If you’ve been exercising a bit more and eating fairly well for more than a few months then consider your new fitness resolutions well stuck. Congratulations. But, now, you will have noticed that the cutting down and leaning up – so easy during the first few weeks, even months – has begun to thin out. It’s on such a plateau that many a fat-burner loses their way; the flat motivational terrain prompting you to turn back and retreat at breakneck speed down the rocky slope up which you’ve been manfully scrambling.
You will not find a route across this weight-loss tundra in the realms of new-fangled exercise regimens or the highest-trending fad diets. The stubborn, age-old fat stores uncovered by your initial successes require more consistent work to break down. The way to etch out a new body is to make almost imperceptible changes to the way you go about your daily business. Call them “lifestyle hacks” if you must. But fat-loss mavericks Dan John and Josh Hillis swear by their lasting effect.
Their book Fat Loss Happens On Monday was written to explore how small things can have a hugely positive impact on your waist size. The name comes from their first rule: begin each week by purchasing and preparing the right sort of food. Starting with this job on day one makes it noticeably easier to stick to your nutrition and exercises plans for the next six. If that sounds like bunkum, ask yourself how often a missed workout on a Monday lunchtime turns into an entire week of sedentary apathy. Listening now?
Good. Because we asked John for his favourite tricks for shedding excess weight as part of your daily to and fro. These are not your everyday nuggets of advice, granted. But put your trust in this structure and you can break off a piece of fat every day, for as long as you want.
01 First Things First . . .
Make Some Good Choices
Unless poached turkey breast and green tea are all that your pious quest to #eatclean permits past your lips, your day is replete with food and beverage decisions. Most of us make more than 200 of these mini judgment calls a day but, according to a study from Cornell University, we only register about 15 of them. John’s advice is to make each choice a visual one. “Put your hands on the outside of everything that is about to enter your mouth,” he says. “Your left hand is your starting point – your right is your goal. Now decided whether this food or drink brings you closer to your goal (right hand nearer and left further away) or not (left hand nearer and right further away). It’s simple, but you won’t get the value until you try it. So try it.”
02 Shock Your Body By . . .
Hitting A (Cold) Shower
We have championed the DOMS-dousing properties of cold water many times, with changes in temperature helping to flush out the lactic acid that brings the sting. But, according to John, a cold shower is another way to put weight gain on ice. “Always finish with a blast of cold water for as long as you can handle,” he advises. “It triggers a process called hormesis – a biological phenomenon that gives you physical benefits from a low dose of something that could otherwise be dangerous.”
In this case, a direct positive influence on fat-burning. The fact that cold water has been shown to improve immunity, circulation, skin, hair, anxiety and depression are cool extras. It might even wake you up. Should that prove too Spartan a regimen, you can enjoy the same process of hormesis in the heady heat of a sauna. Which is as good a reason to take a little longer at the gym as we’ve happened across.
03 If You Really Want Something . . .
Go With Your Gut
Cheat meals happen. What’s important is that, once you’ve come to your decision, you follow through with it, even if you’ve picked the less of pure paths. If a doughnut is what you crave – and you recognise it won’t realistically fill the holes in your nutritional plan – then tuck in.
But no matter what, stick with your first choice. “Odd, yes. Drink that beer, eat that muffin, if you so wish,” says John. “Here’s the strange part: we tend not to keep going down that road once we’ve made this quick, mental decision.” Contrary to what you might think, indulging in a big breakfast doesn’t automatically usher in a long lunch and a slap-up dinner. As long as you are knowingly pushing the boundaries of healthy eating, you are more than likely to get back into safe territory after your satisfying (but considered) excursion.
04 Whenever You Eat Anything . . .
Eat Some Fat, Too
Okay, so you’re aware that fat is no longer a nutritional bête noire. That’s not news. But what you need to get used to is adding some fat to every single meal. Those in the know talk about “macros”, but it can be simplified further. Imagine each plate of food divided into sections, says John. “Always take care of your protein first, then just aim for more fats than carbs on the rest of your plate.” Eating fewer carbohydrates will create a much better weight-loss environment in your body, lowering insulin and opening up fat stores to be greedily consumed for energy.
There is a caveat attached to this mealtime rule of thumb, however: fat is great and tastes divine, and that makes it easy to overdo it. “We always add a serving too much oil and butter because we love it. Even a spoon of peanut butter gets doubled once it’s a heaped spoon,” says John. “Always under-serve slightly and you’ll be about right.”
05 When You Slip Up . . .
Give Yourself a Break
When brushing your teeth each night, conduct a quick mental review of your day. Think about any exercise you’ve done, or how much water you’ve drunk and pat yourself on the back all you like. But then think about where you deviated from your plan or ignored it altogether. The side of chips you had with your chicken salad, for example. Then, and this is the crucial part, immediately forgive yourself. “Rules are going to get broken,” says John. “That’s life. But letting yourself off is the difference between being a bit better tomorrow or simply chucking it all in.”
Science supports this sink-top psychology – research published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found feeling guilty about failing on a diet more than doubles your odds of bingeing, compared with forgiving yourself for missteps. After all, tomorrow heralds another chance for perfection. Or not.
06 Hit The Treadmill . . .
For Exactly Two Minutes
Spending hours chugging away at cardio has had its time as a staple of your weight-loss schedule. The well-preened phalanx of group exercise classes currently clamouring for your membership all came to a crucial realisation a while ago – feeling like a beginner is the best way to get into shape. John agrees: “Never, ever, go for more than two minutes on any one cardiovascular movement. Mix and match all of your CV work in two-minute bursts – for example, row for 500 metres, bike for 120 seconds, then follow it up with 60 hip thrusts to counter all the folding over you’ve done,” John says.
Use whatever equipment happens to be available, or pick a few body-weight movements. But whatever you do, stop before your body gets accustomed to what you’re doing. It’s quicker and a lot less mind numbing than pounding the pavement over and over again. “Don’t worry if you feel like you’re always moving on before you’ve got into a groove,” says John. “Flailing away like a rookie just means superior fat-burning.”
07 For Lasting Gains . . .
Freeze Your Assets
Over-heated homes have a lot to answer for. The cosy comfort in which we live means you expend very little energy once you’re safely ensconced at home, turning your dwelling into a petri dish for love handles. The solution, thankfully, is not ripping off the thermostat and growing a beard. Instead, get your chill on the way home from work. “Each night, I take the dog for a walk. It it’s really cold I’ll wear gloves, but I keep short sleeves on,” John says. “That chill on your arms stimulates the body’s weight-loss miracle: brown fat.”
As opposed to regular white fat, which stores kilojoules, the brown version is packed with mitochondria that burn energy to produce heat. Regular exposure to the cold was shown by the US National Institutes for Health to activate brown fat and grow new brown fat cells, increasing your natural ability to burn kilojoules rather than hoard them. Going without your jacket on the way back from the office is all it takes to start the process. “Also, it’s worth noting that a lot of fat people have fat dogs.” Your move.