The New Science of Slim
You’ve got flab, we’ve got solutions. Our fat-fighting experts answer 9 common weight-loss questions
LOSING WEIGHT CAN FEEL like a battlefield. Yes, you’re exercising and watching what you eat, but you aren’t seeing the muscle gain and fat loss you want. Never fear – Men’s Health experts are here to answer your toughest questions, tweak your routine and guide you along your journey towards a superhero physique
I like my beer... but not my belly. How many kilojoules can I drink in a day?
Budget kilojoules much as you budget money. It’s one part of your decision-making pie. (Mmm... pie.) If you’re on a 8 368kJ diet (that’s 2 000 calories), a good goal for a guy who works out three days a week and wants to lose weight, you can take in 836 to 1 673 “anything” kilojoules a day. But according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, men eat more kilojoules and make unhealthier food choices on days they drink alcohol. David Levitsky, a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell, says even a slight buzz makes you focus on immediate gratification (food) rather than long-term goals (weight loss). He recommends eating a snack rich in protein and healthy fats, such as nuts, before that first sip. That will keep your blood sugar levels steady and slow alcohol absorption, which can help fend off post-drinking pig-outs, he says. In any case, you’ll want to limit alcohol to two drinks a day, 14 a week, to avoid trouble.
I’m trying to lose weight with replacement meals. Is there a better way?
Yes: learn to cook. It’s the key to a lean body and a fat wallet – and it keeps you in control of the kilojoules you’re eating, says Lindsay Martin. One Harvard School of Public Health analysis claims that swapping refined grains for healthier whole foods – fruits, vegetables, and fish – costs about R20 extra a day. Martin swears by “cross-utilisation”: buying simple, healthy staples and making as many meals with them as possible.
I tried to cut out sugar and went crazy with cravings. What can I do?
It’s all in the timing: when you eat and how slowly you kick the habit. “You’re hardwired to crave sugary foods because they have readily available kilojoules,” says Dr Yoni Freedhoff, author of The Diet Fix. “When you’re really hungry, you crave foods high in kilojoules. It’s a physiological response as well as a psychological one.” So avoid a biscuit binge by eating to minimise hunger: plan three well-balanced meals and two snacks a day that include plenty of protein, which has a higher satiating power than fat or carbs. Now make another plan to gradually cut the sweet stuff. If you abruptly slash your sugar intake by half, your palate will freak out, says Freedhoff. Set a goal to cut your consumption by 10% a week; in five weeks, you’ll hit that 50% milestone. First, target those liquid sugars: you can swap in a diet soda for regular at first, but try to switch to just water or tea. Next, look at the added sugars in your diet and start replacing them with lower-sugar alternatives. If you’re salivating over ice cream, try Greek yoghurt with fresh fruit or a frozen banana. “A lot of times, it’s less about the food itself than it is the habit of eating and the reward that comes along with it,” says Men’s Health nutrition advisor Mike Roussell. “You can keep the habit but cut out the sugar.”
To crank up metabolism, what’s more important: diet or exercise?
Actually, your genes are, but you can fine-tune your metabolism. Kilo-for-kilo, muscle burns more kilojoules than fat, explains Diana Thomas, director of the Centre for Quantitative Obesity Research at Montclair State University. The best way to increase muscle and decrease fat is with high-intensity interval resistance training (HIRT), says Thomas. HIRT builds muscle and burns fat – and continues to do so even after you leave the gym. In one recent Italian study, lifters doing HIRT burned 18% more kilojoules 22 hours after exercising than guys who did traditional strength training.
How much harm can a side of fries do?
Perhaps none – and it may even help you drop kilos. Weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint, and of course you’ll indulge. But you’ve just used up your daily calorie allowance. “Your junkfood allotment shouldn’t take up more than 10 to 20% of your total daily kilojoules,” says Men’s Health nutrition adviser Alan Aragon. Let’s do the maths: On a 8 368kJ (2 000 calories) diet, that’s 835 to 1 675 kilojoules on a splurge item. A medium order of fries can run about 1 675 kilojoules, and keep in mind that it’s also a starch infused with unhealthy fats. But if you deprive yourself of foods you love, you might be more likely to binge later on, says Aragon.
There are so many diets out there! Which one is the best to lose weight on?
No one diet works for everyone. In fact, scientists are starting to tire of fad diets altogether. The reason: they are just plain unappealing. “People should avoid any diet plan that tells them to needlessly avoid food groups,” says Aragon. “The best diet is the one you can actually keep, and it should be individualised to your personal preferences.” If you pick a diet that excludes, say, bread, and you love bread, you’re likely to cave in to your craving and blow off the diet entirely. Healthy eating pulls from all the food groups, but in moderation. The research is backing up that approach. A review from Yale University looked at some of the most popular diets – Paleo, low-fat/vegetarian, low-carb, Mediterranean and others – and found that none is superior in terms of weight loss. Check out the chart below, and borrow the healthy eating strategies that work for you. Skip the ones that don’t.
What’s a safe way to drop kilograms quickly? Do prescription pills help?
First of all, a safe weight-loss rate is 500 grams to 1 kilogram a week. Any faster and you’ll lose both fat and muscle. And if you regain the weight quickly, as often happens with lose-weight fast diets, you could end up with a higher percentage of body fat, says Holly Herrington of Northwestern University. The best way to slim down is to eat fewer kilojoules (with lots of healthy fruits, vegetables, grains and lean proteins) and exercise more. You should include both cardio and musclestrengthening workouts, 45 to 60 minutes a day most days of the week. Simple. And don’t even think about an over-the-counter shortcut to get cut for the beach. Those prescription meds are intended for clinically obese people. If you’re seeking weight loss help through medication, check with your doctor first: these drugs can pose serious health risks.
What’s the best exercise to blast midsection flab?
To lose your gut, do a total-body blasting exercise that torches fat all over. (You’ll see fat losses in your arms, chest and shoulders before you sculpt that stubborn belly.) “The kettlebell swing is great: it’s a power-building exercise that can also be a metabolism-cranking workout,” says Men’s Health fitness advisor BJ Gaddour. To work your whole body instead of just your legs, swap in a 30-minute kettlebell routine for 30 minutes on the treadmill. To really carve your core, try single-arm swings (above). “Your core muscles have to work harder to resist the tilting and turning forces around your spine,” says Gaddour.
I run six days a week, but my belly is still there. What am I doing wrong?
Your dedication to distance running is admirable, but if that’s your main weight-loss activity, it’s time for a rethink. You should consider mixing some weightlifting days into your schedule and adding lots of explosive exercises into your routine. But you’re a runner. That’s fine. “To build your body so it can tolerate longer and harder bouts of exercise (and burn more kilojoules) mix up your training with hard and easy days,” says exercise physiologist Janet Hamilton. Here’s Hamilton’s prescription:
WEIGHT-LOSS GUESSWORK CAN FEEL ABOUT AS ACCURATE AS COUNTING BEANS IN A JAR
REV YOUR METABOLISM
WITH THE RIGHT
MOVES SO YOU DON’T
FEEL LIKE YOU’RE
RUNNING IN THE DARK
EAT THE FOODS YOU LOVE IN MODERATION, AND YOU’LL STAY ON TOP OF YOUR WEIGHT-LOSS GAME.