One of the top reasons people schedule evaluations with me is because they’re having a hard time losing body fat. It’s a classic problem of aging: For men and women fat typically gathers around the midsection. Not only is it unsightly, but it increases risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer.
And the extra fat isn’t there for lack of trying to burn it off! Patients come in baffled, telling me they’re meeting with a trainer four or more days a week, doing everything “right,” or working harder than they’ve ever worked before to lose it. What they’re often forgetting is that as we get older we have a harder time keeping body fat off and lean muscle mass on. Different periods in our lives require different approaches to our health.
To help, below are four fat loss strategies. The first two will be familiar (but the details may be different than the ones you’re used to). The second two are commonly overlooked.
Diet & Exercise: The Two Obvious Solutions (That Are Usually Done Wrong)
No surprises here: Diet and exercise are major factors in how much fat you’re putting on or taking off.
When it comes to diet, it gets down to controlling your insulin levels.
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas, and its job is to get sugar inside our cells to burn for energy. When we have higher insulin levels – brought on by the typical Western high-carbohydrate, high-sugar diet – we render our bodies metabolically incapable of burning fat. This is because fat is our “reserve tank” and we leave it until last to burn, after we’ve used up all the energy we can make from carbs/sugar. High insulin indicates that our bodies are storing fat. Controlling insulin levels may look different for different people, but there’s a general rule: keep to a low-refined-carbohydrate diet. That means staying away from the obvious culprits of breads, pastas, and sweets. But it also means cutting down on (or cutting out) fruit juices, many sauces, and more. Most of my patients find themselves getting the best fat-loss results when they get their daily carb intakes down to 50-60 grams per day.
Exercise is another obvious solution that’s often done wrong. The problem is that most people simply think more is better. They’ll get on the treadmill and say, “Instead of doing 30 minutes I’ll do 45!” Or they’ll come up with a strategy of, “Instead of doing 4 days at the gym, I’ll do 7!” But none of that matters when it comes to burning fat if you’re not doing the right kind of exercise: anaerobic exercise. One method of anaerobic exercise is weight lifting, preferably with compound movements (movements that recruit many muscles as opposed to movements that isolate just one). The second way is through cardiovascular exercise when it brings your heart rate above your anaerobic threshold, a specific heart rate for each person at which your body begins to burn fat up to nine times faster than regular exercise.
For more information on compound movements, anaerobic exercise, and that higher fat-burning rate, click here for our blog on the subject.
Sure, sure, you might be saying, everyone knows you’re supposed to eat well and exercise to burn fat. So what else?
Sleep & Hormone Optimization: Two Overlooked Solutions
When it comes to burning fat, you might be happy to find out doing nothing but resting is one of the best strategies. In other words, get a good night’s sleep.
Sleep is the most overlooked and undervalued activity in our lives. In fact, too many of us consider sleep an interruption to life instead of an essential part of it. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2010 that looked the effect of sleep on fat loss. They found that when dieters slept an average of 7½ hours/night, 50% of their weight loss was fat. When they slept only 5¼ hours per night, only 25% of their weight loss was fat (both groups lost the same amount of weight). So sleep seems to preferentially affect fat loss!
Sleep also helps control a key hormone – cortisol. Lack of sleep increases release of the stress hormone cortisol, which causes an increase in blood sugar and insulin and leads to fat storage.
That’s why my number one recommendation to all of my patients to lose weight, specifically body fat, is to sleep more.
Finally, hormone optimization.
The key hormones that burn body fat are testosterone, HGH, estrogen, DHEA, and thyroid and the key hormones that store fat are insulin and cortisol. As we age, these key fat-burning hormone levels fall and the key fat-storing hormones tend to rise. Consequentially, not only do we gain fat but we have a harder time burning the fat we gain.
These key hormones need to be kept at healthy levels through diet, exercise, lifestyle management and finally – and most importantly – through hormone replacement. Because most doctors, trainers, nutritionists, and how-to books don’t have adequate knowledge or information about hormones, they tend to leave this absolutely essential factor out of the fat loss picture.
See a physician who specializes in Age Management & Hormone Optimization for an evaluation. Chances are, if you in your 30s or older, you’re experiencing some degree of hormonal decline.