For some reason, even with all the science and information available out there, diet and exercise are still the main focus of attention when it comes to fat loss. The thing is as important a part as they do play in the process, it’s just not as simple as “burn more calories than you consume.” I still meet people on a regular basis who live by this misguided rule, now I’m not saying it doesn’t work, however, it generally only works in the short to medium term, not indefinitely. It’s an outdated model because there’s so much more to fat loss than just diet and exercise.
During my research and development for my book I discovered a number of things that, when factored into your fat loss and maintenance programme, make a huge difference in your ability to achieve and hold onto your desired outcome. So here I want to share with you four key elements that I drill into all my clients from day one to ensure that they continue to make progress.
1. Quality Deep Restorative sleep. Sleep Like a Baby.
Now I know some of you may be thinking, what is he on about, sleep is sleep. Well there is a big difference and there is a common misunderstanding about sleep, and that is how much do we need and also that it should be constant sleep throughout the night. When we sleep we go through different depths during a 90 minute cycle called the ‘Ultradian Rhythm’. What this means is that we drift off into a light sleep, drop down into REM or Dream Sleep and then into Deep Restorative Sleep and this is where your brain and body recharge, repair and restore themselves. Without this quality deep restorative sleep we can wake up more tired than when we went to bed because we have been dreaming too much and never getting into that deep sleep. When we remain in that light sleep and REM sleep states we can be interrupted by our dreams and by outside noises that bring us up into conscious awareness and break that natural sleep pattern. I want you to understand that this is a normal part of the cycle and it is why we don’t have 7-8 hours of completely uninterrupted sleep, we wake up and go back to sleep a few times throughout the night. What is really important is that we go into the Deep Restorative Sleep state and recharge, repair and restore. This is why sleep is one of the first things I discuss with a new client, because it really is that important.
If you’re really serious about optimising your health and/or losing fat, then you really need to pay more attention to your sleep patterns and habits and make changes here first before doing anything else in order to get maximum benefit from your training and nutrition.
If my client’s fat loss stalls and/or they’re losing momentum and energy, I don’t start analysing their nutrition plan or increasing their exercise frequency or intensity. I look at their sleep quality and quantity, and their chronic stress level to see where we can make some changes.
As a society we are chronically sleep-deprived and over-stressed. Individually these elements can cause severe health problems and hinder fat loss. When you combine them they are disastrous for your overall health and your fat loss goals
Have you noticed that when you are exhausted you feel hungrier than usual? This is not your imagination. Not getting enough sleep affects leptin and ghrelin, which are your hunger hormones.
A consistent lack of sleep will make you hungrier and much more impulsive, and you will have an almost insatiable craving for high-carbohydrate foods. This makes avoiding the muffins and cakes at the coffee shop or turning down the bacon rolls at the office a nearly impossible feat. Being chronically sleep-deprived also significantly elevates your cortisol levels and insulin resistance and this affects your fat loss and your overall physical and mental health.
If this doesn’t make you want to go to bed a bit earlier, another reason is that adequate sleep is also crucial for cognitive function, maintaining a positive outlook, and having a steady supply of energy so that you can keep up with your kids, run around with your dog, lift heavier weights, run faster/longer and all the other active things you love to do.
• Am I getting quality deep restorative sleep each night within an average of 7 hours sleep?
• If not, what am I prepared to change to ensure I get that quality sleep? (For example: Stop watching TV in bed. No phones, kindles, iPads etc in the bedroom at night to avoid the temptation to stay up interacting with social media)
2. Don’t Train Harder, Train Smarter. That Includes Variety.
When I was serving in the Royal Marines, particularly during basic training, I couldn’t eat enough because the amount of physical exercise was phenomenal. It was almost impossible to consume enough calories in a day to match my output. The same thing happened when I was racing in Triathlons, the problem was that it increased my appetite so much that all wanted I to do was eat and sometimes I simply didn’t have the time.
I finally understood a few years ago that high-intensity, steady-state exercise is not the best model for me, it turns me into a black hole for food. It was potentially far too easy for me to “out-eat” my training, which meant I was breaking even at best and running myself into the ground.
I recommend to my clients applying the Minimum Effective Dose Model to their training. Meaning, I totally understand that you love exercise and it’s important that you do just enough to elicit the desired results while keeping your hormones happy and your appetite in check.
For most people (who train regularly), this typically means two or three heavy strength-training days, one or two short-duration HIIT (high-intensity interval training) sessions, and no more than a couple of moderate-intensity, steady-state cardio sessions per week.
Getting too aggressive with exercise and doing an obscene amount of cardio, spending hours in the weight room each day, or doing two-a-day training sessions can lead to a voracious appetite, run down your immune system and lead to overtraining, which I’m guessing is probably not in line with your goals.
- Is any type of exercise that I’m doing increasing my appetite to the point that it may be sabotaging, instead of supporting, my goals?
- What kind of exercise can I do instead to see how that makes me feel? (Example: Instead of running for 45 minutes, how about trying 15 minutes of intervals? Instead of that 60-minute Spin class, how about breaking it up into two 30-minute moderate-intensity cardio sessions throughout the week?)
3. Eat Food That You Enjoy, Is Nutritious and Fills you Up.
When you think of fat loss, do you think it means eating the same boring foods, every day? Chicken breast, sweet potato, broccoli, egg whites, oats, and protein powder, day in and day out?
This absolutely can work because there’s nothing nutritionally wrong with it, in fact it’s full of great nutrients. What I can promise you is this. It won’t work for long, unless you actually love to eat like this and truly feel satisfied. Generally we can only tolerate so much bland, boring food that we don’t necessarily enjoy before we frantically wave the white flag and dive into a pile of junk food, never to return to it again…until the next time we want to lose fat!!
The key to making your nutrition a sustainable part of your lifestyle is to ensure that you love what you’re eating. You have to enjoy your food in order to be satisfied and for me food is meant to be enjoyed. If you force down a meal that you hate because someone told you or you read somewhere that this is the way to lose fat, there is a high probability that you’ll be raiding your cupboards and fridge afterward for something to satisfy your palate.
Fortunately on the Internet, there are millions of recipes right at your fingertips. While it may take you 20 minutes to bake a week’s worth of bland chicken breasts, it would only take you an additional few minutes to whip up a tasty sauce for them, try a new seasoning blend, or another way of cooking them. You can bake, broil, roast, slow cook, grill, steam, or sauté your food into an explosion of flavour with just a tiny bit more thought and effort. Trust me, it’s worth it.
- Am I currently eating foods I can’t stand but eat them anyway because I feel like I’m “supposed” to?
- What can I do to those foods, or what can I substitute, to make eating an enjoyable experience again?
- Can I spare an extra 20 minutes per day to improve the taste of my food? ( The answer is yes by the way.)
4. Choose the Right Form of and Amount of Cardio.
Cardio is a funny thing. For a while, it’s all many people wanted to do. Thankfully, times have changed and in particular, women have embraced the empowering feeling and advantages of strength training. The only downside to that is that cardio has started to get kicked to the curb to a degree. Cardio, like most forms of exercise, can be a wonderful tool when used correctly.
Is cardio necessary for everyone who wants to get leaner? Not really. But if you find that you’re a bit stuck, incorporating a couple of sessions per week could help.
Moderate-intensity, steady-state cardio is a way to burn calories, sure. More importantly, it improves work capacity, which can mean improved training. It can also aid in recovery from your strength workouts.
This is not a pass for a cardio free-for-all. Whatever form of cardio you choose, please make sure you’re doing the type that keeps stress low and your hunger under control.
- What kind of cardio do I enjoy most? Walking, biking, cycling, swimming, rowing, running?
Can I spare 20 minutes 2-3 times a week to incorporate some moderate-intensity cardio?
- Am I prepared to do fasted cardio (train before eating to boost your fat burning capabilities) in the morning?
- How did that cardio make me feel? Do I feel in control of my appetite? Do I feel energised? If the answer to those questions is yes, stick with it for a few weeks and see what changes you notice.
As you can see, when it comes to fat loss, there is more to the equation than simply restricting food intake and doing more exercise. If you find yourself stuck and not making any progress, take a look at these four things and see if making a few changes can help push you forwards and out of your rut.
As always, making changes in your body begins with making changes in your brain in terms of how you think about and perceive all the different elements required to achieve your aim. Without starting with your brain and mind, you are almost certainly going to fail backwards at some point and have to start again and fall foul of the Yo-Yo process that millions of us get trapped in year after year.
One last but important note: Once you make a change, stick with it for at least four weeks, and then evaluate your progress before making any more changes.
For more advice and to find out about my Lifestyle Coaching Program that works your from the top down so that you make the changes in your brain/mind first setting you on the right path, with the right mindset right from the beginning, you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Have a fantastic weekend