Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic condition that affects more than 10,600 people in the UK. This week is CF week, with a focus on the ‘We Won’t Stop’ campaign, now in its 7th year, with a simple aim to remove the taboo of this condition and encourage stories of all those fabulous people who have the daily struggle of living with CF. On Friday 18th June there is a Wear Yellow Day to show your support, of which all of us at InBody UK will be doing!
Some of you may know that this condition is close to our hearts at InBody UK, as Francesca Cooper, our UK Co-Director’s young son, suffers from it.
It has been a life changing experience and with the permission of Fran, we wanted to share her story.
In October 2020 I received the news that I was dreading that Barrett, my precious son, has Cystic Fibrosis. It was something I had expected based on my knowledge and research, but to get the confirmation was naturally a shock. The worry and fear that went through me was something I struggled to explain. As a parent you do everything you can to protect your children, and this was just a very scary concept!
My emotions were all over the place; anger, sadness, guilt and most of all feeling a complete lack of control – I have never cried so much and got angry, cried again, got angry over and over in a single day!
The first week and months I was just trying to survive and learn, just to make sure I could do everything possible. I read so much about CF and even now some days I feel like I have been hit by a wall of emotion. But, I have to pick myself up, look forward and be there every step of the way to make decisions and be a rock and support for my young son to give him every opportunity and the best outcome for him to live a full life.
Being a working mum and having the additional challenges and responsibilities that having a CF child presents, can be physically and emotionally hard. My job means I am sometimes away when he starts to get sick and many a time I work from the side of a hospital bed! Balancing life is tricky… Barrett’s health is restricting to our family and a lot of our lives have to work around his health but we do not let it govern them. I’ve learnt to be honest about it now and people and customers do understand, this I will always be grateful for.
I will try to work as long as I can, but ultimately I know that one day I will have to leave my career to care for my son full time. However, right now I have a platform to educate and share my journey through my job and it’s an important message that I believe in.
Keeping Barrett healthy and strong is so important. The seasons massively affect how he feels and how well he is. Over the summer he has a chance to build up the muscle mass and weight that he then loses during his poorly winter phase. Exercise is essential for keeping his lungs healthy too, giving them the best chance of fighting infection or even avoiding it. I know a strong body is usually a healthy body and so monitoring weight is not enough. I use InBody to monitor his muscle mass to see the changes to exercise and food and to give him the best chance later on in the disease by keeping his body as strong and healthy as it can be. It’s a tough diagnosis to handle and the future terrifies me as his mother.
Life always throws us curve balls and this was a huge one to deal with. We are fortunate to have a great team around Barrett and I, and we keep growing and learning together.
CF is a disease that will not leave our home, it’s like an unwanted guest that we will live with forever. We take each day and are grateful for the good times. We won’t stop!
When it comes to your health, most of the focus is on body fat and muscle mass, which is important. But not to be overlooked is your body water. Water is a major part of your body: they make up 79% of your muscles , 73% of your brain, and even 31% of your bones. Overall your body weight can be 45-65% water.
Your body water percentage is influenced by your age, gender, and fitness level. Even though you are made up of mostly of water, how much do you really know about the effect this major element has on your body?
Body Water, Defined
Like discussed above, your body water can be found inside not only in your blood, but in your muscle tissue, your body fat, your organs, and inside every cell in your body. To account for all this, your total body water (TBW) can be divided into two basic groups.
Extracellular Water (ECW)
Extracellular water is the water located outside your cells. The water in your blood falls into this category. Roughly 1/3 of your fluid is attributed to ECW, and this water is found in your interstitial fluid, transcellular fluid, and blood plasma.
Extracellular water is important because it helps control the movement of electrolytes, allows oxygen delivery to the cells, and clears waste from metabolic processes.
Intracellular Water (ICW)
Intracellular water is the water located inside your cells. It comprises 70% of the cytosol, which is a mix of water and other dissolved elements. In healthy people, it makes up the other 2/3 of the water inside your body.
The intracellular water is the location of important cellular processes, and although it has many functions, a very important one is that it allows molecules to be transported to the different organelles inside the cell. Essentially, the Intracellular water picks up where the Extracellular water left off by continuing the pathway for fuel to be transported to the cells.
Balance is the Key
When it comes to your body water and you, the most important thing to strive for is balance. Your Intracellular fluid:Extracellular fluid must remain at the same levels with respect to each other.
A healthy fluid distribution has been estimated at a 3:2 ratio of ICW:ECW. If your body water falls out of balance, this can signal changes in your health and body composition. Whether these changes are positive or negative depend on which type of water becomes unbalanced.
Having slightly more ICW than normal isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can signal positive changes in your body composition.
Increased muscle mass is due to the enlargement of the number and size of muscle cells. When the muscle cells become enlarged, they are able to take in (and require) more ICW in order to power their cellular functions. Research has shown that resistance exercise can lead to increased intracellular water in humans. Increased ICW as a result of exercise is a sign of increased Lean Body Mass, which is a very good thing and has positive health benefits, including:
Increased Energy Use
Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of calories you burn at rest. It is the baseline for the calories you need every day in order for your body to operate and maintain daily functions. With increased Lean Body Mass, your energy needs will increase as a result of a higher BMR. If you don’t increase your daily calorie intake, but increase your Lean Body Mass/BMR, you will create a calorie deficit – which can lead to body fat loss.
Your Lean Body Mass is sometimes described as your fat free mass. Your Lean Body Mass accounts for all your weight due to water, muscle mass, bone, and protein. One of the easiest ways to influence the amount of Lean Body Mass you have is to increase your muscle mass. Generally, increased muscle mass leads to increased strength.
Increased Immune System
Increased Lean Body Mass through exercise has been associated with increased immune system functionality. This will help your body fight off illnesses more easily.
If your ECW increases in relation to your ICW, this is something you should take special note of. Unlike ICW, you do not want to see your ECW increasing beyond normal levels. Excess ECW can indicate health risks, including:
During inflammation, the body sends additional blood flow to the damaged area. This causes an increase of extracellular water in a particular area. Inflammation occurs when part of the body gets damaged or bruised and is a normal bodily response to injury. This is called acute inflammation, and is a temporary increase in ECW.
Chronic inflammation, however, is something more serious that isn’t always readily detected. It is marked by long-term swelling/ECW increases caused by cellular stress and dysfunction. Chronic inflammation can lead to serious diseases if allowed to persist over time, including renal failure, cancer, and heart disease. including renal failure, cancer, and heart disease.
Renal Disease (Kidney Failure)
One of the kidneys’ major functions is to filter your blood and remove toxins produce in the body. One important substance that the kidneys filter out is sodium, an element that is found in salt.
When your diet includes more sodium than your kidneys can filter out, which occurs in people who have failing kidneys, your extracellular water levels will increase. In some cases, this increased extracellular water shows in visible swelling throughout the body and is a condition known as edema. Edema can cause additional strain on the body by contributing to weight gain, blood pressure, and other complications.
Unhealthy Fat Mass Levels (Obesity)
Obese individuals are characterized by having too much body fat, which among other things, leads to body water disruption due to excess ECW. This is because excess visceral fat can trigger production hormones that can lead to the disruption of a bodily system called RAAS. This excess ECW causes stress in the body due to its effects on the internal organs, which can exacerbate obesity and cause a dangerous cyclic effect.
Since it’s so important to keep an eye on your fluid balance, you’ll need to know how you can determine yours. There are two major methods to measure and determine your fluid levels. These are the dilution method and the BIA method.
Dispozitivul dilution method involves drinking a known dose of heavy water (deuterium oxide) and allowing it to distribute around the body. Once the water has had time to settle, the amount of heavy water is compared with the amount of normal water. The proportion will reflect the amount of total body water. To determine ECW, sodium bromide is used instead of heavy water.
The dilution method is recognized as a gold standard for measuring total body water; however, these tests would need to be done at a hospital under the guidance of a trained physician. This test takes several hours to complete during which any fluid of any type going in or out of the body has to be carefully recorded.
For these reasons, you’re unlikely to have this test performed unless your doctor needs to know your total body water with absolute certainty because of a serious health complication.
The second, more accessible method to determine body water content is bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). For most people who do not have serious medical issues, this method is much more practical than the dilution method.
A small electrical current is applied to the body, and the opposition that current experiences (impedance), is measured. From that impedance result, a BIA device can report your body water percentage. Advanced BIA devices are able to reflect the difference in Intracellular and Extracellular water as well, which can reveal the ICW:ECW balance.
Bringing Yourself Back Into Balance
Maintaining a balanced ratio of approximately 3:2 is ideal for optimal health. If you find that this ratio is beginning to fall out of balance, there are some things you can do. Fortunately, these tips aren’t anything you already haven’t heard before: maintaining a healthy diet, staying hydrated by drinking enough water, and exercising regularly.
Avoiding excess ECW is ideal. From a dietary standpoint, one simple change that can work to reduce excess ECW is reducing the amount of sodium (salt) in your diet. Sodium is located primarily in your ECW, and when excess sodium is introduced into the body, the body’s natural response is to draw water out of your cells at the expense of your ICW. Reducing your sodium intake has a number of positive health benefits, so this tip can be considered simply a best practice for optimal health in addition to being a tactic for reducing high ECW.
On the flip side, increasing your ICW can be achieved by increasing your Lean Body Mass/increasing muscle mass through exercising. As the muscle cells increase in size, they will require more water to maintain their function. Exercise has the additional benefit of combating obesity, and as fat mass is reduced, ECW increases due to obesity will decline over time.
As you can see, body water can be an important indicator of your overall health. Without a healthy ICW:ECW ratio your body will begin to have problems.
The best thing you can do for proper body water balance is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If you can achieve a healthy lifestyle, your body water will fall into balance naturally. The first step would be to find out where your body water levels are today, so you can start planning for a healthier life now.
At dinner last night, one slice of chocolate cake somehow turned into half a cake…
Today, you stuffed yourself with five buttery rolls at the office potluck. That wouldn’t have been so bad if you didn’t eat three plates of food.
We’ve all been there, and we all know how those post-binge episodes go — from guilt to frustration to promising yourself that it’s going to be the last time you stuff yourself with unhealthy food! (Not to mention the dreaded food coma…)
You thought you’ve overcome overeating for good, yet it turns out that you’re back to square one when it comes to getting your cravings under control.
Why is it so hard to break out of this cycle?
Is there a way to kick this ceaseless habit for good?
Does it have to do with self-control and having an endless supply of willpower?
Or is there some otherworldly, mystical force that you need to tap on in order to break free from binge-eating episodes?
To help us figure out if it’s sorcery or science, this article is divided into two parts.
The smart folks over at ASAPscience simplified the science of hunger and cravings in a two-minute video below. It talks about the body’s hunger-regulation system and why we’re tempted to go for second helpings.
In essence, high-calorie foods rich in fat and sugar were extremely desirable to our hunter-gatherer ancestors for survival because they were scarce. However, this instinct for fatty and sugary meals still remain even though these types of food are now available 24/7.
Eventually, the continual intake of high-calorie fat and sugar-laden food overrides the human body’s natural hunger regulation system, leading to habitual overeating.
Another way of understanding appetite is to look at it from the perspective of eating for two main reasons— as a response to hunger (homeostatic) and for pleasure (hedonic).
In a review of studies differentiating the two, the researchers described that homeostatic hunger is the result of the prolonged absence of energy intake or the food itself, while hedonic hunger is strongly influenced by the availability and palatability of food in your environment. Furthermore, a 2016 study found out that intense feelings of pleasure derived from palatable foods (hedonic hunger) predicts the likelihood of losing control when eating among female college freshmen.
Why You Really Overeat and Binge
At first thought, it seems like putting an end to overeating is simply a matter of telling your brain to stop consuming food. Yet we all know that it’s not that easy, right?
Your brain may be the main driving force behind your cravings, but it’s not acting alone.
The frequency and the amount of food you finish is also influenced by a complex interaction of the following factors:
1. Genetic Influences
Your gut, hormones, and brain may be working together to control appetite, but your genetic makeup also has a say as if you’re the type to overindulge.
For instance, a London study on children revealed that genetic influences on weight and abdominal fat accumulation are high in children who are born since the onset of the childhood obesity epidemic. Furthermore, there is evidence indicating that specific genes can possibly impact your likelihood of frequent LOC (loss of control) eating episodes.
2. Environmental Influences
Environmental factors also contribute to the rise of food cravings. These factors include the atmosphere of the room and the presence/absence of distractions during meals. This also applies to social and cultural cues. Remember a time when you overindulged because everyone seems to be in the mood for feasting?
Finally, child feeding practices by parents during the first years of childhood tend to impact one’s eating behavior later in life. A review of studies on the parental influence on eating behavior revealed the following interesting findings:
Restrictive feeding practices by caregivers are associated with overeating and poorer self-regulation of food intake among preschool-age children.
Restricting access to palatable snacks and desserts like cookies in children may be counterproductive because it will eventually promote their intake.
Higher levels of parental control and pressure to eat healthily were associated with lower fruit and vegetable intakes and higher intake of dietary fat among young girls.
It turns out that your appetite and hunger regulation is also influenced by these behavioral factors.
In fact, evidence from longitudinal studies suggests that chronic life stress may be linked to weight gain, with a greater effect seen in men. Furthermore, your work schedule can also impact how much you eat. A study revealed that shift workers may be particularly vulnerable to the tendency to eat the largest meals in the evening as they remain awake longer during the times when you naturally feel hungry for high calorie sweet, salty, and starchy foods.
Your Action Plan to Curb Overeating (Without Depriving Yourself)
Whether it’s stress or social pressure that’s driving you to overeat, we all know how frustrating it is to realize that you gave in to your cravings (again!). The good news is you can do something the next time you’re about to open your third bag of chips.
For a start, consider the following easy yet sustainable solutions to put an end to overeating, minus the horrible feeling of self-deprivation.
1. Learn to recognize the difference between homeostatic and hedonistic hunger.
As mentioned earlier, you can eat because you’re hungry but you can also eat for pleasure.
It can be a struggle to figure out the difference between the two because it requires you to be more mindful and listen to your body. As a result, misinterpreting these signals can lead to overeating.
While these cues will differ from one person to another (as well as depend on the time of day), you can learn to recognize your motivation for eating and adjust your eating habits by asking the following question:
Am I eating as a response to a physical cue (e.g. growling stomach, headache) or am I eating because I am feeling stressed, anxious, or overjoyed?
Whether you’re stressed about deadlines or bummed about your annual employee performance review, talking to a friend or journaling may be more helpful than emotional eating.
2. Be mindful of your “food environment”.
Your “food environment” may be divided into two parts:
Your social interaction and the overall atmosphere of your environment
How your food is served
To help promote a positive food environment, consider the following best practices:
Keep an eye on your portions.
Before eating two bagels in one sitting, savor one piece instead. Furthermore, you might also want to use smaller plates and bowls to avoid taking in too much when you’re in a buffet. Research reveals that larger plates can make a serving of food appear smaller, and smaller plates can lead people to misjudge the same serving size of food as being significantly larger.
Press pause (whether on your TV or phone) until you’re done with lunch or dinner.
When you’re distracted, you tend to eat mindlessly. As a result, you’ll be less sensitive to satiety cues because your brain is paying more attention to other things.
Be like the Okinawans in Japan by only eating until your 80 percent full.
Known for having one of the longest life expectancies in the world, Okinawans call this practice as “Hara Hachi Bu”, and this can be a useful guideline to help stop overeating.
A Greek study found that eating at a slower pace tended to increased fullness and reduce hungry feelings in overweight and obese participants.
Surround yourself with people who are taking steps to eat more mindfully.
Whether it’s your co-worker who’s into calorie counting or your brother who’s a geek when it comes to meal planning, being around others who eat mindfully will help reinforce your own good habits and perhaps teach you some new tips and tricks as well.
3. Make tiny adjustments to your daily habits that may impact your eating behavior.
Curbing overeating is not about making massive changes in your life but rather making tiny adjustments to your daily habits.
Going on a “healthy” detox diet or juice cleanse right after binging may help your weight loss temporarily, but it’s not sustainable in the long run. Instead, you’ll likely end up going through the same cycle of overeating, feeling guilty, restricting yourself, and giving in again to cravings. That’s why making smaller healthy changes is more effective for changing your lifestyle permanently.
These are three examples of tiny adjustments you can make to your daily habits.
There may be some exceptions (like when you’re doing intermittent fasting), but skipping your morning meal usually leads to overeating because you end up feeling famished throughout the day. On the other hand, a healthy high protein breakfast has been shown to stabilize blood sugar levels, increased satiety, and reduced hunger cues.
Do whole food swaps instead of cutting out certain foods entirely or adopting crazy diets.
Remember how high-calorie food that’s loaded with salt and sugar tends to encourage overeating? That why food choices are important. By opting for whole food alternatives, you will eventually reduce your cravings for unhealthy sweets and salty treats.
Don’t just adopt the latest trending diet and toss all the junk food residing in your fridge right away. A good rule of thumb is to have at least 80 percent of your daily meals from whole food sources and devote the rest to the not-so-healthy food items. And when the craving hits reach for a healthy snack like fruit or nuts. By doing so, you won’t feel deprived, which in turn can lead to another binging episode.
Special Note on Food Addiction
A lot of people can relate to overeating (because it happens to the best of us too!) but food addiction is a different story. If you feel that your binging episodes has turned into more than just a bad habit that you can change, seek professional help.
The Takeaway: Mindful Eating Can Go a Long Way for Your Body Composition
If you’ve noticed, the majority of the points discussed in the action plan has something to do with mindfulness.
Recognizing if you’re truly hungry or simply eating as a response to stress or other environmental factors requires constant practice and a heightened sense of self-awareness.
The idea of mindfulness may sound like a meditation fad or just another self-help woo-woo. However, mindfulness-based interventions in addressing compulsive overeating and other obesity-related eating behaviors have gained popularity recently. In fact, a systematic review of related studies on the topic supports its efficacy.
Overall, beating overeating and taking your body composition seriously begins with this single step—uncover the reason behind your binging habit. Keep in mind that you need to know the “why” first before diving into the “how” of putting an end to your tendency to overeat. Once you figure out your “why” the benefits are tremendous: a healthier relationship with food, weight loss, and a better sense of control. Good luck and here’s to a happier more mindful life.
Kyjean Tomboc is a nurse turned freelance healthcare copywriter and UX researcher. After experimenting with going paleo and vegetarian, she realized that it all boils down to eating real food.
There’s an oft-used saying that “abs are made in the kitchen.”
The underlying theory, for those who haven’t heard this before, is that what you eat is more important than how much you exercise if you want to see defined abdominal muscles.
How much truth is there to this mantra? Are Instagram perfect abs really made simply by watching what you eat? Or can you just do a thousand crunches a day and reveal your six-pack that way?
In this article, we’ll 1) break down the science of nutrition vs. exercise and how each impacts body composition, 2) look at a few different types of diet plans and their effects on the body, 3) decide whether the saying “abs are made in the kitchen” is fact or fiction.
Let’s jump right in.
The notion of “abs are made in the kitchen” is based on the fact that it is so much easier to gain calories than it is to burn it off through exercise.
This makes sense when you attach some numbers to it.
For example, let’s say your preferred exercise routine is swimming a few days a week. On average, you can expect to burn 400-700 calories in an hour.
But if you go home and scarf down a couple pieces of pizza, you can quickly take in the same amount of calories in a matter of minutes.
So from a time/practicality standpoint, it’s much easier to reduce your caloric intake by 400 – 600 calories a day and create the same calorie deficit as swimming/running for an hour.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that creating a calorie deficit through diet has the same effects on body composition as exercise.
First, we’ll look at some studies that weigh in (pun intended) on exercise.
How Exercise Impacts Body Composition
In a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Obesity, 320 post-menopausal women ranging in weight from normal to obese were split into two groups. The first were asked to do 45 minutes worth of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise, 5 times a week for a full year (they actually ended up averaging about 3.6 days per week). The second group did not exercise. And neither group was asked to improve nutrition or try portion control.
After one year, the exercise group lost an average of 5.3 pounds of body fat.
That’s a lot of work to lose 5 pounds of fat.
HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, may be a more efficient approach to improving your body composition, especially in the abdominal region. One study compared two groups who exercised at different intensities: one that did three days a week of high-intensity exercise and another that did five days a week of low-intensity exercise. After 16 weeks, the high-intensity exercise group lost both more abdominal visceral and subcutaneous fat than the steady-state exercise one.
So it appears exercise, specifically high-intensity exercise, can produce faster results if you want to see those abs.
Next, let’s see what type of impact diet has.
How Diet Affects Body Composition
There are many different diet plans for those hoping to lose fat and/or increase lean body mass. We’ll look at some of the most popular and review which are effective for changing body composition and which need to be studied more.
The Paleo diet (or “Paleo” for short), consists of eating foods that are assumed to have been available to humans prior to the establishment of modern agriculture. If the caveman didn’t eat it, it’s out. This includes eating things like lean meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, eggs, and nuts. It excludes foods like grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, and processed oils.
Paleo is relatively new (in terms of nutrition research) and therefore doesn’t have a whole lot of credible evidence on its impact on body composition specifically. One meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the Paleo to 4 control diets based on U.S. nutrition guidelines.
The researchers found that the Paleo led to greater short-term improvements in waist circumference, triglyceride levels, and blood pressure.
It’ll interesting to see if Paleo proves to be more effective than other diet plans on improving body composition as more studies become available.
The ketogenic diet (or “Keto” ) consists of eating high fat, moderate protein, and very low carb foods. It’s similar to Paleo but carbs are restricted to 25-50 grams per day.
A 2013 meta-analysis that compared Keto to a low-fat nutritional plan suggests that keto is more effective for weight loss as well as improvement of cardiometabolic health.
Another study that compared the ketogenic diet to a low-fat diet found that Keto was effective in short-term body weight and fat loss. On top of that, it appears that Keto may support preferential fat loss in the trunk area, although this requires further validation.
Finally, a study in which men performed resistance training three times a week and compared body composition effects of keto vs. the traditional Western diet found that the ketogenic group experienced significant fat mass loss, as well as lean body mass gains, compared to the Western diet group.
The Mediterranean diet is based on typical foods and recipes of Mediterranean-style cooking (native to Italy, Greece, Spain, etc.).
This includes large quantities of fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, fish and olive oil. The Mediterranean diet is one of the most studied diets and for good reason: It has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Let’s see what type of impact, if any, it has on body composition though.
Another study in subjects with coronary artery disease showed that adherence to the Mediterranean diet significantly reduced body fat mass and percent body fat.
A meta-analysis published in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders concluded that the Mediterranean diet “may be a useful tool to reduce body weight, especially when the Mediterranean diet is energy-restricted, associated with physical activity, and more than 6 months in length.”
Finally, when researchers looked at the Mediterranean diet’s effects on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factor levels in overweight or obese individuals trying to lose weight and compared them to low-fat diets, they found that the Mediterranean diet produced greater weight loss.
Diets: The Bottom Line
Science shows there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to dieting. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reviewed 59 studies with various nutritional recommendations (low-fat, low-carb, etc).
Researchers found that weight loss differences between individual diets were small. Participants were able to change their body composition (lose weight) with both low carb and low-fat diets.
However, getting the right amount of protein seems to be one of the most important things you can do to improve your body composition.
In another meta-analysis of 87 studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets favorably affect body mass and composition.
Now, let’s look at the most effective approach for getting a six pack: combining a high protein/low carb diet with different types of exercise like cardio and strength training. This is where things get interesting.
How Exercise Combined with Diet Impacts Body Composition
According to another study published in the journal Obesity that compared the effect of dieting and exercising (alone or combined) on weight and body composition in overweight-to-obese post-menopausal women, the diet-only group achieved more weight loss than the exercise-only group. However, the greatest effects were seen in the combined diet/exercise group, “where 60% of participants achieved ≥10% weight loss at 1 year.”
Other studies show similar results: a combination of dieting and exercising works best if you want to lose fat (which is how you will see your abdominal muscles).
The question is, are certain types of exercise (resistance training, long duration cardio, etc) more effective than others for improving your body composition?
Exercise in combination with diet led to the most significant changes in body composition.
The combination of resistance training and diet was more effective than endurance training or a combination of endurance and resistance training at altering body composition measures (reduction of body mass and fat mass).
Making adjustments to how you eat can lead to more fat loss in less time compared to exercise alone.
So, the verdict? Abs are made in the kitchen si the gym.
Like anything worth achieving in life, getting a six-pack takes both work and knowledge. Doing 1000 crunches and 1 hour of cardio a day won’t help you see your abdominal muscles any faster if you don’t make the right changes to your diet.
“Spot reduction” is also another myth. You can target your abs and core with resistance training that help with the muscles in that area, but you also need to lose overall body fat to see the definition in those abdominal muscles– and that requires a combination of diet and exercise.
So where do you go from here?
First, determine your body composition goals. If your goal is to lose fat and gain more definition, then you’re going to have to eat at a calorie deficit. If your goal is to increase lean body mass and lose fat, then your diet and exercise regimen may look different.
At the end of the day, the best exercise/nutritional plan is the one you can stick with. Once you find the right approach for you, you can make it a lifelong habit. That’s what will give you your six-pack.
If you’ve been trying to get in shape recently and you’ve been scouring the Internet for effective workout styles, chances are you’ve stumbled upon something called HIIT, which stands for high-intensity interval training.
Over the years, professional athletes and fitness buffs alike have sworn by this training method.
Whether it’s lowering fat mass or increasing muscle gain, you’re probably wondering if it’s the right workout type that will help you attain your body composition goals as quickly as possible.
Read on below for a closer look of this popular workout style and how you can use it to effectively attain your desired body composition outcomes.
The Lowdown on HIIT
High intensity interval training (HIIT) is based on the premise that short, explosive burst of activities can have a huge, lasting impact on your body composition. In a nutshell, it’s not about how long you’re exercising but rather how intense you’re performing the workouts within a certain period of time.
In a typical HIIT routine, you alternate between intervals of quick, intense bursts of exercise and short, sometimes low intensity, periods of rest. Here’s how the American Council on Exercise (ACE) describes HIIT:
Most endurance workouts, such as walking, running, or stair-climbing —are performed at a moderate intensity, or an exertion level of 5-6 on a scale of 0-10. High-intensity intervals, on the other hand, are done at an exertion level of 7 or higher, and are typically sustained for 30 seconds to 3 minutes, although they can be as short as 8-10 seconds or as long as 5 minutes; the higher the intensity, the shorter the speed interval. Recovery intervals are equal to or longer than the speed intervals.
Running HIIT-style involves intervals of 30 to 60 seconds of running near your peak of ability. You follow this almost breathless (but definitely not winded) running with a comparable cool-down period of walking. For instance, you can do a short sprint upstairs and walk back down four times in a row.
While there’s no specific set of guidelines as to how often you should do HIIT, alternating periods of high-intensity and low-intensity activities at least three times a week as part of your exercise routine is a good rule of thumb to reap its benefits. One study in the European Journal of Endocrinology reported that male subjects following an 8-week HIIT program experienced muscle gain and lost a significant amount of abdominal fat mass, even though the program included no weightlifting.
The great thing about HIIT is you can apply interval training to almost any type of workout — from interval running to doing explosive laps at the pool to your twice-a-week kettlebell routine. This means that you can continuously mix things up in your routine so you won’t get bored and give up on our body composition goals.
Another study compared the results between a group of participants who committed to three days a week of high-intensity exercise routine and another group who did five days a week of low-intensity exercise. After sixteen weeks, the researchers discovered that the participants who committed to high-intensity exercise routine for three days a week lost more fat than the group who showed up for low-intensity steady-state exercise.
HIIT’s significant role in reducing fat mass is good news if you’re not seeing consistent results in reducing your body fat percentage (particularly that stubborn belly fat) despite your regular workout routine.
HIIT and Its Impact on Muscle Mass
As for HIIT’s possible role in building lean muscle mass, let’s take a look at the findings of a study published last year in the Journal of Diabetes Research.
The researchers compared the effects of five weeks of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) among overweight and obese, young women in terms of cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, and blood glucose.
Participants in the HIIT group performed 60 repetitions of high-intensity interval exercise — at 8 seconds of cycling at 90% of peak oxygen consumption, and 12-second rest on a cycle ergometer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, participants in the MICT group performed continuous cycling exercise at 65% of peak oxygen consumption for 40 minutes.
In terms of lean mass changes, the researchers concluded the following:
“..the MICT group experienced significantly decreased total lean mass (TLM) and leg LM. Meanwhile, TLM and leg LM in the HIIT group were unchanged. ”
Based on the study’s findings, here’s what we know so far:
HIIT may not be the most effective workout routine to build lean muscle mass
HIIT, however, can help preserve or retain lean muscle mass, while MICT can potentially make you lose lean muscle mass if you’re trying to lose fat mass at the same time
Why is this important? Fast twitch fibers are a main factor of your strength and speed. They are also very important to train in that if you don’t use them, you lose them, especially as you get older. That being said, you can see how important muscle gain is when you are young, in order to maintain your strength and speed (reflexes) as you age.
While HIIT may not be as effective in increasing muscle mass, it does offer potential benefits to achieve that sculpted look. However, if your main goal is to build muscle mass, bodybuilding or weight training may be your best bet. Here’s an in-depth look between bodybuilding and HIIT to improve body composition. You can note also that both these methods may be used in conjunction to help you to attain your desired body composition.
Additional Benefits of HIIT
Besides helping improve your body composition through fat mass loss, HIIT also provides the following benefits:
Short yet explosive bursts of exercise may be more effective in boosting your V02 max— a measure of aerobic endurance— than performing the same exercise at a slower pace. This can help you to use oxygen more efficiently and increase exercise performance.
Incorporating HIIT workouts into your exercise routine is more time-efficient. This study reveals that you get the same cardiovascular effects from traditional endurance training in HIIT in just a couple minutes.
New research findings published last April concluded that HIIT improves glucose metabolism in muscles and boosts insulin sensitivity among type 2 diabetics.
HIIT is perceived as a more enjoyable activity than moderate-intensity continuous exercise. This finding suggests that HIIT will likely promote long-term exercise adherence than other workout styles.
In a 2015 study comparing the afterburn effect, also known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC, HIIT (as well as weight training) reigns supreme over regular cardio up to 21 hours post-workout. The more oxygen your body requires to return to its resting metabolic state, the more calories you burn. This means that HIIT can help you burn more calories even after a day (or almost) you exercised.
Making the Most of Your HIIT Workout
To help you accomplish and maintain body composition success, there are various types of HIIT methods to choose from — from the Tabata protocol to turbulence training. Plus, HIIT can be applied to almost every workout routine or fitness setup out there. You can do CrossFit, engage in bodyweight workouts, or even do HIIT with Pilates.
Regardless of the workout routine or HIIT method you prefer, you can make the most of your HIIT routine by sticking to the following best practices:
Don’t forget to do some warm-up before you engage in explosive, high-intensity moves.
Aim for at least three-to-five minute intervals completed at least six times. This interval has been shown to provide long-term sustainable results in a systematic review of studies on HIIT protocols that are most effective.
Complement your HIIT routine with other workout styles or training programs such as yoga or trail running to keep things interesting.
Incorporate as many muscle groups as you can. Using more muscle groups will help to burn more calories!
Use your own body’s cues to gauge exertion level. For example, you’re doing it right if you can say single words in the middle of your HIIT routine but you should not be able to complete whole sentences. So if you still find yourself chatting it up at the gym in between reps and you’re not seeing results, maybe it’s high time to pump up the effort level a few notches.
Watch what and how much you eat. The best HIIT routine in the world will amount to nothing in the long run if you’re not mindful of your diet and nutritional needs.
If you have existing health issues, it’s best to consult with your doctor or healthcare professional first before engaging in HIIT.
It’s All About Consistency
To benefit the most from any form of HIIT, build a habit of doing it consistently. Even if you can only spare a few minutes, you can effortlessly incorporate these quick interval workouts to your day.
How about getting off your social media of choice for about half an hour to do HIIT? Perhaps you can do reps with your officemates during lunch hour.
The next time you feel like exercise is a chore or a task that you need to check off your to-do list, introduce HIIT into your workout routine! You might not know it but a quick, fun HIIT sesh may be the missing piece in bidding adieu (finally!) to your current body composition woes.
Kyjean Tomboc is a nurse turned freelance healthcare copywriter and UX researcher. After experimenting with going paleo and vegetarian, she realized that it all boils down to eating real food.
Ask anyone knowledgeable in nutrition about the benefits of fiber and the positives will trump over the negatives. People claim this type of carbohydrate will help you reduce your risk of certain cancers, lower your type 2 diabetes risk, and help with weight loss as it supposedly reduces appetite and increase satiety. In other words, fiber is magic and should be given the same amount of adoration that we shower antioxidants and the rest of the nutritional superstars with.
Yet when was the last time you fact-checked fiber’s benefits? What if we dig deeper into recent nutrition research to learn more?
In this article, we’ll put fiber in the limelight and sort myths from facts. While mainstream beliefs will tell you that adding lots of fiber to your daily diet is key to good health, let’s figure out if this advice is scientifically sound, especially when it comes to sustainable weight loss and improving your body composition.
Know Thy Fiber
Before we dive into separating myths from established facts and findings, let’s cover the basics.
Dietary fiber, sometimes referred to as roughage, refers to a broad, diverse group of carbohydrates that we, as humans, cannot digest because we are lacking in digestive enzymes to break them down. For this reason, roughage ends up in your colon unchanged.
So why would something that humans can’t digest turn out to be beneficial part of your diet?
Fibers are inherently unique from each other due to their chemical properties. That’s right, the fiber you find brown rice is different than the kind you find in oats. Scientists categorize dietary fibers based on a specific set of characteristics.
To have a better understanding as to how fiber can possibly impact your body composition and overall health, let’s take a closer look at this indigestible carbohydrate through the lens of its popular methods of classification: solubility, viscosity, și fermentability, and a special note on resistant starch.
Soluble and Insoluble Fiber
irst of all, all plant-based foods are generally a mix of both soluble and insoluble fibers. Think of the soluble fiber as the dawdling sibling while the insoluble type is the speedster in the family. How come?
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and morphs into a gel-like substance when it passes through the gut. Foods high in soluble fiber include apples, beans, blueberries, lentils, nuts, and oat products.
Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water and the term roughage generally refers to this specific type. Unlike its slow solubility sister, roughage does the exact opposite. It speeds up transit time in the digestive system and adds bulk to your stool. This is the basis of the most common health recommendation for eating more roughage: to prevent constipation by helping food move through your system.
Foods high in insoluble fiber include brown rice, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, wheat, whole wheat bread, and whole grain couscous.
Contrary to popular belief, solubility does not reliably predict whether or not a certain type of fiber is beneficial to your health. However, the terms soluble si insoluble are still used by many nutrition and healthcare professionals including the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in nutritional labels.
Viscous and Nonviscous Fiber
Another way of classifying fiber is through its viscosity. Certain types of soluble fiber are more viscous, or more likely to form firmer, stickier gels when mixed with water than other types. When you digest food with high-viscous fiber in it, it increases the viscosity of the gel-like substance that passes through your gut. As a result, it reduces your appetite because you feel fuller longer.
Viscous fibers include the following:
pectins (abundant in berries and fruits)
β-Glucans (Beta-glucans: abundant in barley and oats)
guar gum (commonly derived from the Indian cluster bean)
psyllium (isolated from psyllium seed husks)
The most frequently cited benefits of fiber (e.g., reduce cholesterol levels, improve glycemic control in type 2 diabetes, improve stool form in both constipation and diarrhea) is directly correlated to its viscosity. Nonviscous food sources tend not to have these beneficial properties. This is incredibly important because the general public tend to lump all types of fiber as one and associate its health benefits to all types too. Until more is known about the beneficial effects of low-viscosity fibers, a good strategy is to learn toward foods higher in viscosity.
The beneficial bacteria in your gut thrive on fermentable fiber. Not to mention that this wonderful alchemy of fermentation in your gut produces short-chain fatty acids such as acetate, propionate, and butyrate that suppress gut inflammation and can possibly reduce your risk of various digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, crohn’s disease si ulcerative colitis.
Majority of fermentable fibers are soluble, but some insoluble fibers are cool with fermentation too. Foods that are rich in fermentable fibers include oats and barley, as well as fruit and vegetables. Cereal fibers that are rich in cellulose (like wheat bran) are nonfermentable.
Special Note on Resistant Starch
Lately, many experts have been encouraging people to add resistant starch to your diet because of its powerful health benefits.
Resistant starch is not exactly a fiber, but another form of carbohydrate (long form of glucose molecules really) that functions like soluble and fermentable fiber. Like fiber, Resistant starch is not fully broken down and absorbed in your small intestine and gut bacteria thrive on it. When fermented, resistant starch produces short-chain fatty acids as well as gases (which in turn can lead to bloating and abdominal discomfort when eaten/taken in excess).
Great food sources of resistant starch to add to your diet include beans, various legumes, green bananas, cashews, raw oats, and cooked (and then cooled) rice/potatoes. The cooling process turns some of the digestible starches into resistant starches through a process called retrogradation.
So why differentiate all the different types of fibers? Because each types will have different effects in the digestive process and having an array of natural food sources (whole wheat, oats, brown rice, starch) in your diet can have a positive overall impact on your health by improving digestion and also feeding bacteria that work so hard to keep you healthy.
Fiber’s Claims to Fame: Legit or Not?
When we talk about fiber and its impact on one’s health, we are often told about the following benefits:
Lowers down blood sugar levels
Reduces cholesterol levels
Prevents chronic constipation
Reduces the risk of specific cancers such as colon cancer and breast cancer
Help with weight loss and improve weight control
Dispozitivul American Dietetic Association recommends 14g of dietary fiber per 1,000 kcal of food intake or roughly 25g for adult women and 38g for adult men. Food variety in your diet is encouraged to meet one’s daily fiber requirement. Mix it up with whole wheat, nuts, starchy carbs, and vegetables.
Like so much of nutrition, what’s true today may not be true anymore in the next three, five, or ten years. Research findings and conclusions that once seemed valid and well-founded may be revised— or even totally flipped— as new research is completed. The idea that fat doesn’t actually make you fat is a good example.
With that said, let’s figure out the recent science-backed truths of the aforementioned benefits.
Does fiber help in reducing blood sugar and cholesterol levels?
In terms of fiber’s ability to reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels, a review of studies on the subject published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics last February revealed the following:
“…high viscosity fibers (eg, gel-forming fibers such as b-glucan, psyllium, and raw guar gum) exhibit a significant effect on cholesterol lowering and improved glycemic control, whereas non-viscous soluble fibers (eg, inulin, fructooligosaccharides, and wheat dextrin) and insoluble fibers (eg, wheat bran) do not provide these viscosity-dependent health benefits…”
With this information, we can see that not all fibers are created equal. If lowering your serum LDL cholesterol and normalizing blood glucose and insulin levels is your goal, adding soluble, viscous fibers to your diet (mainly from whole food sources) would be beneficial.
The takeaway: Not all types of fiber can help control blood sugar and reduce cholesterol levels. To gain fiber’s benefits in terms of regulating blood sugar and lowering cholesterol, opt for high viscous fibers and resistant starches.
Does fiber help with chronic constipation?
How many times have you been told to add more fiber to your diet if you’re having chronic problems in maintaining regularity in your bowel movement?
It turns out that this common advice is not as true as we thought.
In fact, a 2012 study concluded that idiopathic constipation (or constipation of unknown cause) and its associated symptoms can be effectively reduced by stopping or even lowering the intake of dietary fiber.
Furthermore, the same review of studies which examined fiber’s impact on blood sugar and cholesterol recommended that not all types of fiber can help with chronic constipation. The researchers concluded that large/coarse insoluble fibers are more effective as a laxative. Soluble fermentable fibers (e.g. inulin, fructooligosaccharide, and wheat dextrin) do not provide a laxative effect, and some fibers can even be constipating (e.g. wheat dextrin and fine/smooth insoluble wheat bran particles).
The takeaway: Not all types of fiber can help with chronic constipation. Specifically, fruits and vegetables can increase stool bulk and shorten transit time. Meanwhile, fiber supplements that are effective in treating constipation include cellulose and psyllium.
Fruits and vegetables are good sources of cellulose because this type of fiber is mainly found in plant cell walls. On the other hand, psyllium is isolated from the seeds of Plantago ovata, an herb mainly grown in India. Also known as ispaghula husk, it often comes in supplement form such as granules, powder, and capsules. Psyllium is the active ingredient in Metamucil, a popular supplement to reduce constipation.
Some baked goods and fortified cereals contain this type of fiber.
An important note on this is that sufficient fluid intake is also required to maximize the stool-softening effect of increased fiber intake.
Does fiber help reduce my risk of colorectal cancer (as what most people believe)?
The surprising fact is that much of the research does not support this. Recent findings from large prospective cohort studies and clinical intervention trials do not see an association between fiber intake and the risk of colorectal cancer. In fact, a 4-year intervention trial found out that supplementation with 7.5 g/day of wheat bran had no effect on colorectal adenoma recurrence.
As for general disease prevention, it’s worth noting that observational studies that identify associations between high-fiber intakes and reductions in chronic disease risk tend to assess only fiber-rich foods rather than fiber itself. As a result, it is difficult to determine whether observed benefits are actually related to fiber or perhaps, other nutrients or antioxidants found in fiber-rich foods. Another point for eating foods that are naturally high in fiber instead of relying on fiber supplements.
Can I rely on fiber supplements to get the same benefits as fiber from whole sources?
To get the full-benefits of fiber, research reveals that fiber-rich foods trump (as always when it comes to nutrition) supplement sources. A systematic review of studies found out that most supplements do not help at all in reducing body weight.
Okay, Enough With the Science! I Just Want to Lost Weight. Can Fiber Help?
Yes. But you have to understand that fiber for weight loss doesn’t apply to all types of fiber.
As mentioned earlier in this article, some fibers are readily fermented by your gut microbiome, most of which are soluble fibers. Soluble fibers, alongside resistant starch, help promote a thriving and diverse community of gut bacteria. Collectively, they are often referred to as prebiotics (not to be confused with probiotics which are live bacteria). If Popeye thrives on spinach, your gut bacteria thrives on prebiotics!
So what do prebiotics have to do with weight loss and your body composition?
Currently, there is reasonable evidence that increased dietary prebiotic intake decreases inflammation and helps improve insulin sensitivity. It’s worth noting that both inflammation and reduced insulin sensitivity are strong drivers of weight gain and metabolic syndrome.
By feeding your gut’s friendly and health-promoting bacteria with the right type of fiber, you also reduce your risk of obesity or unwanted weight gain. As for fiber’s role in promoting satiety reducing appetite (thus the popular belief that fiber can help with weight loss), research on the subject continues to yield conflicting results.
In summary, fiber’s benefits are wide ranging, but they don’t all come from one food source. In the end, variety is king. Recent findings show viscous fiber types and resistant starch may be the best sources, not just in transforming body composition but also helping you improve in key biometrics like cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Ultimately, getting more fiber in your diet from whole food sources is always better than relying on supplements. After all, nutrition is not about eating more protein, carbs, or any specific nutrient, but it’s the synergy of these nutrients that truly matters. Besides, berries and apples are more flavorful (and more appetizing!) than chewable tablets, right?
Kyjean Tomboc is a nurse turned freelance healthcare copywriter and UX researcher. After experimenting with going paleo and vegetarian, she realized that it all boils down to eating real food.
If you went to primary school in the 90s, you probably remember this diagram from a nutrition class.
Released in the U.S. in 1992, the food pyramid was designed as an easy way for people to remember which foods they should be getting their calories from and the relative importance of each. Carbs were healthy and good, and so they formed the base; fats were bad and placed at the top. The fat category lumped everything together from healthy fats like Omega-3s and olive oil to saturated fats and sugar. This concept helped trigger the fat-free craze. Although this concept seems pretty normal to us now, at the time in the late 1970s it was actually considered quite radical – so much so that then-president of the National Academy of Sciences, Philip Handler, described the proposed shift as a “vast nutritional experiment.” Essentially, the Dietary Guidelines suggested that people eat less fat and get more calories from bread, grains, rice, pasta, etc. This was intended to protect Americans from weight gain and heart disease. This is why the “high carb, low fat” diet seem familiar and normal to you, and probably why you think eating fat makes you fat.
What was the result of this recommendation?
Beginning at around the time when the guidelines were first recommended in 1977 and their release to the public in 1980, the percentage of Americans classified as obese increase almost 20% as they followed the government’s advice to cut fat and increase carbs. Why have obesity rates in the United States skyrocketed over the last 18 years? Because the idea that “fat makes you fat” is wrong. Fat is just another nutrient source, same as carbohydrates and protein. What makes you fat is taking in more energy (calories) in a day than you use. That’s called being in a caloric surplus.
While this might seem like a somewhat challenging thought, fat isn’t solely to blame for weight gain, and it’s not fair to even say it’s a major factor in weight gain. At fault is a confusing mishmash of terminology, the negative connotation of fat over the past generations, and a pesky little diagram that’s been imprinted in the minds of generations of Americans.
Let’s take a look at how fat got a bad rap to see what you really should be thinking about when you’re trying to lose weight.
Eating Fat Is Not the Same as Becoming Fat
Part of the reason people get confused and think that the fat they eat makes their body store fat is because we use the interchangeably to describe both body fat and dietary fat.
Body Fat = Adipose Tissue
The fat that is stored by our bodies is more accurately called “adipose tissue.” Adipose tissue stores are made up of primary adipocytes or fat cells and are responsible, among other things, with storing excess energy for times when you’re not able to give your body the energy it needs in a given day.
Body fat/adipose tissue is essential for survival. Anyone with a body fat percentage of 0% would not be alive. When you cut your body fat level down to what’s called your “essential fat” – the fat needed to maintain a healthy and functioning body – complications arise.
Take the example of bodybuilders, who in a sense could be defined as “professional body fat cutters”. When bodybuilders get into competitive shape, they try to lose as much body fat as possible in order to achieve more muscle definition. Often, this can lead to some health complications that they don’t frequently advertise.
For example, in a 2013 study a competitive male bodybuilder preparing for competition was continuously observed 6 months prior to competing and 6 months after. During that time frame, the bodybuilder was able reduce his body fat percentage from 14.8% to 4.5% by competition time.
In the process of losing all this fat, the researchers observed various complications:
Of note, many of the physiological changes observed including an elevation in cortisol, reduction in testosterone, reduction in testosterone, reduction in immune function, alterations in mood status, and decreases in physical performance and maximal heart rate that occurred during the preparation period are consistent with markers of overtraining.
Contrary to popular belief, the study shows that a very low body fat percentage can disrupt important biological process and can actually be detrimental to your health!
Dietary Fat = Macronutrient
The fat you eat is dietary fat and is one of the three essential macronutrients your body can get energy from.
When we talk about calories, we’re actually talking about some combination of the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
Let’s examine a standard nutrition label. What do you see?
Although they’re not labeled as such, you’ll see the three macronutrients listed there – which we’ve underlined – along with the grams of each. Each macronutrient contributes a certain numbers of calories to the total caloric content of the food.
Carbohydrate: 4 calories per gram
Protein: 4 calories per gram
Fat: 9 calories per gram
You can actually multiply the grams by the calories and add them together to get the total calorie number listed at the top of the label (this one actually comes out to 232, but the government allows rounding to the nearest 10).
This bears repeating: fat is a macronutrient. It isn’t necessarily bad on its own. Furthermore, you need dietary fat. That’s because your body can make all the fatty acids it needs, except for two: linoleic acid and linolenic acid. These two necessary substances have to be found in your diet.
Would you believe that people actually used to eat more fat than they do now and at the time obesity rates that were much lower? It’s true, they did, and it’s true – obesity rates used to be much lower. So if increased fat isn’t making you fat, what is?
What’s Actually Making You Fat?
Too many calories, probably from carbs.
Eating more calories than your body uses and needs in a day causes you to gain weight, and Americans continue to eat more and more calories with each passing year.
According to the USDA, from 1970 to 2000, the total number of daily calories that Americans ate increased by 530 calories, an increase of 24.5%. During the same time period, the percentage of Americans categorized as obese increased dramatically.
Americans started to eat more calories. This is surprising when you consider that carbohydrates contain less than half the calories (4 Cal) that fat (9 Cal) does, gram for gram. Shouldn’t shifting away from fats and towards carbs just reduce overall caloric intake, just by simple math? It doesn’t work that way if you just eat more carbohydrates. You see, consumption of a high carbohydrate diet can trigger something called “reactive hypoglycemia.” This is a condition experienced by people who do not have diabetes and are otherwise healthy. Among its symptoms is a feeling of hunger.
Guess what’s the best way to make that hunger go away? Eat more carbs – your body will be craving them. And since carbs were supposed to be the largest macronutrient source anyway, most people didn’t think twice about having a snack that consisted of bread, rice, or something else carb-heavy.
By advising people to eat less fat and eat more carbohydrates, the government actually made the obesity problem far worse. Recognizing the sharp increase in obesity, the food pyramid was revised in 2005 and ultimately retired in 2011 in favor of what the USDA now calls “My Plate,” which gives people a much better visualization of the relative importance of each food category by showing roughly how much space each should take up on a plate.
To be clear, neither carbohydrates nor fats on their own cause you to gain weight – it’s just that you tend to eat more calories when your diet is focused on carbohydrates over fat. Being in a caloric surplus causes you to gain weight. A carb-heavy diet makes it very easy to be in a caloric surplus.
So I Can Throw Away the Low Fat Options?
If you’re smart about it, yes, but you still have to be careful.
Remember, it’s not the fat itself that’s making you fat; it’s the extra calories that you don’t need that makes you fat. While it’s very easy to eat extra calories on a carbohydrate-based diet, it’s also very easy to add on extra calories from a fat diet too.
At 9 calories, fat is the most calorie-dense macronutrient by far. This means that if you’re looking to lose fat, the low-fat options are still fine choices – not because of their low fat content, mind you, but because of their lower caloric content.
The fat isn’t making you fat due to just being fat; it’s the extra calories from fat (as well as all the macronutrients) that is causing you to gain weight.
What this means is, if you are responsible with your diet, you can choose foods that contain fat, guilt-free. You just need to be smart about your caloric intake throughout the entire day.
For example, if you really like the taste of whole milk and have been forcing yourself to drink 1% milk because you think you’re supposed to, you can drink whole milk guilt-free so long as you know that that whole milk contains 46% more calories than 1% milk and you understand that you’re making a deliberate choice to get more calories from milk than from somewhere else.
This means that if you choose to get more calories from milk (and by extension fat), you have to cut calories elsewhere. If you’re like most Americans, you can probably find foods containing carbohydrates, that if you’re being honest, you can probably do without.
Ultimately, the only person who has any real influence on how you divide your nutrient intake/calorie limit is you.
A lot goes into planning, preparing, and following a diet. Trying to balance what you like to eat with what you should be eating to maintain a healthy weight and body composition can be tricky. Don’t punish yourself with a extremely low-carbohydrate diet because it will probably be unsustainable. But if you want to make improvements, a good guide would be a diet that is low-sugar and low in saturated fats and high in healthy fats (like Omega-3s) and protein.
Understanding how fat and the other macronutrients make up these calories will only further ease the problems with designing a nutrient dense balanced diet. Remember, fat isn’t bad on its own. Focus on building a diet that you actually want to eat, keep it within a reasonable number of calories, add in more physical activity, and you’ll be closer to your weight loss goals than if you simply just reach for packaging that promises “low fat” or “reduced fat” foods.
When it comes to body composition testing and analysis, most people instantly think of body fat percentages and muscle mass . Yet today’s medical BIA (bioelectrical impedance analysis) devices do so much more than just measure body fat and muscle mass.
Body fat percentages are only one part of a complete body composition analysis. For body composition devices using Direct Segmental Multi Frequency-BIA technology (DSM-BIA), you can also measure and track other valuable indicators of your health like your visceral fat, body water distribution, segmental readings, and phase angle values.
Although your body fat percentage can be a strong indicator of your overall health and current state of your body composition, the aforementioned outputs are equally useful metrics that can help predict or detect health issues.
In this article, let’s go beyond the usual discussions on body fat and muscle mass when it comes to body composition. Read on for a in-depth explanation about your Phase Angle (PhA) – one of the most valuable, and misunderstood, health indicators provided by medical grade BIA devices.
What’s Phase Angle Anyway?
In his book The Water Secret: The Cellular Breakthrough to Look and Feel 10 Years Younger, celebrity dermatologist and skin care expert Dr. Howard Murad writes:
PhAs have given us a remarkable window into how the body responds to changes in health — for better or worse. This explains why people with illnesses such as HIV or cancer, or those who are nutritionally deficient, routinely exhibit low PhAs. As expected, PhAs also decrease with age as your body loses its capacity to repair and return over new cells as quickly as it did in its youth. The true age of a human being can be determined by the changes in the Phase Angle.
Furthermore, he elaborated:
The Phase Angle goes up when you’re healthy and down when you’re ill. It also goes down as you age. When you increase your Phase Angle, you slow down aging.
Slow down aging, did that catch your attention? But before we get to that, we need to learn the basics of PHa by reviewing the established facts and research.
Demystifying Phase Angle
Your PhA is a direct measurement of your cell integrity and the distribution of water within and outside the cell membrane. In his book Supercharge Your Cell Vitality, author Dr. Greg Barsten refers to PhA as merely a fancy name for cell membrane health.
Cell membranes hold in the important parts of the cell and also regulate what comes in and out. Think of this regulation like a fortress drawbridge.
In healthy humans, the cell membrane consists of a layer of non-conductive (insulator) lipid material sandwiched between two layers of conductive fluids (body water). When there are two conducting materials surrounding an insulator, we often refer to this insulator as a capacitor. That said, your cell membrane is like a fortress with capacitor-like capabilities that not only try to prevent currents from entering the cells but also other unwanted materials like toxins and waste. What this means is that healthy cells (or stronger capacitors) are better at preventing these unwanted substances from entering cells.
How is Phase Angle Measured?
In BIA, PhA is the relationship between resistance and reactance.
To understand these variables, you have to understand what lean body mass and body cell mass means.
Your Lean Body Mass (LBM) is the total weight of your organs, skin, bones, body water, and muscles. It describes the entire weight of your body minus your body fat. This is why it’s also often referred to as fat-free mass.
On Resistance, Reactance, and Impedance
Resistance happens when a conductor transfers the energy of (or moves) an electrical current. The greater the conductor, the lower the resistance. In the human body, low resistance is associated with large amounts of LBM. High resistance is associated with smaller or low amounts of LBM.
Body fluids consisting of water and charged ions readily conducts electrical currents. Both extracellular water or ECW (water and ionized sodium Na+) and intracellular water or ICW (water and ionized potassium K+) provide a conductive pathway. When a person has a lot of lean body mass, they have a lot of body water, meaning greater conductivity of the current and less overall resistance.
It’s also worth noting that resistance in the body is proportional to one’s LBM because water is contained solely within your LBM. The unit of measurement for resistance is ohms.
Reactance, on the other hand, gauges your cells’ ability to store energy. Your body has high reactance if your cells can store energy easily and it has low reactance if it stores energy poorly. Cells that are “healthy” or those with intact cellular membranes hold the electrical energy charge “longer.”
For this reason, your body reactance is proportional to both the amount and strength of the cells in your body. Like resistance, the unit of measurement for reactance is ohms.
Impedanta is the sum of resistance and reactance, but when evaluated trigonometrically, the relationship between resistance and reactance creates a ratio. This ratio is your PhA and is expressed in degrees.
You can measure your PhA and cell health using a Bioelectrical impedance device that sends electrical currents is used to assess cell membrane health. Impedance is measured by introducing a small alternating current into the body and measuring the effects on the current caused by the body. In humans, 50 KHz is considered ideal to maximize reactance and determine the point where cells are strongest at resisting the current (thus creating the highest PhA).
As the current travels in your body, your body water will naturally resist the flow of the energy current as it travels and this is referred to as resistance. To keep it simple, when the current encounters a cell, the cell wall will cause a “delay” as the voltage builds up enough energy to pass through the cell wall while the current continues instantaneously. The brief time delay caused by the cells is compared to the amount of water, providing us with a PhA, in degrees. Impedance is a combination of these two values.
Why You Should Care About Your Phase Angle
What does PhA have to do with your overall health?
By tracking your PhA, you’ll be able to gain a more precise picture of your health because it examines cell integrity health and the amount of water inside them.
Based on established research findings, higher PhA values suggest greater cellular integrity and reflects better overall cell health. A low PhA, on the other hand, is highly predictive of decreased muscle strength, impaired quality of life, and increased mortality in old adults with cancer. Low phase angles tend to be consistent in individuals with malnutrition, HIV/AIDS infection, cancer (discussed in detail below), chronic alcoholism, and old age.
Thus, keeping your pHa high through healthy lifestyle habits is encouraged.
How do you know if you’re PhA is within normal values or not?
In short, PhA values tend to differ based on the BIA device you’re using. In clinical practice, multi-frequency- and segmental-BIA may have advantages over single-frequency BIA in these conditions, but further studies and validation are still required.
Below is an example of PhA reading using InBody’s 770 model.
Phase Angle Reading Example:
Finally, it’s important to note that phase angle is dependent on every person’s individual makeup. To gauge progress, comparing your current phase angle readings to your previous readings is more important than comparing your PhA values with someone else’s.
Your Body Composition and Phase Angle: What’s the Connection?
Can improving your body composition help increase your phase angle values? It sure does.
A 2016 study revealed that age plus a combination of FFM (fat-free mass) and height were the most important variables that influence PhA variability among healthy subjects. The same research concluded that the ECW:ICW ratio may justify the variations shown in PhA when it comes to several clinical situations and severe obesity. When someone has inflammation or edema (causing a higher ECW/TBW), the health of their cells (and their phase angle) will be negatively affected.
Based on the study’s results, you are likely to increase your chances of improving your cellular health and PhA values if you take steps towards improving your body composition, whether it’s through nutrition, exercise, or a combination of both.
Other lifestyle factors that are most likely to impact phase angle variability include but are not limited to:
Consumption of highly processed meals
Lack of quality sleep
Stress (physical, mental, and emotional)
Lack of consistent physical activity
Excess intake of coffee, alcohol, and refined sugar
The same research concluded that the ECW:ICW ratio may justify the variations shown in PhA when it comes to several clinical situations and severe obesity.
In a healthy body, an ICW:ECW ratio of 3:2 is considered ideal. However, certain health conditions like renal disease, chronic inflammation, and even increased body fat mass in obesity (due to disruption of one of your body’s hormone systems (the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system) can potentially cause your ECW to go up.
For instance, patients with symptoms associated with heart failure have a limited ability for the heart to circulate blood, causing edema. Edema is irregular swelling caused by accumulation of fluid in certain tissues within the body. When this happens, PhA values will likely go down because the pressure from excess ECW causes cells normal functions to become compromised. In fact, phase angle seems to be an independent prognostic marker in patients with ADHF (acute decompensated heart failure) because of fluid retention. For the cells to function properly, it’s important to maintain or restore ideal (or near ideal) ECW (or extracellular) balance.
The link between your phase angle values and body composition can be summarized through the following:
Increased phase angle may be a result of:
Gains in muscle mass
Loss of inflammation and reduction of body fat
Decreased phase angle may be a result of:
Loss of muscle tissue
But wait, there’s one caveat: an increase in PhA is not always a good thing, nor should a decrease in your PhA values always be frowned upon.
Phase Angle: Implications for Clinical Practice
In regards to PhA’s use in clinical settings, research literature and data reveal the following:
A 2012 study found a significant association between low PhA and increased nutritional risk, increased hospital length of stay and non-survival. The researchers concluded that gauging PhA values can help quickly identify patients who are at nutritional risk at hospital admission. This will help save time on the hospital staff’s end (and possibly save the patient’s life) because they can forego in-depth nutritional assessments by doing a quick BIA test instead.
Another set of studies came up with identical conclusions. This time around, the implications of PhA to a patient’s nutritional status are more specific. It turns out that bioimpedance-derived PhA can be a potential nutritional indicator for patients with advanced colorectal cancer si breast cancer.
Finally, a research paper presented at the 2011 AAAI (Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence) 2011 Spring Symposium suggested that phase angle is an independent indicator of prognosis in cancer (of most types) because it illustrates cell membrane integrity and function that may not be possible with other approaches that gauge prognosis. In fact, the paper suggested phase angle-based biometric scoring systems for determining prognosis among cancer patients. This is good news because BIA is quick and noninvasive in comparison to tools and tests used in cancer prognosis.
Your PhA values can clue you in with what’s going on in your body. It can help identify health risks and address existing health issues and help track progress of lifestyle changes (diet and exercise). For most people, it has helped them make data-driven health and wellness decisions. Medical practices also use it to personalize a patient’s health care plan.
However, keep in mind that your PhA values are only part of the equation when it comes to assessing the current state of your health.
The rest of the body composition outputs (body fat, muscle mass, body water ratio) are equally valuable so finding a BIA device that can provide more detailed outputs is crucial. For instance, changes in your body fat percentages can be tricky to explain if the only outputs you have are merely body fat mass and fat-free mass values. For more accurate results, make sure you choose your BIA device wisely.
Kyjean Tomboc is a nurse turned freelance healthcare copywriter and UX researcher. After experimenting with going paleo and vegetarian, she realized that it all boils down to eating real food.
Menopause, which literally means the “pause” (end) of your “menses” (period), comes with many natural changes. Some women are lucky enough to skate through this time with no discomfort, while many experience the classic symptoms: fatigue, insomnia, and hot flashes. Reproductive and mood changes. And of course, the metabolic changes that result in weight gain around the torso and buttocks.
This increase in waist size has even earned a special name: “menopot”.
What exactly is going on during menopause, how does it affect your body composition, and what can you do about it? Read on as we answer these questions and more.
The physiological and metabolic changes of menopause
What exactly is happening during menopause? A lot! The transition to menopause, known as perimenopause, takes place over a period of several years. As the ovaries gradually reduce estrogen production, there are many hormonal fluctuations as the body adjusts to the inevitable shut-down of the ovaries.
A woman is officially in menopause when she has not gotten her period for 12-months straight. At this point, the ovaries have significantly reduced production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, ending a woman’s child-bearing years.
There are significant physiological and metabolic changes occurring at this time that directly affect your body composition. So, if you feel like the struggle to lose weight or change your body is more difficult than it was 10 or 15 years ago, it’s not your imagination.
Aging, in and of itself, has been associated with changes in body composition and weight. In general, as women age, lean muscle mass decreases while fat mass accumulates. Part of this change is due to the natural change of your metabolism as you age. Another significant factor is lifestyle.
Women tend to become less physically active as they pass from their 40’s into their 50’s. A decrease in physical activity means less calories burned, which inevitably leads to increased weight and fat mass and muscle mass loss. Another culprit is not adjusting caloric intake to compensate for the reduced metabolism.
Estrogens often referred to as the “female hormones,” are responsible for your sexual and reproductive development. Produced primarily by the ovaries in women, estrogen levels plunge when your ovaries stops releasing eggs.
Reduction in estrogen has a few negative effects on the body’s propensity to store fat. Animal studies have shown that lower estrogen not only increases appetite and food intake, it is also associated with changes in weight and fat distribution. Coupled with estrogen’s negative effects on your metabolism, which may reduce the rate at which your body burns calories and the efficiency in how your body handles starches and blood sugar, the end result is increased fat storage.
Commonly known as the “stress hormone”, the primary function of cortisol is to help you respond to stress. When cortisol prepares the body for a stressful situation, it often signals the breakdown of muscle tissue to release energy.
Chronic stress, which results in a continuous release of cortisol, has been associated with fat accumulation in the midsection of women. This leads to a vicious cycle as abdominal fat leads to more cortisol production and cortisol continues to promote fat in the abdomen.
To compound the issue, a study found that women in perimenopause and early postmenopause experience elevated nighttime cortisol levels. The study concluded that nighttime production of cortisol is associated with biological changes rather than actual environmental stress. This means that proper sleep and stress management may be important tools to prevent fat storage around the belly.
This leads to one of the most common complaints women have about their bodies after menopause is the loss of their waistline.
While a decline in reproductive hormones (follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, estrogen, and progesterone) has not yet been directly linked to weight gain, several studies shows that menopause does play a role in many midlife women’s transformation from a pear-shaped figure (wide hips and thighs with more weight below the waist) to an apple shaped figure (wide waist/belly with more weight above the hips).
Dispozitivul International Journal of Obesity published a study that investigated how menopause affects body composition and abdominal fat distribution. The study concluded that this period of life is associated with increased total fat mass. Another key finding confirmed, “the menopause transition appears to promote the selective accumulation of fat in the intra-abdominal compartment.”
Leptin is known as the “satiety” hormone. Produced by your fat cells, the hormone leptin determines the amount you eat, calories you expend and even how much fat your body stores. Leptin levels are based on an individuals’ fat mass and its primary purpose is to protect you from starvation.
Low levels of leptin signal your brain to increase feelings of hunger which trigger you to eat more while your body burns less energy.
Overall, women have higher leptin levels than men, which makes sense due to women naturally carrying a higher percentage of fat than men.
Combined with the other menopausal factors of aging, decreased estrogen, increased cortisol, and metabolic changes, the hormone leptin only adds to the struggle for women trying to control their weight gain and fat accumulation.
Is it a losing battle?
Absolutely not! While the odds seem to be stacked against you, you can take action to positively change your body composition after menopause. Remember to always consult with your physician before beginning a new exercise or eating plan. Here are some lifestyle changes you can take:
All levels of exercise intensity — light, moderate, and intense — are highly beneficial to post-menopausal women for impacting body composition.
One study concluded that intense physical activity resulted in significantly lower levels of total body fat in postmenopausal women.
Here’s one area in which postmenopausal women have an advantage (finally!): light physical activity has a greater impact on body composition in women after menopause than before. It is important to note this study also found that sedentary lifestyle is more strongly associated with an increase in waist circumference after menopause than before.
The bottom line? You don’t have to start intense daily endurance and strength training to see improvements. Small lifestyle changes can make a big difference. You can benefit from a variety of physical activities from gardening to walking.
Don’t forget strength training
The same principles apply postmenopause as they do at any age. You can’t forget your about fitness level just because you are aging. Strength training increases muscle mass and quality and helps balance your hormones like your estrogen levels. More muscle mass increases metabolism, which may contribute to diminished weight gain and decreased fat mass.
Now more than ever is the time to counteract that loss of muscle mass to prevent a slowdown of that metabolic rate. You should aim for strength training exercises at least two times per week to get the maximum benefit for your muscles. Consult with a fitness professional to help you get started.
Watch what you eat
To reach your target body composition may require permanent lifestyle changes rather than a stop-gap dieting approach. Keep in mind you may need about 200 calories less per day to maintain your weight in your 50’s than you did in your 30’s due to a decline/decrease in muscle mass. It is important not to take in too few calories as this will lead to muscle loss, which will slow your metabolism.
Instead of taking a restrictive dieting approach, aim to pay attention to what you eat and drink. Choose nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins and fats. And make sure you get the extra nutrients you need, like extra protein, to help you build muscle. Avoid processed foods and limit sweets and alcohol.
Get enough sleep
Menopause is notoriously a time of challenged sleep, and lack of quality sleep directly affects hormones that alter your body composition, increasing cortisol levels the next day and may accelerate the development of metabolic consequences. Practicing good sleep hygiene may help you get the 7-9 hours of nightly sleep you need. Sleep hygiene refers to habits that promote quality sleep, such as:
Regular exercise, but not too close to bedtime
Avoiding stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine, close to bedtime
Adequate exposure to natural light during the day to maintain sleep-wake cycle
Avoiding long naps (more than 30 minutes) during the day
Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine with limited TV time
Creating a comfortable sleep environment
Remember that stress hormone called cortisol? Effectively managing stress will reduce your body’s production of cortisol, which will help you avoid negative changes to your body composition, like fat gain and muscle loss. You can’t eliminate stress, but you can do things to help you handle it better. Exercise, meditation, yoga, tai chi, spending time with friends, or just doing things you enjoy are all effective strategies to decrease your cortisol levels.
While some women dread the arrival of menopause, many embrace the freedom from years of menstrual cramps and bloating. It is true you will likely experience changes during this midlife event — some not so welcome — but you can take control of your body composition with simple lifestyle changes.
Understanding the factors contributing to changes in your body composition — aging, estrogen, cortisol, fat redistribution, and leptin — is the first step to fighting the battle. At the same time, you will be warding off health conditions associated with an unhealthy body composition, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Regular physical activity, strength training, proper diet, adequate sleep, and stress management are all proactive things you can do to help during this natural aging process and help you enjoy your golden years.
Jennifer Boidy, RN is a freelance healthcare content writer who is always on the lookout for innovative technologies that improve health and the delivery of healthcare. Jennifer resides in Manchester, MD with her husband, two teenagers, dog, cat, and plenty of wildlife.
You might build up fat in your belly pretty easily, but your friend might get it in her arms. Your mom might complain about her hips getting bigger. Your brother might have fat in the upper body.
Everyone wishes that they could just magically reduce fat mass in a certain area. But unfortunately, you can’t. Targeting fat, or “spot reduction,” is a myth, and there’s no shortage of clinically-validated studies that disprove it.
At the conclusion of the 12-week study, MRI scans revealed no loss in fat between either arm.
So arms are out (as are legs), but what about the one a lot of people really fat: belly fat?
Well, in a recent (2011) study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, participants were divided into two groups and asked to perform abdominal exercises. The control group was allowed to train relatively unsupervised, while the experimental group was put on a controlled abdominal exercise workout plan.
The results for both groups?
“Six weeks of abdominal exercise training alone was not sufficient to reduce abdominal subcutaneous fat or other measures of body composition.”
No matter how many crunches or planks you do, you can’t target the fat that hugs your belly. You might develop some very strong ab muscles, but the fat will stay put.
So what can you do to get rid of stubborn fat in your problem spots? Are we to conclude that there is no point in working out different parts of your body when you want to lose fat? How does fat loss even work?
To answer these questions, we have to start with how fat gets there in the first place.
How Fat Mass Is Created and Stored
Body fat by itself is not bad; you need it to survive. However, excess body fat can cause health problems ranging from diabetes to hypertension to metabolic syndrome to a host of other serious problems.
Body fat mass is created when you are in a caloric surplus – taking in more calories than your body needs, or in plain speech: “overeating.” This is true for all humans, regardless of whether you’re male or female.
Here’s the thing: it’s actually a lot easier to get into a caloric surplus than you might think. Just because you’re eating until you feel full doesn’t mean you’re eating what will keep your body weight stable.
The 2,000-calorie diet you’re likely familiar with was designed to be the best estimate of people’s daily caloric needs, but since everyone has a unique body composition, 2,000 calories may be too little – or too much, especially if you’re inactive.
How can 2,000 calories be too much? Take the example of someone who is metabolically obese but has a normal weight – someone popularly termed “skinny fat.”
Body composition analysis reveals that this person (a female) has a body fat percentage of 35%, over the normal range for women. However, a closer look at her composition reveals that she bears the hallmarks of skinny fatness: a “normal” weight caused by underdeveloped muscle and overdeveloped fat.
She also has 88 pounds of Lean Body Mass, corresponding to a BMR of 1231 calories.
Assuming she lives a mostly sedentary lifestyle with no exercise, her Total Daily Energy Expenditure would be roughly 1477.2 calories.
This would mean that if she kept to a 2,000-calorie diet, she would be in a caloric surplus of 522.8 calories a day – meaning she could expect to gain roughly a pound of fat every week if she remained consistently on this diet every day.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or women; fat accumulation occurs in the same way. Where it ends up, however, can be a different story for both men and women.
Android obesity is a subset of obesity that most frequently occurs in men. It is characterized by weight gain in the midsection and upper chest and gives men a more rounded look. This is sometimes called “apple-shaped” obesity.
Men store more of their fat here because of their hormones, specifically, their testosterone levels. Women can also experience android obesity after menopause due to the decrease of estrogen in their bodies relative to testosterone.
Gynoid Obesity is another subset of obesity that most commonly occurs in pre-menopausal women. It is characterized by fat accumulation in the hips, legs, and buttocks. Because the fat accumulation generally takes place in the lower half of the body, gynoid obesity is referred to as “pear-shaped obesity.”
While everyone gains it the same way, fat accumulates in different places depending on gender, hormones, and other factors. Having fat show up in some places but not others creates the desire in people to want to target fat, which can lead them to look for strategies that help them do it.
Is there really no way to target fat?
Here’s What You Can and Can’t Target
Let’s take a look at targeting certain areas by exercising an area more than another.
What actually happens when you work out a muscle group? You challenge your muscles. Muscle fibers get torn and rebuilt, and with proper exercise and nutrition, they become more developed.
Although this can lead to localized blood flow in the exercised muscles leading to some interaction with the subcutaneous fat, the effects are very minimal and don’t contradict the studies that discount spot reduction.
In order to lose Fat Mass, you have to use more calories than you take in. This is called being in a “caloric deficit.” For example, if your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) is 2200, and you consume 1800 calories, you’re in a caloric deficit of -400 calories. If you can maintain this over time with proper nutrition, you’ll lose Fat Mass.
When you lose fat, you generally lose it in across your body at the same time. You can’t target any particular area over another.
However, fat loss does occur in some areas more rapidly than it does in others. Case in point: visceral fat.
Visceral fat is the fat you don’t see. It collects in your abdominal area and surrounds your internal organs. This type of fat is very dangerous in large quantities, and as associated with several serious health complications including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Metabolic Syndrome, high blood pressure, and more.
It’s also dangerous because it’s not typically visible. People can have significant amounts of visceral fat but not know it because their weight/appearance doesn’t give it away. These people are sometimes called “skinny fat.”
There is some good news, however. Although you can’t “target” it per se, visceral fat is particularly responsive to cardiovascular exercise, so if you start significantly increasing your running, biking, swimming, or whatever your cardio exercise of choice is, you can expect to “see” a reduction in visceral fat. One study has even shown that for people whose BMIs exceed 25.0, cardiovascular exercise alone, even without a caloric deficit, can have a positive impact on visceral fat reduction.
To Target Your Fat – All of It – Get Back to Basics
If you have problem fat areas, you should let go of the idea that you can target them by doing exercises in that area. It’s been proven conclusively that you cannot do this, and the sooner you let it go, the sooner you can focus on what does work: proper diet and exercise.
So to target your problem fat areas, you need to target your entire body and follow the same basic guidelines for effective fat loss that will last.
Get Your Body Composition Determined
This is an important first step, and one that a lot of people skip: get your body composition determined. This will allow you to learn your body fat percentage, which will reveal valuable information about your body, including:
How much Fat Mass you have
How much Lean Body Mass you have
With that information, you can find out even more useful information, such as:
Your Basal Metabolic Rate
Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure
These two are particularly important because they’ll help you determine how many calories your body needs in a day. If you need help with figuring that out, here’s a guide to get you started on planning a diet using your body composition data.
Using Your TDEE, Plan a Diet For Fat Loss
Your TDEE will be an extremely useful number for you. You can think of it like a “calorie budget.” You can “spend” your “budget” on different foods and beverages throughout the day, with the goal of “saving” calories at the end of the day (your caloric deficit). How you “spend” your budget is up to you, but you will still want to make healthy choices throughout the day.
There are numerous diets that you might follow. Don’t follow any that ask you to eat a certain number of calories or one that worked for someone that you know. These won’t necessarily work for you. Use your own, personal TDEE as a guideline to determine how much you should be eating in a day.
If you plan to work out to increase your TDEE, include cardio and strength training.
Cardio, particularly HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) cardio, can be an effective way to increase your TDEE, and if your diet holds constant, will increase your caloric deficit and lead to fat loss.
However, just focusing on cardio alone isn’t a good idea. If you only run, bike, or do some kind of other type of cardio exercise without any strength training, you can start to lose Lean Body Mass (which your Skeletal Muscle Mass is a part of).
Losing Lean Body Mass and Fat Mass at the same time will make it a lot harder to improve your body composition and will keep you from getting the look you want. Fortunately, studies have shown that incorporating strength training can preserve Lean Body Mass while you’re in a caloric deficit to lose fat. Don’t neglect the weights!
By getting back to the basics of dieting and exercising properly, you’ll chip away at your problem areas slowly but surely. Try not to focus on short term goals and avoid any shortcut diets that advertise “weight loss secrets”, “diet hacks” or any other scam-sounding diet. If you want a guaranteed way to target your fat – all of it – get back to basics by improving your body composition.