In previous article I wrote about how to eat and calculate your calories to eliminate belly fat which you can read here.
Here I want to provide the other half of solution on how to exercise to take you from skinny fat to fit.
Start Lifting Weights
Lifting weights is optional but optimal for the best results and here’s why.
When you’re trying to lose belly fat you have two options to help your body burn off the excess calories – eat fewer calories (be in a caloric deficit) OR burn more calories.
How many calories your body burns is based on your weight, height, activities, and lean body mass. The more lean muscle mass you have the higher your resting burn rate. This is different from the calories you burn from cardio which I will be explaining in the next section.
How would you like to burn more calories automatically all day long even while sitting and sleeping? You can achieve this by maintaining and building more muscle through strength training. Any regular strength training where it’s challenging has the potential to help you build muscle which increases your daily calorie burn.
Ideally if you’re not lifting weights at all start with 2X a week lifting for about 45 minutes a day.
Strength training is definitely optional and you can lose your belly with only cutting calories.
When it comes to reducing your calories you will eventually hit a wall where you cannot cut any more calories because you need energy, you’re hungry, and you need to function everyday but you’ve stopped seeing results. This is where instead of eating less you need to burn more and having more muscles helps to increase your daily calorie burn.
Get Your Heartrate Up
If you could lose your belly faster by adding one more thing to your exercise routine would you spend an additional 20-30 minutes 2X on it?
Yes, it’s doing your cardio. Cardio helps you burn extra calories and expedite fat loss.
Here’s the trick to maximizing your calorie burn and still being efficient with your time – do the most inefficient cardio you can find. That means whatever cardio you probably hate the most because it’s hard and that will burn the most calories.
When a new exercise is difficult it always takes extra energy to complete it.
Once it becomes easy you no longer burn as much. This is why when you’re doing cardio for more than 60 minutes at a time you’re not burning as much calories as when you first started doing 15 minutes and it was harder.
You want to maximize your calorie burn while being time efficient.
How you achieve this is to make sure you’re hitting a level 7 or 8. This means that on a scale from 1 to 10 with 1 being you’re sitting on the couch and 10 being you’re giving your 110% you want to do your cardio on a level 7 or 8.
This means you cannot have a conversation while doing cardio and you cannot complete a full sentence before running out of breath. If you can have a conversation while doing cardio you need to crank up the intensity.
Below are multiple ways you can achieve maximum calorie burn while being time efficient,
- Dial up the intensity of your cardio. Currently at level 6 running on the treadmill? Bump it to level 8 or make a steeper incline.
- Switch to a different type of cardio. Treadmill running is easy? Get yourself on the rower or the Stairmaster and put in the same amount of time.
- Swap from steady state to HIIT training. The length of time you can doing HIIT training will be much shorter compared to steady state because of the intensity level but you have many more options with interval training and the types of equipment you use with it.
- Quit the cardio machine and do bodyweight training. Using bodyweight exercises as your cardio option can be pretty intense because you’re doing a variety of different movements. Below is a sample bodyweight circuit you can follow,
Monitor Your Stress Levels
The #1 sign of having excess cortisol in your system is belly fat.
Stress induced belly fat is real. Multiple studies here and here have shown that when you don’t have the right coping mechanisms to deal with daily stress it can lead to excess abdominal fat. Women who have belly fat are more vulnerable to the effects of stress compared with women who have fat that is evenly distributed.
How you perceive and deal with stress determines if your brain releases ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ hormones to deal with the situation. When you have long stretches of daily stress or feel that the situations you’re dealing with day to day is hopeless and out of your control your brain releases epinephrine, the ‘flight’ hormone. This stress response pathway or releasing epinephrine leads to enhanced fat creation in the deep abdominal region.
This is how having high levels of stress hormone cortisol in your blood stream can directly impact belly fat storage.
Below are the top ways to help you reduce your stress level,
- Change your perception. Not feeling like you have control of your life can easily be the #1 reason you feel stressed. Instead of focusing on how your day to day is out of control and that you have no control over your schedule think about what you can control and take action. No matter how small the action or how small the impact it will have on your day taking action gives you back that feeling of control.
- Get 7 to 8 hours sleep. Enough sleep resets your adrenal glands that produce cortisol. When your adrenal glands are chronically overproducing cortisol because you’re always stressed getting enough sleep helps it to do a complete reset. This reset helps it to produce the right amount of cortisol necessary for your body. If you’re having a hard time getting enough sleep every night then find out how you can sleep better so you lose more bodyfat. Sleep helps you better cope with stress, helps with focus so you can get more done more and be more productive with your time.
- Start pampering yourself. We are often the last person to get any kind of self-care because we’re busy taking care of others. When was the last time you spent some time on yourself doing an activity you loved? Re-connect and devote some time to doing what you enjoy that helps you to relax.
- Write down your thoughts. I find that stress happens most often when we’re no longer in the present moment. We’re thinking about the past or thinking of the million other things we need to be doing besides what we’re doing now. This makes us feel of overwhelmed, feel like we’re falling behind, like we’re not enough or doing enough which creates mental stress.
How To Troubleshoot If You’ve Stopped Seeing Results
Sooner or later you will hit a point where you’ll stop losing belly fat and you’ll stop seeing changes as well. Most women at this point start to panic, increase their cardio, cut out more foods, and stress. This makes it worse and it’s unnecessary.
Instead let’s take a calm and measured approach and use data to tell you what the next steps are.
Pull up your calorie tracker like My Fitness Pal and your weekly calendar.
First, have you been consistent with your caloric deficit? Have you been eating at your caloric deficit every week and you’ve been diligent about tracking everything?
If not, then you need to get better at tracking and being more accurate at it. Don’t worry about exercising more often before you improve on tracking your food.
Next, if you have been consistent with tracking your food and your measurements are not changing wait one week and take measurements again before changing anything. For my clients I always wait one week because it can be around the time of the month, maybe they just got back from a work trip and they’re bloated, or they’re holding on to excess water. For any of those reasons your measurements could be inaccurate.
When you’ve waited a week and still your measurements are the same. At this point you have 2 options,
- Reduce your calories further.
- Increase your caloric burn.
Reducing your calories is a good choice when you’ve decided to only take a small deficit like 10% to 15% at the beginning. This gives you more room to eat fewer calories down the line. In this case you can take an additional reduction to start burning fat again but I caution against reducing more than 150 calories at a time.
Everytime you make a reduction you will be hungry. Give your body at least 2 weeks to adjust to the hunger before you feel like you cannot live off of that calorie reduction and bump up your calories again. This why a small reduction works better than a large reduction. You want to always feel like you’re making progress and adding calories back into your diet will feel like you’re taking a step back.
If you’re coming against 1200 calories then I highly suggest you increase your calorie burn instead of reducing more calories. Below are a couple of ways you can easily increase your calorie burn,
- Lengthen your cardio workouts by 10 minutes or increase the cardio intensity you’re doing.
- Switch to a different form of cardio while keeping the amount of time the same.
- Add another strength training day to your schedule.
- Find a way to increase your NEAT activity everyday like going for walks, using a standing desk, taking the stairs instead of the elevator. If you simply cannot devote any more time to the gym this tip will help burn some extra calories daily.