Do This Instead of Exercise to Burn the Most Belly Fat
What if I were to tell you that exercise is fairly useless for losing weight?
Now before you accuse me of heresy, let me explain. There’s no doubt that exercise is one of the best things in the world you can do for your health.
Exercise improves mood—in some studies as well as antidepressants—and it’s great for your heart. Recent research shows that it even helps you grow new brain cells.1 And people who exercise on a regular basis have lower risk for cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.2
But weight loss? Not so much.3,4
Does that seem contrary to everything you’ve heard? Of course it does—but don’t shoot the messenger.
Here’s the truth: the exercise/ weight-loss equation is way more complicated than we’ve been led to believe.
Is it Really About the Calories?
Let’s start with calories. Most people overestimate calories burned during exercise (by a long shot) just as they typically underestimate daily calorie consumption (ditto!).
Forget what the computer readout on the stairclimbers and treadmills at the gym say—according to the Mayo Clinic, even high-impact aerobics only uses up about 511 calories an hour; walking at a pace of 3.5 mph barely uses 300. You can wipe that out with one medium meal at McDonalds—heck, you can wipe it out with a one big “low-fat” muffin from Starbucks!
Then there’s the appetite factor. Exercise makes people hungry and people often compensate for exercise by eating more. I’ve seen people at the gym scarf down “energy” drinks that contain the calorie equivalent of two days worth of workouts.
Plus, there’s good old garden-variety self-deception. Ever told yourself, “I can indulge with a Krispy Kreme today cause I just worked out.”? Sorry. That’s like saying you saved some money by buying milk at Target so you might as well go to dinner at the Four Seasons. The math just doesn’t work out.
Exercise vs. Diet: No Contest…
Interestingly, the research is very clear that it’s next to impossible to keep weight off unless you exercise regularly.5 But using exercise alone as a weight-loss strategy is—forgive the bad pun—an exercise in futility.
That’s why the best trainers have a saying: “You can’t out-train a bad diet“.
So does that mean you should give up exercising? Absolutely not. But it does mean you should give up the pipe dream of losing belly fat just because you started walking.
It’s the Hormones, Stupid!
Belly fat happens for two reasons, both related to hormones. The first is that you eat too many carbohydrates which causes your insulin levels to go sky high. Insulin, also known as “the fat-storing hormone”, is secreted by the pancreas whenever your blood sugar rises.
And what makes it rise the most—and stay up there the longest—is sugar and processed carbohydrates. Cut the carbs, lower your insulin, and you’ve removed one of the main causes of belly fat accumulation.
The second reason you’ve got belly fat is because of stress. When you’re under stress, your body pumps out another hormone called cortisol, which sends a message to the body to accumulate fat around the middle.
The reasons for this are complicated and have to do with the primitive flight-or-flight response, but the bottom line is that excess cortisol is a signal for the storage of belly fat. Since belly fat is the most metabolically active fat, it’s also the most dangerous. “Apple” shapes are at far more risk for heart disease and metabolic problems like diabetes.
What to do, what to do?
So What’s the Solution?
First of all, cut out sugar. No kidding. And I’m not just talking about the white stuff in the bowl that you add to coffee.
I’m talking about foods that convert to sugar in a heartbeat, and have the exact same effect on your fat-storing hormone (insulin) as the white stuff does: cereals, breads, pasta, rice, cookies, crackers, and soda. (Especially soda!)
Lowering carbs (and boosting protein and fat) is the surest and quickest way to get insulin levels under control, and that’s the first—and probably most important step—to losing belly fat.
Remember, insulin doesn’t just store fat. It also metabolically “locks” the doors to the fat cells, making losing fat fiendishly difficult.
If you want to lose weight, you’ve got to control your insulin levels. It’s that simple. And the fastest and most effective way to do that is to cut way back on carbs, as that is the major macronutrient that drives insulin up in the first place.
How ironic is it that we’ve been avoiding fat all these years, when fat is the one macronutrient that has virtually no effect on insulin! But don’t get me started…
The second thing you can do is figure out how to manage your stress. This isn’t an article on stress management, so I’ll leave it to you to come up with how best to do it. Just know that managing stress needs to be on your radar if you want to have a body you can be proud of.
And if that’s not enough of a motivation, consider that stress is one of the four main “horsemen of aging”, meaning it contributes to every major disease on the planet. And in some cases, it can outright kill you.
Now if you can do those two things—lower your carbs (and your insulin), and lower (or at least manage) your stress—you’ll finally be on your way to losing that belly fat.
Add exercise to the mix and you’ll turbo charge the results.
But do exercise without the dietary change, and you’ll still be jogging on that treadmill a year from now, wondering why nothing’s happening.
Perhaps most important of all, remember to keep an open mind to new ideas, ALWAYS do your own homework…and combine that with common sense to figure out what’s best for YOU.
Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS
1 Colcombe, S., Erickson, K., Scalf, P. et al. 2006. Aerobic exercise increases brain volume in aging humans. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 61(11): 1166–1170.
2 National Cancer Institute. Factsheet on physical activity and cancer. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/prevention/physicalactivity. Accessed June, 12, 2012.
3 Cloud. J. 2009. Why exercise won’t make you thin. Time.
4 Gleim, G. 1993. Exercise is not an effective weight loss modality in women. J Am Coll Nutr. 12(4): 363–367.
5 The National Weight Control Registry. Research findings on weight loss. http://www.nwcr.ws/Research/published%20research.htm/. Accessed June 12, 2012.
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