and fat loss is staggering. Short sleep and sleep deprivation messes with your hunger hormones and may affect hormones regulating metabolism. The study that really got my attention was when scientists at the University of Chicago compared 5.5 hours per night to 8 hours per night and the short sleepers lost more of their weight as lean body mass at the same caloric deficit. Do NOT overlook the importance of 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night for better body composition and metabolic health. (NOTE: These last 3 points – overtraining + continuous stress without recovery + sleep deprivation – all at the same time, while on a calorie restricted diet, are what I call the metabolic “trifecta of doom”).