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Hierarchy of Fat Loss: how to prioritise your time and effort.

(89 Posts)
JustGettingStarted Sun 05-Mar-17 06:58:37

I see countless threads on mumsnet where women talk about wanting to "tone up" and lose weight in which they discuss maybe taking up jogging or taking a class. Or asking which treadmill or elliptical to buy. It really frustrates me and makes me sad because I know that so many people are mostly clueless about fitness and weight loss.

There are many thousands of people grinding away on treadmills, taking "bums and tums" classes, etc. Most of them don't lose much weight. Quite a few lose none.

There are things that do a lot, and there are things that do relatively little, to help you lose body fat. Most of us have other stuff to do in life and so even carving out three hours a week can be a challenge. You need to know which activities are the best use of your time.

In order of efficacy and importance, here are the things that you can do.

1. Diet. Nothing is more important. You cannot lose fat unless you eat fewer calories than you burn. You can improve strength and endurance and feel great, but you won't lose fat. Most people need to count calories to eat fewer calories but some have success with cutting out carbs, booze, intermittent fasting, etc. These are just ways of cutting calories.

2. Weight training. Lifting weights, whether by machines or barbells kettle bells. This burns calories and triggers your body to preserve muscle mass while letting go of fat. Without this, step one will result in losing both fat and muscle. People who diet + lift lose more fat than those who diet + jog. The weights have to be heavy. If you can buy them at TK Maxx, they're too light.

3. Sprinting, aka anaerobic interval training aka tabata. Incredibly intense running or cycling at a level so high that you can just barely do it for 20 seconds (you're miserable at 15 seconds and collapsing at 20). Work for 20 seconds, rest for 10-20 seconds. Repeat about 8 times, a few times a week. This burns calories for up to 36 hours after you quit. It literally raises your metabolism.

4. Aerobic Intense Interval Training. Like above only at a level where you can sustain it for two to three minutes. You're gasping for breath and your heart is pounding. Work for 2 minutes, rest for 1-2 minutes and repeat 6-10 times. This also has an "afterburn" effect on the metabolism.

5. Higher intensity steady state aerobic training. This is a brisk pace that you can stand for 20 or 30 minutes. You're breathing heavily through your mouth. Feels nice and you you get sweaty but you don't burn many calories. Once you stop and your heart rate returns to normal, you cease burning extra calories.

6. Low intensity steady state cardio. This is walking. It has negligible effects on fat loss.

This is all explained in more depth, with links to the science to back it up in this fantastic article:

I am losing weight rapidly and toning the hell out of my body with 1, 2,and 4. I know that 3 (tabata) is more efficient than my HIIT circuits but I am a wimp. grin

These things aren't easy. They require commitment and you may have to learn new things. It's possible, but not easy, to do it at home with the use of books, YouTube videos and weights bought at home. Even joining a gym only gets you so far if you're clueless about the equipment. But I think it's worth it. Once you have overcome your fears and learned how to exercise properly, you'll be set for life.

ZefStar Sun 05-Mar-17 08:10:17

are you a personal trainer?

JustGettingStarted Sun 05-Mar-17 08:37:13


Felicitylemon1958 Sun 05-Mar-17 08:49:35

This is so interesting to me. I lost 3 stone between October and Feb by doing steps 1&2. I read up on calorie counting and lifting and ate 1000-1200 calories at day. The weight fell off, fast, which motivated me to start exercising more - so I started running and the 30 Day Shred and using weights (though mine are not that heavy!).

I'm going to read up on your next points - now I've dropped the excess fat I want to be strong and fit.

I also get frustrated reading the weight loss threads. I went to slimming world and quit because I used my fitness pal and couldn't believe how many calories I was still eating - losing three stone would have taken a year and I'd have lost all motivation. How do people keep this up?

The interesting thing to me now is that people don't want to hear the truth about
'How I've done it' - when I say '1000-1200 calories a day using my fitness pal' they immediately turn off or say 'oh I can't get on with counting calories'. They want me to prove a fad or crazy technique has worked instead.

ZefStar Sun 05-Mar-17 08:50:15

What I see repeatedly on the boards is the advice that weight loss generally is 80% down to eating and 20% down to excercise and weight training is the most effective way to change body shape.
There's some great advice available here and never a one size fits all approach.
In my personal opinion, when starting out exercising for fitness or weight loss or whatever it's important for a person to just do what they enjoy and build confidence in themselves and their bodies gradually. In the past when starting a fitness regime and going straight in with fairly tough stuff like 30 day shred, I would be disheartened and lose interest quickly.
Starting out with tabata or whatever would've put me right off, whereas having a more gentle intro and building my fitness gradually through walking and jogging, lead to an interest in other forms of exercise aimed at firming up.
Baby steps worked really well for me , although obvs this is just my individual experience.

whowouldknow Sun 05-Mar-17 08:53:17

This is really interesting-thanks!

SexTrainGlue Sun 05-Mar-17 08:55:48

Is this cunning spam?

Because it seems very much at odds with the content of the actual chat here.

(and of course 'tone up' usually means exactly that as, when I've seen it, it's from posters who are at the weight they want and they are seeking exercise advice)

JustGettingStarted Sun 05-Mar-17 10:14:19

Yes. I'm spamming an article written 10 years ago. To get rich.

I don't just mean on this exercise sub forum. I mean on mn overall.

I realise that many mums don't have time or money to go to the gym. And weightlifting is intimidating. A yoga mat and a couple of pink dumbells from TK Maxx, with some videos.... Or maybe c25k... seems much easier. I know they're better than sitting on the sofa. But you won't lose weight unless you cut calories and little weights won't prevent muscle loss.

The hierarchy assumes that you can't do it all at once. Steps 1&2 are literally all you need to be lean and healthy. Everything else is a bonus. I just wish that step 2 wasn't intimidating or hard to access and that all the women's magazines didn't talk shite about "bikini bodies" and muffin tops with photos of Lulumon models holding pink weights and doing crane poses on the beach.

JustGettingStarted Sun 05-Mar-17 10:19:23

Zefstar 1000-1200 a day may be necessary for very petite and sedentary women. I'm 149lbs and losing 1-2 lbs a week on 1800 a day. But I do work out 6 days a week. I suppose if it was diet alone, I would have to eat 1400 a day.

I have found that it's hard to find decent food while travelling. I live on Pret and M&S lunches when I travel because the packaging makes calorie counting easy. It gets much harder when you're eating in most restaurants!

Eating a LOT of protein helps me to stay full longer. Eating breakfast as late as possible helps with eating less all day. There's simply no room in my diet for biscuits or crap like that. It's not easy, but I don't feel hungry.

UnmentionedElephantDildo Sun 05-Mar-17 10:19:26

I think the assumption that mums have pink dumbbells shows you don't know what MN is like.

I don't doubt that you have read lots of threads. I don't think it's possible they were typical MN threads.

JustGettingStarted Sun 05-Mar-17 10:22:05

They rarely discuss the colour but I do know that the media promotes light weights and I definitely see countless posts from women who want to lose weight and their first thoughts are to consider elliptical and rowing machines or perhaps c25k. And if you're doing weight exercises to a video at home, I think it's highly unlikely that you're deadlifting 50k or higher.

AuntieStella Sun 05-Mar-17 10:22:12

Did you mean to post in this topic?

You might want to report your post and get it moved, as it seems to be more about weight loss than about exercise (and I think there will be more MNetters who are interested in losing weight over there)

UnmentionedElephantDildo Sun 05-Mar-17 10:25:44

"I do know that the media promotes light weights and I definitely see countless posts from women who want to lose weight and their first thoughts...."

Ah, so you've not found oodles of posts about this on MN , you've just made assumptions about what MN is like.

Did you know there's a whole topic, called 'The Weights Room' ? That's where you are most likely to find the supportive threads for those who are (or who are interested in) lifting the heavier weights.

JustGettingStarted Sun 05-Mar-17 10:25:52

By the way, I use little purple weights for a particular shoulder exercise. (after 5k, they cease to be pastel at my gym). Sometimes you do need to use light weights. But if you can repeat the motion 12 times, it's time to pick up the heavier weights.

JustGettingStarted Sun 05-Mar-17 10:29:24

I've been posting on mn for years.

I have seen many, many threads about women who want to lose weight and get in shape.

It's rare for anyone to say that lifting heavy weights is the most effective method.

There are also subs for running and yoga. Runners and yogis post here. It's all exercise.

Running and yoga are awesome (I have done 5k and I do yoga regularly).

But if you want to exercise in order to lose fit and improve muscle tone, then heavy weights are the best use of your time.

JustGettingStarted Sun 05-Mar-17 10:39:06

Auntiestella I assume that people exercise for a variety of reasons. Some want to improve their mood, some want to be stronger, some want to be more competitive at a sport, some want to improve mobility and some want to lose or maintain weight.

Weight loss is, I'm guessing, probably the most common primary motivation for women.

Probably most of us want to improve a variety of things, but weight loss is likely to be what gets a lot of people off the couch.

Parsley1234 Sun 05-Mar-17 10:39:35

That's really interesting I get confused how to start though - how did you start ? Going to the gym and what programme did you do cardio before weights ? Thank you

JustGettingStarted Sun 05-Mar-17 10:47:25

zefstar is right.... It's baby steps.

My first baby step was huge: I stopped drinking. I wasn't a terrible, tragic drunk but I drank "moderately" every day. Gained 30lbs in 2 years.

A week into quitting I started to go to the gym and lifted WEIGHTS 4x a week. I learned how years ago with a personal trainer. My goal back then was to gain weight so he taught me how to do free weights.

I lost a stone in just over 2 months. Then I stalled. So I started to count calories and I added cardio in the only form I could stand/had time and patience for. I did cardio circuits for 20+ minutes of aerobic HIIT.( I have also started yoga but just for flexibility issues)

I've been losing 1-2 lbs a week and I'm maybe 5lbs from my goal. Then I get to eat more and start getting strong (ie, work on building a booty!)

ihatethecold Sun 05-Mar-17 10:47:42

Thank you for starting this thread op.
It's interesting and I couldn't care less where you started the conversation.

I do a lot of walking with my dogs but never seem to lose weight.
I always hover around 10 st.
I've been 10 st for about 12 years.
I'd like to be 9, I'm curvy with a large chest so this would definitely have health benefits for me.
I've done diets and they work for a while, I'll lose half a stone then I gain it again.

I want to exercise smarter.
I'm going to hire a treadmill or a cross trainer and I'd like to try step 1 and 2.
I'm thinking a cross trainer will be kinder to my joints.

We do have heavy weights in the garage along with a bench but I'm not sure where to start.

JustGettingStarted Sun 05-Mar-17 10:49:32

I do my cardio on days that I don't lift weights for my legs. Cardio always after weights.

Mon: legs
Tuesday: upper body and cardio
Weds: cardio
Thurs: legs
Fri: upper body and cardio
Sat: cardio

JustGettingStarted Sun 05-Mar-17 10:52:24

ihatethecold that's awesome that you have weights and a bench. I agree that it's hard to know where to start.

Do you have barbells, dumbells or both?

There are basic beginners routines online. You'll start with body weight, actually. Nobody expects you to squat the barbell on day one. smile

ihatethecold Sun 05-Mar-17 11:01:48

They're my dhs weights.
He would set them up for me.
after we cleared the crap piled around them

One thing that worries me is my lower back.
It's so temperamental.
I hurt it in Jan and caught a nerve.
It's just about better but I don't want to aggravate it.
I just couldn't do a forward bend from the hip with a barbell across my shoulders.

I would worry about my technique.

Felicitylemon1958 Sun 05-Mar-17 11:02:46

This has inspired me to join the gym and learn weights. I want to make sure I'm doing it right. I've always resolutely avoided the places but now I've lost weight I can see the wood for the trees - losing fat has in some ways made me more self conscious about my body.

Thefitfatty Sun 05-Mar-17 11:08:03

Interesting thread OP, and I would agree with you and a lot of women do overlook weight lifting.

I don't care much about fat loss, but since I don't have oodles of time to work out I find kettlebell circuits are a great way to get in cardio and strength training. They're also fun (at least I think they are).

However, given that fat loss isn't my primary focus, I do enjoy my long runs plugged into music. It's like meditation for me. It sucks right now that I don't have time for them anymore. sad

cattypussclaw Sun 05-Mar-17 11:10:49

This is really interesting, thank you. I desperately need to lose weight but am approaching the menopause (when I'm told it'll just get harder to lose weight). In the run up to Christmas last year, I spent three months on a diet (nothing wacky, just eating less and better) and made sure I did 20k steps a day. At the end, I had lost... nothing. Gave up, binged through Christmas and the New Year and put on another stone. Will take on board your comments. Thank you for posting x

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