If you want to lose fat, you need to do two main things.
- Make your body better at burning fat.
- Require it to burn more fat.
It’s crazy how complicated people can make those two tasks sound. Trust me, it’s not that complicated. Yes there’s a ton of contradictory science but the basics of the above – and what I’m about to lay out below – haven’t changed and I’m guessing they won’t change, either.
How to eat for fat los over 50 (and every other age)
The hard truth: losing fat is NOT a fast process, especially when you’re older. Just by virtue of BEING older, you’re a survivor. That means your body is smart – it’s lived this long and it wants to survive, so in order to do that it slows down your metabolism so you require less fuel.
You’ll have more success if you incorporate these tips into a lifestyle instead of a short-term “thing” … the upside: you’ll feel better every day, have more energy and an improved mood. Plus you’ll notice huge changes in your skin and hair, and in the way your body moves and feels.
1. Make your body better at burning fat
Your body’s preferred fuel is glycogen, which is basically sugar/carbs. If there are readily available carbs in your system, it’ll burn them. If you take in too many carbs/sugars, your body will store them.
But here’s the thing: once your body runs out of carbs, it’ll use other fuel sources (including stored fat!) to fuel everything you do, from breathing to dashing up the stairs to retrieve your glasses.
Do you need to cut out all carbs? Go into ketosis? Should you go buy test strips? How about a fancy blood monitor?
The best bet for long-term success is to create a sustainable lifestyle. Any diet or program that requires you to buy or do (like test for ketones) a lot of extra stuff to support it isn’t going to give you lasting results unless you are a highly motivated/obsessed person. I competed in figure competitions for four seasons so I know this firsthand.
Your diet shouldn’t run your life. Your diet should fuel your life.
Instead do this: Eat real food. I’m talking about more veggies and fruit, healthy fats and proteins, occasionally enjoy some fiber-rich complex carbs but watch your portions — legumes, quinoa, beets, rice, etc.
Note: wine IS carbs. All of them. So watch your intake.
Your body has a harder time burning fat when it’s under stress, too – remember, it wants to survive, so if it feels under attack, it’s likely to engage in a series of hormonal responses designed to help with that (like burning less fuel). Some stress in life is inevitable and even good for you, but too much is bad all the way around.
Your body can feel stress from: too little rest or sleep, poor diet, autoimmune disease (which have huge impact on your body’s intricate hormonal systems), financial/business/work/family/relationship issues, some medications/drugs and/or overuse of alcohol.
2. Require your body to burn more fat.
This has two components … eating and moving.
First, the eating. You need to let your gas tank get a little empty so you can switch on your reserve (stored) tank of fuel. The key to that: Watch your portion sizes. The amount of fuel you take in DOES matter if you’re trying to lose fat (even non-carb intake).
Second, the moving. The more you move, the more fuel you burn. Studies repeatedly show that when it comes to fat loss, non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) can have more of an affect than your workouts! NEAT calories get burned when you are just moving around during the course of the day.
And when you do work out, make sure you train with intensity — listen to your body but be sure to push yourself just a little bit at least a few times a week (i.e., strolling at 2 mph on the treadmill probably isn’t going to give you the results you want). And lift weights a few times a week. As we age, we lose muscle. Not only do you need muscle to remain strong and vital, but it also burns a little more fuel over the course of the day than your body’s other parts.
Avoid this rookie fat-loss mistake (which we all make): If you think you “deserve” a high-calorie, sugar-laden treat because you worked out and/or were busy all day … and fat loss is your primary goal … be careful not to undo all the hard work you put in by overfilling your tank.
Remember: fat-loss is primarily a diet-related phenomenon.
5 Things for Thursday, May 10
1. I have 14,386 unread emails, most of them trying to sell me something.
2. Yesterday I cried for the first time in a long time. Like, an ugly awful dizzy-making cry that I was worried would never stop. See the stress note above? Crying helped. I think. Maybe. Although I did end up fighting a migraine for the rest of the day. #oversharing
3. Also yesterday, my dog met the 3-pound dog that lives next door. The two of them bark at each other many times a day, and I thought a meeting would help. Poor Bella (the little dog) was so timid and scared. But this morning? No barking.
4. External validation. Some of us need more of it than do others. That’s OK.
5. Why do I share my workouts below? So you can steal them if you want.
Bonus No. 6: I now have 14,396 unread email messages.
Quick cardio day
- 15 minutes elliptical
- 15 minute treadmill running intervals
- Adductor/abductor machine, 3x:
- 20 abductions (press out)
- 15 adductions (press in)
Oh hey Wendy why did you only do that one machine? Two reasons: my lumbo-pelvic-hip complex has been really tight/cranky and these movements seem to help, and my leg workout last week didn’t hit these accessory muscles very well.
Back when I was first studying to be a personal trainer in 2000, I hired my own trainer.
His name was Reggie, and he told me he was going to “get me in shape to get in shape.”
Now, the thing was, I thought I already was in pretty good shape.
I was wrong.
The morning after our first session together, I went to get out of bed and realized I couldn’t sit up – my abs hurt too much. I had to roll onto my side and kind of “scoot” out of bed.
But it didn’t take long for my core and abs to become strong.
I credit this fun core exercise in this post – the stability ball rollout – with helping to get me strong.
Reggie made me do hundreds of these over the course of the time I worked out with him.
In fact, I now call this exercise “The Reggie.”
I love this move because not only does it work your abs, but also your entire core from your shoulders to your hips.
If you sit a lot at work – as I did back in those days – The Reggie helps to fix your posture by forcing you to use your upper body to stabilize yourself. Keeping your back flat and strong is also a great posture reset.
It’s also a great “active recovery” move that I like to use with clients (and myself!) during a larger workout.
Here’s a quick video of me during today’s workout, doing “The Reggie.”
Turn It Into a Fat-Burner
Here’s how I used this exercise as part of my workout, for a total-body fat-burning circuit:
- 5 minutes cardio intervals
- 5 “Reggies”
- 5 Pullups
- 5 Low Bodyweight Rows
- 5 Hip Dip Planks Each Side
- 25 Ball Crunches
- 2 Minutes Punching Drills (you could also do step-ups, jumping jacks, burpees, jump rope – anything that gets your heart rate up)
Repeat 4 times.
Fun, Effective Exercise
Kids love to do stability ball rollouts – in fact, when I train them, it’s something they actually request. If you want to get your kids moving, have them try this.
And try it yourself and let me know how you make out!
(Note: if you want that strong core to look like a sculpted six-pack, you’ll need to revise your diet a bit so that you chisel off any fat that’s hiding your midsection.)
We spend an awful lot of time thinking about food.
I mean, a lot. And by a lot, I mean: A LOT.
Mention anything having to do with recipes or “clean eating” or diets in the women’s locker room and all conversation stops, because everyone wants to hear what’s being said.
We think and worry about food and diets so much that we get confused. Or we create a lot of conflict/drama surrounding food because we feel overwhelmed.
We forget what we already know and start to second-guess ourselves: What should I eat? When should I eat it? And how much should I eat? We worry about the minutiae – are carrots okay? Should I be eating fruit at night? – instead of the bigger picture.
Maybe it’s the fact that it is spring and we’re focused on getting ready for swimsuit season, but lately I’m getting a lot of questions via email, social media, text, in person and more. The bottom line is: HELP!
“Perfect” doesn’t exist
It is the rare client who doesn’t make a confession to me:
- “My number one problem is my diet.”
- “I eat too much.”
- “I was so bad this past weekend.”
- “I’m good all day but then at night, watch out!”
- “I do great for a couple days and then it falls apart.”
- “Sometimes when no one is looking I’ll sneak some candy at work.”
- “I gotta get control of this thing.”
- “I am so confused. I can’t get the hang of it.”
- “Wine.” (Yes, generally these are one-word confessions). “Beer.” “Cookies.” “Ice cream.” “Chips.” “Pizza.” Or sometimes it’s just: “Carbs.”
Coaching clients about their diets is the single most confounding aspect of my gig as a personal trainer – and it’s also the single most important aspect of body transformation and overall wellness.
No one eats “perfectly” all the time. What does that even mean? Sometimes I feel guilty when I tell clients about my own occasional dietary “treats,” when I eat something like pizza or donuts. It’s as if I’m telling them the truth about the Easter Bunny – I’m letting them down and/or bursting their bubbles.
But for real: perfect does not exist. In fact, being “perfect” is an eating disorder and it’s called orthorexia.
Don’t eat this
Why do we get so confused? Because everyone has an opinion about what “works.” About what’s “right.” And they seem so adamant about those opinions.
I can pretty much guarantee you that no matter what you eat on any given day, there is someone out there who would find fault with it.
Our food beliefs can come from our family, religion and our culture. Many of us have control issues dating back to childhood (oh the stories my brother and I could share about dinnertime rules at our house!). Some of us are picky eaters, and others are used to the souped-up flavors found in restaurant food and also in fast food/takeout, and the very thought of eating fresh/whole foods/vegetables makes them gag.
And then you get the gurus who tell you to cut out all sugar, or animal products, or gluten, or fruit, or they say that you have to go low-carb, or that you need to eat for your blood type, or maybe you have food sensitivities, or you should eat 6 times a day, or they say that intermittent fasting is the way to go, and suddenly you don’t dare to eat anything.
Or maybe you decide to eat everything. Who could blame you?
(Seriously, I get at least 10 emails a day from various gurus telling me what/how/when to eat – or not eat. I don’t know why I don’t unsubscribe from their lists, but the truth is I kinda like knowing all the stuff that’s being shoveled online.)
Chew on this
What if instead of focusing on losing weight (or fat) you started thinking about something more positive – eating to improve how you feel? How is that for a controversial plan?
It’s a heck of a lot more motivating than grabbing your muffin top (if you have one) with disdain and viewing diet as a punitive method of correcting something you don’t love about yourself.
Beyond any fat-loss/muscle-gaining goals you might have, your nutritional intake has a major impact on your mood, energy, pain levels, your hunger and more.
We tend to have a major disconnect about what happens after we put food into our mouths. It’s like we expect a salad or sandwich to fuel us the same way an Oreo Blizzard or a meat/potatoes/veggie square-meal would.
Take a sec and think about you feel after eating each one of those things. I know I feel a heck of a lot better an hour after eating a salad than I do eating a Blizzard. And a square meal – protein, starch and veggie? That really makes me happy. (For more on this, check out this article.)
If you eat like sh*t you feel like sh*t
I know that to be a fact because I’ve experimented on myself numerous times. I’ve goofed up an otherwise energetic day by eating a big slice of frosting-slathered cake – it made me feel sluggish and bloated, and I needed a nap an hour later, and then I woke up feeling like I had been hit by a truck. Or how about eating too much while on vacation and needing almost a week back home before feeling strong and energetic again? Ugh.
I’ve also woken up feeling like I had a hangover because of eating too much before going to bed the night before. Blah.
And I’ve also had periods when I felt amazing, when I could jump high and run, felt positive about life, and had a ton of energy — and those times correlate with when I’m fueling my body with stuff it loves.
I know I’m not alone.
The magic formula
There is, in fact, a one-size-fits-all formula for weight loss. It’s really simple. If you create a calorie deficit – if you burn more calories than you take in – you will lose weight. Even if you eat crappy foods.
That’s how Weight Watchers and other calorie restriction programs work. They don’t restrict WHAT you eat, necessarily, and they do encourage healthy eating, but mostly they control your overall fuel (calorie) intake.
And that works for weight loss, pretty much every time.
I know a lot of people tell you that all calories are not created equal. And they are correct. But still, you will lose weight if you eat crappy foods as long as the overall intake is less fuel than you burn.
Maybe it’s not politically correct to write this, but think about the terrible ordeals suffered by people held in prison camps. They are stressed and starved – they clearly do not eat a vegan/paleo/pegan/40-30-30/macro/whatever buzzword you want diet. And they definitely lose weight.
But yes, they feel terrible and their weight loss isn’t the kind you would wish on anyone.
So what do you eat to lose fat healthfully? What diet will make you feel – and look – great?
This is where it gets kinda tricky and confusing. There is good (and evolving) science surrounding optimal diets, and we are learning new things all the time. Every time something new is uncovered, people start espousing why it’s so awesome, even as other people (coughTheGovernmentcough) push diets based on old science and beliefs.
That’s why it’s so confusing.
For instance, they used to say that to optimize your metabolism you should eat 5 to 6 times a day. Now, they are saying that might not be the case and for some of us, eating once a day is, in fact, enough.
But there are some basic truths about a healthy diet, and I am guessing if we sat down to talk about this you would outline for me the following as key points. And maybe you’d add a few other nuggets, too.
- Eat less sugar.
- Stay away from processed foods.
- Eat protein at every meal.
- Eat vegetables.
- Get enough fiber.
- Drink 8-10 glasses of water a day.
- Take a good quality multivitamin to fill in any nutrition gaps.
And then if you wanted to lose weight, you would figure out how much you’re currently eating every day (keeping a food journal) and then calculating how many calories you need, and then eat slightly less – say 500 to 750 calories a day – than you burn.
That’s really not so tricky, is it? And you pretty much already knew all that, right? Imagine taking back the power over your diet! Actually listening to your own body and finding out what works best for YOU.
I’m working on a few projects right now to help people stick with their plans, which I know can be tough until you find the groove that works for you (and that, for some of us, is a moving target). But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m really excited about helping people make that connection!
What’s your take on “diets”? Does it all confuse you, or have you found a plan that works for you? Let me know! I want to hear your thoughts.
The other day someone posted a really great question in my Facebook support group. They wondered if there were any good foods/cleanses that would “rev up their metabolism.”
I wish! Wouldn’t that be great?
Unfortunately, there isn’t any single thing you can do to turn up your body’s fat-burning engine.
However, there is good news: there are a whole bunch of actions that, taken together, will boost your fat (and calorie) burn and make a real difference in how you feel, and will help change your body from the inside out.
I’ve seen these actions work. I coach my clients through many of these items as they transform their bodies. And I use the same techniques on myself.
Pick up heavy things and put them down, repeatedly.
Lifting weights will do more to help change your body — and change it more quickly — than any other form of exercise. You will get stronger. You will feel (and look) tighter and fitter all over. And you will boost your metabolism so that you are burning more calories even at rest.
The caveat: for most of us, when I say “lift weights” I’m not talking about the stack of 3- or 5-pound dumbbells many of us have squirreled away at home. Once you’re in shape to start lifting heavier weights, you should challenge yourself to pick up heavier dumbbells — weights heavy enough so that, once you’re warmed up, you can only eek out 10-15 reps per set with proper form.
The exercises with the biggest bang for the buck use your body’s largest muscles: squats, lunges, pulldowns (if you can’t — yet — do pullups), chest press, etc.
While the inner/outer thigh and triceps machines are great, they won’t necessarily give you the bigger metabolic boost you’re after because they work small muscle groups.
Caveat number 2: Lifting weights doesn’t give you a free pass in the diet department as the difference in calorie burn that you get with more muscle isn’t huge. But it is something and even if the scale doesn’t budge, you’ll love the results because weights build shapely muscles.
Eat lower-sugar foods
If you plan your meals to include low-glycemic foods — foods that don’t cause a big jump and then an immediate drop in your blood sugar — you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes in your body composition.
You will notice your belly start to shrink. You will feel generally “tighter” all over. Your energy will skyrocket once you make it through the first couple days (there’s an adjustment period if you’ve been indulging your sweet tooth a lot), and you will feel more satiated between meals.
What foods are considered low glycemic?
- Lean protein
- Healthy fats
- Unprocessed grains
How do you know how much sugar you are taking in? Read food labels. Also, try keeping a food journal for a few days (there are dozens of free sites and apps, I happen to like myfitnesspal or the FitBit app) and see how you’re doing.
Eat enough food
One of the things that drives me absolutely bananas is when people — generally women — tell me they are eating only about 800 or 900 calories a day because they want to lose weight. And, still generally speaking, these same women are doing boatloads of cardio at the same time.
When I question them about why they are doing what they are doing, they tell me they have a specific goal or deadline — something like a wedding, a vacation at the beach or some other event. They say they are willing to “suffer” through for the goal.
Yes, they will lose weight on that low number of calories.
And yes, they likely will gain it all back (and more) quickly afterward.
Why? Because chronic undereating trains your body to function on less fuel. Your body is smart. It wants to live. That means it will adapt — at least temporarily — to nearly anything you do to it. Also, when you chronically undereat your body will respond by making more stress hormones, which affect how your body uses glucose and insulin.
The thing is, when you go off the low-calorie diet, your body is still going to think it only needs that 800 to 900 calories you’ve been chronically under feeding it. That means even a “normal” amount of fuel is considered excess, and your body, thanks to its super-efficient (slow) metabolism, will store that “extra” as fuel for the future.
That means the weight (plus more) will come back fast, especially if you decide to engage in a full-on feeding/drinking frenzy, which is often what happens when we get into the post-diet mentality.
You can’t shortcut the process and expect to have lasting results.
Keep your metabolism stoked by feeding your body enough fuel!
Tip: Try keep your calorie deficit at about 500 to 750 calories a day (in other words, if you are burning 2,000 calories a day through regular activities and exercise, make sure you’re eating at least 1,250 to 1,500 calories a day). If you’re a smaller person (like me), even a 750-calorie daily deficit is too much.
Eat enough protein
If you’re a healthy, active adult, include a protein source at every meal. For my clients who engage in strength training regularly and are trying to change their body composition, I suggest between 25 to 30 percent (and sometimes even slightly more for limited periods, depending on the circumstance) of their diet come from protein.
NOTE: Always check with a doc or dietitian before making big changes in your program or if you have any concerns.
Studies show that evenly portioning your protein over the course of the day yields better results, as your body is better able to break down and use the protein in smaller, consistent doses.
How do you know if you are getting enough protein?
As I mentioned above, keep a food log. This a good wake-up call — nearly every one of my clients who starts logging their nutrition information tells me they are shocked when they see how low their protein intake actually is.
Do HIIT cardio
High-intensity interval training rocks at boosting your metabolism.
HIIT workouts should include a thorough warmup. Then, you crank up the intensity for between 30 seconds and 2-3 minutes, and then you scale back the effort for an “active recovery” period of 30 seconds to 2-3 minutes. Alternate between the high-intensity and active-recovery sessions for the desired amount of time,a and then do a thorough cooldown so your heart rate returns to near-normal.
The HIIT portion can include sprints, conditioning circuits (like burpees and kettlebell work or plyometrics). You can run up hills. You can go faster or steeper on the treadmill. It’s up to you.
The thing that’s cool about HIIT workouts is that not only do you burn more calories during the workout because of the extra intensity bursts, but you also burn more calories AFTER the workout, as your body recovers from the exertion. The extra burn isn’t huge, but over time, it adds up.
Studies also show that HIIT workouts are especially effective at targeting belly fat.
OK, maybe I misspoke in the intro of this blog post. There is an ingredient in some beverages that can help boost your metabolism — caffeine. Yay! That means coffee (my fave!) or green tea can be helpful when it comes to elevating your calorie burn.
Just be careful not to drink too much.
Studies show that taking 100 mg of caffeine boosted the resting metabolic rate in both lean and obese people by 3 to 4 percent. Depending on your brand/brew of coffee, 8 oz provides between 95 to 200 mg of caffeine.
Green tea has less caffeine than coffee but, as a bonus, it does contain antioxidants that have been shown to help boost fat burning.
The downside to caffeine is that too much can interfere with the following two metabolism rev-er uppers.
Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, a number that can vary based on health, training load and general stress. Some of us naturally need less sleep; others, more.
Chances are you already know how much sleep you ideally need, and chances are you occasionally feel stressed because you’re not getting that much as often as you’d like.
One of the biggest sources of our calorie burn each day is through NEAT calories — non-exercise activity thermogenesis. These are the calories you burn when you’re not exercising but you are moving around and performing activities of daily life: walking, doing chores, working, etc.
Studies show that when we are tired, we move less. That means we burn fewer calories. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
But there’s more at work. A 2007 review of sleep research showed that chronic (i.e. long-term) partial sleep loss is tied to both obesity and diabetes.
Not getting enough sleep on a continual basis is correlated with insulin resistance (your body’s ability to metabolize glucose) and it also plays havoc with hormones that help regulate your appetite. So not only are moving less, you want to eat more AND your body is less able to properly utilize as fuel the food you eat.
So try to get some sleep. But don’t stress too much about it because stress will also tamp down your metabolism.
An interesting study published in 2014 in Biological Psychology suggests that stressful days — the very days that can have us craving calorie-laden comfort foods — actually slow down our metabolism.
Researchers fed a group of women a 930-calorie meal consisting of sausage, eggs, biscuits and gravy. Before eating, the women were quizzed on the relative stress levels of the previous 24 hours. All the women received the same meal.
Women who were more stressed burned 104 fewer calories than the women who were not stressed. Also, the stressed-out group had higher levels of insulin, which affects how the body stores fat, and can slow down the process of metabolizing calories into energy.
Other research shows the same effect in men.
There’s a reason nearly every “lose weight” article suggests drinking water — not only does it help keep you satiated and healthy, it also helps boost your metabolism.
A German study found that drinking 500 milliliters of water increased metabolic rate by up to 30 percent. The study concluded that drinking 2 liters of water per day could boost energy expenditure and that the effect of water should be considered in weight loss programs.
- Lift weights and do HIIT cardio.
- Eat enough food — avoid low-calorie “crash” diets.
- Drink at least 2 liters of water every day.
- Eat a low-glycemic diet with adequate protein.
- Add some caffeine to your diet if you can tolerate it, but don’t add too much.
- Get enough sleep.
Check out my latest fitness program, 6 Weeks to Sculpted
, which contains 8 workouts designed to rev up your metabolism and burn fat.
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Quick! What’s the cause of obesity — a lack of exercise or overeating?
Your answer might be a reflection of your current body shape.
Researchers from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology found that people who believe diet is most implicated in obesity have a lower BMI (body mass index, one screening tool used by health professionals to determine possible weight problems). Those who believe lack of exercise is behind obesity tended to have a higher BMI.
BMI is a slightly controversial screening tool, as it doesn’t take into account actual body fat readings, but instead relies on height and weight to determine a person’s risk. To find your BMI, click here. A lower BMI generally means a lower body weight.
The study, published in Psychological Science (the journal of the Association for Psychological Science), found that data from those surveyed in the United States, Korea and France showed the same patterns — if study participants believed diet was the culprit of being overweight, they tended to weigh less than those who believed exercise was key.
The study authors said that surveyed Canadians who thought exercise played the major role in weight ate significantly more chocolates than those who linked obesity to diet, as did those from Hong Kong.
As a personal trainer, I often struggle to help clients realize they can’t exercise away a poor diet. They kill it in the gym and get fitter, but unless they change their eating patterns the scale doesn’t budge much. Exercise helps people lose weight — and, importantly, maintain their weight — but real weight-loss results come with dietary changes.