Again today, I had a conversation with someone who asked me what core exercises will help them get thinner. Let me be clear: exercise has an effect on the body – it’s great for heart health, bone density, mobility – and yes, even weight management. Good food has an effect on the body – it helps the body to work efficiently, feel good, and stay healthy. One does not undo the other. This mindset is disordered thinking.
Here Are The Facts
I think it’s so important to bring awareness to the fact that fat does not turn into muscle and muscle doesn’t turn into fat. This disordered thinking leads to chronic over-exercise, a punishment mentality, and a vicious cycle of always feeling inadequate. The fact is that food is energy. When you eat (regardless of if it’s “healthy” or “junk food”), it does not turn instantly into fat in your body. Over time, if you consume more calories than you utilize (a.k.a “burn”), then you will begin to gain weight.
We live in a society where our perception of portion size has been distorted. This disordered thinking of portion size is affecting our waistline. If you watch tv reality shows like Naked and Afraid or Survivor, you will see that if someone has depleted their calories for a long period of time, they feel lethargic, have brain fog, and get thin (losing muscle and fat combined). I point this out because many people simply eat too much regularly – even healthy foods. If you are truly starving – a dense candy bar that would make most of us cringe and think of as “unhealthy – can actually provide nutrients and energy for fuel.
Shifting Disordered Thinking
Once you realize that food is just energy – then it’s important to understand that quality calories are what matter most. I gained 5 pounds personally from those “Chia-chocolate-peanut-butter energy balls” that taste like cookie dough. 1 energy ball has over 100 calories. Who eats just one when they are so yummy? To lose fat, you must reduce your calories, eat quality food, and keep your body moving consistently.
Cutting calories isn’t so simple, though. If you cut calories too drastically, you lose muscle mass – which will mean you require fewer calories to maintain the same weight (a.k.a your metabolism slows down). Muscle is your friend – it burns calories and keeps you moving well and feeling good! It’s generally accepted as a good rule of thumb to reduce your daily calorie intake by about 500 calories (or simply cut out flavored beverages, alcohol, a couple of small snacks, or just make all of your meal portions a bit smaller – it’s not overly difficult to cut 500 calories each day. 7 days worth of a 500-calorie deficit each day results in a net reduction of 3,500 calories each week – which is about 1 pound per week. This is a good goal to shoot for slow weight loss so you don’t lose too much muscle. If you exercise (especially with a few days of resistance training – you’ll keep your muscle mass while losing fat. Win-win!
HIIT exercise (High Intensity Interval Training) or my personal favorite HILIT (High Intensity Low Impact Training) is where you really challenge yourself for short bursts of time (30 seconds to two minutes) and then have an active recovery time (not necessarily complete rest, but a gentle active time to recover before you push yourself out of your comfort zone again. This can be repeated for 15 minutes to an hour for a great workout. This style of workout causes what’s known as EPOC – excess post-oxygen consumption – which means your body continues to burn calories at an elevated rate even when your workout is through. The key is to NOT give yourself permission to eat more just because you had a good workout. Too many people inhibit their own progress because they give themselves permission – or “reward” themselves for a good workout.
Ultimately, there is no secret to fast fat loss. Quality food matters. The latest research also points to the importance of gut health. Our gut starts in the mouth and esophagus (throat), leads into the stomach, and then the intestines. Here is where millions (or billions) of bacteria reside. With a healthy diversity of types of bacteria, there is a correlation with good health. Fiber tends to feed the “good” bacteria. Sugar and artificial sweeteners tend to feed the “bad” bacteria and starve the “good” bacteria. This means that reducing sugar and artificial sweeteners is a great way to foster a healthy gut environment so your “good” bacteria can thrive.
Pay Attention To Disordered Thinking
Finally, many people still tell me how they love to do crunches and sit-ups for a narrow waistline. I want to make it clear again – fat doesn’t turn into muscle. If you strengthen your muscles, then you are stable and strong. Core strength is important. But core strength does not make your belly thin.
To get lean, you must lose fat – and that is mostly due to your eating choices over time. If you crash diet, you’ll lose muscle and water. The goal should be healthy fat loss over time. Let’s stop the “race” to be skinny and begin to embrace the journey to good health.