Most of us find that deep inner motivation to begin on a training and nutritional (call it campaign, journey or just a ‘start somewhere’) with some kind of goal in mind. For a vast majority it is that elusive phenomenon called weight loss. All well and good: hit the cardio machine for 20 to 30 minutes, some lighter weights (not to get too bulky) for higher repetitions, and stick to some kind of diet, perhaps avoiding carbohydrates after 6pm? That should do the trick.
Three weeks down the line, you find yourself questioning whether it is your mind playing tricks on you, or the brutal truth that you are actually making no gains on the fat loss front. What could be going wrong?
Misconceptions, misinformation and misunderstanding, mostly. While fat loss may seem a relatively straightforward concept from an energy in – energy out perspective, namely simply burning what you consume (creating the calorie deficit needed) the whole process is actually wrapped up with complexities. Here are a few of the more common myths:
Honestly, I can’t understand why this one is still around. How many times have you considered working on your stomach muscles – abdominals, by way of sit-ups, crunches, leg-raises, etc? Contrary to what many hard-selling “crunch machine” infomercial suggest, there is no such thing as burning fat in a particular area of the body, known as spot reduction. Fat is lost throughout the body in a pattern dependent upon genetics, sex (hormones) and age.
Overall body fat must be reduced to lose fat in any particular area. We are naturally predisposed to gaining fat in the midsection and hips and thighs, but this does not mean particular exercises targeting those areas will shed the fat, it must be a full body approach.
Out-exercising a bad diet
It’s fine – I’ll eat what I want, and make up for it in the gym: no problem, right? Wrong, totally wrong. Throughout human evolution, we have survived through periods of famine thanks to our body’s ability to store energy though fat, leaving us with a reserve energy source for a rainy day.
That means that our bodies have become efficient in making use of the extra energy and conserving as much of it as possible. In this day and age, in most Western societies, this has become somewhat of a curse, as high-energy foods have never been cheaper and more readily available, and the energy we expend during our exercise routine is usually not enough to keep up with the calories being stored as fat.
You have to do copious amounts of
monotonous cardio to achieve fat loss
Jogging for a full hour might be a waste of time if you are looking to lose fat. Hang on, how can this be true, you might ask? Well, any form of cardio that forces you to do the same repetitive movement, with the same intensity over and over may actually yield very little results on the fat-loss front. Going back to the previous point, our bodies are fine-tuned to conserve our stored energy, which means the body is stubborn and doesn’t want to burn fat for energy and could actually eat away at your muscle instead.
This in turn hinders your metabolism and can potentially rob your body of its strength and athleticism. A much better and more effective option is to introduce more intensity into your workouts, in particular by using the concept of interval training. In a nutshell, intervals are extremely effective for transforming your physique and burning fat.
By incorporating intense periods of work with short recovery segments, intervals allow you to keep the workout intensity high while still maintaining form. This will in turn amp up your metabolism and you will actually burn fat even after you stop training. On your next jog, try sprinting for 30 seconds and fast walk for 60 seconds, and repeat over and over again. The results will speak for themselves.
What you eat is as important as how much
you eat when trying to lose weight, right?
Here is a common misconception that many fall victim to: health and fat loss might not go as hand-in-hand as you may believe. For instance, just because a particular food can be classified as healthy, does not absolve it of its fat storing capabilities. Fat may not be the result from a lack of health, it can merely be a result of a calorie surplus. This boils down to the basics of thermodynamics.
If you want to lose fat, you must eat fewer calories than you burn. That said, massive amounts of healthy food can also lead you to store more fat because of this very reason. Think of a pro sumo wrestler: as professional athletes, they train long and hard, daily, and consume good, whole foods, consisting of fish, chicken, pork and lots of vegetables. Their secret? Lots and lots of it.
Therefore, be careful of the bottom line concept: in order to lose fat, you must create a calorie deficit. Simple. From the above, you can come to the conclusion that training and eating smart is what it is all about. From a aesthetic perspective, your diet largely dictates your fat burning process, while exercise builds muscle, your overall fitness and strength, but is not as capable to burn off the calories that you can very easily pack in. Interval training, with a focus on times circuits with minimal rest in between, for instance, is a great way to spike the intensity and give your metabolism the boost it needs to kick-start the fat burning process. That, and a balanced diet with a general idea of the amount of calories you are consuming daily, and you are set to achieve the desired results.