Eat Better, Exercise Harder

Contrary to the typical advice of well-meaning but misinformed trainers and health organizations, the key to fat loss is  not to simply “eat less, move more”, but to eat better, and exercise harder.

The idea one should eat less and move more to lose fat is based on a few assumptions:

  1. that fat gain and loss are mostly a matter of energy balance
  2. that body fat will be burned for energy when the balance is negative
  3. that exercise burns enough calories to have a significant effect on energy balance

Not quite.

1. While energy balance is a significant factor, fat gain and loss is also strongly affected by your hormonal state which is the result of the type of foods you eat. Regular, excessive carbohydrate consumption results in chronically elevated insulin levels which can promote fat storage and limits your body’s ability to access its fat stores for energy. Other hormones influencing metabolism and appetite like leptin, ghrelin and thyroid can be negatively influenced by regular consumption of grains and legumes, and those foods also contain substances which interfere with mineral absorption and irritate the gut, contributing to the development of auto-immune disorders.

2. Even if you restrict energy intake, if your hormonal state prevents you from efficiently using fat stores when there is a negative energy balance it can break down lean body mass instead and reduce metabolic rate to adapt to the lower energy intake. Foods that negatively effect leptin and ghrelin can directly contribute to a reduction in metabolic rate.

3. No activity burns enough calories to make it worth doing for that reason alone, and demanding physical activity increases appetite often causing people to consume more energy than the little extra they burned. The proper role of exercise in a fat loss program is not to burn calories, but to maintain muscle while fat is lost.

Forget the old mantra to “eat less, move more”. Instead, eat better and exercise harder.

If you eat better food – nutrient dense grass fed meat, wild caught fish, eggs and a variety of vegetables along with some fruits and nuts – and restrict or eliminate intake of grains, legumes and sugar, you will create a hormonal state conducive to fat loss and get your appetite under control, as well as improve many other aspects of health. While meat, fish, and eggs are energy dense, eating them tends to blunt appetite and keep you feeling full longer, and non-starchy vegetables are extremely high in physical volume relative to calories when compared to grains and legumes, and will also fill you up. If you ever do need a quick source of glucose, starchy vegetables like yams, sweet potatoes and beets are a  much healthier option than grains.

Instead of wasting your time doing things for the sake of burning calories, spend a few minutes a few times a week doing hard strength training. While strength training won’t burn a lot of calories either, it will maintain lean body mass while fat is lost, improve glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, deplete muscle glycogen stores making more room in the muscles for incoming carbohydrate (meaning less of it is likely to be converted to triglyceride and stored as fat) and will raise metabolic rate slightly. When done correctly, even very brief strength training workouts significantly improve cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning and flexibility, making additional “cardio” redundant and unnecessary.

You can use all the time a more efficient exercise program frees up to do things you actually enjoy, instead of wasting it on a treadmill or elliptical machine or in group classes that burn up a lot of your time but not much of your fat.

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