“Back-to-back cycling classes sound like a great idea, but they may actually work against you,” says Karen Ansel
That’s because overtraining makes post-workout recovery all but impossible and gives you a crazy-high appetite, says Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S., author of Lift to Get Lean. “Over-exercising puts your body into a chronic state of shock,” she says. “Stress hormone levels rise, you experience unnecessary fatigue and brain fog, and your appetite and hunger soar.” (Start your weight-loss journey with Women's Health's Body Clock Diet.)
Make things easier: For most women trying to lose weight, it’s best to cap your exercise at 45 minutes to an hour, five days a week. Any more than that and you run a serious risk of out-of-control cravings, says Ansel. And even if you’re exercising well within those limits, feeling worn-down might be a sign you need to cut back a bit more.
“When it comes to losing weight, everyone is completely unique. What worked for your best friend isn’t necessarily going to give you the same results,” says Ansel. And with so many women following fad diets, the strategy that helped your bestie drop 10 pounds in three days probably isn’t the healthiest approach. (Trust us, it was all water weight anyway.)
Make things easier: Forget the new "it" diet. “Find a way of eating that works for you,” says Ansel. In fact, a 2014 meta-analysis published in JAMA shows that the most successful diet is the one that you actually like and can stick with. (You know, as long as it's not three square meals of Dominos pizza and Captain Crunch.) “You’ll want to sustain that way of eating for the long term, so the pounds don’t creep back on,” she says.
While cardio can certainly help you burn calories in the gym, strength training is the key to burning more calories 24/7. “Your workouts should turn your body into a fat-burning machine,” says Perkins. “And strength training helps you do that.” Unlike cardio, resistance training builds muscle, which is the single greatest asset you have in revving your metabolism, according to Harvard researchers. In a 2015 study of 10,500 adults, the Harvard team found that regular strength training was more effective at combating abdominal fat than cardio.
Make things easier: You don’t have to completely cut out your favorite classes. Just start incorporating a couple of days of strength training into your exercise routine, she says. From there, you can tweak your workouts based how much time you have and your goals.
Stop stressing over the carbs vs fat debate. “You really need both of these nutrients to lose weight,” says Ansel. Both fiber from whole carbs (yay, whole-grain pasta!) and fat from foods like dairy and eggs are incredibly satiating, she says. Cutting them out is a surefire way to screw with your blood sugar and insulin. What's up, hanger?
Make things easier: “In the end, focusing on portion size rather than cutting back on a single nutrient will help the pounds melt off much faster,” she says. So instead of banishing one or more of the three macronutrients (carbs, fat, and protein) from your plate, bring them all on board. Carbs, fat, and protein at every meal!
“Women think that they need to cut more calories than they really do to lose weight,” says Perkins. “The difference between maintaining and losing is only about 500 calories a day.” Cutting that amount from your daily intake (or even fewer, if you increase your exercise) really isn’t that much in the grand scheme of your refrigerator.
However, cutting more calories than that could make weight loss more difficult. When you don't eat enough, your metabolism actually slows and you wind up bingeing (thanks to an onslaught of appetite-stimulating hormones that come with restricting calories). Bonus: You're more apt to store those calories as fat, says Ansel. So that's fun.
Make things easier: While everyone's exact calorie needs are unique, most women need to consume at least 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day in order to lose weight without a stalled metabolism, extra hunger, or fatigue, she says.
It doesn’t matter how well you function on six hours of rest or that you woke up early to work out, losing weight is soooo much harder when you don’t get that beauty sleep. For instance, Diabetologia research shows that just four days of 4.5 hours per night reduces the body’s insulin sensitivity, increasing the risk for fat storage. And a 2016 SLEEP study found that poor sleep pumps your brain full of the same chemicals that cause marijuana-fueled munchies.
Make things easier: Prioritize bedtime. When it comes to keeping your body fat percentage in a healthy range, maintaining a regular sleep schedule is even more important than logging more Z's per night, according to research from Brigham Young University.
“A lot of women go into their workouts without eating in hopes of a bigger caloric deficit,” says Perkins. But if you’re exercising for weight loss, you need to power your sweat sessions with food. Without proper fueling, your body can’t perform at its best.
Make things easier: Perkins recommends eating a meal two to three hours before your workout or snacking 30 to 60 minutes prior to sweat time. Opt for a part-carb, part-protein snack (think: an apple and cheese) to give your body the energy it needs to help you build more metabolism-boosting muscle.
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