Debunking the fat loss myths

By: Ashish Kumar (LMB)

Getting a flat belly and a lean frame is something which is on the wish list for most of us – boys and girls, young and old alike. Even if you don’t happen to have athletic or modelling ambitions, you possibly have other motivations like looking attractive in your attire (or outside your attire), maintaining high energy level at work, remaining healthy and disease free and so on.

Any which way, shredding a few pounds of fat to get rid of that stubborn layer around the waistline is always desirable.

There is a lot of misinformation about this subject that floats around via word of mouth and media. One google search and you can find an overwhelming amount of information and contradictory suggestions.

10 easy ways to lose fat, 20 exercises to burn all your body fat and 30 super-foods which help in weight loss. You can find every possible solution you can imagine. Magic fad diets to wonder exercise routines to fat loss supplements, everything is lined up your way to confuse you. But ironically, nothing of these fancy solutions work.

Luckily, success in achieving any goal boils down to simplicity and getting the basics right. Same is the case with fat loss. Nobody needs to grind hours in the gym like a superhuman and eat just salads to lose fat.

The only thing one needs to do is to know and adopt a few fundamental lifestyle changes which are fool-proof scientific ways for treading closer to a leaner, healthier body.

Simple facts to clear common misconceptions:

  • Let’s get it straight at the onset. Weight loss and fat loss are two entirely different terms and cannot be interchangeably used when talking from a health perspective. Losing fat is the only desirable phenomenon. We don’t want to lose bones, muscles and organ weight and it’s not healthy.
  • Fat is not enemy. A certain amount of body fat is essential for the functioning of organs, hormonal tasks and lubrication of joints. Women have even more body fat requirement due to physiological reasons.
  • Stored fat in the body is an inactive tissue deposited beneath the skin or around the organs to be used during the times of starvation. Storage of surface fat below skin was part of the human evolutionary process and was very much a necessity to survive during the hunter-gatherer days (So fat is not all that bad, see…).
  • Ever since the start of agriculture era, food became easily available and excessive body fat storage became commonplace. This phenomenon hindered the biological functions and became a leading cause of diseases. The same evolutionary process which helped humans survive became more of a curse than boon.
  • Genetics decide the area where you are more likely to store fat. But generally, belly area fat is first to come and last to go. That’s why surface visibility of abdominal muscles (called abs) is considered as a good indicator of overall low body fat %.
  • Spot reduction is a plain myth. You cannot selectively burn fat from a particular body area. Period. The next time you see a video on YouTube claiming that crunches, sit-ups and planks can make your tummy flat, give it a thumbs-down straightaway. It’s a lie, crunches can no doubt make your abs muscles stronger but they are ineffective in reducing belly area fat.
  • Fancy solutions like juice cleanses, butter in the coffee, low fat diet, low carb diet and excessive fasting are all not only ineffective, but dangerous in the long run. They deprive your body of all the required nutrients and slow down your metabolism. So before going on the weekly fruit only diet plan, be aware that it is as healthy as doing bungee jumping without a bungee.
  • Calorie deficit in your diet is a must if you want to lose fat. If Energy in > Energy out, you will gain weight, whatever superfood you eat. It’s the principle of energy balance my friend, pure thermodynamics into play and you can’t fool it.
  • We Indians are somehow more prone to having that notorious ‘beer-belly’, blame our genetics or the unnatural dietary changes influenced by the west. Don’t get upset, Beer lovers! The term ‘beer-belly’ doesn’t have much to do with beer. The beer itself doesn’t make your belly grow unless you are consuming more daily calories than you are expending. (The alcohol in beer is toxic to the liver, so binge drinking is bad for you. PS: This statement is also intended to save me from criticism by Non-drinker friends)

An effective approach for fat loss:

Now that you know some basic details and might have hopefully cleared some misconceptions built over time, let us try to know the effective strategy to approach the simple yet complex problem of losing fat.

Although there are many variables at play which affect individual success, I assume that there are three key elements common to any fat loss program which can make or break the outcome.

 1.Willpower:

Would you have a great empire? Rule over yourself. ~ Publilious Syrus

Yes, I am writing it at No. 1. This is perhaps the most crucial aspect of any fitness program. A 2010 study conducted by American psychological association dubs lack of willpower as the number-one obstacle people face in achieving their goals.

A diet plan fails mostly due to our inability to stick to it and balance our calorie intake or the macro-nutrient ratios. This is a plain hard fact, no matter how effective or ineffective the program is.

Many researchers compare willpower to a muscle which becomes fatigued by excessive use. Eating non-tasty health food all the time, going to the gym regularly, shopping judiciously and not eating out when you really want to…all these things deplete your willpower reserve and when this limited reserve gets over, you indulge heavily in all the unwanted stuff.

The good thing is, like any other muscle of the body, you can train your willpower muscle to make it stronger. I would suggest you to read more on the subject yourself since it will require a separate article to cover in sufficient detail. A book reference is mentioned at the end of this piece.

2.Diet and nutrition:

You are what you eat.

The importance of diet can’t be stressed more when it comes to fat loss. As a rule of thumb, diet constitutes 75% of the fat loss process. There are these three main things to take care in your diet:

  • Calories:
    • You can’t reduce body fat if you eat more calories than you burn, no matter how healthy your diet is. Period. So, you must maintain a slight deficit.
    • At the same time, drastically cutting your calories to starvation levels isn’t healthy either. It will slow down your metabolism and deprive you of required nutrition.
    • The general rule to go is – NOT consuming calories less than 10 times your body weight in pounds. So a 160-pound individual must take at least 1600 calorie regardless of activity level.

  • The ratio of macro-nutrients:
    • The three main macro-nutrients required by the body are proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Balancing the consumption of these is desirable to obtain optimum body composition.
    • Many popular diet plans like Keto, Low Carb, Paleo etc suggest removing one or more macro-nutrients from the diet altogether. Research conclusively proves that it is a very short-sighted and unhealthy practice which results into deficiencies and food cravings.
    • Removing a particular macro from your diet to lose weight is unnecessary at best, if not harmful. All you need to do is to eat a balanced meal containing all nutrients.
    • Also, tracking your macros is easy these days with mobile apps such as healthifyme which sufficiently cater to Indian diets.

  • 80-20 Rule:
    • One more important aspect of diet is the sustainability. It should be enjoyable enough so that you can stick to it without feeling stressed.
    • The 80-20 rules says that you should indulge but no more than 20% of your daily calories should come from junk foods or food with low nutritional value.

3.Exercise and Rest:

There’s more to life than training, but training is what puts more in your life. ~ Brooks Kubik

You can definitely reduce your body fat by dieting alone, and exercise is secondary in that regard. But losing weight by restrictive diet alone will also make you lose muscles along with fat and will make you look smaller and weaker.

Less muscle mass in the body means slower metabolism and less fat burning while at rest. So, exercise certainly aids in that process by retaining muscles and burning calories. There are mainly two types of exercises:

  • Resistance training:
    • This type of exercise entails movement of body parts against the resistance of gravity (body weight, weighted bars or dumb-bells). This is considered the best type of exercise since it increases strength and muscle mass.
    • The resistance during high-intensity exercise creates micro-tears in the muscles which are repaired by the body while at rest. The repair work causes the body to burn calories while sleeping or at rest due to the after-burn effect.
  • Cardio training:
    • The exercises which raise the heart rate are called cardio-vascular exercises. Running, Cycling and Zumba are some examples of cardio.
    • Cardio increases stamina and burns more calories compared to resistance training. Although it’s a great type of exercise for fat loss, it must be done in moderation only. Long and steady state cardio results in increase of stress hormone cortisol due to which the body burn muscles along with fat, which can make you wafer thin.
    • Most of your cardio should be in the form of high-intensity interval training of 15-30 mins if you aim to lose fat.

Recovery and sleep is another prominent aspect that many amateurs tend to overlook. Sleep is one of the most important biological functions that our bodies use to recover our mind and body from the harsh physical activity. Sufficient rest and sleep should always follow exercise.

We spend 1/3rd of our life sleeping, there must be something very important going on in the process. Also, fat is burnt by the body while at rest. The body repairs the damage from the previous workout during sleep. Lack of sleep can also increase the stress hormone cortisol and can certainly hinder your fat loss targets.


References:

Bigger Leaner Stronger by Michael Mathews (www.amazon.in)

https://www.builtlean.com/2010/08/03/ideal-body-fat-percentage-chart/

https://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5207271

https://www.blitzresults.com/en/calories/

https://www.aarp.org/health/fitness/info-07-2010/How_Many_Calories_Do_I_Need.html


 

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