Eat to Lose Fat
If you can do basic math, you can burn fat. No magic bullet, no secret, zero-calorie food, and no supplement—legal or illegal—works better, faster, cheaper or healthier than good, old-fashioned food.
If you eat more calories than you burn you’ll start to store said calories. They have to go somewhere, don’t they? Usually that place is your gut. Fortunately, the same mechanisms that made you a little more man than you’d perhaps like can also help you achieve your perfect weight. You just have to adjust the content and portions that you consume.
Nutrition alone will not make you lose fat or boost your performance. Rather, the lack of nutrition kickstarts your fat-burning journey. Nutrition is the biggest player you can adjust if you want to get leaner and perform better. That’s because food gives you energy. Even those evil carbs everyone harks about are useful for giving you the energy you need to exercise. To lose fat through eating, all you have to do is follow these simple rules. No diet. No rapid-weight-loss programme that has you abusing your soup pot. And definitely no avoiding your favourite foods. The secret is to create a new you using these easy-to-follow rules.
Rule 1: Eat Little and Often
Even if your primary information source is the newspaper you find in the toilet at work, you’ve probably heard that you need to eat upwards of six small meals a day to lose weight. This strategy makes your body constantly burn fuel and ensures that you’re always eating and never hungry. It’s akin to the way our ancestors ate: by popping food into their bearded mouths as they hunted or collected it. However, you shouldn’t eat six huge meals a day. Rather, stick to palm-sized servings for snacks and servings the size of two fists for main meals. Alternatively, you can keep all your meals more or less the same size. Keeping all portion sizes the same tells your body that food is abundant and that it doesn’t need to store any as fat.
The ‘eat six small meals a day’ mantra works well in a perfect world in which we all work from home and are two steps away from the kitchen. It’s not always practical, however, if you work in an office, are on the road or are just plain busy. Fortunately, a recent study at Purdue University (Leidy et al., 2010) found that eating three normal-size meals that contain high amounts of lean protein can make you feel fuller than eating smaller, more frequent meals. In the study the three larger meals contained less than 750 calories each and were carefully portioned to encourage weight loss. The researchers found that eating protein during breakfast and lunch—meals one might not normally include protein in—made the system work and that proteins such as meat, eggs and legumes were good choices. That’s a pretty good excuse to order a tasty 250-gram steak on your lunch hour.
Rule 2: Fill Up on Fibre and Protein
These two nutrients are the champion weight-loss tag team. They both slow the rate of digestion so you feel full longer and can reduce sugar cravings. What’s more, fibre also helps hustle calories out of your body and helps get rid of your lunch quicker. A diet rich in fibre helps people keep weight off in the long run. How much is enough? The current recommended daily allowance for fibre is about 25 grams, but don’t stop there. Eat as much as you can. It won’t harm you as long as you drink plenty of water with it. The same goes for protein; make sure you get plenty in every meal. If you’re trying to add muscle—and you should be to maximise fat burning—eat about two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If you were in Australia, that would mean throwing another shrimp on the barbie.
Rule 3: Ration Carbs
Since 1980 the food intake of the average bloke has grown by 500 calories a day, and nearly 80 per cent of this increase can be attributed to carbohydrate. In that time, the prevalence of obesity has become a pretty big burden on the world economy. Carbs are dense in calories, which your body uses very quickly. This can often make you feel full to capacity after a meal and then hungry enough to eat a low-flying pigeon less than an hour later. What can you do to keep yourself at your fighting weight? Cap your intake of the most carbohydrate-dense foods, such as grains and spuds, at just a couple of servings a day. Eat them before or after training or any time before lunch. This ensures that you put these energy-rich foods to use in either fuelling or recovering from an exercise session. You can go one better by always eating high-fibre, minimally processed versions of these foods. That way, you’ll be leaner as well as healthier.
Rule 4: Leave the Counting to Accountants
Losing weight should never feel like you’re actually doing it. It should feel natural and instinctive. Cravings for poor foods are often caused by a lack of proper nutrients. By regularly snacking on the right foods, you’ll eliminate hunger and control your calorie intake. That will not happen if you try to tally every calorie that crosses your lips.
That doesn’t mean you can smash as many healthy, all-natural foods as you like. Natural foods such as fruit are often loaded with calories and are rich in fructose. These can be as dangerous as sugar to the size of your gut. Limit yourself to a few portions of fruit a day and choose to have more vegetables. You can check out the calorie counts (www.nutritiondata.com) of your favourite foods to get a feel for how energy dense they are.
Most important: Don’t avoid fat. Fat might be rich in calories but it is essential to life because it increases your immunity and metabolism, boosts brain function and helps you absorb vitamins A, D, E and K and antioxidants. However, you need to discriminate between good and bad fats. There is just as much place for unsaturated fat (olive oils and omega-3) as there is for saturated fats (the white stuff hanging off the end of your steak). Both kinds help produce muscle-building and fat-burning hormones, keep joints healthy and protect your innards against a host of diseases. However, there is absolutely no place for trans fats. You’re better off taking up smoking. Trans fats, which can be found in most fried-food eateries, clog your arteries and stack on weight. Junk food might make life worth living but it’s not worth dying for. Limit yourself to one or two cheat meals a week from your favourite fast-food pedlar. You’ll feel like you still get to eat your favourite cuisine and it’ll taste twice as nice because you’ve had to abstain from it.
Rule 5: Watch What You Drink
Gone are the days when drinking something meant quenching your thirst. Nowadays the variety of drinks to choose from makes water look pretty average. Fact is, you do not need any of them. Most of them will do you no good from a health perspective and almost all of them—barring H20—will boost your overall calorie intake. Sugary sodas, fruit drinks, alcohol and other high-calorie beverages such as coffee drinks are all adding to the obesity crisis. With all we sip, we are getting far more calories from beverages than we used to.
Thirsty? Simply adopt a water habit and you’ll be leaner. Water is an appetite suppressant, and thirst often masquerades as hunger. Most importantly, water helps your body metabolise lard. Placing your body into an arid state stresses your kidneys and stops them from functioning properly. Ever felt a little lower-back pain after a night on the razz? That’s your kidneys biting back. If your kidneys aren’t working properly, the workload shifts to your liver. This old workhorse converts stored fat to energy and can’t do its job efficiently if it has to pick up slack because you’re dehydrated and your kidneys are overworked. In short, put down the fizzy drink and stick your facehole under a tap. They’re not hard to find.
Rule 6: Eat Your Breakfast
The morning rush means that breakfast is the easiest meal to skip, but forgoing these valuable calories puts you at a disadvantage if you want to shift your paunch. According to a recent study in American Journal of Epidemiology (Purslow et al., 2008), men who got 22 to 50 per cent of their daily calories from breakfast gained only .7 kilogram over 4 years whereas those who ate only 11 per cent of their daily calories in the morning gained 1.4 kilograms. The very best kind of breakfast? Foods with a low glycemic index, such as beans on toast or a big bowl of muesli, that digest slowly and make you feel fuller for the rest of the day. Set your alarm eight minutes early and gorge on this banquet. You’ll soon be saying good morning to your abs.