by Charles Poliquin Iron Magazine
Summer is coming and it’s fat loss time for a lot of people. Just like at New Year’s, most people trying to lose fat on a deadline don’t make it happen. If they do, they are miserable the whole time and have gained it all back by September.
That’s because the only way to lose fat and keep it off FOREVER is to develop habits that make optimal body composition sustainable. Don’t be disappointed by the fact that there’s no magic bullet.
Be excited! This article is going to give you nine secrets used by the effortlessly lean. These habits will allow you to optimize body composition and lose body fat once and for all.
#1: Maintain muscle mass through training and diet. Never slash calories or do slow cardio to reduce body fat.
The temporary diet approach to fat loss in which you restrict calories for a set period of time rarely leads to sustainable fat loss. You feel deprived and hungry, and it causes you to lose precious muscle just as fast as you lose body fat.
This is a huge problem. As soon as you increase calories, which everyone does eventually, or reduce the amount of exercise you’re doing, you regain all the weight, replacing the fat with fat and the muscle with fat.
This is a terrible situation because it means you have a worse body composition and worse health. You will not only “look” fatter, you will literally BE fatter, even if the weight on the scale is the same.
The effortlessly lean either understand this or have a coach who gets it. The solution to the metabolic dieting disaster is to favor the maintenance of muscle:
• Strength train to improve lean muscle mass, while enhancing metabolic health.
• Eat adequate protein containing at least 10 grams of essential amino acids at every meal to stimulate muscle synthesis.
#2: Avoid “deadline dieting” in favor of a sustainable “lifestyle” change.
The effortlessly lean have embraced the fact that exercise is a lifelong habit and the best diet for body composition is delicious and does not generate cravings or more than mild hunger.
“Deadline” dieting, on the other hand, is a mindset that is inspired by “some day in the future” when you’ve lost the weight and you get to stop eating and training in this unnatural way.
Research agrees, showing that weight cycling is this horrible reality that plagues dieters. Low-fat, low-calorie diets aren’t sustainable because once you return to so-so diet habits, you’ll regain the fat and you’ll actually cause severe hormonal changes to your body that it won’t recover from.
For example, people who weight cycle, slowly increase their starting weight, and develop more inflammation and a higher risk of heart disease than people who don’t diet or exercise and remain the same weight. It’s a disaster!
#3: Focus on food quality rather than quantity.
There is no mystery how to promote optimal body composition and health. Humans just don’t seem to like the answer: Whole protein, a lot of vegetables, fruit, beneficial fats, and other nutrient-dense REAL foods.
An extremely interesting animal study provides insight into why your number one priority should be high-quality whole foods. Yes, we know there are many reasons rodents are not the best models for human metabolism, but this study is worth taking a look at because it addresses the common issue of poor diet quality:
It’s well known that the high-fat chow used in rodent studies is highly refined and does major metabolic damage. Weight gain and metabolic damage are often attributed to the diet’s high fat content rather than the poor food quality. So scientists tested the effect of a refined or an unrefined low-fat diet on body weight and cognition in rats.
Results showed that the rats eating refined chow gained significantly more weight than those eating unrefined chow, and the refined group experienced behavioral changes indicating depression and fatigue, which would increase risk of obesity.
This suggests that part of the reason refined food diets promote obesity is they change how you feel—your energy levels and brain function decreases due to poor food quality.
#4: Eat to fight stress. A high-protein, low-sugar diet will elevate mood and reduce stress hormones like cortisol that make your body store fat.
To achieve optimal body composition, you’ve got to avoid tearing your hair out from stress and chowing down on calorie-laden delights any time the going gets tough.
The peculiar but accepted behavior of turning to junk food for “comfort” when stressed out works AGAINST you. It’s during high-stress times that you should tighten nutrition up, not let it fall apart. Here’s why:
Refined foods high in carbohydrate and fat literally trigger food intake, making you eat more than if you had a similar sized meal that was lower in sugar and fat but higher in protein. Meanwhile, the processed carbs and fat cause your body to release hormones that promote fat storage and make you want to eat more in the future.
These foods like cake, pizza, cookies, donuts, or “low” calorie protein bars actually change the architecture of your brain, making you more inclined to binge on them again. Repeat this over and over, and you will become resistant to weight loss, while altering the way your brain deals with anxiety and food.
#5: Know that hormones matter more than calories and use it to your advantage.
The first law of thermodynamics says that energy can’t be destroyed, it can only change form, which means that if we take in more calories than we expend, we gain weight. This should not be news to you.
Although it’s important to remember that calories do matter when it comes to weight management, using hormones to optimize body composition is a much more useful real-life tool. Here’s what happens to your hormones in response to calorie restriction:
• Thyroid hormone levels are reduced, leading to lower body temperature and a slower metabolic rate (you burn fewer calories at rest).
• The hormone leptin, which reduces sensations of hunger gets reduced and hunger increases, triggering food intake.
• Cortisol is elevated in order to free energy stores and breakdown muscle protein.
• The hormone ghrelin is elevated in order to stimulate appetite and food intake, and it decreases when you eat.
Instead of counting calories, you can promote body composition by changing what you eat and by lifting weights. First, eating whole foods rather than processed foods slows digestion and leads to a moderate insulin and blood sugar response for greater satisfaction from your meal.
Second, eating a large amount of protein further stimulates satiety, reducing food intake. For example, for every 1 percent increase in protein intake, people naturally decrease calorie intake by between 32 and 51 calories daily.
Third, filling at least half your plate with vegetables provides a nutrient dense, low-calorie food. Vegetables fight inflammation, which is a major player in obesity and fat gain.
Fourth, strength training will produce a significant amount of lactic acid, which triggers growth hormone release, and with that increase in growth hormone comes greater fat loss. The quickest way to start this cascade of events is to use multi-joint exercises, with short rest periods, and a high volume.
#6: Figure out a way of eating so that you enjoy food instead of obsessing over “off-limit” food or getting sidetracked by the minutia of your diet.
Centering your carb intake on fruits and vegetables is the perfect way of eating super high-quality food since these foods are so low in energy. The major problem that a lot of people have with this approach is that they don’t like fruit and veggies and they just won’t eat them in adequate quantities.
The effortlessly lean figured out a way to enjoy veggies, whether it’s by sautéing them with beneficial fats or pairing them with other foods they like more.
Anecdotal reports also suggest that once people stop eating the hyperpalatable scientifically engineered foods, and replace them with veggies and fruit, they literally retrain their taste buds to enjoy REAL food.
And when you remember that whole food can include a whole lot of food that is deemed unhealthy by the mainstream like meat, eggs, whole-fat dairy, butter, coconut oil, coffee, and so on, you realize that it’s completely possible to enjoy a high-protein real food lifestyle.
#7: Be consistent: Eat the same basic stuff day after day, year after year, instead of continually overhauling your diet and lifestyle.
Your body composition is a result of what you do over the longer term. One meal or even one day of eating poorly won’t significantly alter your body comp. Same goes for fat loss—one or two days of the right diet and exercise can easily leave you with no measureable results.
Consistency is the key. It doesn’t mean you need to eat the same salmon and broccoli, or steak and Brussels sprouts every meal. You mix the actual foods, utilizing the array of spices and flavors at your disposal (vanilla, cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, cloves, curry, cumin, vinegars, and so on).
But plan almost every meal to contain protein, vegetables or fruit, and a beneficial fat.
This doesn’t mean you can’t eat starchy carbs or whole grains if you want to. And if carb cycling or cheat meals fit your needs and allow you to optimize body composition, have at it.
#8: Take responsibility for your results. Coaches, dietitians, friends, and experts can all guide and support you to develop a lean lifestyle, but you have to be honest with yourself about your habits and behavior.
When you take responsibility for your nutrition and physical activity, it makes you accountable to yourself for your mistakes. If you’re blaming someone else for skipping a workout or eating something you don’t actually want to, how can you improve?
That’s putting the responsibility on them to change your behavior, when what you need is their support in helping you troubleshoot the situation so you can change your behavior.
#9: Believe and commit. The true secret of the effortlessly lean is that they believe they are lean. They act like they are lean. And even if their body comp isn’t always optimal and they gain a few pounds of body fat, they are still committed to all their “lean” habits.
They’re still thinking like a lean person. When they decide it’s time to lose fat or put on muscle, their metabolism is ready to respond. Their hormones are balanced. They have energy and motivation and they believe in their abilities.
A lot of people are afraid of going “all in” and committing to a lean lifestyle because it means that they’ll have to say, “that’s the best I can do.” They think the real solution to their weight loss woes is out there and all they have to do is find it. They think “deadline” dieting is easier.
Optimal body composition is not a mystery. We know how to do it. You’ve just got to buy in to the plan and troubleshoot the individual things that trip you up. Challenge your limits. Believe.
Blaisdell, A., et al. Food quality and motivation: A refined low-fat diet induces obesity and impairs performance on a progressive ratio schedule of instrumental lever pressing in rats. Physiology and Behavior. 2014. 128, 220-225.
Miller, W., et al. A meta-analysis of the past 25 years of weight loss research using diet, exercise or diet plus exercise intervention. International Journal of Obesity. 1997. 21, 941-947.
Boutcher, S., Dunn, S. Factors that may impede the weight loss response to exercise-based interventions. Obesity Reviews. 2009. 10(6), 671-80.
Maglione-Garves, CA., Kravitz, L., Schneider, S. Stress Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight. University of New Mexico. http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article...scortisol.html. Retrieved 28 February 2014.
Golan, R., Tirosh, A., et al. Dietary Intervention Induces Flow of Changes Within Biomarkers of Lipids, Inflammation, Liver Enzymes, and Glycemic Control. Nutrition. 2012. 2 8(2), 131-7.