I started my fitness journey 5 years ago. Before I started working out I was 140 lbs. I was rather straight up and down and a lot thinner overall than I am now. However, I had a "mummy tummy", a flatter bum and more narrow shoulders. I will pause here to say my goal when I started to workout was never to change the way my body looked. It was instead to change the way it felt. I wanted to be fit again, to feel strong and able. I wanted to take care of myself again. When I started to do this my body did change, however. I now weigh 160 lbs and I have a flatter stomach, less body fat, and since my shoulders and bum have grown, I also have the illusion of a more defined waist. Aesthetics is still not a goal of mine, but it is important to acknowledge the fact that as our bodies get healthier and stronger, they do look different!
One of the most common questions I get asked is how I managed to get abs after having 4 kids? What do I eat? What are my macros? How often do I workout? Basically people wanting a blueprint to follow to change their own body composition
I want to share with you the simple changes that I made to my routine that have paid off in a big way in terms of my health and of course body composition. Although these steps are simple, but they may not be easy for everyone because they take time! You need to be consistent and patient to see changes in your body. You do not need diet pills, or extreme restrictive diets, excessive exercise routines or anything that makes you generally feel inadequate or bad about yourself! You just need to make small tweaks to your routine that you can sustain over time!
What is body composition?
Body composition is used to describe the percentage of fat, bone, water, and muscles in human bodies. Fat takes us more physical space in the body than muscle and is less dense, so it is possible that two people of the same weight and height have very different body compositions. Therefore it is important to take into consideration body composition when trying to monitor fitness progress. For example, it is possible to lose 2 lbs of fat in a month, but also gain 2 lbs of muscle. If you were only monitoring body weight this wouldn't look like a difference on the scale.
How can I measure it?
There are bioelectrical impedance devices that measure your percentage of body fat, but these also carry a fair range of inaccuracy. For most people at home the easiest way to try to gauge your body composition over time is to take measurements and progress pictures. I would recommend this at a monthly interval when starting your fitness journey.
See link for example of how to take your measurements:
I know this can get overwhelming and seem complicated, but I promise you it doesn't have to be! I will break it down in "bite sized" pieces :)
There are 2 major concepts you need to understand in terms of nutrition: your total daily calories and also the nutrients that your body needs from those calories.
Our body stores extra calories or energy as fat. When we are not getting enough energy from our food to meet our daily needs, our body burns that fat and turns it into energy. Therefore, we need to have a calorie deficit (when we are burning more calories than we are eating) to signal to our bodies that it needs to burn fat and to stop storing it. This is obtained primarily through adjusting what we eat. If you are just starting out it may be a good idea to try a tool like https://www.myfitnesspal.com to get an idea of what you are actually consuming in a day. I personally have never tracked my calories or macros but instead focused more on portion control and balancing my meals properly.
Tips to reducing your calorie intake without eating less:
Make sure 1/2 your plate is vegetables
Drink more water, especially 30 mins prior to a meal
Swap out your white carbohydrates for more complex carbs like sweet potato, whole grain bread, brown rice, oats, quinoa, etc. Increasing your fibre will help you feel fuller longer and improve your cholesterol and blood sugar levels. (~1/4 of your plate should be carbohydrates). Bonus tip: you can also try swapping your noodles or rice with things like spiralzed zucchini or cauliflower rice.
Increase your protein to 0.8g/kg bodyweight, or 1.2-1.7 g/kg bodyweight for athletes. Adequate protein will help with muscle growth as well as to help keep you full longer. (~1/4 of your plate should be protein)
Swap unhealthy fats for healthy fats (ex avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, seeds and nuts) however portion size is small due to higher calorie content ~ size of thumb
Swap your liquid calories for water. Try carbonated bubbly water with miio, try coffee with milk and no sugar, and reducing your alcohol consumption. Not accounting for these sneaky liquid calories is one of the biggest mistakes people make when evaluating their diets.
As mentioned above exercise is another key in helping you obtain that calorie deficit. However people often drastically over estimate how much calories they are burning. Cardio machines are notoriously unreliable for accurately measuring calories . If your goal is fat loss I do not recommend eating extra food based on what you think you burned from exercising.
Cardiovascular training and strength training are both crucial to both changing your body composition and increasing your health over time.
The number one thing people often overlook when it comes to exercise and fat loss is strength training! If you build muscle your body's metabolism will speed up so that you are literally burning more calories even while at rest.
Strength training has many benefits such as:
making you stronger and fitter so day-to-day activities become easier
protecting bone density and muscle mass (which especially for us women tends to go down over age 30)
increasing tendon and ligament strength over time
helping to develop better body mechanics such as balance cordination and posture
decreasing your risk for injury
boosting energy and mood
increasing lean body mass
This often overlooked piece of the puzzle is so important! Inadequate sleep can hinder fat loss by actually slowing down your body's metabolism. Adequate sleep helps control hunger hormones and increases your basal metabolic rate. This means you are burning more calories throughout the day and this will result in more fat loss over time.
Sleep is also when our muscles repair and grow. When we are strength training this is critical to helping support muscle growth. So make sure you are prioritizing those 7-8 hours every night!
In conclusion: Diet, Exercise and Sleep are the key!
I know these basic lifetyle changes are not "sexy" quick fixes...but in reality if you are using a drastic unhealthy method to lose weight it will not be sustainable over time and you will gain the weight back. Also the effect of "yo-yo dieting" can be damaging on your metabolism over time which can in turn make it harder to lose weight in the future.
The key is to make smaller sustainable changes that you will be able to stick to for the rest of your life. Changes that will not only improve your body composition, but also and more importantly improve your health!
What tips or tricks have worked for you? Please share in the comment section below!
And if you are interested in learning more I include in depth training modules on topics like nutrition, portion control, and priority/goal setting with my monthly at home fitness program subscription. To sample the types of workouts I use for my busy clients you can try 1 week of workouts for FREE by clicking on the photo below.