If, like me, you want to shift the pounds to get bikini-ready, you're going to need to work at it. It's a slightly tougher job than just toning up, but that doesn't mean it's even remotely impossible, and doesn't require an hour of cardio twice a day, every day, and certainly not starving yourself. It's actually quite easy when it comes down to it - the hard part is getting your brain on your side. You just have to remind yourself that it is mind over matter.
The best and most proven way to shed fat is to do a mixture of both resistance training and cardio, in the same session. By starting your workout (after a dynamic warm up, of course) with 20 minutes of resistance training, you can use up the energy in your muscles without wearing yourself out, and then move on to cardio and still give it your all.
Why? Well, your body won't start burning fat until the glycogen (blood sugar; energy) in your body is used up, and this takes about 20 minutes, so jumping right in with cardio can be kind of useless. Starting with cardio will use the energy, certainly, but it will also exhaust you, meaning you'll be unable to continue as effectively after those initial 20 minutes. By starting with resistance, however, you can use up the energy in your muscles without getting out of breath or your heartrate going through the roof. You'll be tired, yes, but it's a different kind of tired, and one that will pass very quickly. It also means that, by the time you've finished your resistance session, you'll be starting cardio with your body already in fat-burning mode, meaning you'll be able to put in great effort, as if you've only just started your workout, but really reap the benefits.
Not only that, but building lean muscle - and remember, resistance training won't make you bulky - also means that your body uses energy and burns calories more efficiently, and also increases your metabolism to meet the increased demand. You continue burning calories after your workout as your body repairs from the resistance training, and because denser muscles require a little more energy to complete every action, be it in your workout or just sweeping the floor, which means you'll be using more calories even hours after your workout, and on a rest day.
And, finally, curves don't come from fat, it comes from muscle. Fatty curves are more like bulges and you can't control where they go, whereas muscle results in rounded bums, narrow waists, coconut shoulders and fabulous thighs which you can certainly target and work on.
Kettlebell and kickboxing workouts are great fat-burners, and you don't need to go to any classes. There are countless DVDs available, and I've reviewed a few right here, which you can find in my Fitness Archive under 'DVD Reviews'. But Youtube is also full of free workouts, and there are countless websites out there - I love FitnessMagazine.com, and I've used a number of their workouts with great results. So if you'd rather not spend a penny to get in shape - because you really don't have to - these kinds of websites are a great resource.
Eating also matters, especially right after your workout. If you're combining resistance and cardio, you'll definitely want both carbs and protein. The best source is a chicken sandwich with wholemeal bread, but that's not always practical, so you can turn to protein shakes. I do when I've got nothing in the cupboards or the fridge, and there's nothing at all wrong with them. They typically contain whey protein, which comes from milk, and animal products like dairy are the second best source of protein - the first is animals themselves, such as meat and eggs. Protein shakes are available in all kinds of flavours and are typically about 100-150 kcals each with around 20g of protein and no sugar. I usually accompany my protein shakes with a piece of fruit which provides fibre and carbs.
The Rest of the Day
Outside of your workout, you don't need to starve yourself. There's a very good phrase popping up lately, and it's 'don't eat less, eat better'. Counting calories made a huge difference for me - it might not be fun, but it helped me get my eating under control and I saw the biggest results when I made that change. And you might also see mention of keeping a food journal. That doesn't mean writing what you ate, where you had it, who you were with and whether it was nice or not, it's just keeping a note of everything you eat when you eat it, because it's a great way of finding out where you're slipping up, such as when you start picking at things. I used to sneak a single biscuit at random on an afternoon when I wasn't even hungry - often, in fact, after I had just eaten - and perhaps a single chocolate on an evening, but the thing is that both of those in a single day have contributed on average 150 calories that I've not counted into my day, and were both also a source of refined sugar.
No, don't deny yourself a treat, restrictive diets are proven not to work, but doing it on a daily basis and then turning a blind eye to it is the source of much damage, especially for me. Keeping note of what I eat made me realise when I did it because I was ashamed each time I wrote it down, and that really stopped me from doing it.
Try for 1,500 calories a day. This is typically all you need, and if you're overweight, this change alone will really help to shed fat. You don't need to go hungry, either. 'Snack' isn't a dirty word. Instead, try to eat 5 or 6 times a day, at evenly spaced intervals, with no more than 400 calories in one sitting. This will enable your body to use the fuel you give it, rather than use some of it and store the rest because you gave it too much. And you may feel hungry initially, but it's highly likely to be in your head due to:
- habit (eating less frequently than you're used to)
- thinking about food, perhaps clock-watching for your next feeding time (I'm very guilty of this)
- having unhealthy food in view, such as a chocolate bar on an open shelf
If you feel hungry between allocated times, have a glass of water instead. It might sound silly, but your body displays the need for food and the need for water in the same way. "What if I am hungry?" You might say. Well, have the glass of water and wait 25 minutes. If you're still feeling bad, you may well be hungry, but if it was just thirst then by that point you'll have forgotten all about it. I didn't believe this would work when I first read it, but I tried it and it did! It's easy to drink 2 litres of water a day this way, and it stops me from eating when I don't need to. Drink plain water, fruit-infused water and green, fruit or herbal tea, rather than soda, juice or squash, as these are just sugar - even straight up fruit juice is missing all the fibre of the fruit itself, so don't drink more than one of these a day.
What To Eat
Try to ensure you get frequent doses of protein - meat, eggs, fish, but also nuts like almonds, or by adding plant-based protein like moringa into recipes. Protein takes longer to digest and really helps to keep you full and stave off hunger pangs. Vegetables are high in fibre, so get lots of those, too, because that also keeps you full. But don't skimp on carbs; you need 130g of carbs a day just for your brain to work, so if you're working out or have a job that keeps you on your feet, you especially can't skimp. I learned that the hard way; I reduced my carbs to about 100g a day and did 40 minutes of cardio a day. I couldn't think after that, my mind wandered, I got no work done, and, worst of all, I lost no weight because my body clung on to everything to try to meet present and future demands on rations.
Replacing the Bad Stuff
First of all, if you don't have it, you can't eat it. This goes both ways: if you don't buy unhealthy snacks, you can't eat them, so find willpower for the hour a week you do the weekly shop not to pick much of it up, and then you won't have to worry about finding the will power through the rest of the week not to eat it.
But it also means that if you don't have healthy snacks, you can't reach for those, either. So instead of picking up nothing to nibble on when hunger comes knocking, pick up something healthy, like a bag of mixed fruit or nuts, a box of Nakd bars, etc. Just remember: just because it's healthy, doesn't mean you can stuff your face with it.
If you eat sugar often, or fried foods, or anything you know is bad for you, try replacing a few each day with something else. Find healthy snacks you'll enjoy - these days, it doesn't have to be an apple - and you'll find you won't miss the other stuff as much. I love BEAR fruit yoyos, Nakd fruit bars, Trek flapjacks, Oloves, Bounce nut and seed balls; they truly are delicious, and as they're often made with a combination of fruits, nuts and seeds, they're all available in a variety of flavours. Even rhubarb and custard. And, no, while many fruit bars are made with dates, you don't taste them at all. Trust me, I hate dates, but I love Nakd bars.
The more often you eat sugar, the more you crave it. You don't end cravings by giving in to them, you only feed them and make them stronger. I've found that it takes me, personally, 3 days to get off of sugar. It's hard, but after 3 days of minimal to no refined sugar, suddenly I don't think about it any more. Just remember that you can get 'sweet' in other ways. Fruit is very sweet, for example, and every time I have a strawberry yoyo I find myself thinking "why do I never think of this when I crave sugar?" Probably because it's not sugar I craved, but something 'bad'.
You don't have to break the bank to lose weight, not at all. Healthy snacks don't have to be expensive, and if you make them yourself which can be a lot of fun, it's even cheaper - not to mention that you can cater to taste preferences and allergies.
It's also not tough to make food from scratch, so if you buy pre-made or ready meals, try replacing a few with something you made yourself. This doesn't have to take long if you make them in advance, either; make your own marinades and keep crushed nuts and herbs and spices in your cupboard, and in the morning you can throw some raw chicken into a bowl of marinage and refridgerate it through the day, and then put it in the oven in the evening.
You can find so many free workouts online - just browse pinterest and you'll find countless. I've got a pretty big fitness board myself, with workouts I want to try, workouts I have tried, and pins I've collected specifically for the benefit of others, including beginners.
I hope some of this helps!