When women gain weight, their first instinct is to cut calories. Often dramatically! This approach can quickly backfire.
A significant calorie deficit will result in initial weight loss, but it’s often at the expense of your muscle mass and metabolism. If you skimp on protein, you lose muscle mass. If you skimp on good carbs, you can lose both body fat and muscle. If you skimp on calories overall, cortisol levels rise and this encourages your body to hang to all the calories it can get.
What you lose depends on a few factors:
• How active you are (Cardio burns muscle mass if overdone.)
• How you space out your meals (Going many hours without eating promotes muscle loss.)
• How much you strength train (It’s key while losing weight to keep the muscle on your body and promote fat loss.)
• Your existing muscle mass and your metabolism (The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, the faster you lose fat.)
Here are a few tips to help you maintain muscle and keep your metabolic furnace burning:
• No breakfast skipping! Eat within 30 minutes of getting up. You don’t necessarily need a big meal, but start your day with some protein. A smoothie or shake with protein works great if you can’t handle more food first thing in the morning or are crunched for time. Getting off to a good start is important because your blood sugar is low after a night of fasting and needs to get back in balance. And it sets the tone for the rest of the day. Aim for 20 gm of protein and 30 grams of good carbs at breakfast.
• Eat more frequent meals. I recommend that my clients eat at least two snacks daily with 15 gm of protein and a healthy amount of fiber in addition to their regular meals. High protein snack ideas include: Greek yogurt, almonds, smoked salmon, apples with almond butter, raw veggies with hummus. Protein bars can be a good solution for on-the-go eating; however some are loaded with added sugar, so look for brands that have less than 7 grams of sugar.
• Balance your carbs. Super-low carb diets are effective for weight loss in the short term, but are hard to sustain in the long run. Carbs are important for energy and keeping them balanced means you’re less likely to binge on the next sweet treat that comes your way. I recommend getting carbs from low glycemic index, unprocessed sources like root vegetables, sweet potatoes, steel-cut oatmeal, quinoa black beans and other complex sources.
• Add weight training into your exercise routine. Muscle burns more calories and this also helps maintain bone health. Two days a week is all you need to see the benefits.
No access to a gym? There are plenty of exercises you can do using your body weight. You can find a list of 50 here.