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:








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