The skinny on busting fat – new year, new body!

Posted on March 5, 2024


If you think that cutting out fatty foods and scheduling long exercise sessions are key to burning fat, then think again. Sure, you should exercise and watch what you eat, but by living smart, rather than laboriously, you can still burn excess fat, maintain a healthy body fat level and even reap additional lifestyle benefits like mental clarity, emotional resilience and better sleep. Flex instructors Michelle Ricaille and Megan Farrugia give us the skinny on all things fat busting, focusing on diet and exercise respectively…

Michelle, what role does body fat play in our health?
Having a moderate amount of fat in the body is very important for the regulation of hormones in the body, the protection of our organs, plus the function of the brain and nervous system. Health problems arise when there is too little fat or too much body fat in the body.

Maintaining a healthy body fat helps the body function properly, as long as the cells are being feed the right nutrients from food that is grown in nutrient dense soil and free from toxic substances.

How much body fat should we have?
Healthy body fat for a woman who exercises regularly should be around 21-24% and average body fat for women is 25-30%. Top woman athletes often have below 18% but this is not healthy and will often disturb their hormones and elevate the risk of osteoporosis. The healthy body fat percentage for men is 14-17% for active men and 18-24% for average men.

It’s important to note, just because someone looks skinny does not mean they have low body fat. I have done body fat testing on women who look very skinny, but actually have 35-40% body fat. And high levels of body fat can cause health problems from type 2 diabetes to hypertension and hyperlipidemia.

Keep fat in your diet…
The biggest myth that I hear is to avoid fatty rich foods. This could not be further from the truth. It’s the fat in foods that tells the brain to stop eating. If you eat fat-free foods, which are often loaded with sugar, your brain will then keep telling you to eat more and you will continue to gain weight. The biggest weight gainer is sugar, not fat.

There is, however, a big difference between good fats and bad fats. Good fats are polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and omega 3, which you can get from coconut oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and high quality fish. Bad fats are saturated and trans fats, which are mainly found in processed foods, land animal meats and diary products.

Megan, which are the best workouts for burning fat?
The best fat-burning workout is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). HIIT is fast – it involves microbursts of energy over a very short duration of time, A general HIIT cycle will include four to eight one-minute cardio exercises, interspersed with a 15-second rest. It’s fat burning because the effects will create a prolonged afterburn, or EPOC (Excess Post Oxygen Consumption), which stimulates your metabolism and burns significantly more calories over a longer period of time than say, 30 minutes on a treadmill or a 45-minute aerobics class.

At Flex we’ve integrated HIIT into several of our group classes (fat-burn, TRX, HIIT, and Ab-blast and some of the XTend Barre). If you are really looking to burn fat efficiently, use your cross-training opportunities.

It is very important to warm up properly and cool down thoroughly when focusing on HIIT. Because your heart rate will achieve such high elevations, easing your body back to a static state (and hydrating properly) afterwards can only increase your overall benefits and keep your “metabolic fire” burning efficiently for longer periods of time after a workout.

Other ways to burn fat
If you’re looking for ways to help keep your metabolism firing, then stand-up more, walk more, move more. Find hobbies that involve activity, rather than sitting in front of a screen. Take an extra walk in the evening, get down on the floor and play with the kids or the dog, or have a meeting while you’re standing up instead of sitting at a table.

And not for nothing, sleep burns calories. Uninterrupted sleep burns the most, alongside benefits like better, consistent, positive energy levels that lift your mood, clear your head and provide you with the oomph to conquer a HIIT workout.

Which workouts are the least efficient at burning fat?
Basically, any “steady state” exercise, which keeps your heart rate at a slightly elevated but consistent state for 30+ minutes. Cardio dance classes like Zumba or 305 Fitness (although they are tons of fun), mat yoga, indoor treadmills, elipticals or bikes. The last three will help with cardiovascular health, but they don’t really promote an increased heart rate that will sustainably burn fat. Short microbursts of intense energy are the best at increasing your metabolism and keeping it fired up for longer.

Megan, what beneficial side effects does focusing on fat burning workouts have?
Studies have shown that exercise is a powerful depression fighter, as it promotes neural growth, reduces inflammation and sparks new activity patterns in the brain that promote feelings of calm and wellbeing. Fat burning workouts can also combat stress, anxiety, PTSD and trauma, as they release chemicals in the brain (dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, anandamide), which help your nervous system relax and become “unstuck”.

Mental Alacrity
The same endorphins that lift your mood also help you concentrate and keep you mentally sharp. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and can help prevent age-related decline. The Alzheimer’s Association lists cardiovascular exercise as their #1 recommendation for activities to reduce the onset or progression of dementia.

Better sleep
Even short bursts of exercise can help regulate your sleep patterns. Sleep rejuvenates and helps keep the body at its best.

Stronger resilience
Exercise boosts your levels of physical, mental and emotional tolerance and strength and can help you cope with things in a healthy way rather than turning to food, alcohol or drugs for comfort.

Self Esteem
Regular activity, when it becomes a habit, can foster your sense of self-worth and empowerment, helping you feel better and stronger. By meeting your exercise goals, no matter how small, you gain a sense of achievement that will positively impact your approach to work, stress, family and life.

Holiday Survival!
Flex’s Holiday Survival package is perfectly designed to power you through the festive season without starting the new year feeling heavy, lethargic and in dire need of a diet. The 12 Classes (for just HK$1,990) have been chosen to intensely increase the metabolism and burn fat – think HIIT, TRX Circuit, Ab Blast Allegro, Fat Burn Allegro and Xtend Barre. You’ll also get weekly guidance on your Resting Metabolic Rte, your caloric intact limitations, post festivities recovery and delicious healthy recipes. Welcome in the new year feeling fit and fabulous! You must complete by 31 December, but you can take classes at One Island South or Central. For more details check here.

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