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Losing body fat doesn’t have to feel like starving

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Body fat management is one of the most difficult tasks that Americans struggle with. According to a recent study, “Roughly two out of three U.S. adults are overweight or obese (69%) and one out of three are obese (36%)”. The struggle is real! As a competitive bodybuilder, I know the difficult task of living with being hungry… for months at a time! In the fitness industry, we call it leaning out because the goal is never to lose mass. The goal is to lose body fat while retaining as much muscle as possible in order to achieve a specific look by a specific date. The deficit can be grueling and is one reason many people don’t get on a stage in a tiny bikini and ask to be judged against other athletes!

Reducing body fat is generally a result of being in a calorie deficit. Other factors influence the process (thyroid disease, hormonal imbalances, etc.), but for the majority, it comes down to how much and what kind of food we put in our mouths. The most common symptom of losing body fat is hunger, which is uncomfortable and distracting depending on how much of a deficit the person stays in on a daily basis. Who isn’t comfortable with extra reserves in the bank, the cupboard, the gas tank, etc.?

Since we cannot outrun the fork, ignoring the diet is an exercise in futility. We all have a Basal Metabolic Rate, the number of calories used to perform basic life functions (eating, sitting, breathing, digesting, etc.). That number is based on age, height, gender, and weight and changes over time as those factors change. Physical activity, such as cardiovascular exercise or resistance training, contributes to the further caloric deficit during a given day and increases the amount of hunger a person might feel. High levels of intense activity and steep caloric deficit result in a lot of hunger versus a slight caloric deficit, and mild activity levels render a lesser amount of hunger.

The beauty of body fat management is that we can control how fast we get results and how much hunger we experience. Studies across the board show that long-term success is found in a gradual loss of 1-2 lbs a week (10% deficit). It’s just easier to be a little hungry and a little more active – but the hunger is still there. The key is to get ok with being a little hungry. Here are some strategies I use for my clients:

  • Stay busy to avoid bored eating
  • Drink water to aid in satiety/feeling full
  • Substitute for nutritious low-calorie foods
  • Mentally repeat “it’s ok to be a little hungry”
  • Shut the kitchen down when not eating a meal
  • Hang a “goal” outfit in daily sight
  • Take pictures/measurements to track gradual success
  • Stay off the scale that only gives mass, not health or body fat %
  • A support system to help with those temptations

All of these things can help achieve body fat reduction goals,  but always remember to give yourself grace. Perfection does not exist and happiness is an inside job.

Katrina Klein, RDH

Katrina is a 15-year registered dental hygienist, national speaker, author, competitive bodybuilder, certified personal trainer, certified ergonomic assessment specialist and biomechanics nerd. She’s the founder of ErgoFitLife, where ergonomics and fitness are a lifestyle to prevent, reduce or eliminate pain.

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