Losing Weight This Spring
and looking and feeling your best for spring and summer
Although we should aim to feel good, energized and happy all the time, historically Spring is the time when our thoughts turn to losing weight more often. The days are getting longer, the sun is coming out and we are getting ready for those bathing suites, shorts or a beautiful dresses.
Why is it so? Well, for once we are a part of nature. Everything in nature is getting ready to start its growth and reproduction process in spring. And we are doing the same: it is easier to start a new plan, to make adjustments. We receive a message through our eyes that the days are longer and the sun is brighter. Our brain starts producing less melatonin that makes us sleepy and more serotonin that make us happy, energized. Our pituitary gland produces more luteinizing hormone -- a hormone that triggers ovulation in females and stimulates testosterone production in males. These hormones elevating in the spring make us feel in love and increases a desire to attract a partner (even if that partner has been with us for 30+ years).
Spring is the best time to lose weight also because the temperature outside goes up and our body needs a bit less calories to keep us warm.
Well, that’s enough of why’s. Let’s dive into how’s.
The most straight forward way of looking at this is: less calories consumed and more calories spent create a negative energy balance. This means the calorie deficit will have to be taken from the body’s storage system: fat, glycogen and protein. Sounds easy. But let’s add that we also want to stay healthy and energized through the process. Another challenge is to lose fat and keep the muscle (lean) tissue. We also want to ensure to cut calories without jeopardizing the nutrient quantity required for proper body functioning.
The rule number One here is to keep it slow and steady. By cutting 10-20% of your daily calorie intake you will be able to lose on average 450 g (or 1 lb) of fat per week. Go any faster than this and you will bring your body into a starvation mode, your metabolism will go down and stall your weight loss. I am not even saying about feeling unhappy, lethargic and cranky. Who wants this like?!
How to cut 10-20 % of calories?
1) Choose smaller plates. Just find a plate at home that is smaller than the one you usually use. By default you will be eating less.
2) Minimize alcohol. I know this one isn’t fun. But so worth it. Alcohol contains a lot of sugar. A glass of wine is on average 160 calories and a pint of beer is 200 calories. Alcohol calories can’t be stored. They have to be used. Which means your body will store the calories from other foods. In addition, alcohol makes you eat more. Studies show people who take alcohol with food tend to consume 20-30 % more calories than non-drinkers.
3) Add lots of fiber. This means adding a lot of greens, veggies, fruits, sprouts, legumes and beans and all sort of plants. Fiber makes you feel fuller so you won’t overeat.
4) Reduce sugar consumption overall. Refined sugar, although gives energy, has no nutritional value. Pure calories. Focus on nutrient dense foods high in nutrients and fiber. Fiber in fruits slows down the absorption of sugar.
What to cut the calories from? The logic and research agree: cut down on calories received from fat. Fats are more calorie dense with 9kcal/g versus protein and carbohydrates with 4 kcal/g. So logically, it is way easier to reduce calories by cutting down on fat. But do not cut fats too drastically. Very low fat diets can lead to the deficiency in essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins. Unsaturated fatty acids should make up the majority of your fat intake. This means to cut down in processed foods, commercially produced cakes, cookies and pastries, burgers and sausages and concentrate on olive oil, avocados and oily fish.
Up your protein (plant or animal based). Increased protein will offset the muscle loss.
Most importantly, do not ban any food groups. The food should bring satisfaction, excite your taste buds and be visually pleasant. The changes must be slow, sustainable. Remember if you lose weight fast you will gain it back even faster plus your health will suffer.
Well, that is what we can do to reduce the calorie intake. Now let’s looks at what we can do to up our calorie expenditure.
If you looks into articles on the internet there is a lot of controversy on which exercise works best to burn fat: low intensity long workout, short HIIT session, resistance training etc. We can sit on our bums for hours by the computers and read about this. I am offering an easier solution: aim for a variety of 30-minute workouts at least 5 days a week. Make up a plan. Don’t leave it up to your mood. You will end up doing nothing.
For example: Mondays, Wednesday – resistance training. Train each muscle group 2-4 sets of exercises with a weight you can lift only 8-12 times, taking 30 seconds’ rest between sets. Tuesday, Thursday – cardiovascular exercise: 20-40 minutes per session. Cardiovascular exercise will burn calories and offset some of the muscle wastage. High intensity aerobic exercise speeds up your metabolism and keeps it revved up for a while after your workout so you will keep burning calories. You can finish Friday strong with High Intensity Interval Training. It has been proven to be more effective that steady-state training for promoting fat loss. It also increases your metabolism rate for the following 24 hours. Make sure to warm up for 10 minutes, try 3-45 seconds of high intensity interval with 1 minute of recovery time.
Lastly, timing of food intake and exercise.
Skipping breakfast: some studies show that by skipping breakfast you create a calorie deficit that helps with reducing the overall calorie intake during the day. But some studies indicate that not providing nutrients in the morning will make you less energized, hence lowering the calories you spent during the day. I believe, it is quite individual: if you are a construction worker who has to move a lot in the morning I would advise to eat a good breakfast that will provide a long lasting energy. If you are an office worker and will be sitting in the morning you might want to delay your breakfast to take advantage of a prolonged intermittent fasting after the night. Make sure to stop eating 3 hours before you go to bed (and this includes consuming alcohol). Try eating a healthy carbohydrate 2 hours before the workout (apple, raisins, smoothie). We need glycose to move. If we are exercising in a glycogen depleted state we are more likely to feel fatigued and slack during the workout as a result burning less calories. Ensure to consume carbohydrate-protein combination after the workout (yogurt with berries, fish with salad). This will help to restore muscle glycogen and provide protein for lean mass protection.
Saturday and Sunday. No workout? Well, up to you. But keep in mind the more your move, the more calories you spend. So think of something fun: hike with your friends or family, go biking, play basketball with you kids or go shopping for a new dress.
And don’t skip on your sleep. Studies have shown time and time again. People who don’t sleep enough are more likely to overeat. Plus, without proper sleep the body raises blood glucose to almost pre-diabetic state which promotes fat storage.