Georgie, The mother of one of my former students recently gave me a copy of Fuel Up and recommended your website. After my annual check up with my gynocologist midwife, I asked her about healthy weight and such to find out that I have a BMI of 25% (146 lbs 5 feet 3 inches). She said that I was slightly in the overweight category; hearing her say those words has prompted me to get my weight in the “normal” range. I feel fine, have great health, and exercise everyday but would like to carry less extra fat around my hips, arms, belly, butt, and face. Can you help me customize a nutrition and fitness plan to achieve this goal?
Hi Natalie! Thanks for the letter. I’m asked about this type of service often, but with the exception of national or Olympic-caliber athletes, I don’t provide customized nutrition programs. That’s not just because I’m busy, but because you probably don’t need one. If you want to place at a bodybuilding or figure show, you need a customized program and I’ll get out the calculator. But to move into the healthiest/happiest weight for you – you really can do it with much less angst and rigor. Attaining a healthy weight is done pretty much the same way for everyone: a sound exercise routine, and healthy foods in the right amounts, at the right times.
It’s great that you already exercise daily! Pat on the back! Since you are are only on the cusp of the overweight category, you really probably can benefit from a few habit changes, rather than a “lifestyle overhaul”. Here are a few steps that can help nudge your weight down and keep you feeling great and in good health for many years to come!
- Change up your routine: If you do the same workout all the time, your body gets used to it and becomes more efficient at meeting the demands you place on it. In the end, that means you stop seeing results and burn fewer calories doing the identical activity! If you usually bike, try walking instead. Doing aerobics classes daily? Take a martial arts session or kettlebell class instead.
Add weight training and high intensity interval training.Weight training is crucial for keeping your metabolism up as you age, and helping shed body fat. Hire a trainer for a session if you need to, it’s the best investment you can make in learning good form. Using weights is also important to help maintain bone mass. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is also necessary for optimal body composition changes. Consider HIIT the magic bullet for changing body composition – in the least time, you can do much better things for your body than steady state cardio. Working at a near-maximal effort for a brief burst stimulates your body differently than jogging for miles. It preserves muscle tissue, decreases your body’s tendency to store fat, and ramps up your metabolism for hours afterward! To start changing your body with HIIT, perform 20-30 seconds of all-out (I mean ALL-OUT) activity (sprinting, biking, rowing, or elliptical will all do) and then take 30-60 seconds of rest to catch your breath and recover. Repeat 5 times and in less than 10 minutes you’ll be accomplishing more than you would in 30 minutes of steady cardio.
- Look out for the less nutritious foods in your diet. Foods like soda, candy, desserts, crackers, chips and the like provide lots of calories with no nutrition. Simply put: eat less of them. Keeping a food log for 3 days can be a real eye-opener to start this.
- Fill half of your plate at each meal with fruit and vegetables. By virtue of the limited real-estate remaining for more calorie-dense items, you’ll automatically reduce the calorie content of your meal while giving your body more of the nutrients most people lack (vitamins, minerals, fiber, slow-digesting carbohydrates, and antioxidants). Win-Win.
- Choose some lean protein with every meal. See Fuel Up for more details on the why’s and how’s of this one, since I know you already own it!
Swap out calorie-containing drinks.The magnificent appetite mechanism your body came equipped with just wasn’t calibrated for liquids, so eat whole fruit instead of juice, water or seltzer instead of soft drinks, and unsweetened tea instead of sugar-laden varieties. Your body can better regulate your energy intake from solid foods, and decreasing added sugar intake will prevent fat-storage-inducing insulin spikes. Low calorie drinks are better than high calorie ones (i.e. coffee with a little milk instead of a glug of cream), but aim to keep even these to a limited amount.
So there you have it. Put those 6 bulleted points into place, and I’d bet you don’t need me to crack out the calculator and start crunching macronutrient ratios or designing a carb cycling program for you to have success. Why make it harder than it has to be?
For anyone out there who is a numbers fiend, or who can’t bear the thought of such simplicity possibly working for you, you unique little snowflake, head over to Livestrong.com and use their Daily Plate program to log your foods and see how your habits compare to the recommended intakes for your age and lifestyle).
Follow these simple steps and I’m sure you’ll see your BMI under 25 in no time! (Pssst, it’s always worth a mention that if your muscle mass is high, having a BMI slightly over the cutoff of 25 is not associated with increased health risk.)