Let’s kick off my fitness posts talking about one of the questions I get asked most commonly: how do I lose belly fat?
First, let’s talk about what it is that contributes to belly fat.
There are two types of fat contribute to ‘the belly’:
1) subcutaneous fat = the fat that sits under the skin that you can pinch,
2) visceral fat = the fat INSIDE your belly that surrounds the organs. You cannot see it or pinch it but it sits there and makes the belly protrude.
The second type of fat is harder to lose and is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. With 1/3 Americans now having pre-diabetes (the stage before you develop full blown diabetes), the visceral fat is the area we need to tackle in order to bring better health outcomes. And even if it is just appearances that bothers you, it is the visceral fat that causes the common
‘hey why are my arms and legs skinny but my belly won’t go flat?’
So…. if I asked you – do you have any ideas what you could do to lose the belly fat, what would you think of?
Legs, Bums and Tums classes at the gym?
200 sit ups?
Here’s the thing.
Sadly, localized exercise where you work on the one problem area is not effective in most cases. Those 200 sit ups will definitely tone the abdominal muscles, but unless you are burning significant calories it will not shift visceral fat…(or even the subcutaneous fat much for that matter, so you cannot see that 8-pack you have been working so hard on)
In order to lose visceral fat, you need to do moderate to high intensity exercise that burns calories and lose weight. Think of the fat content in your body as water in a dish. It is impossible to say, hey, I want this part of the dish to have a lower water level than the rest of the dish. If you scoop out water from one area of the dish, the water levels out anyway – so if you want the water level to go down in one particular area of the dish, you need to scoop out enough water so that it goes down to the desired level OVERALL.The same for fat content in the body – you cannot reduce fat and lose weight in one area only. In order to lose fat in one area, you have to lose weight OVERALL.
So let’s talk about the variables in weight loss:
- Input – Lots of people try to lose weight by going on a diet – that is not a bad idea if you are cutting out trans-fats, sugar, processed foods and unhealthy fats. However, going on crash diets or faddy diets where you feel deprived, starving, and constantly hungry, in order to reduce input, never lasts long term in my experience. Months of difficult self control can end in binge eating (well I know, cos been there done that!) Often I see patients lose a lot of weight but then 6 months later gain it back again… Different diets work for different people (see below for the diet I choose) – it is personal and not a one size fits all, but in general eating whole, minimally professed foods, cutting out sugar, extracted oils, is great. As yourself – Does the food you eat look remotely like how it came out of the ground/from the tree? If not, then it is processed and better avoided. e.g. white flour does not resemble the wheat grains it came from = processed = big insulin spikes = weight gain. A good diet is the first step but it is only part of the equation… and I am also an advocate for…
- Output – increasing activity, because in the process, you also become fitter and healthier. If you burn more calories, you can actually eat more and STILL lose weight. And I’m talking high intensity exercise that gets the heart pumping and the calories burning.e.g. running, biking, swimming. One good way to ensure your output remains high is to build muscles (i.e. strength and resistance training). Because muscles will help you burn calories even when you are not exercising – therefore raising your basal metabolic rate. A lot of people struggle with exercise – and I feel that the main reason is because expectation is too high to start with. If you are not used to exercising, expecting to run 5k will just demotivate. We all have to start somewhere, and I certainly did (see below) so set yourself realistic goals that are achievable.
- Inflammation – Inflammation in your body can cause hormonal changes which then lead to metabolic effects in your body and this is where you see someone working really hard but struggle to lose weight.
Here are four main take home points I want you to remember from this post – I will elaborate more on each below, but the main pillars to weight loss for me are:
- Eat a healthy diet – whole foods, high fiber, minimally processed, low/no refined sugar and extracted oil.
- Aerobic exercise to burn calories
- strength training to build muscles and boost your overall metabolism
- set realistic goals to start with and build up gradually
Ok, let’s talk about me and how I did it:
- Plant-based diet – a whole foods plant based diet comes with a BIG side effect: rapid weight loss… without starving myself. I know it is not for everyone, but I wanted to share my experience with you. I switched to a WFPB diet in Jan 2017. And within 3 months I had lost 11 lb.There is a difference between vegan and WFPB diet – vegan meals may not be whole foods, and not high in fruits and vegetables. The emphasize here is not so much the cutting out of animal products, but rather the dominance of lots of plants and fruits in your diet. It is definitely not for everyone and I am not here to preach about veganism. But I do want to promote a plant-focused diet which undoubtedly will bring health benefits. I had always been 101lb (46 kg) my whole life up until kids. Then after kids I stayed at 116lb (53kg). I did not go on a WFPB diet to lose weight – I started treating my husband’s high blood pressure with this approach and to support him, I also adopted a WFPB diet. After 3 months, we both lost a lot of weight. And this weight lost has maintained and stayed (8 months on). I’m now back to my pre-children weight without any calorie counting, eating as much carbs as I want (caveat – only complex, whole carbs like potatoes, sweet potatos, brown rice, AND not highly refined carbs like white flour, corn flour, sugar). I will admit, transitioning to WFPB diet was hard initially, but as with any lifestyle changes, it got easier and now I do not miss animal products at all and find plant-based meals so much more filling because these meals contain way more nutrients per calorie than what I used to eat, and my body is satiated. If you want to learn more about WFPB diets and how to thrive on it feel free to comment below and I will write a blog post on transitioning and the key nutrients that we need to be mindful of on a vegan diet.
- Exercise – I run 5k, 3 times a week. And when I get home I do strength training. I also do yoga which helps with strength, balance and coordination. I was not always fit. After kids, I didn’t exercise for a while. And when they were around 5 and 3 years old, I started again and gently eased myself into it. Interval training is a good way to build up your fitness level (where you do short bursts of exercise and rest in between). So if the idea of 5k run is daunting, how about setting yourself a goal of starting with 1-2k. Run for 200m (or until you feel breathless), stop for 30 seconds, then run again and so on. Listen to your body when you first start – enjoy the process and set yourself realistic goals so that you feel good when you achieve them.
I don’t claim to be an expert in this field however, so many of you have asked me to share how I did it so I thought I would start to blog about it – but if you have any tips you would like to share with me, please comment below I would love to hear from you!