The following steps are the easiest, most effective and long-lasting methods for optimizing your body composition.
1. Drink more water
Hearing this can be so boring and implementing it is not exactly the newest, sexiest weight loss trick either. But this is the single most effective habit that you can start to discover your abs. The positive health benefits that you’ll feel by living in a state of perpetual hydration are profound. Your skin health will improve. Immune health will improve. Water is the real-life NZT pill from the movie Limitless.
As a general rule, women should drink 2 to 2.5 liters of water per day. Men should drink 2.5 to 3 liters of water per day. Earn a caffeinated or alcoholic drink by always preceding it with a large glass of water. Drink a large glass beforeeating. Don’t drink with or after meals unless you’re pairing fine wine with a gourmet cuisine. Drinking after a meal clears your stomach so you feel hungry again sooner.
Don’t underestimate the power of water.
2. Be prepared
Eating impulsively or emotionally is the path to all bad nutrition decisions. One of the most effective habits that anyone looking to improve their body composition can adopt is spending 30 to 45 minutes on a Sunday planning every meal and writing a shopping list. I learned this from Josh Hillis (in his book Fat Loss Happens On Mondays), and clients have accredited this to helping them the most.
People often think that in order to lose weight they must go and sweat hard in the gym. That hour is much better spent planning meals and writing shopping lists.
Once this habit has become normal procedure, try preparing lunches for the week ahead. Eating on the go is the route of all evil.
3. Sit in chairs less
I’m not an advocate for counting calories, but, in terms of calories burned, the difference between standing at your workstation versus sitting at your workstation is 10 to 13 marathons per year (depending on running efficiency).
A former client lost ten pounds of unwanted body fat in six weeks by changing nothing except his workstation and method of commute. For the first three weeks, he stood in the morning and sat in the afternoon. For the following three weeks, he stood all day. Twice per week he swapped his seat on the London Underground for a saddle on his bike or he sometimes walked the five miles.
I recommend a workstation that encourages three-dimensional movement. This includes:
foot rests and steps underneath,
slightly higher (knee height) steps to front diagonals,
and an elbow height desk that’s sturdy enough to be able to lean on either side of the computer.
The flimsy desk-height extenders that are growing in popularity should be avoided. They promote standing still, which can cause even more problems than sitting in a chair.
If a three-dimensional-movement-promoting workstation isn’t possible, just look at your day and figure where you can cut out the chair for an hour here or there. Take all calls while pacing around. Always take the stairs, avoiding escalators or elevators in all situations. Sit on the floor when possible. Chairs and a lack of three-dimensional activity are mostly to blame for mass scale breathing dysfunction, musculoskeletal injuries and obesity.
4. Wake up your forgotten fat-burning muscle
There’s a magical muscle that lies dormant in most adults. It should gently relax and contract over 20,000 times per day, but instead, most adults have inadvertently trained a group of other muscles to its job for it. The magic fat burning muscle is your diaphragm. The group of compensatory muscles are those of your chest, neck and shoulders.
Imagine your gasp to a loud BANG. Most adults inhale every breathe using the same muscles. By inhaling with these muscles, the message is being sent to your nervous system that you are in some kind of danger or stressful situation. The stress hormone (cortisol) is released and fat is stored under your skin because you’re in a situation where you might need that stored fat for survival.
The muscles of the chest and shoulders should remain relaxed until required for movement (a few thousand times per day). Instead they are gently contracting and relaxing over 20,000 times per day and being used for movement. Is it any wonder that necks and shoulders tend to be chronically tight?
A dysfunctional diaphragm is present in all common injuries (tendinitis, lower back pain, ligament tears) and, in most cases, it’s the root of the cause because it’s the source of instability. Re-establishing a good unconscious breathing pattern is a slow process, but it’s super simple and could change your life.
Relearn to breathe by spending the first 3 to 5 minutes of every day lying on the floor focusing on breathing correctly. Train yourself to take 5 to 10 diaphragmatic breaths every time you see the color bright red. It works! Set a reminder on your phone to help establish the habit.
Humans are meant to move. Our joints love movement and the subsystems of the body only work in the presence of movement. We exist on this planet for two main reasons — survival and reproduction. Neither of which are possible if we are unable to travel from A to B.
Use a device that counts your daily steps. Add 50% to your daily average over a week and make this your new daily target for the next month. Think outside the box a little and try to work steps into your usual pattern. Park a little further away from the office. Alight the bus one or two stops early. Walk to a park bench that’s ten minutes away for lunch. When you walk, swing your arms and look at your surroundings not at electrical devices.
In an ideal world, we should all take at least 10,000 steps per day. This is very achievable if we sit in chairs less. But if this sounds a little crazy at the moment, just add 50% to your existing steps and see how you feel after a month.
6. Daily fasting
The process of digestion is energy demanding. The repair and growth of our cells occurs when metabolic energy is not targeting digestion. Fasting for 14 hours per day increases immune cell production and improves overall energy levels and vitality. Only having ten hours per day for eating also tends to help many people kick evening eating habits, which is where many of the bad ones exist. Identify an eating window and stick to it. “I can only eat between 8am and 6pm.” Outside of these hours only water can pass your lips.
7. Know your enemy
Everyone’s gut reacts differently to individual foods. It’s highly likely that a particular food that you regularly consume could be causing havoc under the surface. Hidden or unknown food intolerances cause inflammation and gut damage, which leads to disease, stress, stored fat and ill-health.
Dr. Debbie Bright is a functional medicine expert and friend here in San Diego. She has run food intolerance tests on hundreds of people. One or more of the following eight foods always comes up with a red flag for the individual being tested: gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts, corn, eggs, added sugar and artificial additives and sweeteners.
Discovering your hidden enemies could not only be the answer to weight loss but the key to longevity. Food intolerance tests can be expensive. If you can’t afford one, I recommend an elimination diet where all eight are removed, then reintroduced one by one.
Dr. Debbie runs a 21-day challenge that does just this, where she’s done all the planning and prep for you. Her plan has had great success with chronic sufferers of IBS, leaky gut syndrome, psoriasis, acne and a host of other common ailments that conventional medicine only treats with pharmaceuticals. Four women who had been spending thousands of dollars per year on infertility treatments magically became pregnant during or after Dr. Debbie’s 21-day challenge too. Oh, and a side effect of her plan is significant body composition improvements. Seek the Look Good Naked 21-day Challenge.
8. Train smartly
Joining a gym is normally the first step in many people’s fight against fat, but any exercise habits should come secondary to the above. Remember, for the most part, fat loss happens in the kitchen, not in the gym.
Having said that there are some best practices that offer a big bang for your body composition buck. I’ll go into more detail about these in a later blog because it’s quite a meaty subject, but as a summary:
Include 2 to 3 pre-breakfast sessions per week: 30-45 minute, nonstop, low to medium intensity cardio sessions with intermittent and frequent bouts of high intensity activity (using full body resistance exercises), such as:
Long run with push-ups every 5 minutes
Long row with a 2-minute kettlebell complex every 6 minutes
Jump rope for 40 minutes. Every 6-minutes do kettlebell swings and squats
Assault bike for 30 minutes. Go hard for the first 20 seconds of every second minute and ride at a reduced, recovery speed for the remainder of the time
Become stronger and increase muscle mass. Muscles act like sponges for excess sugar in the blood, which would otherwise turn to fat. Stronger muscles produce more force, which uses more energy. Strength training produces type one muscle fibers which metabolize fat more efficiently, think sprinter Usain Bolt. Please note, increasing muscle tone/strength does not contribute to the bulky look. A thick layer of fat between strong muscles and skin does. Doing high reps with low resistance also gives a muscle pump, stick to heavy loads for 5-10 reps (depending on ability).
Some fitness professionals who are advocates of lifting weights and never doing cardio say that doing cardio and becoming more physically fit makes it harder to lose fat because you can move more efficiently. I’m going to call bullshit on that. Having a strong, elastic and healthy heart and cardiovascular system only has positive effects. more mitochondria = higher metabolism. Healthier heart = longer life (and faster path to strength goals).
9. Hakuna Mutata
It means no worries. Being happy and laughing decreases stress. Stress is the cause of most bad things. It doesn’t matter how well some people eat, if they still harbor negative thoughts or if they’re miserable or stressed, they’ll remain fat. How can you be happier? Well, that’s rather a meaty subject too but in a nutshell:
Be grateful. Spend a few minutes per day reflecting on things you’re grateful for and reflecting on the happiest moments of that day. This is a powerful daily habit because your brain develops new neural pathways of thinking more positive thoughts. When you reflect on your past week or any recent event, the positive notes come to mind first and everything in life just feels better.
Breathe, walk, eat cleanly, move your joints, exercise, rest.
May the force be with you,