What’s the best way to burn fat? How do I lose the fat from my belly and under my arms? What’s the best type of exercise to lose weight and tone up? These are the most common sorts of questions I’ve had day after day, week after week and year after year of working as a health and fitness professional. But the answers to these questions are far from straightforward. As humans we are all unique and complex individuals and what works for one person will not necessarily work for another. Yes, there are some simple guidelines that you can follow in order to burn body fat but there are also additional considerations to take into account.
One consideration encompasses the notion that you are a unique and complex individual. I could prescribe the same weight-training program for two young men and one might put on weight, and the other might lose weight. It’s also the same for nutrition— two people consuming the same diet can achieve two very different outcomes.
Another example of our uniqueness is fat and muscle distribution. I can eat all I like and will put on very little fat around my hips and thighs—it’ll all goes on my arms, chest and stomach. The majority of women are different however, with the hips and thighs being predominant areas for fat storage. Again, some people (most commonly men!) seem to be able to eat all they like and not put on an ounce of fat. Men and women store fat differently and women are more likely to store fat after menopause.
How could that be you ask? Again, we are all unique. We have different genetic makeups, e.g., predisposition for fat storage; different levels of hormones being distributed throughout our bodies, e.g., men and women store fat differently due to the sex hormones; different food intolerances, different stresses and strains being placed on our bodies—we have not yet been designed as clones to produce a uniform external response to the things we are putting into our bodies.
Does this make it sound like it’s too difficult to burn body fat? It’s not. It just takes a little bit of trial and error on your part. If something isn’t working then change what you’re doing. There’s a great quote that says, ‘stupidity is repeating the same thing every day but expecting a different outcome.’ But before you jump up and cry in exasperation, ‘none of this is working!’ first give it a good fair chance to start working. Often this requires three to four weeks of doing something consistently and then you will only usually see and feel very small changes starting to happen. Frustrating? Yes. But in reality this is how sustainable fat burning happens—slowly but surely.
Seriously though, before we go any further, let’s just clarify your expectations based on the previous point. How many years have you been gradually gaining weight for? Five? Ten? Twenty or more? If you have been gaining weight over these sorts of time periods then you absolutely cannot expect your body will respond to your demands to strip fat right away. If your body has been working on fat storage over the years, then this is what it knows how to do. There will be a huge array of functions in the body that are working at a less than optimal level, so there’s a lot for the body to learn, in order for changes to happen. I have seen too many people over the years with the goal of burning fat that really do give up before they give their body a chance to adapt to a new way of living. It seems absurd to me that there has been no major drive to change over the previous years and then suddenly it’s a case of, “This must happen now!” I know there is always something that has tipped the scales and driven the powerful desire for change (this is a subject for another day), but please do be realistic with your expectations and respect that the road to success is always under construction—it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
If you don’t have the patience for this then jump back on board with diet X, Y or Z, because after all, they’ve worked for you in the past right? Wrong! If they worked for you in the past you wouldn’t be here reading this article, because you would have continued to be an efficient fat burning machine and you wouldn’t need my help. The reality is that diet X, Y or Z wasn’t sustainable in the long term. It put your body in a position where it was missing out on something it needed. It thought there was a bit of a famine going on so it held on to some extra fat cells just in case the next meal was a long way away.
And with these increased fat cells, your ability to burn fat decreased and your cravings for the wrong types of foods – the foods you ‘couldn’t have’ – increased. So you tried another diet and that one didn’t work either because when you stopped it, your fat cells invited more of their friends to come and join them, just in case this famine thing was going to keep happening.
The more times that you have repeated this cycle; the harder it becomes to burn fat. Your body just doesn’t trust you anymore! If this is what you’ve been doing to yourself then don’t be surprised if your body takes a while to respond to your demands for it to strip fat. After all, it’s mighty suspicious of what’s next on your agenda and survival is most important on its list.
Optimal nutrition is a huge part of burning body fat. I’m sure you’re aware that exercise also plays a major role. But do you know how stress, sleep, your thoughts and relationships all make up a significant part in this equation?
My holistic fat burning book ‘Burning Fat for Good’ encompasses all of these areas. It’s suitable for those of you who have exhausted your dieting options and are ready for a new approach—one that treats the body with respect and recognizes that you are an individual.
Let’s have one final reality check. Place your right hand on your right hipbone. Place your left hand on your left hipbone. Now place your right hand on the bone at the corner of your right shoulder. Place your left hand on the bone at the corner of your left shoulder. This is called your bone structure. No amount of nutrition, exercise, stress, sleep, thoughts or relationship focus is going to change this. So learn to love your bone structure as it is, and instead focus on the things you can in fact have an effect on.
Enjoy the journey; master one new habit at a time, and your body will love you for it.
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Elly McGuinness, B PhEd, B Com, ACSM
Elly has been inspiring people to make sustainable changes to their health, fitness and lifestyle for the past 15 years. She offers online solutions for people who are looking to get started on, or improve their health and fitness. She blogs regularly, writes for a number of health and wellbeing publications and is the published author of a holistic weight loss book.
Elly is mum to a spirited three year old girl, and along with her partner Colin they embrace a digital nomad, world schooling lifestyle.