SHIFTING body fat is the key to being healthier and leaner.
Body fat – particularly belly fat – is what we want to reduce in order to reduce our risk of obesity and all the health complications that come with it.
The difficult thing is shedding body fat without losing any muscle.
The more lean muscle you’ve got, the lower your body fat percentage – so it’s crucial that you don’t starve or overwork your body.
But getting that balance right doesn’t have to be a massive chore. Nutritionist May Simpkin tells Healthista that there are a number of super easy things you can do to lose body fat and keep it off.
1. Eat more spicy food
Good news, curry lovers, spicy foods have been found to increase our metabolism and stimulate the body’s ability to burn fat.
“It is important to remember that this effect will only be achieved as part of a balanced diet,” May says.
“Other fat-burning foods to make sure you add to your diet include green tea – six cups a day have been shown to help increase metabolism but make sure its strong and has been steeped for at least ten minutes – as well as beetroot powder and black pepper.
Registered dietician Helen Bond previously told The Sun that the hotter chillies are, the more capsaicin they contain. So you could interpret that as the hotter your curry, the more fat-burning potential.
“In a review of twenty studies, when capsaicin (the stuff that gives chillis their heat) was included in the diet, an extra 50 calories were burned each day – which over time may help to induce weight loss and prevent weight gain as part of a calorie controlled diet,” she told us.
“Other small studies show other spices such as mustard and ginger, may help burn calories or improve satiety (feelings of fullness) so we eat less.
“All good news for adding spices to our foods, ditching the salt pot and encouraging all-around healthier eating habits.”
2. Ditch the booze and fizzy drinks
May explains: “Unlike many foods, alcohol provides empty calories – in other words, no nutrients.
“Furthermore, alcohol is high in calories and sugar (especially when combined with mixers), providing an immediate fuel for the body to use, rather than fat, but which can quickly turn into excess fat when it’s not burned off.
“The ‘liquid calories’ alcohol contains is a sure way to sabotage your efforts to lose fat.”
And it’s not just alcohol that contains those empty kcals either.
Fizzy drinks, sugary coffee, fruit juices and even smoothies – any drinks that are high in sugars and calories can send our blood sugar levels on a rollercoaster ride.
“As a result, you will crave even more sugar,” says May.
“The excess sugar consumed will eventually be converted to fat, which is counter-productive when you are trying to lose body fat.
Try sparkling mineral water with a squeeze of lime or fresh strawberries and instead of a mega-latte-mocha-tastic coffee, try an Americano with a splash of milk.”
3. Sleep more
Sleep is so important because it’s only when you’re totally at rest that your body can repair.
That’s when your muscles grow and recover – crucial for changing your body composition and bringing down that body fat percentage.
A 2010 study by the University of Chicago found that when those on a diet got a full night’s sleep, more than half the weight they lost was fat.
When they cut back on sleep, not only did this reduce the amount of fat loss to only one quarter, but they also reported feeling hungrier.
Without adequate rest, your satiation and hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin, will be out of kilter. This can encourage cravings, in particular for sweet foods.
Last year, scientists found that people who get between seven and nine hours most night also have fewer hunger pangs.
4. Do less intense exercise
Working out like crazy can actually stop you from burning fat because cortisol tends to store abdominal fat as a response to stress.
Too much HIIT and we start producing a load of cortisol – the stress hormone.
Back in the day, constantly running around might have been indicative of you running away from a man-eating mammoth or hunting for days on end in the midst of a famine.
We might be super sophisticated today, but our bodies still haven’t caught up.
If you’re smashing spin, step, cardio, weight classes every day, your body still thinks that you’re in danger.
The result is that the body clings to fat (because it’s not sure if it’s about to experience a period without food) and also muscle.
May says: “Low-intensity activities such as walking, cycling and running at a steady pace and done for at least 30 minutes at a time, can encourage your body into its fat-burning zone, so it can access the fat stores for a more efficient fuel source.
“Shorter high-intensity bursts will instead use glycogen stores in muscle instead of fat stores – but this will increase your fitness so make sure you incorporate a little into your exercise line up.”
5. Have dinner earlier
Studies have shown that eating dinner by mid-afternoon alters your body’s fat and carbohydrate burning patterns, which could help you lose fat.
That’s pretty impractical for most people with a social life or family, but there are various types of intermittent fasting that may work for you.
There’s the popular 5:2 (fast for two days on 500 calories, eat healthily but normally for five) or 16:8 (finish eating by 8pm and start eating again at midday the next day leaving 16 hours between last night’s dinner and the next day’s breakfast) diets.
“This fasting approach works on the notion of restricting your energy intake to certain times. By doing so, it could be, as research suggests, an effective way to lose body fat,” says May.
It’s all about getting the body to use it’s own stores of body fat as fuel – and it needs to burn through whatever food you’ve fed it first to be able to do that.
The key is making sure that what you do eat is healthy, nourishing and balanced. It’s not just about timing, it’s about what you eat as much as when.
6. Eat more protein
Ever eaten breakfast and felt hungry an hour later? Well, that was probably because it was a morning carb-fest.
Eating a tonne of carbohydrates raises our blood sugar and sends it crashign back down again soon after. Add protein and good fats into the mix, however, and you’ve got the recipe for long-term satiety.
“A very high carb breakfast with little fibre and protein to slow the digestive process can lead to short-term energy as well as hunger, often within a couple of hours,” Nutritional consultant Ian Marber previously told The Sun.
“As protein, fibre and fat all take far longer to break down in the digestive system, having a breakfast that includes these elements can lead to longer lasting energy.”