“I just want to lose belly fat.” I received this request on our website for the 30,000th time the other day.
Over the years the fitness industry has tried to do so many things to lose belly fat – blast it, torch it, pound it, crush it, slay it, eliminate, and reduce it. Belly fat has been on the cover of thousands of fitness magazines. It has been a point of frustration for millions of gym-goers for decades. It’s the reason that people do extra crunches, sit-ups, and “cardio” at the end of their workouts. Some of our most popular podcasts are on our fixation with abs and what it actually takes to lose belly fat. Hopefully, we can finally put this to rest. Spoiler alert: nothing sexy, magic, or supplement-based lies ahead.
1. Know WHAT you’re losing
2017 was the year that we adamantly asked that you ditch your scale. Time and time again we found that people were losing weight but NOT losing fat (what you want to lose). We also found that people were gaining weight but losing considerable amounts of fat (read: increasing metabolism). If you find yourself losing more than one to two pounds per week, there’s a high likelihood that you’re losing lean tissue and water. In that case, you’re likely causing an adverse reaction to your metabolism. Translation: you’re going to gain all that weight back PLUS some. Seriously… knock it off with the weighing yourself. Find your closest gym, doctor’s office, or nutritionist with reliable body composition testing and begin testing every 8 weeks or so (if you’re doing something to change your body composition).
2. Increase your metabolism (or, grab something heavy)
“How to increase my metabolism” is on par with “how to lose belly fat” in the misunderstood physiology department. There’s the perception that people are born with a “fast” or a “slow” metabolism when, in fact, this is a measurable data point that you can control quite a bit. The genetic – or “born with” – factor of metabolism is how one carries their body fat. Where you carry fat or muscle is very much a genetic burden. Some people can actually have dangerously high body fat along with a 6-pack. Consider them lucky now because these folks often have the most difficult times maintaining good habits later in life.
But on to your metabolism. When we refer to “metabolism” we’re referring to your Basal Metabolic Rate, or BRM. Put simply, it’s how many calories you’ll burn while binge-watching Stranger Things. Basically, there are active and passive tissues in your body. Active tissues require oxygen to stay alive while passive tissues don’t. I like to think of this like a car – the gasoline is what you eat and it is mixed with air to combust in your engine. Your BMR is the size of your engine. A larger engine will consume more fuel – i.e. belly fat – throughout the day. We want a larger engine, or more of the tissue that requires oxygen so that it uses passive tissues as fuel. The only active tissue that we can control (you can’t grow and extra set of eyeballs just yet) is your muscle mass. More muscle = higher metabolism. If you want to lose belly fat, your workout MUST include large, compound movements that increase lean tissue – back squat, deadlift, press, cleans, and dumb bells are all great options.
3. You’ll need to eat fewer calories
So sorry to have to be the bearer of bad news, here. No super-food or the 7 Foods Guaranteed to Lose Belly Fat will actually do anything magical for you. You’ll simply need to eat less calories than your body is burning (see #2) over a long period of time. I’m going to rewind so it sinks in: OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME. Want to lose 20 pounds of fat? You can probably achieve this over the course of a very diligent 6 months. 40 pounds? Probably a year.
Sure, you can go down to 800 calories a day and sustain this for a month. After that month, your metabolism has TANKED thanks to you starving all of the active tissues (again, see #2) that actually burn fat. Thankfully for most of us, eating fewer calories does NOT mean eating less. I’ve yet to work with a client that wasn’t still consuming calorie-dense treats. I’ve whittled down how to eat fewer calories, while eating more food into two small changes:
- Eat two to three handfuls of veggies at each meal
- Eat a palm-sized piece of lean protein at each meal
Boom. Seriously, you’re not doing either one of these and THEY’RE THE FIRST THINGS YOU NEED TO DO IF YOU WANT TO LOSE BELLY FAT. Knock it off with the breakfast bars and do not buy another smoothie or drink product. They’re all BS. Eat lean meats and veggies at each meal – you’ll be full and you’ll increase your metabolism.
4. Have someone in your corner
Of the very small minority of Americans who work out on a regular basis, there is one thing in common: they have a training partner or a coach. You we may look at the guys in the weight room with ear buds in or the jogger we see every morning on our commute to work and think: “I’m gonna do that one day.” No, you’re not. It took them years to develop that habit. Chances are, that habit began when they were in youth sports at eight years old. No matter how much believe that 2018 is your year, it just isn’t. You’re going to need some external motivation when you inevitably lose your’s.
Find a coach, a training partner, or a trainer. Find a real human being that will rely on you to show up and put in the work that is necessary both in and out of the gym. Maybe you’ve been working out solo for years and not seeing the results you want. I’m going to bet that you gravitate toward the comfortable things in the gym – find someone that’ll keep you accountable to do difficult work. Or, maybe things aren’t all that great in the kitchen. Find an accountability partner at work and share some recipes.
I’m sorry if you clicked this expecting to finally have the 4-step secret. Here’s the secret: there is none. You’ll need to lift weights, you’ll need to eat veggies, you’ll need to wake up a little earlier, and you’ll have success if you have someone helping you out. Trust me on this: it’s much easier to sell a pill or shake to someone each month than it is to come alongside them to help with training, eating better, and all the emotional baggage that comes along with that. There’s a reason the industry sells you “7 Steps…” and “Superfoods”. It’s because that is much easier than actually helping you. Let that be your guide.