There is no doubt about it: trying to budge those last few kilos – you know, those ones that supposedly prevent us from being TRULY happy – can really bring the ‘cray cray’ out in the best of us. Such an interesting idea, though, don’t you think? A little belly bulge or bottom bump can be such a confidence-zapper and lead otherwise sane women to resort to rather insane, desperate measures.
Usually if you are down to your last two to five kilos you probably have a reasonably good grasp of eating clean, nutrient timing, portion control, the benefits of weight training, and the various pros and cons of steady state versus HIIT cardio. Heck, you’ve probably even memorised caloric values and can recite your daily macros, too!
Okay, so now I’m just getting a little cheeky. Seriously, though, often when I am asked for advice about boosting metabolism or finding what I like to refer to as your ‘happy fat’ (that sweet spot between lifestyle and positive body image) my very first question is: Do you have a weight problem OR do you have a perception problem? I know to some that may seem like a redundant question, but it’s important to acknowledge that being lean is not always synonymous with being healthy, and you should NEVER sacrifice the latter for the former with good conscience. Your somatotype – ectomorph, mesomorph or endomorph – will largely dictate the ease with which you can get lean and stay lean. Sure, you can make the best of your genetics, but you can’t change them altogether. As women, we are pretty lucky that our body has a very clear barometer for health – it gives us a monthly thumbs up or down. If you have lost your period then chances are there is a divide. So, focus on being the best, and healthiest, version of you and not emulating another person’s physique or idea of perfection.
Now that we have left our egos at the door, let’s have a look at threerelatively effortless strategies that do not require endless cardio or calorie restriction to help you reach your goals and, more importantly, stay there!
- Reduce systemic inflammation
While it’s well documented that inflammation and lifestyle diseases are caused by excess weight or obesity, there is increasing evidence – particularly in the functional medicine community – that the reverse is also true: reduction in inflammation can lead to weight loss. Scientific evidence suggests that inflammation contributes to a host of factors that increase our propensity to gain or maintain elevated body fat levels. For example, inflammation of the brain causes leptin resistance, inflammation of fat tissue causes insulin resistance, inflammation of the gut causes both leptin and insulin resistance, and higher inflammation increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.(1) Bad news, right?
Author and board-certified holistic nutritionist JJ Virgin suggests eliminating the following seven pro-inflammatory foods from your diet, in no particular order: gluten, soy, eggs, dairy, peanuts, corn and sugar/artificial sweeteners. Of course, I don’t advocate removing every single one forever but chances are removing some or all from your diet will have a positive effect on your weight. Reintroduction can be tricky, but one at a time over several weeks will allow you to be cognisant of the signs and symptoms that these foods may not be right for you.
Chris Kresser, a leader in functional and integrative medicine, has also written extensively about the benefits of an elimination diet to reduce inflammation, re-establish gut health and boost immunity. Remember first and foremost, weight loss should always be the by-product of good health. If you are looking for a personalised and definitive list of foods to avoid, there are many natural health practitioners that are able to conduct a simple bio-compatibility or food sensitivity test but those listed above are a great starting point.
- Macronutrient ratios
I’m talking about the whole-food kind here. While we all know that we need protein for growth and repair (and should remain a relative dietary constant), there is a tonne of controversy around the timing and necessity of fats and carbohydrates. Keep in mind that your body isn’t a bank account, it’s a chemistry lab, and while energy intake should reflect your activity levels, long-term weight loss isn’t as simple as calorie (or macro) mathematics. So look at how your body responds to these macronutrients and eat accordingly – this will be unique to you.
Often I find clients to be quite dogmatic about their macros for no reason other than personal preference or bias. If you want change then you need to be willing to embrace change. The easiest way I know to determine your carbohydrate tolerance is to conduct your own N=1 experiment and rate how you feel.World-renowned nutrition guru and trainer Charles Poliquin recommends serving up a high-fat breakfast of meat and nuts one morning followed by a high-carbohydrate breakfast such as pancakes and maple syrup – or for a cleaner brekkie (and my preferred option) oats and fruit – the next. An hour later, use a rating scale of 1 (where is my pillow and blanket?) to 10 (I could climb Mt Everest!) to determine your body’s preferred fuel source. Of course, some days you may naturally feel more energetic than others and it is a good idea to re-check and be honest with your findings. This simple experiment (which is FREE) correlates very well with challenged insulin lab tests and is a great diagnostic tool.
As a side note, if you find that you aren’t able to sleep well by reducing your overall starchy carbohydrates, try ‘back-loading’ by eating them later at night. This way you get the benefits of being low-carb throughout the day but will still reap the rewards of serotonin-induced slumber from ingesting carbohydrates before bed. Contrary to popular belief, timing your nutrients this way will NOT make you fat. For more information on this approach, check out the research and principles of John Kiefer, author of Carb-Backloading and Carb-Nite.
I really dislike all of the hype around gimmicky supplements that promise big but deliver little. So my recommendation here is to always get your nutritional ducks in a row first and then look to add a few tried-and-tested supplements to your regime – there are no magic bullets.
Here are some of my faves, in no particular order:
- Alpha lipoic acid (the purest and more biologically active form) is both fat- and water-soluble, helps insulin work more effectively in the body, is proven to significantly reduce inflammation and is a potent antioxidant.
- If deficient, L-Carnitine is known to increase the mitochondria’s ability to burn fat and improves insulin sensitivity.
- Last but not least, green tea extract has been shown to benefit almost every organ system in the body. Of particular interest, it is revered for its anti-obesity and liver-protective properties – you want to ensure that you ‘love up’ your liver as it plays a central role in metabolism.
So there you have it! Finding your ‘happy fat’ shouldn’t require you to take crazy to a whole new level. With a few minor changes, it is possible to love your body and live a balanced lifestyle.
Belinda Potter is one of Australia’s leading athletes in the fitness industry, particularly in the area of figure competitions. She began training in her mid-teens but it wasn’t until her early 20s that her training commitment and consistency increased, eventually leading her to the figure competition stage where she won and placed in many competitions, including ANB, NABBA and IFBB championships.
Belinda loves the challenge of competing and is constantly amazed by what people are capable of achieving when they are truly driven to accomplish a goal. Today she works as a personalised online coach who specialises in women’s figure, fitness and bikini competition.
- Kresser, C, ‘How Inflammation Makes You Fat and diabetic (and Vice Versa)’, Chris Kresser2010, < http://chriskresser.com/how-inflammation-makes-you-fat-and-diabetic-and-vice-versa>