How many of you moms and dads out there are trying to get back in shape? Any of you trying to shed pounds and burn fat? For the last month and a half, I have been trying to do all these things. Slowly, I have been losing pound by pound, and today I finally hit my goal!
I was aiming for a weight loss of 15 lbs from January 1st to May 1st. One month and three weeks into my regimen, I have already hit my goal weight. I was shocked when I read the scale this morning. I had been floating between 13 and 14 lbs for the last week and a half, and today I finally dropped that last stubborn pound!
My routine this year has been quite simple, and although I haven't been absolutely perfect, I have stayed pretty true to the course I set for myself. I believe that there are three key areas in regards to losing weight, all of which must be combined in order to achieve the results desired.
Diet is absolutely the most important factor when trying to shed pounds. My decision to completely change my diet was a very hard one, but I was honestly afraid of gaining more weight. When I took a look at all the fast food, soft drinks, and high calorie foods I was consuming on a day to day basis, I was appalled.
I realize many people think that exercising and working out as hard as they can will give them quick, visible results. But without a good, quality diet plan, all that hard work can end in frustration when people do not see changes.
There are many diets out there, but I stick to three principles. First, eat five small meals throughout the day, as opposed to three larger meals. This helps keep metabolism high and fights off hunger. Second, there is a saying that if a food wasn't here a thousand years ago, stay away. So I do. Third, I eat high quality proteins with each of my meals, complimented by a full serving of fruits or vegetables. I eat high amounts of chicken, fish, shrimp, and turkey each week (white meats tend to have higher protein and have less fat content than red meats). I can also get protein via nuts, yogurt, whey protein drinks, brown rice, and beans.
Now, when I say diet, I do not mean I am cutting back on calories. I am eating the amount of calories recommended for someone my height and weight. Right now, I'm at roughly 2000 calories a day. I am not starving myself by any means. By eating five smaller meals a day, I never really feel hungry to the point that I go rush to look for a snack, or have to stop by McDonald's for a dollar cheeseburger or two.
The one struggle I have with eating this way is how bland it can be at times. To combat this, I stock up on fresh herbs, such as cilantro and flat leaf parsley, and spices such as coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper, amongst many others. I can create a variety of meals that never leave me bored. I tend to drift towards the spicy side when I cook, and fresh jalapenos or crushed red pepper always add some heat. You can see one of my bland food remedies in my Pico de Gallo Recipe post.
Protein is key in burning fat and boosting metabolism. To make an intricate process simple, I'll just say that when working out, muscle is broken down. Muscles then rebuild themselves via the protein we eat. Eating high amounts of protein also keeps our blood sugar levels stable, so when we work out, greater amounts of fat can be used as energy.
Remember how I said I eat a full serving of fruits or vegetables with each meal? This is how I combat hunger. Both are very high in fiber, and fiber is absolutely vital to overall health and trying to lose weight. These fresh sources of fiber keep you from feeling hungry for longer periods of time, not to mention keeping your digestive tract clean and healthy.
Water, water, and more water. I am always drinking water, as it is vital to my ultimate goal of getting back into shape. I have just about given up all other beverages with the exception of the occasional Crystal Light or Fuze drinks. Water functions on so many levels in the human body, that I cannot cover them all here, but I will tell you the important ones specific to burning fat and losing weight. First, water ultimately provides the means for nutrient transportation to everything in my body. Second, water transports oxygen to the cells of my body. My workouts are intense, and oxygen management is key to the ability to complete my routines. Finally, many times people often confuse thirst for hunger. The body basically tricks the mind into thinking it is hungry, when actually it needs hydration. I keep several bottles of water in the refrigerator that I grab throughout the day. Remember, hydrate all day long, not just during meals and when working out.
2. Interval Training
Interval training is the second most important aspect of burning fat and losing weight. There are many different types of interval training, but I follow a custom routine that focuses on my individual skills and abilities. As I get better during these workouts, I gradually increase the intensity and duration.
By definition, interval training is a repetition of short bursts of medium to high intensity activities, followed by brief periods of rest. For example, I use an advanced form of interval training called high intensity interval training, or HIIT. My exercise of choice is sprinting. Biking, rowing, and jump roping are other types of workouts that comply. The idea is to find a high intensity activity that uses as many muscle groups as possible. Sprinting is widely recommended as the best option, but for those that have limitations disabling them from running, the other forms mentioned above are decent alternatives.
I would love to cover the benefits of interval training in regards to weight loss, but intervaltraining.net does a MUCH better job. Check them out, it is very informative reading!
When I first began my interval training, I aimed for three days a week. I started out by stretching for five minutes, followed by 30 jumping jacks. Then I ran a light jog for about three minutes to warm up. I did three sets of 30 second sprints as hard and as fast as I could, followed by three minutes of rest (walking). Let me tell you, I about passed out after my first time. The second day was still tough, but the third was much easier. I followed this routine for 3 weeks. Then I moved up to four days a week, with stretching, warming up, and doing four sets of 45 second sprints followed by two and a half minute rests. This is currently the level of intensity I am still at. I hope to push myself to five days a week, with five sets of 45 to 60 second full-out sprints, followed by two and a half minute rests.
Interval Training vs Cardio
One quick little subject I would like to cover is the fact that many people do various forms of cardiovascular workouts, with the goal of increasing the duration of performance and boosting metabolism. One little factoid that slips by many people is that cardio workouts only boost metabolism for the duration of the exercise. Interval training can boost metabolism for up to two days!
Also, I have seen people proud of the fact that they started jogging for 30 minutes, and burned x amount of calories. They assume that when they can start running for 45 minutes, then an hour, the calories burned will scale accordingly. Wrong. When performing a cardio workout like jogging, the body gets used to performing at a certain level and burns x amount of calories while doing so. However, as the body gets into better shape, it starts taking more of the same activity to burn the same amount of calories. To burn x amount of calories in 30 minutes, the body will eventually take 45 minutes to burn the number. Our bodies get very efficient at using energy, so, at a certain point, cardio workouts stop burning fat, and starts converting muscle to energy, thus creating muscle loss.
Interval training continues to burn calories long after the workout is done, due to the vigorous intensity of exercising. In doing so, you maintain lean muscle, and continue to burn fat.
3. Working Out / Exercising
I know many people will put this first in the priority list, because they assume that working out is what will mold them into the body they desire. While this is true to a degree, I place it third behind diet and interval training. I believe that no matter how hard someone exercises, they will never see the results they want unless they incorporate the other two aspects as well.
One of my entries this month, Working Out at Home, tells how I work out at home. For the stay at home parent, like I myself am, this is an absolutely wonderful way for me to physically get back into shape, and never have to leave the house. Plus, no gym membership fees.
Whether or not you work out at home or in the gym, concentrating on all muscle groups is key. Circuit training is ideal for weight loss. Many gyms have circuit training stations in place, allowing their members to move from machine to machine. At home, you may have to do some research, as I did. Again, read my article above to see how I discovered what I could do at home, giving me the same results as being at a gym!
One thing to remember is when you are trying to lose weight, you are not trying to bulk up in muscle. Yes, building lean muscle is important, but bulking up can slow down weight loss. What is the difference? Well, burning fat workouts will focus on repetition of exercises, and not pushing your limits in regards to weight lifting. Building muscle focuses on a shorter number of repetitions, with higher amounts of weight.
My ultimate goal is to lose weight, then build up a little muscle. I know I have to burn the fat first, and get into much better shape before I can move on to building muscle. Thus, I am doing repetitions of many different exercises, and increasing weight and resistance in small amounts each week.
Overall Success by Combination
In order to achieve the results you want, you must incorporate all three aspects: diet, interval training, and exercise. I rank diet above all the others, as it is the stepping stone and building block for making a permanent change. Eating right will boost your metabolism, and eliminate all the poor quality foods that continue to hinder a healthy lifestyle.
Interval training will help with your body's oxygen management, as well as keep metabolism at a high rate. I try to keep pushing myself to run harder and faster with each week that passes. Slowly, my body has been able to adapt, and I have the capacity to increase my workload, thus burning even more fat and getting into shape that much quicker.
Exercise I rank third, but it is still very, very important. You cannot have the other two factors without this one. I try to remember that the body adapts to the workout load you give it, therefore each week I must continue to add weight or resistance. As I push myself, my body gets stronger, and gives me the ability to accomplish more than I ever thought I could.
I end this post late Monday night. I am actually going to post this up tomorrow, but my thoughts were running wild on this topic, and I figured I had better get them into writing before I lost them. I finished my workout I was supposed to do today only two hours ago, and it was one of the toughest I have done to date. I don't think I have pushed myself as hard as I did tonight. There was definitely pain, but I fought through it. I am guessing I will be posting this tomorrow with the aches and soreness beginning to set in.
Stay motivated! There are days when I just simply do not want to work out. I think of all the hard work I have done up to this point, and force myself to go into our little workout room and complete my routine for the night. I have hit my goal weight, but that is not the stopping point. In fact, it is just the beginning.
I am going to get into the best shape of my life, and continue with my new-found healthy lifestyle. If you want to burn fat and lose weight, the power is in your hands. You have the control, and all you have to do is take that first step forward. Find your motivation, and hold on to it. Remember that as you push yourself through tough workouts, and envision the finish line: a brand new, healthy you!