I LOVE “The Hierarchy of Fat Loss” by Alwyn Cosgrove, written in 2007 (Wow, I am really dating myself now). But in all seriousness, it is still such an amazing article and I still share it with clients to this day. Why? Because it addresses the number one complaint amongst people who are looking to lose fat: “I don’t have time”. Cosgrove made it a point to base his Hierarchy on this very fact 🙂
As a FEMALE who has been through fat loss a number of times, as well as a TRAINER whose clientele is (for the most part) female, I would personally like to make a few adjustments to his hierarchy, as well as explain his beliefs in abbreviated layman’s terms for all you ladies to understand. First, some background.
What the Media Is Telling Women Is Not Ideal
The majority of information out there in the mainstream media is EXERCISE MORE + EAT LESS. In a lot of the women I coach, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, when a woman comes to me with the goal of fat loss, more often than not I recommend that she eat MORE and scale back on her current exercise pursuits.
More means more real food, more protein, more veggies, more sleep and more water. I tell her to scale back on the back-to-back spin and body-pump classes. Yes, to these women it sounds scary, boring and unbelievable. So much so, that some refuse to listen.
However for those of you who trust me and chose to listen to your body, you will see that the incessant exercise is making you HUNGRY ALL THE TIME. It’s like a monster that cannot be satisfied, and certainly doesn’t set you up for fat loss success. Sure, you can say that fat loss should be an all-out war for 60-120 days. Eliminate all processed foods, all liquid calories, exert portion control and eat 6-7 small meals a day.
Does it work? Yes.
Is it sustainable? Maybe not for those of us who actually want health + fitness to ENHANCE our lives as opposed to consume it. With the above and many other methods I feel you are working against your body, rather than with it.
So What’s A Girl To Do? Step One: Nutrition
So you want to lose some fat AKA “tone up”. The FIRST place that needs addressing is your nutrition. It’s all about nutrition. Exercise however much or little as you want and maintain a crummy diet… well, you will be disappointed OVER and OVER again. See more on this here.
Steps Two & Three: Nutrition
Once you think you have your eating habits down I need you to take a SECOND, and a THIRD look at your nutrition 😉 Yes fat loss really is all about food! Keep in mind that factors such as lack of sleep as well as external stressors can have huge effects on your food consumption. Take the time to get those factors under control before you start burning the candle at both ends.
Step Four: Up That Daily Activity!
FOURTH, I would recommend you up your daily activity level. Activity trackers abound and I truly believe that getting to 10,000 steps a day should be the FOUNDATION for the exercise portion of your FAT LOSS goals. Get up and MOVE! Our generation has become much too sedentary and no amount of “gym time” is going to offset the sitting we do.
Please understand that I am not talking “steady-state cardio.” I am talking stress-free walking OUTSIDE IN NATURE that is pleasurable and helps your hormones remain balanced.
Why, you ask?
Hormonally speaking, men and women couldn’t be more different. As such, certain stressors need to be managed before intentional stressful exercise should even be prescribed. There is a proliferation of terrible information for women out there regarding health and fitness, and the majority of women have been on “diets” for decades all the while sweating ‘til the cows come home with no resolve, aside from their hormones being extremely out of whack.
So while you are working on steps 1, 2, and 3 AND fueling your body with more real food, work on developing some awareness and start listening to your body’s response. Do you feel energized? When is your body actually hungry? What about your sleep? Do you have cravings? Step Four allows you to further tap into your body’s cues without additional stress on the body.
Step Five: SMART STRENGTH…Lift Dem Weights!
Step number 5 is GET STRENGTH TRAINING. I will even go as far to say that THREE TOTAL BODY PROGRESSIVE STRENGTH DAYS will provide you with adequate resistance to shift your body composition in the direction of your goals. Think compound movements that use multiple large muscle groups such as squat / deadlift / lunge variations as well as chin-ups, rows, and heavy presses performed in supersets, tri-sets, or circuit style formats. Increasing the amount of muscle on your body will result in an elevated metabolism and more fat burning potential when your body is at rest.
Again, everyone is different. Perhaps 4 shorter training sessions a week fits your schedule better. Listen to your body. Make sure that you are recovering adequately and that your strength continues to increase. I am all about LESS IS MORE as well as QUALITY OVER QUANTITY when it comes to my own as well as my clients strength training sessions.
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What If I’ve Done All of This Already?
Say you have followed steps 1-5 and you still have more time to devote to your fat loss efforts. You can THEN add on 1-2 HIIT (high intensity interval training) sessions. This category of exercise can be done using high repetition bodyweight exercises, ropes, bands, med balls, rowers, bikes, or treadmills. The options are endless. The MOST important thing here is INTENSITY. These are ALL OUT, SHORT exercise sessions that last NO LONGER THAN 20 minutes. Work-to-rest ratios vary, but the longer the work interval the less likely you are to be giving it your all. (Think 20-40 seconds of work, paired with 10-60 seconds of rest.)
This method may not be fast, and it may not be easy, but following this “hierarchy” framework creates a SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE. If you go about fat loss by fighting against your body… your body will surely rebel against you. Practice patience along with consistent action all while LISTENING TO YOUR BODY and you will succeed!