As the Summer months approach and it's time to shed those cozy layers, many of us feel a renewed incentive to lose body fat before it's time to debut our beach bodies. Although there's never a wrong time to trim body fat, it's crucial to always make sure we're doing so in a healthy manner. Rather than taking shortcuts and trying every fad diet we can find, the best way to lose body fat and keep it off is to form a regimen that involves nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle — and then stick to it.
Here's a look at this three-pronged approach and what experts have to say about each aspect of losing body fat.
Ninety-five percent of diets are unsuccessful, mainly because they involve a short-term, unsustainable change to your eating habits. So when it comes to food, think of adjustments in terms of "nutrition" rather than "diet." Finding a healthy nutrition plan that you can stick to for the long-term is the key to losing body fat and keeping it off.
"Look to add in more color in your food throughout the day. This simple and effective approach means more veggies and fruit throughout your day," James Shapiro, an NYC-based independent trainer, told POPSUGAR. "Replacing fruit juices that are laced with sugar with flavored seltzers or zero-sugar tea is another step forward. If you're dealing with a sweet tooth, find your favorite flavor protein shake and treat yourself with a post-workout protein shake."
Rebecca Lee, a registered nurse and founder of the natural health resource Remedies For Me, told POPSUGAR that certain foods and drinks have been scientifically proven to benefit gut health and metabolism. She suggested the following additions to your nutrition plan:
- Apple cider vinegar
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
- Probiotics, which are found in foods including yogurt, tempeh, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, and raw cheese
- Fiber-rich foods such as oats, barley, pectin fruits (apples, plums, and oranges), root vegetables, and legumes
- Green tea
Amanda Walker, certified lifestyle and nutrition coach, told POPSUGAR that it's important to learn to live in the gray and be flexible.
"Food choices aren't always black or white, good or bad, or all or nothing. More often than not when we start a new nutrition approach, a social event will happen or you'll be forced to work late," Walker said. "Developing habits to learn how to respond to a change of plans is very powerful." She suggested filling your fridge with healthy options that support your goals — so if your schedule goes haywire, you won't end up mindlessly snacking on unhealthy foods.
"Creating sustainable habits that get practiced day in and out help you overcome the all-or-nothing mindset when you are working towards a nutritional goal," Walker explained.
Shapiro said that adding interval training and HIIT cardio to your routine will immediately begin to burn fat. "With interval training, you're maintaining a higher heart rate and going through muscle groups in sequences designed to test your conditioning," he explained. "Do not use more than 70 percent of your one-rep maximum as you do not want to sacrifice your form and risk injury."
As Shapiro told POPSUGAR, HIIT cardio has been shown to work the type-II muscle fibers that comprise a large amount of your body including your shoulders, triceps, pectorals, glutes, quads, and core. "HIIT is an all-or-nothing approach and the 'nothing' part is your rest. You need to go 90 to 100 percent maximal effort on all your exercises," he said. "Because of the high intensity, bodyweight motions are preferred along with some plyometric variations of motions you're used to performing."
Jim Irvin, physical therapist assistant program director at Carrington College, told POPSUGAR that cardiovascular activities such as walking, jogging, biking, and using the elliptical are effective exercises for burning fat. However, a lesser-known fact is that strength training should also be a key part of your fitness regimen.
"The necessary time frame [for cardiovascular exercise] is at least 20 minutes, so your body changes the way it utilizes fuel. First, it goes after carbs. Second, it goes after fat," Irvin explained. "What most people don't realize is that low load, high repetition weight training also burns fat. Studies have shown that this can actually burn more fat than typical cardiovascular activity. The key is the intensity level. Low load, high rep sets with minimum rest can raise the metabolism and keep it elevated even after you're finished exercising. This is the avenue your body uses to burn fat."
You've got nutrition and fitness covered, but those aren't the only components to losing body fat in a healthy manner. As if stress isn't miserable enough, it turns out it can also cause our bodies to store fat. "Stress is a primary agitator of cortisol, a natural hormonal response that likes to create stored energy — also known as fat," Shapiro told POPSUGAR. He recommended finding strategies to manage your stress, such as focusing on deep breathing and mantras.
Consistently getting a good night's sleep will also help you lose body fat. "[It's] not just the quantity but the quality of sleep. I'm talking about your full-REM sleep cycle because it is there where we develop the most amount of growth hormone," Shapiro said. "This factor is important to the development of skeletal muscle and lean body mass."
Chris Brantner, founder and certified sleep science coach at SleepZoo.com, told POPSUGAR that sleep is far too often overlooked when it comes to losing body fat. When you don't get enough sleep, you experience increased levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, and this inevitably leads to poor food choices. Furthermore, lack of sleep affects our judgment and often causes us to make impulsive decisions such as eating unhealthy foods.
Lack of sleep can also impact the effectiveness of your fitness routine. "In the deeper third and fourth stages of sleep, heart rate and breathing decrease, causing you to fall into a deep sleep. Here the muscles relax, and growth hormone is released. This aids in muscle development and overall body development," Brantner explained. "It is during these stages of sleep that all that hard work you did during the day really pays off. So if you're hitting the gym for weight loss, you need plenty of sleep to ensure that you get through the proper stages of the sleep cycle and allow your muscles to rejuvenate and grow."