What if I told you that you have to eat to lose fat? This may sound contradictory, but it’s true. The human body is an extremely efficient organism. If you are not getting enough energy from food to meet your minimum energy needs, your body will begin burning muscle, instead of fat, for energy. When you break down muscle, you effectively decrease your metabolism. This is the plight of the so-called yo-yo dieter. A person who loses weight on an overly calorie-restricted diet loses muscle and decreases their metabolism. They often regain the weight and once again struggle to shed those pounds. Sound familiar?
It’s important to remember that the number you see on the scale represents more than just fat. That number is the combined weight of your fat, muscles, organs, bones, and fluids. The goal of weight loss is to maintain or increase muscle, while decreasing fat. Therefore, it is more meaningful to discuss and set goals in terms of body composition, rather than simply in terms of weight.
Strategy to maintain/increase muscle mass and lose fat:
- Weight bearing and resistance exercise: The only way to make a meaningful and lasting increase in metabolism is to increase muscle mass. This is achieved with resistance and weight bearing exercises. A personal trainer can help create an exercise routine that is right for you and to be sure your form is correct to avoid injury!
- Cardiovascular exercise: Include cardio into your routine to burn extra calories.
- Eat enough to support muscle mass: Your body needs energy to maintain and build muscle. Make sure you are getting enough (but not too many) calories through balanced meals. Aim to eat a small meal or snack at least 3 hours prior to working out. Have a post-work out snack that includes 15-20 grams of protein and some carbohydrates. See a registered dietitian to help determine your individual calorie requirements and develop a healthy meal plan that is right for you.
- Eat every 3-4 hours: When you determine your approximate calorie needs, spread these calories over 3 meals and 2 snacks. Start with a healthy breakfast within the first hour of waking and don’t go more than 4 hours without eating something throughout the rest of the day. This will help maintain blood sugar and appropriate levels of hormones related to fat management, such as insulin.
- Stay hydrated: Your body needs water to stay cool and perform the metabolic processes that keep you alive, including burning fat for energy.
- Decrease stress: Stress can alter the way your body uses energy and make it harder to lose weight. To help manage stress, learn a relaxing breathing exercise. Just a few minutes a day can make a big difference.
Following these simple tips will help you lose weight the right way, and keep it off. Don’t hesitate to seek the help of qualified and highly trained healthcare professionals, such a registered dietitian, ACSM certified fitness professional, or a medical doctor in your weight loss journey.