There’s a way you can lose a dozen kilos in just six weeks. Unfortunately, it’s called a hunger strike. To lose fat rather than muscle, to avoid bringing your metabolism to a screeching halt, to elude fat rebound wherein the day you stop dieting you immediately start gaining lard, and to become healthier instead of nearly decomposing, you can reasonably aim to drop about a kilo a week. The following 12 fat-loss tips are designed to help you turn your body in the right direction over the next six weeks. But do yourself a favour: make these healthy habits into a permanent part of your diet and they’ll take you all the way to optimal health.
1 Wake up and chow down
Three out of four people who lose a large amount of weight – and keep it off – eat breakfast every morning, according to a study published in the US journal Obesity Research. It appears that a well-chosen breakfast in the early a.m. jump-starts your metabolic furnace early in the day; it also reduces the risk of overeating and other poor food choices during the day.
To keep the fat-furnace cooking, you should add extra, smaller meals to your day, not skip your regular ones. In addition to charging up your metabolism, this will help stabilise your blood sugar and minimise strain on your digestive system. “Changing your eating patterns towards more frequent and smaller meals is one of the best changes you can make,” says Dr Susan Kleiner, author of Power Eating (amazon.com).
2 Turn up the density
Call it food efficiency. One of the keys to shedding flab is getting more nutrition per calorie consumed so that you fill up quickly, stay satisfied longer – which minimises hunger – and get all the nutrients you need despite eating fewer calories.
“When you eat a balance of nutritionally dense foods, including protein, healthy fats, unprocessed carbohydrates, fresh fruits and non-starchy vegetables, your food digests more slowly. This keeps your blood-glucose levels steady,” explains Dr Diana Schwarzbein, an endocrinologist and author of The Schwarzbein Principle (amazon.com). “Hunger signals result mainly from a drop in blood-glucose levels.”
Getting a good mix in your menu is easier at night when you have time to think about what you’re cooking (or ordering), but it’s tougher when you’re in a hurry. For breakfast, follow a V8 aperitif with a cup of low-fat yoghurt sprinkled with muesli and berries. For lunch, try a PBB (peanut butter and banana) on wholegrain bread with some carrot sticks, or a TLT (turkey-lettuce-tomato) on oat bread smeared lightly with light mayonnaise, with an apple for dessert.
3 slow down
Stress will make you fat as surely as fast food will. “When you’re chronically stressed, your adrenal glands are continuously releasing cortisol, which in the long term causes your body to hold fat and redistribute it along the waistline,” says Schwarzbein. Don’t think you’re stressed? Think again.
“Stress is not a matter of being unhappy or irritable,” she explains. “It’s a matter of doing too much day to day.” If you’re getting too little sleep and depending on caffeine and sugar for energy, your adrenal glands are probably working overtime – and fattening you up. Your body also pumps cortisol during your long commute to work, when you’re waiting in long queues, and when you’re spending that interminable weekend with your in-laws. Stress and its companion cortisol are everywhere, but you can control both with such simple efforts as brisk walks of 4 or 5 kilometres three times a week. Or resistance training three times a week. Deep-breathing exercises, meditation and stretching programs all provide measurable relief.
4 keep score
Successful fat losers keep a tally. “It’s called self-monitoring,” says food scientist Dr Jean Harvey-Berino. “Consciously tracking your health-related behaviours by keeping exercise and food logs is a very effective way to keep yourself moving in the right direction.”Make sure to note periods of high energy and low energy. When you analyse the logs, you’ll realise why you experience these reactions and adjust your eating and training accordingly. It’s helpful to assess your progress using scales, a tape measure and/or a body-fat monitor. But give yourself every second or third day off. That will help keep you from obsessing over constant minor weight fluctuations, most of which will be water in or water out.
5 plan your snacks
When you’re away from home and you feel your stomach rumbling, chances are the most readily available options will be of the junk-food variety. And chances are you will succumb – unless you plan ahead. Nutritionist Susan Dopart advises her clients to anticipate these hunger pangs and carry convenient, nutritious snacks such as dried fruit and whole-grain cereal bars. Ironically, to get the biggest hunger-busting bang for your snacking buck, always include a little fat, which is the slowest-digesting macronutrient of all. Try a tablespoon of reduced-fat peanut butter on celery stalks, or a small box of sultanas and a square of chocolate. Neither of these munchies will cost you more than 250 calories and 6 grams of fat.
6 crawl before you walk
If you’ve been eating poorly, not exercising, and burning your candle at both ends, don’t try to transform your entire lifestyle overnight. It’s a recipe for failure. “People who have lived this way for a number of years – thereby damaging their metabolisms – will change all their habits and feel terrible, because the new habits unmask the damage,” says Schwarzbein. “Then they go running back to their old habits.” Instead, change your diet first, and do it step-by-step. Find a way to manage stress (walking, yoga, meditation), then wean yourself off any chemical dependencies, including sugar. Finally, build yourself a workout routine. If you start backsliding because your new lifestyle doesn’t feel like you, keep the following proverb in mind: “All new behaviours cause anxiety. That’s normal. This discomfort will pass in three minutes.” Then drink cold water.
7 gain weight
Muscle weight, that is. Gaining lean muscle mass – which you probably want to do anyway because it speeds up your metabolism and, oh, by the way, it looks good – is also an excellent way to lose fat. “Muscle requires more energy to maintain itself,” says Kleiner. “Each kilo of muscle you add to your body burns an extra 60 to 100 calories a day.” Therefore, it’s important that your program incorporate both cardiovascular exercise and resistance training. Schwarzbein advises her clients to do an hour of resistance exercise three times a week, half an hour of cardio on three alternate days, and daily stretching, which will keep your tendons, ligaments and muscles flexible and your body stress-free. Still, studies show that 90 percent of weight loss comes from diet changes. So don’t expect putting in marathon sessions on the elliptical machine to make up for that stuffed-crust pizza.
8 drop the fat bombs
Your body needs – and can burn – every kind of fat except one: trans fats, those mutant pseudo-nutrients created through the refining of healthy oils. They’re found in most fried foods and processed baked goods; the red flag on the ingredient list is “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil”. Stay away from this crap if you’re serious about weight loss and heart health. While successful weight loss can’t be based solely on denial, fat grenades such as fast-food fries simply must be renounced if you’re going to succeed. “If you want to treat yourself, you’re much better off having one piece of chocolate [which contains healthy anti-oxidants] than making an entire meal out of foods that have no redeeming value whatsoever,” recommends Kleiner.
9 learn how to cook a little
Adults who eat out frequently are significantly fatter than those who dine in, according to a university study. This is the result of the tendency to eat larger portions and less balanced meals in restaurants.For busy guys who don’t enjoy cooking – show of hands? – this habit can be hard to change. But by taking it slow and learning simple recipes that are healthy and taste good, you can achieve great results in time. To begin: slice up chicken breasts, capsicum and zucchini; sauté them in olive oil and teriyaki sauce; throw it over some boiled rice. You just cooked. For more ideas, get yourself to a bookstore, which is teeming with variations on the “Cooking for People Who Aren’t Sure Where Their Kitchen Is” franchise. Other good sources for simple recipes are manufacturer and food-board web sites. Mystified by avocados? Decipher them at avocado.org.au. Confounded by that carton of eggs? Crack on to eggs.org.au for recipes galore.
10 find another loser
Losing weight on your own is harder than doing it with a buddy or significant other, or so says a university study. Individuals who enrolled in a clinical weight-loss program with family or friends were 19 percent more likely to complete the program, lost more weight and were three times as likely to maintain their weight loss than those who enrolled alone.
11 hoof it
Formal exercise isn’t the only way to burn extra calories. You can also torch a few more each day by walking to the post office instead of driving, climbing the stairs instead of taking the lift, and otherwise relying on your body instead of a machine to get you from here to there.You’ve probably heard this advice before. And you’re probably still driving to the corner store. “It’s because everybody’s always late,” says Kleiner. “The key to putting this advice into practice is better planning and setting it as a priority.”It’s important to realise how quickly these minor activities can add up. They may seem insignificant, but people who are consistently on the go can add 20 percent to their energy expenditure. Just staying still for 5 minutes burns 6 calories, but you can burn twice as many by making your bed, four times as many by walking, six times as many by gardening and nine times as many climbing stairs.
12 drink to your health
Many guys who are conscious of what they eat remain oblivious to the impact of what fills their glasses. Pulp-free fruit juices (which at least have vitamins), alcohol and soft drinks add a large number of calories to the average Australian’s daily intake. Satisfy your cravings for flavour with solid foods and douse your thirst with water. If you need a beer to unwind in the evening, try to make it a light one – or two at the most. If you’re a three-can man, you’ll dilute your 6-week weight-loss program to the tune of 12,600 calories.