Eat More Fat!
Today's world is filled with food products and programs that emphasize a low-fat lifestyle. Carbohydrate-heavy diets are emphasized and the food products made abundantly available by food companies. Whenever possible, food marketing emphasizes "reduced fat", "low-fat" or "no fat" products. Its easy to understand the confusion. Fat must be bad if everyone is trying to get rid of it from food , right? The conventional wisdom says that "you are what you eat", and its logical to think that eating fat will make you fat. The anti-fat messaging obscures the important role that fat plays in our diets.
When fat is consumed it is broken down in the body and used for two purposes: building tissue and providing energy. Nutritional fat provides some of the essential building blocks for healthy skin, hair and joints. Fat also provides energy through the metabolism of fatty acids, a primary energy source in the body. Fat also helps to control over-eating and excessive snacking because it acts as an appetite suppressor. A meal with the proper amount of fats should leave you satisfied and full for hours after you finish.
The unconventional approach to nutrition is to eat a diet rich with fat and proteins from sources like meat, eggs, and dairy, accompanied by large portions of leafy green vegetables., and small portions of fruits, seeds, berries, and roots. These recommendations mimic very closely those of the Paleo and Atkins diets, now popular in the fitness community. It is also supported by research. For more information, I would recommend reading the book Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes. It provides some very strong evidence for how the conventional wisdom of today was shaped, and why obesity is rampant in today's society.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to spend hours in the gym or on the road, working out 5+ days per week, to facilitate fat loss. We have been told over the years that the best way to lose weight is to lower your calories and increase your activity level in order to lose weight. Common recommendations are based around making sure to get in some "cardio" for 30-60 minutes a day, 5+ times a week. Conventional training would also have you doing weight training with high repetitions (12+) of exercises like tricep kick backs and calf raises in order to "tone" muscles.
Following those conventional guidelines will produce few appreciable results for a couple of reasons. First, the constant days of long-duration exercise will have the effect of increasing, your appetite beyond your caloric needs. The reasons for this are many, but the driver is that low intensity training focuses on depleting your body of available energy (ATP), so your body reacts to this stress by craving more energy through food. Secondly, the low intensity of these activities has very little ability to stimulate muscle growth or increase your metabolism to promote fat burning post-exercise. If your doing long cardio sessions that last more than an hour you may even start burning muscle during exercise.
The unconventional approach is to exercise less, no more than 3-5 times per week, and focus on short intense workouts than can be completed in less than an hour from warm-up to cool-down. Your most important workouts will be weight lifting where you do 3-5 sets of an exercise at a 70%+ of your 1 repetition maximum and working to within a rep of failure. How many exercises? You can probably cover all of the major muscle groups with 3-5 exercises each session. You could use even fewer exercises if you choose the right ones and work hard enough. Stay away from "toning" exercises, lifting on machines, and balancing on balls. Squats, Deadlifts, Presses, Dips and Pull-ups should be the staples.
You can also throw conventional cardio training out the window! Instead of going for a 30 minute jog on the treadmill, hit the track and do some sprinting. Interval workouts, where you exercise at a high intensity and then rest before repeating the exercise, can be completed in 10 minutes or less and are much more effective at burning fat than moving at leisurely pace that keeps you in the "fat-burning zone".
High Intensity exercise has many advantages. Firstly, the intensity of the effort has a powerful metabolic and muscular effect causing your body to build more muscle and crank up its efforts to store more energy in your muscles instead of your fat. Intense exercise sends the signal to your body that you need to have lots of power and energy ready on short notice, so instead of keeping the energy stored in your fat for long duration aerobic efforts, it will bias towards keeping the energy in our muscles for short duration anaerobic efforts. Secondly, the decrease in exercise duration will prevent you from getting enormous spikes in hunger for easy calories in the form of carbohydrates and sugars. Lastly, your exercise sessions will also be much shorter, so you'll be more likely to do them if your time crunched. If you knew that you could get fitter and leaner with just a 10 minute workout, you would have a hard time making an excuse not to do it. The truth is that this may actually be the case, as long as your working out hard enough and with highly productive exercises.
Putting it Together
If you want to follow the unconventional approach to losing weight and reducing fat, then you can start by following the guidelines above. A quick summary would be: eat meat and plants, exercise with intensity. When combined properly, these two tenets can produce great results. Check out parts two and three of this series to learn some details on how to start putting this unconventional approach together.