Let’s break it down: fat accumulates when unused calories are stored in the body as energy reserves. Just demolished an entire Domino’s pizza and wondering how to burn the fat off the next day? If you aren’t planning on running a marathon the next day then it’s likely you didn’t quite need as many calories, and more than a slice or two will be sticking around your middle.
Sugar is a killer, and are in more foods than you might think. Desserts obviously contain spoonfuls of it, but carbohydrate-heavy foods (bread, pasta, cereal, beer, fruits, smoothies) are also serial offenders, as carbs are broken down into their constituent sugars in the body, leaving you feeling more than a bit doughy.
We’re talking literally here. Approximately 300,000 US deaths per year are estimated to be linked directly to obesity. Meanwhile, in the UK, one in four adults is obese, according to the NHS. This can lead to a plethora of nasty problems, from heart attack to stroke, depression, and some cancers. Not only does the visceral fat stored just below the skin put extra strain on your organs, those living a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to overindulge, creating a deadly cycle.
But, hope is on the horizon. According to the most recent data nearly 58 million US citizens held gym memberships as of 2016, while on Instagram the hashtag #wellness has over 20 million results – evidence of our international obsession with burning fat, getting in shape and living healthily. But, buying a gym membership is the easy part. Figuring out a weight-loss regimen that works for you, and sticking to it, is another matter.
So, What Are The Shortcuts?
“To be honest, there aren’t really any shortcuts,” begins Roar Fitness PT Luke Grahame. “Fat loss takes time and anything claiming that it produces results in a week is trying to sell you a lie. The most valuable fat loss hack that can be learned in a week is to understand that being ‘in shape’ is a long term pursuit that goes deeper than ‘no carbs before Marbs’.”
Whilst fat loss isn’t black and white, a ‘calories in vs calories out’ approach (often referred to as the Law of Thermodynamics) is a good place to start. The Law of Thermodynamics, Luke explains, states that to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in. Roughly, 7700kcals burned equals a loss of 1kg, of which there are 6.3 to a stone, or 0.4 per pound. Sounds difficult right? But before you jettison anything with even a hint of flavour from your fridge, you might want to take in this advice from Third Space trainer Luke Barnsley.
“Your calorie deficit doesn’t have to be large, it just needs to be consistent. Fitness watches and heart rate monitors will allow you to predict how many calories you are burning per day, whereas recording the calories you eat using an app (like Myfitness Pal) will allow you track how many calories you are consuming. Even a deficit of 150 calories, kept consistently over time, will yield fat loss results.”
That said, carving away at a surplus of weight 150 calories at a time is going to take a while, so it’s worth formulating a plan for a sustained attack that will burn fat faster (especially if you’re after a so-called summer body). An easy way to work out how large a calorie deficit you’ll need is to use an online macro calculator, like this.
Which Fat-burning Foods Should I Stock Up On?
“Foods don’t burn fat,” says Barnsley. “Instead, focus on eating whole foods and lots of veggies. Foods containing protein and/or fibre can help you feel fuller for longer (therefore it’s easier to stay in a calorie deficit and you don’t get as ‘hangry’).”
Harley Street nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert has also had enough of the idea of magical ‘fat burning foods’. “There is no such thing as a ‘fat burning’ food. And whilst on the topic, ‘fat burning’ supplements are also a no go. The key to effective and long term weight loss is eating well consistently. There are no ‘quick fix’ foods that will burn body fat.”
Lambert also recommends ensuring that you eat enough protein, fruit and vegetables, and a balance of complex carbs (which release their energy slowly, stopping you feeling hungry). Barnsley suggests buying in oats and kidney beans to help boost your fibre, and chicken breasts, lean cuts of meat and egg whites to fill you up with satiating protein.
“The best foods for fat loss are the ones that provide high quality nutrition but are hard to over-consume,” says Luke. “By that measure, steak is a fat burning food. Broccoli is a fat burning food. Donuts are not.” But you already knew that, didn’t you?
Can I Sweat It Off?
Yes, as long as your diet is on point. Regular exercise – moving at around 50-60% of your Vo2 max – is the optimum way to encourage fat loss when used to augment a reduced calorie diet. And there are ways to speed up the process: according to the College of New Jersey, running at 85% of your max output for 20 minutes before dropping to 65% effort can help you lose 23% more calories per gym session. Meanwhile, fitting your food into an eight hour window has been found to reduce body fat by 16.4%, according to the Journal of Translational Medicine.
High-intensity exercise can also help, whether that’s a hell-sent burpee workout or plain old dumbbell exercises performed with lighter weights but in an interval fashion. The point is, whatever exercise you actually enjoy can be tailored to maximise fat loss.
If you’re particularly pushed for time, Barnsley’s fast fat burning workout – inspired by Third Space’s After Burner class – will help fire up your fat-burning engine. If you can (safely) manage it pre-breakfast, or on a small breakfast, you’ll encourage your body to burn off sorted fat, rather than the food you just ate.
Fat Burning WOD
5x Chest To Floor Push Ups – A normal push up, with an emphasis on touching your chest to the ground
10x TRX Row – If you can’t find TRX equipment, any rowing machine on max effort will work
15x Goblet Squat – Hold a mid-level weight in your hands, keeping it at chest height as you squat, and return to standing
200m Run – Get moving
Beginner: 15 min AMRAP (as many rounds as possible – i.e. work through the format as many times as you can before the time runs out)
Intermediate: 20 min AMRAP
Advanced: 30 min AMRAP
How Can I Hack My Six-Pack?
Technically speaking, losing weight takes time – even if you are smashing through the kettlebell workouts. However, there’s nothing to say you can’t speed up the process of burning fat or at least looking like you’ve lost weight at least. A few simple hacks can help nudge you in the right direction.
Set Long-term Goals
A Finnish study found that boxers who crash-dieted were three times more likely to be obese by age 60. Instead of cutting weight for a week in the sun, focus on getting fitter in order to complete a testing fitness event in the future, like your first half marathon or triathlon. This not only helps shift your focus, but relieves some of the pressure of getting cut in a fortnight.
Protein is the building block of muscle, and it also keeps you full when you’re trying to lose weight. Protein powders can be good but often come with plenty of carbohydrates. Red meat, however, can help. Beef, lamb, venison and so on can help you re-up your testosterone levels, which encourages fat loss and also means you’ll have more energy in the tank for your next gym session. Grass-fed beef is particularly high in testosterone-boosting CLA. Steak tonight?
Laugh It Off
A study by the Loma Linda University in California found that regular laughter slows the effect of the fat-enabling hormone cortisol. Allow yourself to unwind in front of Netflix to help shift the pounds. Just leave the popcorn on the side.
Use Your Day Of Rest
Chinese researchers found that subjects ingesting 4g of l-histidine per day lost an inch from their waist size without making any other changes to their diet. It just so happens that your Sunday joint of lamb is packed with the stuff, so pile your plate high.
The fat-metabolising catechins in green tea have long been known to help you slim down. But a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that white tea has substantial fat burning powers. Not only that, but it prevents the formation of new fat cells, too. So stick the kettle on.
Dough It Out
The occasional pizza is forgivable, but on a limited timescale, you can’t really afford to make best friends with Papa Johns. If you absolutely do have to have a slice, wait until the morning after. Carbs that have been cooked then cooled are converted into fatty acid rather than sugar, in the body, which is a far better form of fitness fuel.
Bloating will derail even the most defined abs. Opt for probiotic foods rich in fibre to help deflate your gut before you hit the beach. Watermelon is ideal. Although, not in a cocktail…
Weigh It Up
The more you weigh, the harder your body has to work. This is the same principle behind why larger people tend to lose weight more easily, and that last inch of flab is always the hardest to shift. The European Journal of Applied Physiology confirms this. In a recent study, athletes training in a weighted vest approximating 10% of their bodyweight significantly improved their fitness, helping them reach the VO2 Max fat-melting spot of 70%. Invest in a vest.
Overloading on high-fibre vegetables is a great way to feel full, but sometimes this can be problematic. In particular, their starch raffinose can be difficult for the body to digest, and can lead to unflattering bloating. Squeezing lemon juice over your greens before eating, however, helps encourage the breakdown of the tough fibres, ensuring a smooth passage.
What Else Can Slow My Progress?
You’ve got your calorie intake balanced out, and are sticking to your daily workouts. So what’s stopping you burning fat? It turns out that lack of sleep could be a huge factor.
“Lack of sleep decreases the levels of a hormone called leptin, which tells the body you’re full,” says Luke. “As such, when you’re tired you’ll crave food, especially easily consumable carbohydrates – basically sugar cravings. This can lead to overeating.”
Stress, too can encourage your body to store fat, as part of an age-old survival mechanism. Likewise, caffeine from coffee and tea also releases the stress hormones, with the same effect. Swap your second coffee for water (men need to drink 3-4 litres per day). This will also have the effect of helping you feel fuller.
Overworking and picking up ready meals on the way home are the antithesis of a targeted diet, too. In general, try to chill out.
For all the marginal gains (or rather losses), the best advice for fast fat loss is simply to formulate a plan, and do your best to stick to it. If you’re looking to lose weight in a hurry, you have less leeway when it comes to the occasional cheat meal or pint. But, if you’re looking at a long-term plan, accept that you’re going to slip up from time to time, and that’s fine.
Whatever your goals, don’t beat yourself up. You’ll get there eventually, and there’s no point being ripped but miserable, after all.