So, you spent all weekend living on cheesecake and pretzels, but plan to make up for it by going on an hour-long run after work.
See anything wrong with this thinking?
Many people are confused about the respective roles that diet and exercise play in weight loss. Perhaps this is because we are constantly seeing references to “belly blasting workouts,” or “eight minute abs,” or some other slogan that promises the ability to spot-reduce fat in problem areas. But if this were the case – if you really could get a flat tummy simply by working out for a few minutes a day – wouldn’t everybody have flat tummies by now?
There is clearly more going on here. Let’s take a look at why workouts alone aren’t helping anyone get the abs they want.
You Can’t Outrun a Bad Diet
You’ve probably seen this phrase on inspirational Pinterest boards. It seems like a simple enough concept, but is it actually true? Could poor diet choices be undoing all of your hard work in the gym?
It seems like the answer may be yes. Think of it this way: you would have to work out extremely hard for 60 minutes to burn 600 to 800 calories. On the other hand, eating 600 to 800 calories can happen in five minutes thanks to half a burrito. There’s a definite discrepancy between effort and results, and unfortunately it doesn’t skew in your favor.
In other words, depending on how many calories you are taking in, it’s entirely possible that you cannot outrun a bad diet. If you are working out as hard as you can, and continuing to hang on to excess body fat, it might be time to focus on making changes in the kitchen, not in the gym.
So What’s Going On Inside Your Body?
Simply put, weight loss really cannot happen if you are continually overeating, or making poor food choices. Your body looks for the easiest fuel source available, and it doesn’t get much easier than simple carbohydrates and glucose – two things found in all your favorite junk food.
If you keep eating these, your body will keep burning them rather than the excess fat you are looking to get rid of. A small calorie deficit forces your system to look for other fuel sources, and that’s when the weight begins to come off.
There’s more too. As you eat healthier foods, and continue to exercise, your body composition will continue to change. You will gain more muscle, which in turn will burn more fat. In other words, taking the approach of only dieting, or only exercising isn’t going to work. It has to be both, and you may have to focus more on your diet before the results of your exercise begin to show.
Foods That Promote a Flat Tummy
- Complex Carbohydrates – Whole grains, greens, and vegetables. Your body has to work harder to break these down.
- High Protein Foods – Lean meat, poultry, fish and eggs are all highly satisfying foods. They can keep you feeling full longer, so you don’t reach for extra snacks between meals.
- High Fiber Foods – Apples, berries, leafy greens, and certain whole grains can expand in your stomach to give you feelings of fullness.
- Foods with a High Water Content – Cucumbers, melon, citrus fruit, salad greens, and tomatoes can help your body let go of bloating or excess water weight.
- Healthy Fats – Fish, avocado, coconut, olives, and nuts can help reduce inflammation, power your workouts, and curb your cravings for unhealthy fats.
Foods to Avoid
- Sugary Foods – Candy, soda, cookies, and many baked goods. These are not very filling, and are very high in calories.
- Deep-Fried Foods – Chips, donuts, fried chicken, and most fast food. Not only is the unhealthy fat a burden on your system, but these foods can also lead to bloating.
- Overly Salty Foods – Your body needs a little bit of salt to function, but too much can lead to water retention and bloating.
It may seem dismissive to boil down all the complex processes in your body to a single snappy phrase, but “calories in vs. calories out” really seems to be the key. If you’re already spending lots of time and energy working out, you won’t have to work too much harder to make better food choices. Cut back enough to create a small calorie deficit, and before long, you’ll see the flat tummy that’s been hiding under all those extra calories.