When you hear the words “weight loss” or “fat loss,” what are the first images that come to mind?
If you're like many women out there who don’t have a formal education in exercise physiology or nutrition, then you may imagine eating nothing but leafy greens and steamed, unseasoned chicken. That image alone is enough to cause someone to reexamine her goals of leaning out and losing fat.
Everywhere you look there are “experts” who are claiming that their methods for fat loss are superior to everyone else’s. It’s easy (they say). All you have to do is eliminate this macronutrient or add that supplement and you will miraculously become lean in a couple of days! Are you ready for the whole story of these fad diets and fat loss methods?
They cause you to drop water weight over the course of a week or two while you are deprived of some certain type of “bad food” while wanting to ambush anyone who walks by with a plate of “forbidden food!” Don’t fall for the fancy marketing. These methods are not sustainable and they often lead to weight gain after your will power fades.
So what’s a reasonable approach to female fat loss? How can a woman lean out without wanting to gnaw off a limb or spend a lifetime on a treadmill? Here are some of the most common misconceptions about fat loss and what you can do to avoid the common pitfalls associated with female weight loss programs.
1. The Unintentional Starvation Diet
The biggest lie about female fat loss is that you have to starve yourself in order to lose fat. It is said that the biggest lies are the ones closest to the truth, and that is the case when it comes to fat loss.
The truth about fat loss is that you need to be in a slight calorie deficit in order to lose body fat. If you want to lose a pound of fat in one week, you need to cut 500 calories a day. That’s it! No more and no less. To put things in perspective, you can drop 500 calories a day by eliminating sugary drinks from your daily diet and replacing them with water.
There's no need to cut calories drastically and starve yourself to the point that your metabolism shuts off altogether. When you drastically cut calories, your body responds by clinging to any fat that you do have to save its energy stores because it senses that you are in a time of famine. When this happens, your body starts breaking down tissue that costs the most calories to maintain, aka muscle. Any weight lost from extreme calorie reduction is most likely muscle and water. This creates the “skinny fat” look instead of a more desirable lean appearance.
There are a number of formulas out there to estimate how many calories that your need each day. One easy way is to take your bodyweight in kilograms (pounds divided by 2.2) and multiply by 38. This will give you a great place to start, and you can adjust from there every two weeks or so by subtracting 200-500 calories.
For example, a 130 pound woman will require around 2200 calories a day to start, and adjustments can be made when fat loss stops. This is the correct and sustainable way to lose fat and ensure that you are keeping as much muscle as possible while in a slight calorie deficit.
When you make adjustments, remember that less is more when it comes to the amount of calories you cut each time. Your diet should still provide you the energy necessary to train intensely with weights and during your cardio sessions. If it doesn’t, reexamine how many calories you are consuming each day or pick a day each week where you spike the number of calories you consume via a cheat meal. The point here is that you should not be starving while trying to lose fat!
2. Marathon Treadmill Sessions
The second biggest lie about female fat loss is that you must spend hours on the treadmill to burn fat. This can actually be detrimental to your fat loss goals, especially if you are already over worked and over stressed from life outside the gym.
Reducing the amount of stress in your life is a huge part of leaning out because it lowers the production of the stress hormone Cortisol. Elevated during times of stress, Cortisol causes your body to store extra body fat. When you pile on additional stress from spending an hour and a half performing cardio, you are providing your body with an extended period of elevated Cortisol that you don’t need.
So instead of performing incredibly long sessions on the treadmill or elliptical, crank up the intensity of your cardio by performing shorter, high intensity interval training also known as HIIT. These sessions can be whatever form of exercise you choose. Some of my favorites include kettlebell swings or complexes, jumping rope, sled pushes/pulls, riding dual action bikes like the Schwinn Air-dyne, burpees, or a combination circuit of some kind.
The key to HIIT is to realize that you need intense effort during each work interval in order to get results. You should have a starting work to rest ratio of 1:3. A great place to start is with 30 seconds of all-out effort (and I mean all-out) followed by 90 seconds of recovery repeated up to 10 times in one training session. If you do 10 rounds of HIIT at 30 seconds work to 90 seconds rest, your session will last 20 min.
Once you can handle a 1:3 work to rest ratio, try a 1:2 ratio until you can perform a 1:1 work to rest ratio. Not only will this type of training encourage fat loss, but it will free up time for you to rest and relax and de-stress from the rest of the day so you can continue to lean out.
3. Lifting for Spot Reduction
The third largest lie about female fat loss is known as spot reduction. Many believe that in order to flatten out the stomach and trim up the upper arms, you just do endless crunches and triceps kickbacks with a 3lb dumbbell. This is just plain wrong.
Fat loss is not site specific which means that you cannot reduce the amount of fat on your abs by doing more crunches! In addition, when you are burning fat, your body does not select a specific site to utilize its fat stores, but draws from all over the body. Don’t make the mistake of training for spot reduction at the cost of neglecting other areas of your body! Train the whole body and you will like the results you see a lot more than if you were to spend all your time at the gym doing nothing but cardio and abs!
Instead of focusing on one specific area of your body, focus on compound, multi-joint exercises and train to build muscle! Even if you are trying to lose fat, your objective during your workout is to build or maintain muscle mass. It is especially important for women to train their upper body because women tend to overlook it in their training and instead focus on their legs and abs where they are strongest.
If you are training to change your body composition, perform three weight training sessions a week and fill in the gaps with HIIT cardio sessions and you will see results as long as you are eating the proper amounts of food as discussed earlier.
Learning from These Mistakes
Fat loss is made out to be more complicated than it really is. It takes a reasonable diet that is maintained consistently, good weight training and cardio routines, proper recovery and stress management, and time.
I know that we live in a day and age where we can get almost everything we want immediately, but the human body requires time for change to become noticeable. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results right away, and don’t make any drastic changes to your diet.
Trust the process and give your body time to adapt to any new changes to diet or exercise.
If you have any questions about debunking these myths, go ahead and ask in the comments.