Losing weight or better yet reducing your body fat is not an easy task. Based on all the advertisements you see that push some sort of pill, elixir, gym equipment, or program, you start to believe that if you just buy whatever they’re selling you’ll be able to lose weight easily.
I”m here to tell you that hitting a number on a scale or getting your body fat percentage down is difficult, despite what weight loss companies are telling you.
I want to discuss with you the two main reasons you’re having a hard time losing weight. Those two reasons are workout intensity and food intake discipline.
I listen to people tell me that they go to the gym multiple times a day and they eat “pretty healthy” but for some reason, they can’t lose weight or drop inches from their waist. While there could be a variety of reasons for why there not seeing the results they want, I would be willing to bet, that the intensity of their workouts is severely lacking and/or their “pretty healthy” food intake isn’t as healthy as they may think.
I”m going to break this down a bit more for you. Let’s start with workout intensity.
1) Workout Intensity
Workout intensity refers to the amount of physical exertion you’re outputting while your exercising. Your current level of fitness combined with what your goals are will determine what level of intensity you should be striving for. There are three common levels of intensity, and those are low, moderate, and high.
A low-intensity workout is one where you are comfortable exercising while being able to carry on a conversation without being out of breath. An example would be walking. If you’re walking and can have a conversation, you’re performing low intensity. Stretching or even slow bodyweight exercise (Turbulence Training Review) is another example. Laying on the floor doing leg lifts or slow situps is another exercise that you could probably classify as low-intensity.
Obviously, there will be exceptions to this. If you have a medical condition, are obese, or are new to exercising, these workouts could be classified as moderate.
Moderate Intensity Workouts
A moderate workout is one that allows you to talk comfortably but every once in a while you need to catch your breath. Walking up a small incline would be an example. If you’re able to walk uphill, maintain a conversation, but need the other person to talk a bit so you can catch your breath, you’re performing at moderate intensity. To me, this is the widest range of intensities. Most people exercise in this zone, unless they’re really pushing themselves, or are doing High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
A high-intensity workout means your blood is pumping and you can only get a few words out at a time. At this point, you’re probably no longer walking but running uphill or doing sprints. High-intensity workouts necessitate the most exertion and you’re definitely breaking a sweat.
When you’re at the gym and consider these conversation cadences to determine if you’re able to carry on a conversation easily or if you’re huffing and puffing. This will give you an indication of your exercise intensity.
If your goal is to reduce inches off your waist and decrease body fat, so that you have a lean toned physique, chances are you’ll need to replace most of your low-intensity workouts with more moderate to high-intensity exercises.
If you’re more quantitatively driven and need to see some metrics vs using the conversation method for measuring exercise intensity, you can use heart rate.
You’ve probably heard of the term “target heart rate (THR).” The target heart rate refers to the number of heartbeats your heart can safely perform while working. During exercise, this usually means a minimum of 50%.
And if you’re really pushing it, as high as the mid 90%. To figure out these percentages you need to do some basic math and the formula is: the maximum rate is based on your age, as subtracted from 220.
So, if you’re 40 years old your maximum is 180 beats per minute (220-40). A low-intensity workout would be close to 50%, which is 90 beats per minute. And on the other side, if you’re heart rate is 165+, you’re performing a high-intensity workout. Smartwatches and heart rate straps make finding this number incredibly easy.
Trying to take your own pulse while running would be inefficient and cumbersome, hence the boom in fitness watches.
If you’re a member of Orange Theory fitness you’re well aware of how they use target heart rate to get their members to lose weight. Every individual’s heart rate and is posted up on a screen for all to see. They do this so they know how hard you’re really working as well as to motivate you to push yourself.
Workout Intensity Main Concept
If you’re at the gym sitting on a piece of equipment talking on a phone or having a conversation with your workout partner, you’re most likely performing low-intensity workouts. Any inches you’re planning on losing will take a while at this rate of exertion. You simply can’t do these slow, easy workouts and expect significant transformations.
If you watch other people who are in shape, you’ll notice they are lifting heavy, running fast, and really pushing themselves. This goes for men and women. While a small percentage of the population is blessed with good genes and fast metabolism, most of us simply earn the body we want.
The next item preventing you from achieving your fitness goals is your food intake.
2) Importance of Food Intake
I’m sure you’re all aware of what a good diet is vs a poor diet. Fast food, soda, alcohol, sugar, white pasta, etc are foods that will prevent you from losing inches off your waist. If you’re consuming these foods, you have no chance of decreasing your body fat or slimming down. “Abs are made in the kitchen.” If you’re unfamiliar with this concept it means that you can workout all day long, but if you follow it up with unhealthy food, you’ll never have the body you want. You’re better off eating healthy 100% of the time with no exercise than exercising all day and eating unhealthy 100% of the time.
Even those blessed with good genes will at some point have to stop consuming these belly-busting foods. But I fear that most people don’t understand just how small amounts of these types of foods will prevent you from achieving your goals.
I have many friends that eat veggies, and small amounts of healthy meals, yet eat small amounts of chocolate after every lunch and dinner and occasionally snack and complain about having a belly.
Them telling me that they eat healthily is not telling me the whole truth. I can eat chicken and veggies for dinner but if I follow it up with pieces of candy and a later snack of chips and soda, I’m not actually eating healthy. Yes, my meals are healthy but are ruined by desserts and snacks.
A healthy food intake requires you to eat healthy 90% of the time, without sugary candy, chocolate, and unhealthy snacks. Most of the people who tell me they eat “pretty healthily” don’t count calories or watch their macro intake. I firmly believe you don’t need to do this as long as you diligently watch what you eat. The exception would be if you plan on being on stage or performing in bodybuilding competitions. In which case, you’ll need to dial in your food consumption down to the last calorie.
The difference between a caloric surplus and a caloric deficit is abstaining from the post-lunch and dinner desserts as well as the unhealthy snacks. This means a few hundred calories can determine the difference between maintaining weight or losing weight.
If you are diligent about avoiding snacks and desserts and just need to learn how to cook healthy meals, there are a ton of easy recipe cookbooks to guide you. Here is a simple guide to assist you on your healthy meals journey.
If you wake up every morning and put 30 grams of sugar in your coffee via creamer or flavoring you’ve already decreased your chances of dropping your body fat or slimming your waist significantly. Six days a week you need to consider every meal and every snack you put into your body if you want to achieve your goals.
An Analogy of Losing Weight
People always say if you want to complain about the politics in this country you should at least vote. If you want to take it a step further, you should run for an office. If you don’t vote, then you shouldn’t complain about politics.
I feel the same way about losing weight. If you’re going to complain about not losing weight then prove to me that you’re sweating at the gym, while working out with more than just your bodyweight. Prove me that you’re doing a combination of low, moderate, and high-intensity cardio workouts. Prove to me that you’re not following every meal with a small dessert or stopping at Starbucks every morning and consuming a 300 calorie, sugar-laced drink. Only then can you complain about not losing weight.
Wrapping up Exercise Intensity and Food Intake
Many factors will play a part in your body fat percentage, waistline, or number on the scale. Exercise intensity and food intake are just a couple of factors, albeit, I believe the two most important factors. Underlying medical conditions, food allergies, and a host of other individual aspects can influence your goals. Consult with your doctor prior to any significant changes in either exercise intensity or food intake.