Gaining a few extra pounds over the holiday is normal right? We all do! But, does your holiday weight gain really stop after New Year’s? What about Valentine’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, and not to mention all the birthdays, weddings, baby showers, and anniversaries you celebrate each year as well? The truth is, our “seasonal holiday” weight gain continues all year long with endless festivities!
The Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) claims adults gain an average of 1lb per year between the ages of 18 and 49. However, this average skews the curve and hides the fact that most American adults gain 3-5lbs between November and January every year. The holiday season gives us a 3-5lb weight gain boost each year. So, the question is, do you really lose that extra weight every year?
Most people do not lose their extra holiday pounds because losing weight is hard! Burning fat, is even more challenging! Why is it so hard to lose weight and burn fat? I’m going to explain very simply in this blog!
WHAT IS FAT
Body fat is defined by the Oxford dictionary as, “a natural oily or greasy substance occurring in animal bodies.” Humans have two main types of body fat, white and brown, and these fats both serve different purposes as defined by Dr. Pamela Peeke:
- Brown Fat is typically found in small amounts around the neck and upper back of most adults. The purpose of brown fat is to burn calories and generate heat.
- White Fat is found everywhere else! Hips, thighs, butt, arms, abdomen, chest, etc. White fat can be further broken down into subcutaneous and visceral fat.
- Subcutaneous Fat (SubQ) is found directly under the skin in the arms, thighs, butt, and stomach. The main purpose of SubQ is to store energy (extra calories) and insulate the body. This fat is often blamed for cellulite dimples and “muffin tops” or “love handles.”
- Visceral Fat is the fat found deep inside of your abdomen and its main purpose is to cushion your organs and insulate the core. Too much visceral fat causes the “Santa belly” or “beer belly.”
WHY DO WE STORE FAT
Our body is designed to store or create fat because it’s vital to our survival. Dr. Peeke validates white fat is also a major endocrine organ which helps produce a form of estrogen and leptin (hormone to regulate appetite) and it contains receptors for insulin, growth hormones, and stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. As explained above, fat also helps regulate body temperature and it pads our precious organs.
WHAT IS FAT BURN
Fat burn is the oxidation of white adipose tissue. Simply put, it’s the body’s use of stored white fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. Thus, to burn fat, you need to be active and consume a low to moderate amount of carbohydrates so your body will burn stored fat. Simple right? Wrong!
As I just discussed, white fat serves a vital purpose in our existence. Your body is not designed or “programmed” to give up the essentials it needs for life so easily- even if you have extra! This is why fat burn is so hard! Imagine your body is a piggy bank (no fat pun intended)- it’s easy to put coins in the top slot, but it’s exceptionally difficult to get the coins back out the narrow opening. That’s the design of the piggy bank doing its job- helping you save. Your body does the same thing. It easily stores fat and reluctantly burns it because that is how it was designed. Why was it designed this way? I’ll explain in a future blog.
HIIT FOR FAT BURN
The good news after all of this is…even though fat burn is a challenge, it’s not impossible. I lost 20lbs of fat myself 10 years ago on a personal mission. I have spent the last 11 years helping my personal training and health coaching clients lose hundreds of pounds of fat. My method- high intensity interval training (HIIT) and clean eating. However, to keep this blog focused, I am only going to explain HIIT.
HIIT is a buzzword lately in the fitness industry. Truth be told though, humans have been practicing HIIT for thousands of years. It’s this long history between humans and HIIT that makes it is so effective. The American College of Sports Medicine defines HIIT as,
“Intense work periods [that] may range from 5 seconds to 8 minutes long, and are performed at 80% to 95% of a person’s estimated maximal heart rate… [followed by] recovery periods [that] may last equally as long as the work periods and are usually performed at 40% to 50% of a person’s estimated maximal heart rate. The workout continues with the alternating work and relief periods totaling 20 to 60 minutes.”
Simply put- working out for 20-60 minutes in an interval pattern that repeatedly spikes your heart rate to 80-95% of your max and then drops it to 40-50% for a recovery period.
HOW DOES HIIT BURN FAT
Dr. Michael Mosley explains in his book Fast Exercise, that HIIT successfully burns fat for these reasons:
- Building More Muscle – Intense workouts build muscle and muscles burn calories. The more muscles you have, the more calories you burn per hour. Thus, the body has fewer calories to store as fat.
- Metabolic Stress – HIIT is a temporary stress on the body which produces hormones that trigger or communicate, to the body to start burning fat. These hormones can be elevated as much as 1450% after a HIIT workout.
- Appetite Suppressant – Intense workouts stimulate hormones like leptin and PYY that reduce appetite. Remember from the discussion above, leptin is produced by white fat. So if HIIT stimulates leptin, it’s likely due to the fact HIIT is affecting your fat cells- in a good way!
- Activates Brown Fat – Remember brown fat from the paragraphs above? HIIT stimulates catecholamine receptors in the body, which activate brown fat. Activated brown fat then starts burning white fat. Great system!
Burning fat is hard because the body is not designed to easily shed fat. However, high intensity interval training (HIIT) has been clinically proven to not only stimulate your fat cells but promote the burn of white fat cells. HIIT can be practiced by anyone through a variety of methods such as walking, jogging, bike riding, hiking, sports, Zumba, boot-camp, Cross-fit, stair-climbing, swimming and more! Keep an eye out for my next blog on why the body is designed to store fat and how to squeeze more HIIT into your daily routine. Stay active and remember- you can achieve a healthy body!
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