Fat Loss

The Scariest Thing About Halloween is Weight Gain

Halloween is almost here, and you know what that means: it's officially THE HOLIDAY SEASON -- or rather, the Holiday WEIGHT GAIN Season. 

Between now and January 1st, everywhere you turn you'll be bombarded with candy, baked treats, rich meals, and boozey parties. It's a fun time of year for foodies and social butterflies. But it can be a troubling time of year for your health.  Most people gain a bit of weight over the holidays. If you're at a normal weight, that's not too bad. But if you're already trying to lose weight, any additional pounds can discourage you enough to make you want to quit. So how concerned about holiday weight gain should you be? This article puts it in perspective:

"Depending on how you measure, the estimates of how much the average person gains over the holiday season varies. The number you usually see thrown around is anywhere from 5-10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years, but this is based on self-reporting, which (unsurprisingly) tends to be skewed with a hefty helping of post-holiday guilt.

"The actual research is a little more optimistic. This study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that people’s perceived weight gain varied between 0 and 6.7 pounds with an average of 3.5, but their actual weight gain was just under 1 pound. So in reality, the 'holiday weight' is nothing to panic over: it’s nice to avoid it, but if you can’t, it’s not a catastrophe.

"The overweight are the most at risk. Study after study (e.g. this one and this one) has tracked holiday weight gain and found that people who start at a higher BMI tend to gain more weight. In the same 2000 study that busted the 5-10 pound myth, 20% of obese subjects and 10% of overweight subjects gained more than 5 pounds, compared with only 5% of non-overweight people.

"The formerly overweight also struggle. This study tracked 178 successful weight losers (people who had lost at least 77 pounds and kept it off for at least a few years), and 101 normal-weight people who had never been overweight. Despite making more careful plans and working harder to maintain their weight, 39% of the weight-losers gained at least 2.2 pounds over the holiday, compared to 17% of the normal-weight group."

Woooooo gobble gobble wooooooo I'm a spooky turkey ghost!"

Woooooo gobble gobble wooooooo I'm a spooky turkey ghost!"

Yikes. You've probably worked hard to get your body healthier, and these studies show that the holiday season could undo some of that hard work. So how can you enjoy the holiday parties while staying on track to achieve your fitness goals and avoid holiday weight gain?

  1. Commit to going to the gym -- whether or not you "feel like it." I like to say that this is about discipline, not motivation. You don't brush your teeth in the morning because it is fun; you do it because it is good for you and you like having fresh breath and white teeth over halitosis and gum disease. You don't go to work because you feel motivated; you go because you need to earn a paycheck and you like being able to afford a roof over your head and pumpkin spice lattes. Similarly, you may not always feel like going to the gym, but you'll feel better after you spend time taking care of your health, and you'll enjoy looking and feeling stronger and healthier. 
  2. Stay away from trigger foods. Try to figure out which foods make you binge and avoid them like the plague. For example, a few years ago I gorged on so many chips at a Super Bowl party that my tummy was distended with a truly visible "food baby," and I felt so full that I was nauseous. Since then, I've avoided eating chips at parties because I know that their delicious fatty-salty combo will trigger me to eat way, WAY too many and regret it. Instead, I bring hummus and veggies to parties and stick to eating whole foods that come from the outer edges of the grocery store. This includes produce, cheese, and meat, all foods that are more nutrient dense than processed party snacks like chips. They are also more filling and satiating, which means you won't want as many of them. 
  3. Drink a glass of water between alcoholic beverages. This won't just keep you from consuming as many calories -- this will also help you avoid a hangover so that you'll feel fresh and ready to go to the gym next day. And by the way, my favorite hangover cure is... drum roll... working out. It always makes me feel like I've just burned off all the poison I consumed the night before. 

For the next few weeks, I'll try to help you navigate the holidays to have fun and stay healthy. Stay tuned!

photo credit: Ravi_Shah 285/366 - Snack Size via photopin (license), SuperfitNutrition Holiday Food Safety Tips via photopin (license)

How Do You Get a Flat Stomach and Visible Abs?

The washboard abs. The six-pack. The slim waist. Whatever you want to call it, you probably have wondered once in your life how to get a flat stomach.

When I interview my new clients, I almost always hear them cite their stomach as one of their biggest problem areas.  Now, I would prefer that all my clients forget what they look like and focus on what their bodies can do. I believe that if you train for function -- getting stronger, moving better, feeling healthier -- then the changes within your body will start to show in your appearance. I think "looking good while naked" starts by "moving better and stronger while clothed."  I also honestly believe that "having abs" is an arbitrary and silly aesthetic goal. MANY people are healthy and attractive even though they don't have visible abs. In fact, some people, especially women, would have to diet down to dangerously low body fat percentages to get to a range that would allow their abs to become visible through their skin. 

Your body is unique. Where you tend to accumulate fat and what your body fat level may be at homeostasis is (mostly) up to your genes.  Maybe you SHOULD have visible abs at the body fat range that is healthiest for you, and maybe you SHOULDN'T.  That depends on a lot of things that are beyond your control.

Ultimately, I want you to be healthy and happy with your body no matter what it looks like. But people always ask me about how they can get abs, and that's what I'm going to tell you now.

You're limited in how much you can alter your genes (hello, epigenetics), but that doesn’t mean belly fat can’t be budged. If you want to get a flatter stomach, you have to first incorporate both strength training and cardio to your daily routine.

Lift Heavy Things

Abs are short for abdominals, a muscle group that keeps your internal organs in place and helps your spine stay in line during daily activities. Pretty much all your movement relies on your abs. So to say that you "want abs" is illogical because everyone has them! You just might not be able to see them.

To build your abs, you’ve got to strengthen them. You can start off by incorporating core exercises into your workout routine. Each session should include at least one movement that is anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion, anti-rotation (rotary) training, or hip flexion with a neutral spine. Exercises like ab wheels, off-set farmer carries, Pallof press variations, and jackknifes are excellent ways to focus on your core muscles, making them bigger and stronger.

Lifting heavy weights through functional movements like squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups will also lead to fast development of a stronger core. Skip the weight machines and incorporate free weights whenever possible.

But no matter how big and strong your abs grow, you still won’t be able to see them if they’re covered in a layer of fat. This is where cardio comes in.

Include Cardiovascular Exercise

An effective strategy for losing that fat is through cardiovascular exercises. These exercises force the body to use up energy in calories. A few cardio exercises you can incorporate are burpees, rowing, cycling, and plain ol’ fashion running.

But I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “abs are made in the gym and revealed in the kitchen.” In other words, exercising is only half the battle.

Eat Nutrient Dense Foods at a Caloric Deficit

Five words: YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT. If you eat cookies and burgers all day, you’ll look and feel like you eat cookies and burgers all day. Being aware of the food choices you make is essential for losing belly fat and getting a flatter stomach.

Here are a few things to try to help you make smarter decisions with what you eat:

  • Keep a food diary of everything you eat. I recommend using MyFitnessPal. Track your food but NOT your exercise, and calibrate the settings to accommodate for all the calories you want to consume on an average day (find this with IIFYM). Do this for as long as it takes you to understand how many macronutrients (calories of protein, carbs, and fat) are in the foods you usually consume. This will help you make healthy decisions. 
  • Skip out on the fast food every week (grab a cookbook and prepare your own meals). Try to eat the freshest, most nutrient-dense foods that you can find.
  • Always read food labels! Food producers are sneaky about including a lot of hidden sugars and other nonsense in their products. Don't get caught off guard by what you're eating.
  • DON'T BUY THINGS THAT YOU KNOW YOU SHOULDN'T EAT. When you go to the grocery store, don't even look at Oreos, Doritos, and other useless packaged junk. If you don't bring it into your house, you can't accidentally binge on it.

Accept Your Abs as They Are

Unless you're a professional model, no one that you care about is going to judge you negatively because they can't see a your rectus abdominis poking through your skin -- and if they do, they suck. Like, really, really suck.  

If you are one of those lucky individuals who can healthfully have visible abs, hooray for you! If you got it, flaunt it! But if you aren't, remember that most people can be fit, healthy, and happy without visible abs. Work to get to a body fat percentage that is healthy for your age and gender and try to be as strong and functional as possible. I promise that if you do that, you will be VERY happy with your abs. 

What is the Best Way to Lose Fat?

It’s the question that everyone asks at least once in their life, hoping that the answer will be as easy as buying products promoting weight loss. However, fat loss is a lot more complex than choosing fat-free cheese. (Seriously, is that even cheese?)

The best method for fat loss differentiates from person to person. Everyone’s body responds differently to everything. 

But one strategy that remains consistent to all fat-loss tips is exercise. If you want to lose your gut, you’ve gotta get off your butt.  And cardio alone probably won't cut it -- you should always add weight training into your program if you want to lose fat. 

Many people believe that if they do some type of walking or low-intensity workout that doesn’t involve much muscle building, it leaves their body no excuse but to burn fat. These people are right - partially. 

The amount of fat lost during more intense workouts is smaller compared to low-intensity ones, but the downside is that you’re doing far less work and burning even fewer calories. 

When you’re trying to lose fat, you need to focus on intensity. The more intense your workout, the more calories you’re burning. Since calories are a measurement of energy, the more calories you’re using, the more energy you’re using, and the more energy used, the more oxygen you’ll need (or else you’ll pass out). 

Oxygen is like the key to all the doors hiding the fat lodged near your stomach, in your arms, your waist, etc. You need high-intensity exercises to boost your heart rate. This will, in turn, enable your body to demand oxygen, which will help you burn calories from fat.  

But once you get in that stage of fat-burning, don’t think you can stay there forever! After all, you can only demand oxygen for so long until you really pass out.

Eventually, you’ll have to slow down so that you don't over train your body, but that doesn’t mean your fat-burning capabilities have to slow down as well. Prolong your fat-burning time by lifting weights. 

Build muscle to burn fat. 

Build muscle to burn fat. 

Strength training helps because it’s an anaerobic exercise.  In other words, you don’t need to rely on oxygen so much to burn fat.

When you lift weights, your body skips all those steps and goes straight to those fat reservoirs. That’s because when you’re lifting weights, you’re also boosting your metabolism. The faster your metabolism, the more fat your body uses up as energy. 

You may be thinking, “Why not just lift weights since that burns fat faster?” You definitely can lose fat by just lifting weight. But this study suggests that compared to just weightlifting, cardio and strength training together burn fat more efficiently (Dolezal & Potteiger 1998).

So what should you do if you want to lose fat? You can try going for a jog, dancing, or doing any other type of activity that’ll get your heart racing. But don’t forget to combine that cardio with weighted movements like squats, deadlifts, chest presses, or your other favorite muscle building exercises. Lifting weights is the key to building lean muscle tissue, boosting your metabolism, and turning into a fat-burning machine.