Let me start out by saying that this is NOT a sexist blog. The basic requirements for weight loss apply to both males and females but there are a few key differences which will be explained shortly. This article is intended for women who don’t know where to start when it comes to fat loss, or for women who have been trying for a while but didn’t get the results they desired.
Weight Loss Vs Fat Loss
No, it is not the same. You hear it all the time: “I want to lose a few”, or “I would like to drop a few pounds”. A few what? A few pounds of what?
Drastic diets and aggressive weight loss techniques definitely work but are dangerous for a few reasons.
- You run a high risk of burning through your muscle mass.
- Rapid weight loss can have adverse effects to your overall health.
- Losing 20lbs in a month is not the best thing for your skin. Stretch marks are every woman’s worst enemy and you do not want to invite that into your lives.
So it is possible to eat almost nothing for a week and manage to lose several pounds but it is not going to all be fat. Most likely it will be muscle. Muscle mass is crucial for women in order to maintain proper strength during their every-day lives and of course it has been shown that muscle mass does support faster metabolisms*.
*Metabolism: Simply put, it’s how much energy your body requires and utilizes to support its main functions (breathing, heartbeat, cell regeneration etc. etc.). Skinny people tend to require less energy to maintain their current weight and therefore cannot afford to eat as much food.
Temporary Vs Permanent Fat Loss
Even if you do succeed with a drastic fat loss plan, starve yourself for a week or two and lose a “few”, this is just temporary. Once you return to your regular bad habits, the fat will return as well and it's going to be easier and worse than last time because once fat cells are created in your body, they never go away. They just shrink, waiting to be filled with fat again at the first chance they get. Don’t despair though. To make fat loss permanent you need to change your lifestyle in general by adopting healthier habits. Small changes are enough to make a difference. We are not talking about never eating pizzas or chocolate here or feeling deprived of food in general. We are not talking about feeling hungry or dizzy. What are we talking about?
The Human Body Is Like A Machine. Or Is It Not?
When you think about it, things are very clear. Let’s assume that your body requires 2000 calories per day to maintain its weight. Fast or slow, this is your metabolism right now. Simple math would lead you to think that if you eat 2000 calories a day, your body will run smoothly and your weight will stay the same. If you eat more than 2000 calories a day (on average), you will slowly start to gain weight. And of course, if you eat less than 2000 calories a day, you will slowly start losing weight. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Your body is far more dynamic than that. Its first goal is always to survive. Its second goal is to survive without making significant changes. So if you eat above your caloric maintenance levels, it does not necessarily mean that you will gain weight. Your body will probably just discard the excess energy without putting on any weight. If you eat below your daily caloric needs, your body will most definitely cut corners and find ways to survive without dropping fat. Remember! The human body does not *want* to lose fat and it does not *want* to add muscle. Muscle mass is high maintenance tissue and fat is highly needed in case of future starvation. That is why if you suddenly starve yourself in a week, your body will decide to burn through muscle mass first, before touching your body fat stores.
Tricking Your Body Into Losing Fat
Your body is smart. Your mind is smarter. Let’s talk about what will work. That would be a combination of a caloric deficit diet and a high intensity exercise plan. The first part just means eating less than your body requires. Let’s return to our previous example. If you require 2000 calories to maintain your weight, eating 1800 calories is your goal. Throw some high intensity training on top of that and watch the fat melt away.
From now on you have 2 options regarding nutrition. You can either start counting calories and preparing your meals based on that OR you can just make some general small changes that will guarantee you are on a caloric deficit. Let’s assume you are currently stable regarding your weight and you are struggling to lose fat. If you just make a few healthy substitutions and you stick with them, you will have made a great start. Water instead of juice, roasted potatoes instead of fried chips, low fat chocolate yogurt instead of ice cream are just a few easy changes you can make off the top of my mind.
Steady Paced Cardio Vs High Intensity Interval Training
It’s very common in women who wish to lose weight, to get a gym subscription and jump on the treadmill, the cycling station or enlist in the group cardio activities. Unfortunately, although you do burn calories doing such activities, it’s not as many calories as you think or as you’d wish. Slow paced walking or even running is not an effective fat loss tool. It’s excellent for general cardiovascular health but it will not help you much with your goal. Also, it is not very time efficient. You have to run for an hour to burn a few hundred calories and let’s be honest…who has that time?
High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT in short) however is the solution. What is HIIT? HIIT has many forms but the simplest one is just sprinting for one minute and then walking for another minute. Repeat 10 times for a total of a 20 minute hell of calorie burning. There are a lot of variations. For example, swim fast for 30 seconds, and relax for the next 30 and repeat.
Your heart rate during steady paced cardio can be high but it is steady. On the other hand, during HIIT your heart rate goes up and down all the time, taking you to the extreme. You will find that just 10 minutes of HIIT is much harder than 30 minutes of jogging. And of course this is the best way to “trick” or “shock” your body into burning fat.
Another form of HIIT can be done using weights in the gym. Pick 5 major compound exercises (deadlifts, squats, pushups, pull-ups and abdominal planks) and perform them one after the other in a circuit (no breaks in between). Take a break of 1-2 minutes and repeat the cycle 4-6 times. That is probably the best way for a woman to burn as much energy as possible while maintaining all of her muscle mass.
Will Lifting Weights Make Me Bulky?
Simply put, no. A woman’s hormonal profile differs noticeably from a man’s, especially when it comes to the sex hormones, testosterone and estrogen. Testosterone is an anabolic hormone found in men and it is mainly responsible for building muscle. Women have very low concentrations of testosterone, therefore it’s virtually impossible to build any noticeable muscle mass.
A woman who lifts weights will have a toned physique, with well-defined muscles and low body fat. A woman who runs marathons will have a skinny physique, consisting of bones and skin. So stop using that excuse, get yourself a gym subscription and start lifting weights.
Lifting programs are not sexist either. Using 5lbs dumbbells and doing 25 reps for an exercise is just wasting your time and money. As I mentioned before, lifting heavy weight and low reps will NOT make you bulky. It will however burn more calories than lifting light weights and it will provide a stimulus for your body to make some changes. Your body has to be persuaded to change; it won’t just do it for no good reason.
Spot Reducing Fat
Genetically speaking, a lot of women hold fat in certain areas, such as their glutes and thighs. Sadly, you cannot perform specific exercises to “burn” the fat from that area. Exercising an area just trains the muscles in that area, it does not burn the fat. If fat is required to be burned, your body will decide where it comes off of. Usually, the first place we put on fat, is the last place it goes away from and vice versa. So just stick to a healthy diet and a suitable weightlifting HIIT-type of program and stop dreaming about doing squats to burn leg fat. It just won’t happen.
As you see, losing fat is very straightforward. It’s the lack of this information and the misinformation and myths you hear on a daily basis that prevent you from losing fat and getting the body YOU desire. I hope you found this article useful, and if you require more details for any of the above, I am more than available to provide them for you.
But before you try any of the above, make sure you are focused on your goal by avoiding distractions and getting your mind right.