So here it is. The truth about losing weight or body fat.
I have been in the fitness industry for over 15 years as a professional and have personally exercised and shaped my body for over 20. I know how to build muscle to give strength and keep metabolism high to maintain an ‘athletic physique’ and I know how to drop to >10% body fat for maximum muscle definition and shape.
Neither are achieved through some fad diet (yes they are all fad), magic pill or amazing workout that takes 2 weeks.
It is as simple as your energy out must be greater than your energy in but before I explain what exactly this means and how to achieve it I must say that we should refer to losing body fat not weight, why?
Well, when you lose weight you could be referring to losing muscle as well as body fat and I don’t know anyone that really wants to lose muscle. Having muscle has far too many benefits to want to get rid of it. Such as:
- Increased strength that makes daily life easier.
- Improved bone density, tendon and ligament strength reducing the risk of bone fractures and Osteoporosis.
- Increased metabolism – muscle burns calories for energy at rest!
- Reduced risks of the severity that can come from a fall and improved recovery from injuries and reduces general aches and pains.
Now to explain more about losing body fat and what exactly I mean when I say your energy out should be greater than your energy in.
To lose body fat you must consume less energy (calories) than you use in a day. This includes the amount of energy that your body requires to function as well as the amount of energy you expend completing tasks such as walking, riding and working around the yard.
There is a certain number of calories that your body requires at complete rest (say if you were to lay in bed all day) for your body to function (cell regeneration, organ function, tissue repairs etc). This is called your BMR = Basal Metabolic Rate.
On top of your BMR, you have the number of calories that your body uses to perform tasks as mentioned above and if you took in the same amount of calories through food and drink in one day that you burned at rest and through activity then you would maintain your current body fat level.
In order to lower body fat levels, you need to either consume fewer calories or burn more. It really is that simple.
The BIG Question: If you are consuming less calories than you take in and/or burning more calories through movement and exercise why are you not losing body fat?
There are a few things to consider, let me go through each of them.
Understanding of Input Vs Output
As equestrians, we seem to forever be rushing around and nothing takes 5 minutes when it comes to horses. However, we are not burning as many calories as we think or are led to believe.
There are some amazing memes on social media that trotting for 1 hour can burn 420 calories or something but who trots for 1hour? If you trotted for 10minutes in total in an hour lesson you would burn about 70-80 calories. Not even a Banana’s worth.
Also, you need to take into account adaption. If you muck out a stable regularly your body would have adapted to this form of exercise and once hard, now is fairly simple and can be done in max 10mins with not even one bead of sweat. As you are conditioned to doing this task, the energy required to perform it is less so you burn less calories.
Yes riding and looking after our beloveds can be hard work but do you do it enough and at a high enough intensity for it to burn calories greater than say 300 per day? I doubt many of us do unless you are a professional rider or a groom where you are riding/care for multiple horses every day.
This is a good site to find out roughly how many calories you burn when around horses: https://captaincalculator.com/health/calorie/calories-burned-horseback-riding-calculator/
Now, I am not calling people liars but I love the quote from House (Hugh Laurie) and it is true.
I often ask my clients to give me a food diary of a typical day and I am now no longer shocked when I see that all they have eaten is a banana and a bit of cake at lunchtime.
Upon questioning I come to find that the Banana (105Cal) was eaten whilst getting ready for work when they got to the office they had a yogurt (59) and a snack bar (150cal) they found in their bag and 1 cup of coffee and 1 sugar and milk (60cal). They weren’t feeling particularly hungry at lunch so had a fruit smoothie (130cal) and a pack of crisps (200cal) but come 3pm they found free cake in the office kitchen (what’s a slice – errr c.300calories) and by the time they had done the horses and got home they didn’t feel like cooking so had scrambled eggs on toast (made with butter, milk, 6 eggs and two pieces of bread and some more butter 950cal).
People frequently omit what it is that they really consume and I don’t know why exactly but I like to think that it is a lack of understanding of the values of the food that they are consuming.
When you take a glance of the above it doesn’t seem like a lot but it they are high in fat and sugar and on a ‘typical’ day they have consumed nearly 1965 calories most of which have little nutritional value (good protein, fats and carbs) and spent most of the day at the desk apart from the mad dash in the evening bringing horses in and putting to bed.
Now 1965 is not a lot of calories (depending on you as an individual) it is just an example of how ‘not a lot’ can actually be a lot more than you think.
I think it is a learned behaviour as humans to want everything now! And if in one week we haven’t seen a change then it can’t be working so we should change what we are doing.
This as a Trainer is one of the most common reasons why people don’t lose body fat. For many years I have designed programmes and meal plans for clients and after 1-2 weeks the client is ready to give up because they don’t have a beach body. I am afraid it takes as long as it takes. Yes, we can speed up the process by having extreme calorie restriction or exercising excessively but these methods are not sustainable and have consequences.
When results are not instant people start to deviate from their plan and think ‘ah the odd biscuit won’t matter’, or ‘I’ve only skipped one workout’, it ALL matters.
When you have a plan of action you must stick to it to give it the best possible chance of success.
So how do you lose body fat?
The first thing is to understand what your BMR is and how many calories you are consuming, every day. For this, you will have to be truly honest with yourself. You can read more about how to do this on my blog Counting Calories:
The second thing is to know what it is you really want to achieve. Losing fat can be anything from 1kg to 30kg+ but it may be more of simply just to fit into the pair of jods you wore last year. Without knowing what it really is you want, you cant plan how you are going to get there. You can read more about achieving goals on my blog 5 Easy Steps to Achieving Goals
The Third thing is to be realistic. Know where you are now and where you want to be, have a plan in place and stick to it. It will take you longer than a few weeks. It will take anywhere from 3months onwards until you start to see changes in body fat.
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