Getting lean is never easy. It takes perseverance, a great program, and a lot of hard work. It requires you to face up to your weaknesses. There are always moments of frustration and doubt.
Unfortunately, it’s all the harder when you’re inundated with bad information. Whether you’re being told you can sculpt a hot body by lifting one-pound weights or that fat-free foods are good for you, the vast majority of the information available is not very useful.
This article will help guide your fat loss efforts by providing science-based tips for overcoming the stereotypes and bad information so that you get lean once and for all!!
Tip #1: Train For Muscle
A lot of women make the mistake of exercising with the sole purpose of losing fat. Although it seems like a good idea, studies show that when people are motivated to work out in order to lose fat, they usually aren’t successful because they end up eating more calories afterwards.
Scientists think that people have become conditioned to reward themselves for physical efforts they associate with weight loss. In contrast, people who work out for other purposes, such as “to get strong” or “to build muscle,” don’t tend to compensate by eating more calories.
Another reason you’ll benefit from training for muscle is that the exercises that are geared at increasing lean tissue tend to be metabolically stressful so that your body burns exponentially greater calories in the post-workout recovery period. You’ll also trigger the release of hormones that have a fat burning, appetite-blunting response in the body.
Tip #2: Don’t Slash Calories
There’s a persistent myth that in order to lose body fat, women need to starve themselves. They are encouraged by both the media and women’s magazines to eat as little as possible.
This is a terrible approach because fairly quickly the body will downregulate your metabolism in order to preserve fuel stores and you’ll burn fewer calories daily. A general rule is to never go below your resting metabolic rate (RMR) even if you’re sedentary. Your RMR is the amount of calories your body burns if you stay in bed all day.
A rough estimate of RMR for the average normal-weight women who doesn’t exercise is about 1441 calories a day. So, that’s an absolute minimum amount women should eat, and if you’re working out (which you absolutely should be doing!), it’s a good bet you’re going to need more. Exact calorie needs will depend on body composition, genetics, diet composition, physical activity, and type of training you perform.
Tip #3: Don’t Obsess About Calories Either
A related bad habit that women are encouraged to adopt by the media is to obsess about calories. Studies show that counting calories raises anxiety and makes your body feel threatened, which elevates perceived stress. Higher perceived stress means that your body will release more cortisol. Calorie restriction also elevates cortisol, so if you pair the two together, you get the double whammy of cortisol from lack of food and worries about your diet.
High cortisol is bad news because it triggers cravings for high-carb foods and primes the body for fat storage in the abdominal area. The solution is to figure out a way of eating that allows you to stay satisfied and avoid hunger. Most people find that higher protein, lower carb diets allow them to naturally eat less without trying because the protein leads to a better release of hunger-reducing hormones.
Tip #4: Don’t Be Afraid Of Dietary Fat
Low-fat diets cause a lot of trouble for women. First, when women avoid dietary fat, they eat more carbs, which causes blood sugar fluctuations and raises insulin, reducing fat burning. Second, inadequate dietary fat contributes to hormone imbalances because the body uses the cholesterol provided in fat to manufacture hormones.
Further, natural fat sources, such as butter, eggs, and fish, to name a few, provide essential nutrients that the body is readily able to absorb and use. When women don’t get enough of these nutrients, it’s possible that hunger cues are elevated, causing women to eat more.
One example is with the omega-3 fat DHA, which is supplied in grass-fed meat and fish. Research shows that women store DHA in fat tissue in the hip and thigh area, “locking it away” for when they have a baby. After giving birth, the DHA is used to make breast milk, which is critical for the development of a baby’s brain.
When women have a low intake of DHA fat, as they do in the U.S., hunger will be elevated during pregnancy, causing significant weight gain. In contrast, Japanese women who have a much higher percentage of DHA in their diet due to a high fish intake stay correspondingly leaner during pregnancy.
The solution is to include a variety of healthy fat sources in your diet. Get omega-3 fats from fish and grass-fed meat, monounsaturated fat from nuts, avocados and seeds, and saturated fat from eggs, butter, and coconut oil. Stay away from processed fats like vegetable oils and trans-fats (hydrogenated fats often found in packaged foods).
Tip #5: Improve Estrogen Metabolism
When balanced with hormones like progesterone and the other androgens, estrogen is beneficial for female body composition and health. But excessive estrogen causes problems and often leads to increased fat storage. Where does excess estrogen come from?
One source is exposure to chemical estrogens in plastics or industrial compounds. A second is poor estrogen metabolism, often due to a poor diet, lack of physical activity, and lack of muscle mass.
Therefore, improving estrogen balance requires a multifaceted approach: Cut down on your toxic estrogen exposure by using natural personal care products and avoiding plastics. Get plenty of physical activity and train with weights to improve body composition. A high-protein intake with plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables (especially the cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower) will also help.
Tip #6: Cut Unhealthy Carbs In Favor of Veggies & Fruit
Very few people realize how prominent refined carbs are in their diets. Everything from bread to cereal to low-fat packaged foods contains carbs that spike insulin and turn right into sugar in the blood stream. Any extra that the body can’t burn right away turns into fat.
When you eat these foods too often, your cells become resistant to insulin, which primes the body for fat storage. In contrast, healthy, whole carbs, especially vegetables cause a gradual elevation in blood sugar and they provide nutrients that increase insulin sensitivity. They also contain fiber that is filling and slows digestion.
Fruit and boiled grains are also considered healthy carbs, but they are more calorie dense than vegetables, so it’s important to be mindful of portions and eat them when the body is most sensitive to insulin, such as after an intense workout.
Tip #7: Have A Set Meal Frequency—Avoid Fasting For Long Periods
Another strategy that can help women get lean is to create structure to their diet and eat within a set window of time, such as 10 or 12 hours. Compared to eating anytime you are hungry or bored, 24 hours a day, eating within a 12-hour window improves metabolic health because it requires the body to burn fat during your non-eating period. You also avoid the drop in metabolism that comes with low-calorie diets.
A lot of people advocate intermittent fasting, however, longer fasting periods of 16 or 20 hours, can lead to hormonal dysregulation of both cortisol and reproductive hormones in women. Shorter “fasting” windows of about 12 hours tend to be better for women.
The number of meals you eat within that 12-hour eating window is up to you. Some women find that 4 meals (or 3 and a snack) works best, whereas others feel most energetic and least hungry on 6 smaller meals a day. The key is to always plan meals around protein foods (chicken, fish, eggs), low-carb veggies, and healthy fat.
Tip #8: Get Metabolically Flexible
Metabolic flexibility is when your body is able to readily burn both fat and carbohydrates for energy. It is the ideal state because it makes it easier for you to reduce body fat and avoid low energy levels.
When your body is not metabolically flexible, you won’t be able to burn body fat, and you’ll need to eat carbs every few hours for energy. Without a frequent infusion of carbs, you’ll experience low blood sugar, which makes most people cranky and tired. The problem with running your body on carbs all the time is that it leads to higher insulin levels, which puts the body in fat storage mode and getting lean is that much harder.
The solution is to strike a balance between the two energy sources. This requires your body to develop adaptations that improve fat burning—stuff like more enzymes and hormones that enable the body to burn fat. There are two proven ways to improve metabolic flexibility.
First, reducing the proportion of calories you get from carbs in favor of protein and fat will increase fat burning. For instance, if you’re eating more than 55 percent of your calories from carbs, you could reduce carbs to 40 percent, increase protein to 25 percent and fat to 35 percent. Be sure to choose healthy complex carbs over refined carbs. Second, exercise is essential for women because it capitalizes on the fact that fat burning increases during exercise.
Tip #9: Train The Classic Multi-Joint Lifts
It’s easy for women to get sidetracked in their workouts by choosing isolation exercises or small muscle movements that target specific parts of the body. This is not a very effective approach because these exercises aren’t metabolically stressful and they elicit minimal afterburn compared to exercises that use the whole body.
Isolation lifts also don’t build strength in a functional way. They won’t enhance your athletic performance or do much to make daily life movements easier.
In contrast, exercises like squats, deadlifts, pull-ups and the like will not only make you faster and more agile, but also they will help you build a stronger lower back and tighten up your midsection. They target the hips and thighs, which is the last place that women tend to lose fat due to a greater percentage of alpha receptors that inhibit fat loss. Of course, you’ll want to include other exercises such as presses, rows, or back extensions for variety and strength as well. Just be sure to plan your training around the multi-joint lifts for best results.
Tip #10: Do Modified Strongman or Sprints For Cardio
Intermittent exercise such as sprints or modified strongman (e.g., farmer’s walk, sled training) is superior for getting lean for three reasons. It burns a lot of calories during training and triggers a large afterburn effect so that you torch calories at an accelerated rate during the 24-hour recovery.
It also triggers protein synthesis so that you improve lean mass and sustain metabolic rate when losing fat. Finally, it leads to the release of growth hormone and the catecholamine adrenaline hormones, which are your primary fat burning hormones. They not only help mobilize fat stores for burning, but they contribute to your afterburn by elevating energy expenditure post-workout.
For example, when normal weight, active women did 4 to 6 30-second running sprints for 6 weeks they lost an average of 1.4 kg of fat and reduced body fat by 8 percent. Even greater fat loss can be expected in women who are overweight.