How to create a lean body, minus the scales
By Libby Babet, founder of the BUF Girls
Scales. Do they really need a place in your home? After almost a decade training women and girls of all ages, I’m not so sure they do.
You see, the concept of ‘losing weight’ can be really confusing and unless you have a LOT of weight to lose in the first place, charting your progress with a set of scales is probably not the best way to measure success.
Muscle weighs more than fat, water weight can make a big difference and fluctuates with everything from the kind of workout you’ve done to what you eat and your hormones, the weather can affect what the scales tell you and so can the time of day.
It really upsets me when women let an extra kilo or two on the scales determine their mood and how they feel about themselves.
And yet, whenever I step on the blasted contraptions myself, I can’t help but have the same reaction: lighter than usual = happy, heavier than usual = shock, horror!
But why do we react like that when it’s this teeny-tiny thing, which means pretty much nothing compared to a whole day of actions and achievements? It’s a weird relationship.
If you have serious body goals to hit, using a measuring tape is a better idea, or taking progress photos. Or simply, switch your mindset completely and just focus on being as healthy and active as you can every day and getting seriously fit so you can say yes to whatever adventures come your way!
Be aware of what you’re putting in your mouth (is it real food? Is it fresh not fried? Do you really need a second serving?) and pay attention to how your clothes fit and how you feel, rather than what a dodgy pair of scales can tell you about your self worth.
If only scales would tell you how funny you were, how kind, generous, smart, or playful, rather than how ‘big or small’.
But if you DO want to ditch a little fat (not just ‘weight’ but actual body fat), here are a few fitness and health hacks you can focus on to get you on track…
An awesome lean-body trick I learnt from industry legend Mark Sisson was to make your short and intense workouts (like HIIT and sprints) shorter and more intense than ever, while making your slower, longer workouts a whole lot slower and longer.
- A few times each week, after warming up, go as hard as you possibly can for 15–25 minutes. This optimises conditioning and metabolic response, uses up stored glycogen and fires up your muscles. You can use things like sprint work, HIIT, speed rowing, boxing, bodyweight training, or heavy weights. Make sure you are working at near-maximum capacity and feel as if you couldn’t do any more by the end.
- Another few times per week, go walking or hiking, take a slow jog, go cruising on your bike, do some gentle yoga or pilates, have a swim and a stretch. Whatever floats your boat! Make this workout really long, between 1.5 and 3 hours if possible, and just cruise. Moving at a slower pace gives your body a chance to use up stored fat for fuel. I love to do these workouts on Sat/Sun when I have plenty of time up my sleeve, but a lot of my clients prefer to walk to or from work.
- In between these sessions, don’t stop moving — daily exercise of some kind is super important if your goal is a lean body. Fill the rest of your week with ‘play’ workouts that make you smile, like surfing or sports, dance classes, jogs with your favourite playlist on repeat, pilates, Frisbee in the park, whatever you love doing.
- If you’re over 25, remember it’s important to include a little more resistance training than you did in your late teens and early 20s. The older you are, the more weight training you need to maintain your muscle quality, bone density and inevitably, your body shape.
My favourite way to lean up when I need to is to get back to basics. Remove all packaged food, fast food, sugar and refined carbs, cut back on caffeine and limit alcohol to 1–2 serves per week.
Next, make sure your portions are right — if you can fit your meal on a standard dinner plate without any one food touching the other, you’re about right.
If you haven’t been very active, feel free to skip the carbs and increase the greens
Otherwise a good guide for women is protein serves should fit on the palm of your hand, fat serves should be roughly the size of your thumb, carbohydrates should fit in your cupped palm and of course, you have unlimited green and non-starchy vegetables to play with. If you haven’t been very active, feel free to skip the carbs and increase the greens. If you can, make your own food at every meal, so you know what’s going in it. And never trust sauces or condiments — always check the nutrition panel for hidden sugars, salt, vegetable oils and thickeners!
Trust your hunger
Don’t worry about how many times you’re eating each day, it’s a total myth that you need to stick to a specific ‘when to eat’ rule. Think about your cave wo/man ancestors — they certainly weren’t clock-watchers!
It’s totally OK to trust your hunger and eat five small meals one day and just two large meals the next, or stick with three square meals if that’s what’s always worked for you.
It’s what you eat, and how much over the course of a full week that counts, not the timing — and different things work for different bodies. As a rough guide, you want to give your body at least 3–4 hours between each meal or snack so it can reset blood sugars naturally.
The body is made up of about 75% water, which is used for digestion, detoxifying cells, watering the lungs, lubricating joints, for metabolic outcomes and keeping the body’s acid/alkaline levels balanced, among many other important functions, including helping your body shed fat. So you really do need plenty of water every day for your body to function properly and look good.
Lean body strategies
If you’re already super healthy and want to take things up a notch, intermittent fasting (IF) is an incredible tool for leaning up. IF can stimulate fat burning while conserving muscle, so long as you don’t overdo it. Make sure you talk to your doctor or natural therapist about whether this is a good idea for you and your personal health status before you give it a go.
You can fast in a number of ways, such as:
- Choose 1–2 days per week where you don’t eat for 14–18 hours (for women), or 15-
- 30 hours (men or women in menopause) and give your body a break from eating. I like to do this overnight, for example I’ll eat dinner at 6pm and then wait until 10am or 11am for breakfast the next day, a few times per week.
- Another approach is to eat normally on 5 days each week and then eat just a quarter of your usual calorie intake for 2 days per week.
- A simpler method that’s easier for people who prefer not to miss meals is just to do your morning cardio workout before eating breakfast or drinking coffee.
Keep going, be consistent. Consistently choosing healthy food and working out each week may not work overnight, but it always works in the long run. And if things really aren’t shifting, head to the doctors for a check-up — sometimes your gut health, hormone issues, or other factors can contribute and it’s important to get to the bottom of things if you’re starting to feel frustrated.
And of course… find a community that motivates you. Zova can help with that!
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